french revolutions

We're making the move back to France to open the best b&b in la france profonde

France 101: A Quel Endroit?

4 Comments

I won’t pretend that this will be an exhaustive – or even at all useful – list of things to think about if you, like us, are dreaming the big French B&B dream. You’ll have gathered by now that I tend to charge at things somewhat arse about face (business plan? What business plan?!) and am reliant on what I’ve learned in my previous life in la france profonde. But someone asked me on twitter today how I was searching for the ‘dream B&B’ and I realised it wouldn’t be daft to blog about some of our thought processes in finding the region that’s right for us.

Clearly I’m all excited about having an area to concentrate our search and it undeniably offers a great deal to potential guests. I know enough of the Vienne, if not Montmorillon itself, to know what’s on offer and that it fits really well with what we envisage developing (the ‘Big Idea‘). But I lived just up the road for 7 years – what if you have the idea but not the detailed local knowledge? I can’t promise that the following is in any way exhaustive but hopefully will offer some pointers for the start of your search:

  • What’s your USP? What do you want to offer and what market are you appealing to? If, like us, you want to appeal to a specific target audience (cyclists and their families) you need to think about the areas that are attractive. I know most hard core cyclists will focus on the Alps and the Pyrenees, but those markets are also well served. Appealing to families too – and persuading cyclists to try different trails and terrain – is part of our reason for looking at areas that offer a wider range of activities. We’re even thinking about keeping chickens just so we can offer fresh laid eggs for breakfast 😉
  • How are your language skills? A surprisingly large number of French people require overnight accommodation – only about 1/3 of b&b users are English tourists. If you don’t feel comfortable then think about running a gite instead, or focus on the traditional tourist areas – Brittany, Charentes, Dordogne, Provence.
  • Is having access to an ex-pat community important? Kind of relates to the above. For me, there are pluses and minuses – I’m comfortable enough in my language skills that I’m happy to be in an area where English isn’t widely spoken. But I also remember what a godsend knowing fellow Brits was in the weeks and months after my dad died. If you’re planning on doing renovation work you may feel happier dealing with English builders (and they’re everywhere) but check they have a SIRET number – you can be heavily fined if they don’t (and the locals may really resent you using non-French tradesmen)
  • Are you easily accessible? We’ve looked at Champagne as it’s close to the Rhone corridor for tourists heading to the sun and it’s easy to get back to the UK. The area we’re focusing on currently is close to 2 airports, the TGV and a major autoroute but it’s more of a destination than a stopping point en route to somewhere else. We’re hoping that what we’ll offer will mean that we won’t be dependent on passing trade but it’s another calculation that you need to make. Likewise if you feel you’ll need to be able to get back to the UK easily/cheaply.
  • What’s your budget? I know this is a really obvious one but We have a really limited budget (talking tiny, teeny, not really quite enough). If we didn’t the search would be a doddle and France would be our oyster. But we don’t so we’re looking at areas where the property is cheaper like Deux-Sevres/Champagne/Limousin/Berry. There are bargains to be had everywhere if you’re prepared to look hard and get your hands dirty. If money’s no object, then it’s really a case of what takes your fancy taking into account accessibility, language skills and your ‘big idea’

My advice? Think hard about your project, grab a map and some marker pens and a big roll of paper and start mapping out the areas that match your criteria. I like the following sites for browsing property porn as they have a good range of properties at all price points and, in the case of French Connections, useful property guides to each area:

Green Acres

French Property Links

1st for French Property

JB French Properties

French Property Centre

French Connections Property Buying Guide

Right Move French Properties

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4 thoughts on “France 101: A Quel Endroit?

  1. Suze, you seem to know the drill already, so I’m addressing this comment to a broader audience!

    I think it’s essential to do plenty of field research, by which I mean staying at lots of B&Bs (particularly, but not exclusively, cycling-friendly ones if that’s a focus) and really grilling the owners, whoever they might be, in order to fill in some of the gaps in your knowledge. The Internet has made things a lot better but you can’t Google those little insights.

    I knew some folks who started up in Aquitaine and within a few years they’d scuttled the fleet back to Blighty, not because the business was particularly struggling, but rather because they had not really integrated themselves very well and thus contended with a persistent sense of isolation in which other people might thrive but for them it was fatal. Not having learned to speak much more than s’il vous plaît French, they did almost everything using a local retired lawyer as a proxy which I thought at the time was as risible as it was costly.

    It’s a bit like the transition of a passionate love affair into something firmer with all the practical exigencies of settling together which, if this dream is to become reality, you will probably find more exciting anyway.

    It’s a big commitment and almost always a whole other way of life: these things are obvious enough in themselves, but when it finally dawns on you that you’re not “going home” at the end of the month, it can still be a bit of a shock. I think back to five years ago when I first came to Belgium and that happened to me one day when I was fumbling through my rucksack. I suddenly realised that I wouldn’t be packing it up again like so many times before. Indeed, the next time I returned to the old country, it was to fill a Europcar van with all the stuff I’d been storing until I found an apartment.

    Some years ago, I stayed at a B&B in the shadow of Mont Ventoux and listened to the owner tell me over breakfast how hard it had been for her in the nine years she had been there. In the early days, she had made a few of the sort of mistakes at which you hint above (German builders, furniture from Ikea, neglecting to generate a virtuous circle with local restos, etc) but her nationality didn’t help because the families of a lot of the old villagers suffered during the war and folks in the French countryside have longer memories than elephants! She summed up the experience by saying that she really loved the life and business she’d created and wouldn’t change anything, but it was not at all the life and business of which she’d hazily dreamed nine years before.

    There was tinge of the Jean de Florette in her story but she’d created a truly marvellous corner of the world and she was really blooming, having recently moved in a much younger local man to, um, help out around the place. 😉

    I will be coming back regularly to follow your progress, Suze, and bonne chance!

    • Excellent points – thanks for the feedback.

      Obviously, my years of living in France and integrating with the my local community will obviate some of these problems – my French is pretty decent and part of the reason for making the move back is the positive experience I had in those 7 years making some lifelong friends. But I absolutely agree that some mastery of the language is key to making the transition – the ex-pats we met were life savers, but were also all well integrated (I used to work with one guy on the newsletter for the local French Rugby club!). Obviously there are areas where there are huge concentrations of English speakers – the Charente and Brittany spring to mind – but I wouldn’t move to a rural area without good basics in the language.

      Love the example of the lady near Ventoux and I also think that kind of flexibility is crucial – I think good research and an open mind are key to success. I have my ‘big idea’ but know that, as things drop through the funnel, we’ll find what works and what doesn’t and where we need to focus our efforts. Go in with an open mind, be flexible and positive (but accept there’ll be negatives), acquire some good basic language skills and think really carefully about where you want to be is my best advice!

      Oh, and love your website!

  2. Thanks for this Suze – you sent me a DM on Twitter with this link the other day. I think my “bid idea” is slightly smaller than yours! My wife is a French teacher and is qualified to teach in France so that would be our main source of income. Our big decision is whether to sell up here and use the cash raised to invest in an existing B&B or rent out here and for me to work in whatever I can find down there

    Our location has already been decided as my parents spend the majority of the year in Antibes so that’s where we’d be heading – where all the existing businesses are pricier obviously so I think our money may not go as far as we’d like/need

    We’re still at the early stages of planning this and hope to move it on when the kids are a little older

    Thanks for your help

    • You’re obviously one step ahead of us in that you have a source of income already in place – we’re still working on what we can do when we get there but hope to have something in place that we can take with us – my husband’s a psychotherapist and is looking at online counselling and I’m hoping to have some cycling related work that I can do from home so the B&B won’t be our only source of income.

      Lucky you to have a ready made support network in such a beautiful part of the world – you’re also lucky to have people ‘on the ground’ who can keep an eye out for something that fits your budget and aspirations. Sounds like you’re well on the way to having a successful business.

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