french revolutions

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


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Love It When A Plan Comes Together…

Over the next few weeks I shall mostly be a) blogging about the Tour de France 100tours100tales.wordpress.com and b) making plans for our research mission in La Belle France and c) browsing French property prawn (but when don’t I find myself spending an hour or two sighing over properties that I know I could make gorgeous with a lick of fake Farrow & Ball?)

Obviously with redundancy and tightened belts we’ll be fact finding on the cheap – no overnight stays but I’ll be contacting B&B/gite owners in the Montmorillon area to try and arrange to have a chat with them and get a flavour not just of the commercial possibilities but the lie of the land in the area. I’ll be making appointments to view (of course!) and sounding out the possibilities for doing estate agency work (did I mention I absolutely adore nebbing at houses?). And we’ll be having a holiday – visiting Snake Island and Monkey Valley and Eagle Chateau and all the other cool tourist stuff – especially Futuroscope.

I still can’t believe I lived 1 hour away from the ‘French theme park of the moving image’ and never visited. I drove a thousand times through the park itself, a collection of extraordinary buildings united loosely by the brief ‘space age as imagined in the 1970s’. I watched a Tour de France prologue there. I had summer visitors who went and raved about it, especially the evening show that featured a gigantic projection of Gene Kelly singing in the rain, his phantom tap shoes exploding fountains of water wherever they touched. So I’m stupidly excited about spending a day there (budget be damned – at least for a day).

But more, much more, I’m stupidly excited about taking our first concrete steps to shifting the big idea from page to paysage. To standing inside a building and saying ‘you know what…’ To finding the right place in just the right spot. To talking to other Brits out there about the detail stuff – the schools and the doctors and the amenities. To establish the sense of community and the place we might take in it.

So we have the tent (we’re confirmed Glampers now), the Big Idea, and the freedom (summer holidays, redundancy) – I love it when a plan comes together and I’m more excited by this plan than anything for a very long time. The feeling of knowing you’re close to sloughing off the dead dullness of the 9 to 5 in favour of a driving your own destiny is euphoric, like being just nicely pissed on the very best champagne/great G&T/Belgian beers (delete as applicable – or not), like feeling your shoulders drop and the knots in your muscles that you didn’t even know you carried unravelling. I am so incredibly grateful to have the opportunity to do this – for all the uncertainty about our financial future, I know for certain that the road ahead will take us into the heart of la France profonde, to a lovely farmhouse/townhouse/barn conversion with fake Farrow & Ball on the walls and 4 very happy and contented people waiting to greet you at the door.

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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