Waking up early to make other people breakfast may not be everyone’s retirement dream. For many, however, running a B&B in the South of France sounds like a refreshing alternative to the rat race. It was for Sonia and John Potts, who opened up La Bergerie de Laval in Tourbes in 2012. Sonia explained, “We knew we still wanted to work, but after thirty years of running a construction business we were ready for a different pace of life.”
As soon as their children had completed their formal education the Potts were up for a change. They didn’t know exactly where they wanted to be in France, but had a few regions in mind including Charente Maritime, Dordogne, the Alps, and Provence. The couple sold their house in the U.K., put their furniture in storage, loaded up a van, and drove south. “I remember thinking, Oh God, what have we done!” Sonia reminisced.
Finding the Property
Sonia and John originally had been planning to rent out a few cottages, not run a bed and breakfast. The plan had been to buy an old stone house with a number of small buildings they could renovate. The more they looked the more they realized that it was impossible to find the type of property they envisioned. All in all, they looked at over fifty houses throughout France. Eventually, they came around to the idea of opening a bed and breakfast.
The couple camped in Uzès for a month after deciding to focus on the Languedoc. “We used to sit in the tent at night looking at properties on our laptop!” Finally they saw the house in Tourbes which eventually became their new home and business. Sonia recalled, “I remember walking through the gate and seeing this and knowing, this was the one. I whispered to John, ‘This is perfect!’”
While John had made it clear that he didn’t want a “project”, before too long they were installing electricity in the summer kitchen and redoing the interior. Fortunately, the renovations were relatively light and the couple did everything themselves — from painting the shutters to changing the floor plan to building an exquisite rock waterfall in the pool. Because of the nature of the property and pool safety issues, they decided early on to have their lodging be adults only. They currently have guests visiting from a wide range of countries who stay in three bedrooms with en-suite bathrooms. They are on the higher-end of the market, targeting guests who want quiet and a bit of luxury with a friendly dog!
Advice to future B&B owners
Figure out how much revenue you need to make: For most, this is not a high-income industry. You’ll want to make sure you know the ins and outs of running a business. Sonia attributes their easy transition to the couple’s business background. She explained, “Make sure you are clear on what your financial needs are and that your B&B can meet those. We had experience budgeting and running a business so that part came naturally for us. Look at your earning potential and don’t expect to be 100 percent full all the time.”
Be social media savvy: Sonia explained that she saw the potential of TripAdvisor early on and has worked hard to get people to leave reviews. While they are open year round, there are limited guests during the winter and they are 80-90% full in the summer. Other local B&B owners recommend using sites such as booking.com, AirBnB, Facebook, and tweeting regularly. Overall, figure out who your target market is and see what works for you.
Have your own space: This is your home so it’s going to be essential to have a part of the house that’s just for you, where you can relax when you need a break from guests! Bear in mind you are also going to have to share your pool and garden with strangers.
Size matters: Because they only have three rooms to let out, Sonia finds that the work is manageable. For other B&B owners with four or five rooms, running the business essentially a full-time job. Basically, the more rooms you let the more income you will bring in—but your expenses and workload will increase exponentially as well. Keep in mind that to be classified as a “chambre d’hôte” in France you are limited to five rooms and fifteen guests. This is different than a a gîte which is is a house or self-contained accommodation available to rent on short-term basis.
Location, location, location: One great advantage of the Languedoc is the sheer number of airports in the region running low-cost flights all over Europe. If you are considering coming to the region you will want to be within an hour of at least one of them, but consider what other tourist attractions are close. Oh, and don’t forget to make sure directions to your house are clearly marked!
Remember a real perk of running a B&B in France— you can always run to the boulangerie for fresh croissants, so no need to get up at five AM to make homemade muffins!
If you’d like to talk to other local B&B owners or learn more about the process of opening up a business in France, please get in touch with the Renestance administrative team.
Natasha Freidus was Renestance’s first blog editor and web content advisor. She is a consultant and trainer specialising in multimedia storytelling. You can learn more about her work at her website, Creative Narrations. Natasha moved to Roujan from Seattle in early 2013 with her husband and two children.
All articles by: Natasha Freidus