From wildcard to living the dream
My wife Joanne and I are the proud new owners of Les Chambres de CoCo – a sensitively restored 19th Century manoir located near Aubeterre-sur-Dronne in the south of the Charente. Neither of us have a hotel or hospitality background but we love hosting and entertaining people. Joanne, who is Canadian by birth but British by choice, is a Garden Designer with a Master’s in Landscape Architecture. I was originally an officer in the Royal Navy and then a business executive in the shipping and offshore oil and gas industries.
Between us we’ve lived all over the world – Norway, USA, Seychelles, Western Samoa and, of course, the UK. And we have travelled a lot on personal and business trips.
So why did we decide to run a B&B? Well I had retired and was studying at Exeter University, but we both felt restless and in need of a new challenge. We thought of a few business options but finally settled on running a B&B (or Chambres d’Hôtes as it is called in France). Our thinking was that Joanne’s interior and garden design skills and my marketing and sales experience would be applicable but mainly we like to meet people, and this seemed a good way to do that.
We considered Spain, as we like the country and I speak some Spanish, but decided on France because we love the food, the culture and the countryside and we know that it is popular with British visitors and residents. We decided that the area where south Charente meets the Dordogne was ideal for us: good weather with proper seasons, but not too hot; a large expatriate community; good transport and not too far from the UK for our friends and family.
We went looking for the perfect property with Beaux Villages Immobilier and their agent, Sean Kelly, showed us a wide range. Les Chambres de Coco wasn’t exactly within our spec but he just had a feeling about it and slid it into the schedule as a ‘wild card’. We saw it, loved it and here we are.
Beaux Villages were excellent and able to work across the two languages and property systems. In fact I would say that the French system, with a neutral professional Notaire rather than competing solicitors, is superior to the English system and also the French system, like the Scottish, means firm commitments on purchase price and dates.
Our experience so far is that this is a truly beautiful area and nearby Aubeterre-sur-Dronne lives up to its designation as a Beaux Village de France. The people whom we have met, both French and British, have been kind and generous. We have been especially impressed by the expat Brits who have done work for us at CoCo.
There are a couple of challenges. Firstly language; learning French is not just a courtesy. Many French people, even well-educated administrators and professionals do not speak English. It is not only justifiable national pride. This means manoeuvring though French administrative bureaucracy in French – especially if, like us, you plan to run a business. But help is available – for example we have a bi-lingual, English origin, financial and business adviser.
The other problem is lunchtime. Virtually all businesses and government departments here close for lunch for around two hours. This continually catches us out. At one social event a French lady said to me that she understood that in England people have just one hour for their lunch break. I wish!
If you are thinking about doing this take the leap and have the adventure!
Les Chambres de CoCo has five double guest bedrooms, all with ensuites, air conditioning and satellite TV. Joanne and I hope that we shall see you here.
By Haydn Jones