Julie and Simon Tee continue their story following the Tsunami tragedy in Taiwan they took a life changing decision, here they talk about their new life in France and what it’s like to run a gîte…
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in France? If you could, would you change any decisions/preparations you made?
We think we were fairly well prepared for the move – but there will always be things that challenge you. We had learned from the experience of Julie’s parents when they moved to Spain, and also had friends already living in Deux-Sèvres – who had shared their feelings and experiences openly with us, good and bad.
We should definitely have learned more French. The language is so very important if you really want to be accepted by the French. Our neighbours are French and our customer base is French – so it really has been in-at-the-deep-end! But that has also helped in learning the language quickly now that we are totally immersed in it.
In hindsight, we perhaps would not have brought our car from the UK. We still debate over whether we have done the right thing bringing it here… but Julie for one did not want to drive a LHD vehicle, having never ever driven anywhere other than the UK anyway!
We also look back and regret decisions we made to throw or give belongings away, rather than put them into storage 4 years ago. So many things we have had to go out and buy that we once owned! But then 4 years ago we didn’t know this is where we would end up.
The other thing…. We moved in on January 19th, just before a dreadful cold patch hit – the worst snow, ice and anything else you can imagine. Our gîtes were not designed for winter living… so trying to keep warm was a nightmare. We went through so much wood on our open fire, and had the scariest electricity bill in! Why didn’t we just move into our motor-home in the Barn? It’s been good enough for the last 4 winters… why didn’t we think of that?
Are you part of an expat community in France? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
To be honest, we haven’t sought out fellow expats. We feel we have chosen a life in France for many reasons, one is to participate in that real-community feeling that the French enjoy, and surround ourselves with everything French. That’s not to say that we don’t want to be with English people. We have friends who live in the Limousin who are part of an excellent ‘integration group’, made up equally of English and French. They have great social activities together – we’ve been involved in a couple of them and that’s the kind of thing we’d enjoy if we could find it here. We asked the question via Anglo Info, but got a pretty bad response to be honest – although we did make a couple of nice contacts from it.
We were having coffee with one of our French neighbours the other day, and he asked us if we’d found the English people nearby, and we tried to explain to him that just because we come from the same country, does not necessarily mean that we would have enough in common to make a friendship with them. Whatever language you speak, its common interests and experiences which ignite friendships.
We are very sociable people. That is why we were such good camp-site wardens – we always had time to banter with customers, and we’re finding we now do the same with our gîte customers – which is rewarding and fulfilling, particularly as we speak different languages.
In actual fact, the English people in our community have found us. When we arrived, we made a point of going to our immediate and nearby hamlet neighbours and introducing ourselves (in our pigeon French at the time) and they have actually told their English friends about us – so they’ve sought us out.
And of course, with the wonders of technology – Skype, Facebook and the phone, we do keep in touch with friends and family that we do miss – but we have adjusted to being away from them over the last 4 years. Julie is a member of L.I.F.T. facebook page and hopes to get more involved in events through them.
What are your top three tips for anyone coming to France to open and run a gîte?
Well we’ve only been involved in this business for 6 months and can only hope that we’ve got it right! Time will tell! It wasn’t our original intention to buy a gîte business, it was the fishing that was our original search criteria with the potential for camping. But, in our relatively short experience so far, we would say….
Your gîte has to have “something extra” – especially if it’s not in a popular tourist or coastal destination. There are thousands and thousands of gîtes out there – what will make someone come to yours? For us, it’s the lakes. Not only does it attract people who want to fish, but because of the mature established planting and wild-flowers around the lakes, it’s a beautiful location to just sit and relax – it’s an ideal setting for painters and photographers to enjoy their hobby.
Don’t just aim for the British market because that’s what you feel comfortable with. So many French people holiday in gîtes in their own country, you want to be able to tap into that market. And our experience so far, is that the French are great customers. Not only are they so very friendly, they know the score when it comes to gîte rental – they bring their own bedding, they know they are expected to clean the gîte before they leave etc. They are so appreciative of such little things, like a bowl of freshly picked plums from our orchard. Of course you do need to still market to Brits (and other nationalities) to try to extend your season beyond the typical 8 week French holiday season.
Advertise! Get a web presence – Julie did our website and works hard to get it listed on as many free sites as possible, as well as seeking out those we feel it is worth paying for. It takes time – but it is worth it. It doesn’t have to cost a fortune – there are many tools out there to allow you to build your own website, but if you don’t think you can create one that looks professional enough – it’s now relatively cheap to get someone to build a website for you. However, we recommend that you try and use someone who then allows you to control any further updates yourself, to minimise on-going costs. And Vistaprint is a ‘must’ for business cards/flyers and so on which are now very inexpensive.
Tell us three great things about your gîte
Number 1 has to be the fishing lakes. Not only is the environment stunning to look at through all the seasons, but we have a great variety of fish. We would never be able to compete with the ‘big carp’ venues that serious English anglers seek out – we look to satisfy a wider variety of anglers. Our smaller lake is stocked with a wide species of fish, which are generally quite small. This suits the angler who wants to fish for a couple of hours and catch a bag full – it’s also ideal for children, as they don’t get bored quickly – all the time they are catching fish they are ‘hooked!’. The larger lake is stocked mainly with carp (although also contains other varieties to keep the balance). Although not enormous fish, we have an intensive feeding programme and they are gaining weight quickly. They are however beautiful specimens of carp, and a pleasure to catch. Because our lakes are sourced from natural springs, the water level never drops, and the constant moving water fools the fish into thinking they are in bigger water. Our carp give a great fight for their size.
The location is another great thing about our gîtes. We are in the country, surrounded by apple orchards and fields – yet only 2 kilometres from a town with all the amenities. Secondigny has a good supermarket, 2 bakers, an excellent charcuterie, hairdressers, all the major banks and pretty much everything else you may need. We are only 20 minutes from Parthenay which has a much bigger choice for shopping. We also have a good range of tourist attractions within an hour in any direction.
The peace and quiet is another key feature of our gîtes. So far, every single customer has mentioned how quiet and tranquil it is, how dark it is at night (no light pollution), how nice it is to sit and watch the birds, and how well they have slept!
In writing this, it has given us the opportunity to reflect on the journey we’ve had to get us here. It has once again helped us to focus on that fact that we are lucky to be alive, and lucky to have the life that we have chosen – rather than focus on the smaller things that tend to weigh us all down.
The Good Life France wishes Julie and Simon lots of luck and success with their gîtes.