A great real life experience story from Tony Tidswell, owner of a B&B and gites at Villa Roquette in Languedoc-Rousillon. We asked Tony what got him into this business and he told us this fascinating story of a dream about the good life in France, a leap of faith, a lot of hard work, some good property finds and adventures for him and his family:
We never meant to open a B&B in France – in fact we had never been to France as a family before, but we had decided to live somewhere else that was not near Slough or Bracknell. I have nothing against the M4 corridor, apart from the traffic, pollution, house prices and a general feeling of scruffy smugness. The area is fine – but we decided to leave this demi-paradise!
When I am asked why we chose to move to France – and many of our guests do ask – as I don’t really know, I say – “for the education system” or “the health services” or “the climate”. The truth is we came to France because it was not the UK (certainly not Bracknell) and it was easy to get to.
It was 1990, we had two little girls aged three and 18 months and I was making a good living. I took the train from Bracknell station most days, had tedious meetings with ghastly people in London who happened to know less than I did about computer networks and distributed software solutions. I felt there must be more to life than this.
So, I bought a one month rail pass for France and got on a train. My plan was to get on the first train that left whichever station I was at and get off when I felt like it. Not much of a plan! I spoke very few words of French, enough to buy too much to drink and a loaf of bread. I stayed at one and two star hotels near the stations which were usually charming, if slightly seedy, run down 19th century buildings. I discovered many odd corners of France and a few even odder people.
My only criteria for a place to live was to be within half an hour of an International airport by public transport.
Common sense sort of gravitated me southwards (actually, it may have been the sunshine or the vineyards) and I found and fell in love with Lyon. I looked around a bit and at the end of a bus route, at the edge of the Beaujolais region, on the banks of the Saone is Trevoux. I rented an apartment and phoned my wife Carole to tell her we had a new home.
We moved – no more massive mortgage at 15% interest, no more property prices dropping daily those were the good things. On the bad side we had no money, no work and no income but Carole trusted me and we moved lock, stock and barrel – clearly all common sense had left me at the Gare de Lyon in Paris.
We survived and thrived – our kids went to a local school (you can start pre-school from the age of 2 in France) and loved it. Three years later we decided to stay, so we bought a dog – no going back now. Oh yes, and Carole was pregnant.
We decided that if we were staying in France we should go further south to where the sunshine lives and the vineyards are bigger. I had made many long excursions in an ancient VW campervan discovering new vineyard towns and I knew that there we would eventually find the place of our dreams. With a miniscule inheritance Carole had from her father, we bought a whip factory in the Languedoc-Roussillon region at the foothills of the Pyrenees overlooking the Mediterranean. It cost £19,000 and took every penny we had, so renovating it was going to be impossible. I parked the campervan in the factory and started work on the impossible.
Four years later and after a crash course in French building technology, planning and bureaucracy we had a home – but we never lived in it. Alas ghastly neighbours put us off, besides we had fallen in love with the town of Pezenas – still in Languedoc-Roussillon, but in the Herault, a milder, calmer and more satisfying lifestyle. So, (wisely as it turned out) we rented out the whip factory house in Sorede and bought another ruin (this time with a bank loan) in Nizas, a beautiful and magical village just north of Pezenas in the heart of Languedoc yet only twenty minutes from the Mediterranean. This time for the princely sum of £30,000…Read part 2 of Tony’s story – the dream of life in France takes more twists and turns for the family, but the dream of running gites in France progresses…