Years ago, expats in France who wanted an income usually took the gite route. Gites really took off in the 1950s when the French Government introduced a gite classification system to breathe new life into rural economy and British expats in particular saw the attraction. These days expats are becoming more and more entrepreneurial and creating jobs for themselves in less traditional areas of business. Take Tarn Cycling Holidays, a company set up by a group of young Brits…
Location location location
Nicknamed the “Tuscany of France”, the Tarn lies north east of Toulouse. Sunflowers cover the rolling hills, picturesque medieval villages abound, and dramatic canyons impress. Charlotte Corner and Marcus Gough and Melanie and James Sewell from Coventry, England, moved to the Tarn in 2015. Charlotte and Mel are sisters and the couples are also great friends who had a vision. They’re in their 30’s and like an increasing number of people, didn’t want to wait until retirement to move to France to live the good life.
After ten years of taking holidays in France, and much planning, they gave up their jobs and moved to the village of Espinas in the Tarn et Garonne, part of the new super region Occitanie.
“We were inspired to move to this area after a wonderful holiday in 2013 – this place just seemed to ‘click’ and we were won over by the beauty of local towns and villages, especially Saint Antonin Noble Val. It felt like there was a lot going on and that it was a place you could live in, not just a place for holidays” says Marcus.
The lure of the Tarn
They knew they had to earn an income and their dream was to run a business they were passionate about – cycling. The scenic and quiet roads of the Tarn make it an ideal place for cyclists. There are more than 2000km of cycling trails in the department and all tourist offices offer free maps. The Véloroute de la Vallée du Tarn, for example, takes cyclists on a 380km-long journey across the northern half of the region. Starting from the roman ruins of Montans, it leads to the Pays Albigeois, home to typical medieval bastides such as Lisle-sur-Tarn or Puycelsi. The route ends in Albi, the largest town in the region, a landscape dominated by the stunning red-bricked Sainte Cécile Cathedral – listed World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2010 – and its episcopal city.
They started with a search for a house big enough for all of them. And they needed space to set up their business with lots of storage and accommodation. And it all needed to be in a really picturesque part of France.
The couples fell head over heels for this area at the junction of three regions Tarn, Tarn-et-Garonne and Aveyron. “The landscape is spectacular” Mel enthuses “a combination of rolling hills and oak forests, impressive river gorges and medieval hilltop towns glowing golden in the sunshine”.
They love the impressive Gorges D’Aveyron, perfect to visit by bike, market day in Saint Antonin Noble Val is superb and they love the chance to enjoy wine tasting in the Gaillac vineyards. “Taking a tour of the bastide towns including Cordes sur Ciel, a trip to the city of Albi (a UNESCO world heritage site), a visit to the Royal chateau fortress at Najac, the cascades of the Bonnette river or the lush Foret de Gresigne” are just a few of their favourite things.
Finding the dream
“We searched for hours and hours online making long lists, then short listed those lists until we had a selection of houses we wanted to view” Marcus says. In the end, they had 50 properties that were potential for their home/business goal. It took them a month to view them all until they saw “the one” close to the lovely town of Saint Antonin Noble Val.
Their house is a large, Quercy style farmhouse with the date of 1786 above the door. It sits in six acres with its own woodland and surrounding meadows. The main house was mostly renovated so they were able to move in straightaway allowing them to concentrate their efforts on renovating the barn and creating cabin accommodation for their cycling business.
“We also had to claw back the gardens from a very wet spring which had led to the grass growing six feet high! We spent a lot of those early days, weeding, strimming and mowing!” they say.
Soon after they arrived, they were invited to take part in the Channel 4 TV series, A New Life in the Sun. “The camera crew captured some great footage of our ‘before and after’ transformation which has given us a fantastic record of our achievements but did occasionally distract us from making progress” says Jim.
Starting a cycling business in France
The couple say they knew it wasn’t going to be easy to set up their new business in France. “We had no problems sorting out the sale of our houses in the UK, buying the property in France, finances, setting up websites etc but when it came to the official paperwork we didn’t want to risk getting it wrong” Marcus says. They hired an English-speaking company in France that helps expats resettle, set up business and sort out life in France. Not having to worry about paperwork freed them up to work on making their company exactly what they dreamed of.
“We run our holidays from our base – a beautifully renovated barn with ensuite bedrooms and swimming pool. Our guests can explore the best of the region on different routes each day but without having to move their belongings from place to place. We look after the pick-ups and drop offs each day, breakfast and dinner. It’s still a cycle touring holiday, but all within one region, from one base so guests can feel at home during their stay. We use local fresh produce for our cooking and the wine from the vineyards on our doorstep and a key aspect of our business is enabling others to explore and enjoy our beautiful region.”
They also rent out their self-catering barn and woodland cabin with wood-fired hot-tub
Living the dream
The support from the town hall and their neighbours in Espinas has been overwhelming say the couples. They’ve been made to feel welcome and part of the community and really feel as though they belong. “We’ve definitely adapted” Charlotte says, especially since baby Amadie arrived in January 2017. “Some things take a bit of getting used to like the fact that everything stays closed for lunch and how much form filling there can be! And we miss friends, family, even the rain some days – but those things are outweighed by all of the other special things that living in France offers. We particularly love the French approach to hospitality, there is something very civilised about the time and care taken to prepare and eat a meal – eating in France is an occasion not just a necessity!”
For these young entrepreneurs the move to France has been everything they dreamed of and more.
Tours du Tarn run cycling holidays throughout the year