Dreaming of running a gite business in France? You’ll love this real life experience feature… following on from Part 1 of Tony Tidswell’s story, the dream of the good life in France, having given up his job and wandered about France by train and ancient VW camper Tony and his family have bought a house for £30,000 in Pezenas in the heart of the Languedoc region and make plans for running a gite business in the Languedoc-Rousillon region of France…
Evidently the sun and wine had completely destroyed all vestiges of sanity I may have once had – this new home, which we immediately moved into, was a 10th century ruin. With over 50 rooms – it had not been touched since the previous owner had moved into it after her marriage in 1926 – our son jack was born a few weeks later.
As I was now an expert in renovating piles of rubble, I started on the mammoth task of turning this rambling medieval pile of rubble into a home. The walls at the rear were part of the old fortifications for the village, in places they were over twelve feet thick. Just installing one window meant taking out 14 tons of stone. There were no drains, so I learned how to tunnel under fortifications, discovering old Roman stuff, wells and medieval pottery – all good fun.
The house was full of furniture, rooms and rooms of it from previous centuries. I made regular trips to car boot fairs in Ascot just outside London (I knew living in Bracknell would come in useful one day) made some good profits and that helped pay for renovations.
Slowly our home became habitable – and my cherished dream to open a photography school was looked as if it might become reality.
Eight years after leaving England, we had survived in France, we had two happy daughters doing well at school and about to enter the local college. Our son was growing up in a farming village of only 500 people where everyone knew him; I had learned a bucket-full of building skills and was fitter than I have ever been and we had a home. Okay, it wan’t finished – but with over 30 rooms we could use, plenty of accommodation for guests and a superb darkroom I thought it was time to advertise the photography classes I was longing to hold.
This was the beginning of the Internet – so I taught myself how to build websites and in 1997 started advertising. I wrote what must be one of the first “blogs” telling people we were in Languedoc and they could come to our home and learn Zone system darkroom techniques.
Within a week it seemed that half of Seattle was booking places – we got emails from Australia and Norway asking if we had apartments to rent and Microsoft seemed to be moving in.
This was the Internet in 1997 – still pioneering days – no Google (remember Alta Vista) no Facebook (anyone remember geocities?). We got so many clients I only ever ran a couple of photography courses – we were full all year round with travellers from all over the world. Not from France though – the French stuck to stuck to Minitel and considered the Internet as a mild aberration.
I had loads of ideas what could be done with the Internet, this new marketing tool – I registered hundreds of sites and names, built some interesting things. Unfortunately I found that in France, it is not always easy to be an entrepreneur and as I did not have a recognised classification for what I was doing, after a few years I was not allowed to do it (whatever it was). I was told in no uncertain manner to stop advertising other people’s properties or I would go to jail. As we all loved living in France, I stopped and simply ran our own apartment rentals.
One of our renters was using our computer one day (this is before iPads) and was looking for property (a lot of our guests bought houses in Languedoc), I asked what sort of place he was looking for and he said “something just like your house” – so I said (as a joke) “OK, make me an offer I can’t refuse” – so he did – it was a lot of money.
We could now move anywhere in the world, but in 2005 we moved ten minutes South, towards the Mediterranean, still very close to Pezenas. Our new home is a beautiful 19th century “Maison de Maitre”, we worked hard on it for a few years and opened our new B&B and Gites in 2010. We would not wish to be anywhere else.