June 2005 was a difficult month for Peter Friend and his partner Mark. After a change of jobs, relocation and redundancy they decided they didn’t want the sort of stressful lives they were leading in marketing and business development for much longer. Considering their skills, passion for travel, good food and wine, setting up their own luxury B&B in France by the time were 40 was their goal. Peter Friend tells how they went from their jobs in the UK to running the No. 1 luxury B&B in France…
Looking for a B&B to run in France
Once we decided we were going to move to France we devoted all our spare time to the search for the ideal property and location. Property pages of the Sunday papers were read from top to bottom, scrolling through endless internet sites until the early hours became a new sport. It was, at times, overwhelming – we had only been on holiday to France a few times and, admittedly, did not know the regions well.
We wanted to be in the south of France for the weather and longer tourist season. We wanted a medium sized town with good amenities, open year-round, with lots to see and do within an hour. The location had to be well connected and accessible by road, rail and air and not reliant on one airport nor one airline. Finally, we did not want to be in an area where there was too large an expat community.
An essential requirement for us was that, when the doors to our new business opened, it had to be a viable business.
From research, we knew the maximum number of rooms for a B&B in France was five and so our search for a minimum of 6 bedrooms was key as was the ability to have all of these rooms as ensuites. Added to this, space for sizable dining room, guest lounges, garden and kitchen were givens… with space for a pool and to develop the business further.
After much searching, we decided the Tarn area would be perfect. We looked at several properties and eventually the details for a house in Mazamet seemed to be absolutely perfect. Eight bedrooms, six of which were already ensuite, a town with a population of 12,000 on the edge of a national park; six airports within 2 hours serving many European destinations and an abundance of space. Add to this the fact that it’s close to several major tourist destinations including fabulous Carcassonne, Toulouse and Albi – it ticked all our boxes.
Finding the dream home
As we drove over the Monts de Lacaune from nearby Roquefort on July day, the clouds began to clear, the temperatures started to climb, and we descended into the town of Mazamet – once famous for its international wool trade. The azure blue skies and the stunning Montagne Noire providing a picture-perfect backdrop and, as we were an hour early for our rendezvous at the property, we made our way into the centre ville. We stumbled across an amazing chocolatier with a queue out the door – which, being British, we dutifully joined.
Mazamet felt right. There was a small Sunday morning market selling the essentials and a few bars where French men sat on the terrace – sipping espressos waiting for their wives to come out from morning mass. What struck us was the beautiful architecture of the buildings in the centre of town which would not have looked out of place along the boulevards of a much larger, grander, town.
As we turned into rue Pasteur, there ‘she’ was – standing proud, the burgundy coloured shutters shining in the summer sun. The moment we set foot through the front door we knew that No. 4, rue Pasteur, Mazamet was meant to be ours.
We learnt that the property was built in 1934 by an accountant in Mazamet’s wool industry. The owners explained that the property needed to be re-wired but that was the extent of the major works need (little did we know then that it would take more than three years to complete all the work!).
When it was time to head home to the UK, we were about an hour into the journey when we pulled off the autoroute to make the call to the estate agent to make an offer… by the time we had reached Calais that evening, we had agreed on a price.
Sorting out the basics
We borrowed funds from a French bank and endured what seemed like an endless stream of paperwork by fax and email. We used a specialist bilingual solicitor to assist with the purchase (money well spent for the peace of mind).
We signed the “compromis du vent” in September which also acted as a second-viewing. We also met a local builder to talk through our plans for renovating and an electrician to obtain a ‘devis’ (quote) for the re-wire.
Just before Christmas 2005, we returned to Mazamet to sign the ‘act definitive’ (the final part of the sale which ended with the handing over the keys to 4 rue Pasteur.
As we returned to our new home and entered the vast and empty property, the reality soon sunk in and so began three years of renovations; many sleepless nights, a flood and a fire.
Meanwhile we continued to work in the UK where we enrolled in evening school to learn French.
By Easter 2009, the year we both celebrated reaching 40, and after countless trips to check on progress, we were made the move to France permanent. By then we’d made many friends with our neighbours, French and English, and found Mazamet a friendly, welcoming place.
Open for Business
We set up a website to promote our B&B named La Villa de Mazamet and less than a week later our first guests arrived.
We invited the Mayor and the local press to an opening day. We printed flyers for local businesses offering a favourable rate and we encouraged every guest to leave us a Trip Advisor review.
Reservations started to trickle in and we built up a good reputation as THE place to stay in the area. Being so close to top ranked destinations like Carcassonne, Toulouse and Albi helps.
Running a B&B as a business (and as your sole income) is hard work, with days starting early and finishing late. Serving dinner as we do for several nights a week significantly adds to your workload.
La Villa de Mazamet has been a dream come true for us. We love welcoming guests from around the world and have met some truly wonderful people, from all walks of life, who have become friends. Guests will often say “if you are coming to our city, where ever that is, you have a place to stay”. They mean it and we have had some wonderful holidays as a result from Melbourne to Manchester.
2018 was our 10th anniversary season and we are immensely proud that, today, La Villa de Mazamet has been rated one of the top B&Bs in France for eight consecutive years on Trip Advisor, is included in Le Guide Michelin, the Good Hotel Guide and the Sawdays’ guide.