The end of winter #3 in Eymet

At the end of our third winter since moving to France from the UK, I was reflecting on how it compares with our first two here and those before making the move.

In 2021 we completed the purchase of our house mid-December, so the run up to that was weird with nothing much to do but enjoy pre-Christmas in Eymet and worry about what might go wrong. Once in the house the project plan showed ‘B&B open to guests’ 1st May 2022, so we were full-on ‘bricolage’ for the rest of winter. This was great timing because the village was very quiet (we were still in the shadow of COVID and pre-Christmas parties in the bars and restaurants had resulted in most places having to closed down for a few weeks of social isolation) and the weather during January and February was COLD. 

We did have a ‘what the f*** have we done?’ wobble at one point after a couple of weeks of freezing fog, unreliable heating in the house, up to our eyes in decorating, pouring €€ into the house and virtually no social contact beyond the people at the check-outs of the local DIY stores and supermarkets. Thankfully, it didn’t take too long for the blue skies and warm sunshine to return. Our running group social runs in the beautiful countryside were fantastic for getting everything back in perspective and the bars and restaurants started to open again, but it was a tough winter.

The project plan for winter 2022 included decorating the non-guest areas of the house. We had been living in rather grim rooms at the back of the house whilst our guests enjoyed the results of our hard work the previous winter. So there was plenty to keep us busy, but learning from our first winter we had also arranged to spend a couple of weeks visiting family in the UK and a couple of weeks of winter sunshine in the Canaries. We also had a wider social network by this time and enjoyed some lovely festive gatherings and of course being able to go out with the running group whenever we could.

Thinking back to winter 2021/2 now I most remember the cold, the seemingly endless hard work and the social isolation. Thinking back to winter 2022/3 now I remember reflecting on our achievements in the B&B during our first year, having family to stay, lovely warm sunshine in February and March, meeting up with friends in the village or at our houses and taking time out for holidays while we were closed.

This winter 2023/4 we knew we would inevitably have a long to-do list as we always will in this house, but with all the major jobs done for now, it was a ‘to-do list’ not a ‘project plan’. Spotting a week with no bookings in late October ‘23 we headed to Tenerife for a week of doing nothing before getting on with the jobs at home. On the run up to Christmas we had a couple of weeks of doing almost nothing other than taking advantage of local events, having friends and family over and spending evenings in front of the fire relaxing with good wine and terrible Netflix Christmas films.

To dodge the coldest part of winter, we spent most of January along the Costas in Spain plus a couple more weeks in the Canaries late February. Adding it up now, we spent almost ~7 weeks in Spain over the winter. The resorts and beaches of mainland Spain were beautifully deserted and while much of northern Europe was posting pictures of snow, ice and floods, we were enjoying the warm sunshine and a lovely quiet local Spanish café culture. I can certainly see the attraction of Spain for ‘a life in the sun’, but my heart still lies in France.

Winters before moving to France from England? Well, it’s hard to compare. We were both working full time, so we had at best a couple of weeks off over Christmas and New Year and we were normally exhausted. The cold weather started earlier and dragged on longer, we were earning a lot more money so could push the boat out for celebrations and winter-sun holidays, plus it was easier to spend time with family. Swings and roundabouts but I certainly have no regrets especially looking at this winter.

Looking ahead to next winter, I feel confident about being able to embrace the change of pace and climate to enjoy our quiet time here in South West France…but I do need to order more logs, start my ‘to-do while we’re closed’ list and book up some winter-sun breaks.

Chritmas at Le portanel, Bed and Breakfast, Eymet

The end of winter #3 in Eymet Read More »

Winding down

September certainly met my expectations this year. The weather was (mostly) great with temperatures up in the 30s for the first 2 weeks and late twenties for the second half of the month, we did get 3 or 4 days of cool air and heavy rain in the middle, but that was quite welcome. The bars, restaurants and markets were still lively but without the crush of July / August. The B&B was still busy but without the full house of the peak season and we were able to have some downtime, family visitors and plan some holidays for the winter months.

We made the most of the last of summer events, spent some time with friends and family, kept up our running and started this year’s French classes with ACFAA as well as serving just over 100 guest breakfasts over the course of the month. Like last year, we are definitely ready for a break.

The pool started the month at about 26 degrees but was down to 21 by the end thanks to some storms, the colder nights and fewer hours of sunshine. We have closed it off now until next May.

On the admin side of things, I have at last managed to stop paying tax on my income both in the UK and in France and had all my overpayment returned. Our 2022 joint tax return went through OK, plus Tom finally has his ‘numéro fiscal’ which makes life a lot easier moving forward.

The association Maquizart have asked us to host the jazz musicians over the winter again when the concerts are on at the Chateau d’Eymet. It is obviously good to keep some € coming in over the winter, but I also enjoyed these weekends last year because I met some interesting people, had the opportunity to keep using my French and had an excuse to put the central heating on in the whole house instead of shutting ourselves in the petit-salon with just the pellet burner on!

As we wind down for the year in the B&B I can see that our takings for this year are about 30% up on 2022, we’ve managed to keep our overall score of 9.8 on Booking and we have over 100 room-nights reserved for 2024 already so we must be doing something right!

I’ll pause this blog now until we are getting ready to open again next season…

Winding down Read More »

Summer in Eymet

I can’t believe we’re in September already, but while it is still fresh in my mind, Tom suggested I write about some of the activities in the area that we have enjoyed over the peak season this year. The common theme for me is, of course, food and drink!

Every Tuesday evening in Eymet through July and August there is a Marché Nocturne. From late afternoon ‘til late there are stalls selling arts/crafts/local produce, food stalls and local wines. This is on top of the usual bars and restaurants in the square and it is always a great atmosphere either with a group of friends or simply on our own ‘people watching’. We love the wraps from the vegetarian stall Le Carré, but there are plenty of options like mussels, sausages, burgers, duck breast, crêpes, pizzas etc being cooked fresh to order.

Another favourite of mine are the Soirées Gourmandes. Our nearest one is at La Sauvetat du Dropt (an easy cycle ride) each Friday evening. A ‘field’ in the village is set out with long benches and surrounded by local food producers plus beer, wine, water and bread on sale. You take along your own plates, cutlery, glasses etc choose what you fancy and sit at the communal benches soaking up the atmosphere. There is often a local band playing and the French of all ages love to dance / line-dance at these events.

On a smaller scale but in a beautiful setting with a relaxed Sunday Lunch vibe is the Marché des Producteurs de Soumensac. Set up on the top of hill with beautiful views across Dordogne / Lot et Garonne, as above with the communal benches and choice of food trucks etc, it is a great way to spend a few hours on Sunday followed by a walk around lac de l’escourrou to help walk off the lunch on the way home. The warm goat’s cheese and bacon salad with honey is one of my favourites there!

For the last couple of years, on Thursdays in Eymet, there have been the ‘Apèro Cadix’ evenings organised by the association of local wine producers around Eymet with two different vineyards selling wine each week and a selection of local food trucks. Set in the grounds of the Chateau with benches, deck chairs and straw bales plus a play area for the kids, the first part of the evening has a local band playing before handing over to the disco to see the night out.

As well as the regular events during the summer, there are some great one-offs. On the evening of la fête nationale, 14th July, a celebration is held in Parc Bretou in Eymet with live music, food, wine / beer tents, dancing and a very impressive fireworks display at around 11pm. There is normally music / disco / celebration in the Bastide too, but I love the ‘very French’ celebrations in the parc.

A hugely popular event for Eymet during the summer is the ‘Oyster and White Wine’ festival on August 15th. Being a couple of hours away from Arcachon, fresh oysters are on sale in Eymet every Sunday morning in a couple of places, but this festival celebrates them in style. Le centre ville is packed with stalls selling all sorts of food and drink (as well as the obvious) and there is a real party atmosphere from noon until midnight. Even I was spotted dancing towards the end of the evening this year.

Some friends took us to a wine tasting at a local vineyard, I assumed it would take an hour or so, but 4 hours later we were still eating and drinking in the most beautiful setting. This is something I would like to do more of next year.

We attended a ‘pop up Indian feast’ night at another local vineyard, spent a lovely evening with friends eating great food and drinking great wine and were lucky enough to be put up in my friend Jill’s gite for the night before going back to get the B&B ready for the new arrivals.

There are lots of other events locally and further afield, some that we’ve been to and plenty more that we haven’t tried yet…most involving food and wine…but I think we’ve done well this year given how much busier we have been at Le Portanel. 

The first week in September is arguably one of the best weeks to live / visit here because the summer rush is over, the weather is normally still great and it’s the last week of the season for the night markets and foody outdoor events. We have four more very busy weeks ahead for the B&B before we slip into the quiet season. Where did the summer go?

Summer in Eymet Read More »

Run for your life…

My early morning cycle to the boulangerie for breakfast supplies helps to clear my head for the day and it is lovely to get out into the fresh air while it is still nice and cool, but what I really like to do is to get out into the countryside for a long run.

I have always enjoyed running. ‘Cross-country’ was one of the few sports at school I was any good at and running has always been my go-to for keeping fit, clearing my mind, reducing stress, listening to audio books and, after joining my first running group the Woodbridge Shufflers a few years ago back in Suffolk, making friends and socialising.

In 2021, after we had found our first rental property in France, but before we’d made the move over, I joined a local Facebook group for the Eymet Running Club which organises social runs in and around the Eymet area a couple of times week. As a result, within a week of arriving, I joined their weekend social run + coffee and I’ve not looked back since. Through the group we have made friends with a lot of like-minded people who we socialise with now as well as run as often as we can.

The Eymet social running group meets Friday and Sunday mornings somewhere in the area. Friday tends to be around 5km and is especially welcoming to beginners and people looking to get back into running after a break for whatever reason. Sundays is often a route up to 10km but with options for shorter routes back and is followed by coffee and cake where possible.

Throughout the winter and when the B&B allows it during our open season, I drive over to a friend’s house near Loubès-Bernac / Thènac once a week and we spend an hour or so running through the woodland, vineyards, and country lanes around there. The countryside is beautiful!

Parc Bretou in Eymet has a 1km trail around it which is a good shady-flat-laps option. A short distance from Eymet, the lovely lac de l’Escourou also has flat and shady trails around it giving options for 3km, 5km and 8km routes. As part of my marathon training last year, I pieced together routes for my longer training runs making loops >30km, I also found a half-marathon route from Eymet Château to Duras Château, where I sat cooling off in a café with a cold beer while I waited for Tom to come and pick me up.

Eymet sits on a long trail called the Chemin d’Amadour, a 500km pilgrimage trail through some beautiful towns, villages and historic sites in south-west France. Earlier this year, John from our running group led us on a relaxed social run along part of this trail from the magnificent Chateau Monbazillac to the beautiful village of Issigeac famous for its Sunday morning market – about 16km of trails and quiet country roads. It was a fabulous morning. I’ve started to build a collection of routes which I keep in our B&B guest lounge, and they have proved popular with walkers and runners alike, so I’ll keep working on that.

There are also a lot of locally arranged races in the area, often largely off-road, often VERY hilly, including the LA FOULÉE EYMETOISE in October with 8km and 15km routes. Tom and I have signed up for the Cognac half-marathon in November and the Bordeaux half-marathon in December just to keep our running motivation up.

This time of year, with temperatures well into the 20s by 10am and often around 30 by the end of the day, an early start is needed, so I don’t get many opportunities to get out for a long run, but I try to make the most of the cooler days and the odd day where I’m not needed for breakfast. If not, I just enjoy my little cycle ride up to the boulangerie each morning and remind myself how lucky I am to live here!

Eymet Running Club Run

Run for your life… Read More »

Getting the balance right

Last season was our first experience of running a B&B. Between the two of us (a high school maths teacher and an engineering project manager) we have plenty of marketable skills to offer but in VERY different industry sectors, so we had a lot to learn! Then consider that we had just moved to France post Brexit at the tail end of COVID, that we were coming to terms with the administration of starting a new life here and not to mention learning the language, it is not surprising that it was all a bit ‘full-on’.

This year, whilst we are clearly by no means experts and are still learning all the time about the B&B, admin here in France and of course the language, we are much more confident all-round and so we have been more relaxed as the season has really ramped-up this month.

Our bookings for this year and next are very strong, the feedback we have had is lovely and our ‘imposter syndrome’ feelings are diminishing. We have not been afraid to close the house on the booking platforms for 2 or 3 nights at a time so we can have some down time, enjoy the house, garden and pool to ourselves, take the van away for a couple of nights, or spend a boozy evening with friends without having to worry about getting up early for breakfast.

Throughout my life and my various jobs, I have been a firm believer in working hard and doing the best I can, but getting the balance right between work and play has not always been easy and has taken me longer to get the hang of. Tom still tells me that I need to just switch off and relax more, but this year we are doing much better at it than last!

Early in June we were fully booked for all 4 rooms on a Wednesday night with all guests checking out on the Thursday and the next lot arriving for a long weekend the same day. Some guests came down for breakfast at 8am, some much later, some checked out by 10am others needed to stay until 2pm. The first of the new arrivals for the day were here at 9:30am (mid breakfast service…) and the last arrived ~2am the following morning before we got up to start again the next day.

It is a lot of work on days like that, but then we had a few days with no check-ins or changeovers so after breakfast and room refreshes, the rest of the day is pretty much our own, the balance was restored and the following week we blocked all the rooms off for a couple of nights to give ourselves some down-time.

As I was writing this, an article was published in The Sunday Times about a trend towards ‘semi-retirement’ which fits nicely with my ‘getting the balance right’ post this month, and there are me and Tom featured in the middle of the article including our photo taken in Eymet village square – my five minutes of fame!

Now its July already and we are about to start what was our busiest 2 months last year. Schools close here next week, the summer festivals and night markets have started, and the summer season is officially in full swing. Bring it on et à la prochaine…

Getting the balance right Read More »