The start of the silly season

This weekend brings with it our first wedding guests of the year and signals the start of our ‘silly season’. Looking at the calendar, there are just 2 nights in June when we don’t have guests booked in. It is time to put the house ‘to do’ list firmly on hold and focus on the B&B as well as enjoying the summer activities.

Tom and I were chatting the other day about how nice it was to have the house to ourselves for a few days. With reservations for just about every week / weekend between now and the end of August, that is going to be a rare occurrence until the end of the summer.

When we are busy here, it is easy to have a bit of a moan about the early mornings, the never-ending laundry and cleaning, having guests in the house and garden all the time etc. Besides, who doesn’t like a good moan sometimes? To keep things in perspective, we remind ourselves that 3 or 4 ‘full-on’ months per year is SO much more preferable to the daily grind (‘metro, boulot, dodo’ as the French expression goes) we had before we moved to France.

I was thinking about what our hourly rate of pay is running the B&B. It is hard to say when the business merges so closely with our daily lives and varies so much day by day, week by week and month by month, but on balance, I’ll take our current mode de vie over our previous one which had a much higher income from our salaries.

During the winter months we have a lot of free time to get work done around the house and garden, but also to take some proper holidays away from everything and to take some time to just ‘do nothing’ at home, which I’ve never been that good at, but I am learning…

I know from experience now that the summer months are going to fly by with so much going on and we are already planning our holidays for when things quieten down again.

I have to say, the weather during May has been pretty rubbish with the heavy rain and chilly nights from April continuing for much of the month. Temperatures are on the way up now and the long-term forecast looks much more settled which is very welcome and is going to make getting my B&B laundry dry much easier! I’m looking forward to finally being able to start serving breakfast on the terrasse again, oh yeah and having a good moan about how hot it is all the time 😊

A beer in DaMa in Eymet square

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Wedding Celebrations

Last month I wrote about house-hunting being one of the recurring reasons bringing our guests to Eymet. Another reason, which I hadn’t considered at all before we opened the B&B, is to attend a wedding celebration in one of the nearby châteaux / manor houses.

We are lucky to have several excellent venues close by and they are very popular, particularly with British and Irish couples celebrating their wedding in France. Our beautiful Bastide town of Eymet with the bars and restaurants, the B&B and gite options, 3 airports in easy reach, is a great choice as a ‘hub’ for such an occasion.

In fact, my son and his fiancée who live in London are doing exactly that in August at Le Manoir du Bout du Pont at La Sauvetat de Dropt. They have been here this month to finalise their choices for catering, wine, arrangements at the venue, the supply of all the ‘stuff’ they are going to need and to start their detailed planning. We tasted wines with Manu at the lovely and recently refurbished Cave in Eymet and with Christophe at Domaine de Sauban whose wines I really like, to name a couple, but we are so spoilt for choice! We also sampled Rosie’s food from Party In France at Goujounac which was excellent.

For many weekends from late May to Early September, we have wedding guests arriving on the Thursday or Friday and leaving on the Sunday or Monday. There is often a gathering for food and drinks in Eymet ahead of the big day and usually a pool party / BBQ back at the wedding venue the day after.

Sometimes the wedding party will stay with us for a couple of nights before they move to the venue for the weekend. Some guests have stayed for a week or even longer making a proper holiday out of it with the wedding included. For the guests of local French weddings, it is fair to say that we hardly see them for the whole of their stay given the duration of the parties for those occasions.

I like it when we have a houseful of guests all attending the same wedding. The party atmosphere spills into our house, garden and pool, but we’ve also had guests from three separate weddings staying on the same weekend comparing notes about their respective venues.

I realise the large number of wedding celebrations here over the last couple of seasons was fuelled by a post COVID backlog, but I hope it continues moving forward because they are such good weekends for all involved.

We made good progress on the ‘to do’ list during April as well as welcoming B&B guests throughout the month, including several returning customers who have enjoyed staying with us before which makes me so happy 😊. As we move into May the B&B is getting busier, our pool is open (although given the weather this April it still has some warming up to do!) and we are seeing more tourists in the village and surrounding area. Bring on our 3rd summer season here!

Eymet

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House Hunting

I’m always interested in what brings our guests to Eymet and everyone has a different story to tell, it’s one of many things I enjoy about our B&B. One weekend towards the end of our first season we had a couple attending a wedding, a couple meeting their new baby granddaughter for the first time, a guest who was sadly going to a funeral in the village and a couple thinking about moving the area.

As I was serving breakfast, I couldn’t help but get drawn in as people chatted.  What chance had brought everyone together over coffee, pastries and eggs in our house that morning!

Buying a house is one of the recurring reasons for our guests staying with us. In fact, our very first paying guests in May ‘22 were house hunting. While here they found a house just up the road, stayed with us again when they signed their compromis de vente and again for the acte de vente and while they found their feet in the house. They now live in the village and we have become friends.

A couple staying with us this February flew over from the US to decide if they wanted to buy in the area. They had an offer accepted on a house in a nearby village while they were here. If I remember rightly, they are the 6th couple in the last 2 years to have bought or completed on a house in the area while staying with us and we have others booked in this year who are also doing just that.

Having made the move here from the UK less than 3 years ago, if people ask, I’m always willing to share our thoughts and actions leading to landing here and what we like or dislike about the towns and villages we have got to know since then. I thought about including some of the resources we used, but it is the sort of thing that can quickly go out of date and there are some great Facebook groups with hardworking admins dedicated to most aspects of the process as well as the official gouvernement.fr sites, so I’ll keep my reflections here at a much less technical level!

Before we moved to France, we narrowed the search area to ~10 possible towns / villages. On arrival, we stayed in an Airbnb while we got our bearings and started to explore. As it happens, we ended up living in Eymet (which we hadn’t heard of before arriving) running a B&B (which wasn’t on the plan) in a house which we had pretty much written off before we even came to visit it.

We looked at ~15 houses in the region of all shapes and sizes. Before arriving, we had very little feedback from the estate agents we contacted. Once here however, with a clear intention to buy and with the funds to do so, they were great (I understand this is quite common). The agent we bought through was extremely helpful right the way through and even after the process, we still catch up over a drink together sometimes.

As part of our B&B daily routine, we pop into people’s rooms to give them a refresh while they are out and about. As an ex-project manager, I was extremely impressed during one such refresh by the 2m long ‘PROs and CONs’ list of potential purchase properties that our guests had blu-tac’d to the ensuite bathroom door. I made mental note to offer our whiteboard and dry wipe pens in the future!

We are fortunate in Eymet to have 4 immobiliers in the village along with local agents from on-line agencies and other offices in the surrounding towns and villages. We are also lucky enough to have visiting employees from these immobiliers staying with us as well their clients.

If you are somewhere along the journey of thinking about / completing a house purchase in the area, as a big life changing move or as a holiday home, feel free to come and stay with us for a few days, enjoy Eymet, explore the area, pick our brains on the matter and of course see how beautiful it is here!

So we’re into April already! Since we got back home from the Canaries, we have had some great weather (as well as plenty of rain…) We’ve been able to get on with outdoor maintenance work on the house and we’re getting the pool ready for the summer. We’ve continued our weekly ‘lunch-date’ at different bars and restaurants in the region. This month’s picture was a lunch in the middle of March at Château de Fayolle just 25 minutes from here. What a great couple of hours that was… before getting back to the painting!

This is Easter weekend. Pâques in France is an important religious ceremony, but also a holiday weekend (often extended) for spending time with family. From what I have seen, chocolate and lamb play an important part in this holiday here as they did when I lived in England, but the lamb will be served with plenty of garlic and rosemary instead of the dreaded mint sauce, and the chocolate eggs will be delivered by the magic bells returning from Rome on Easter Sunday instead of by the Easter Bunny which is what I grew up with. I hadn’t noticed before, that the normally omnipresent church bells in France fall silent on Good Friday until noon on Easter Sunday when they announce the arrival of the chocolate eggs pour les petits. OK, I have vastly oversimplified and misrepresented all of that…I’ll try to write a better-informed post on the matter in the future.

Joyeuses Pâques et à très bientôt.

Lunch at Chateau de Fayolle

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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

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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…

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