October 2022

Moving from August to September felt like a step change in several ways:

The B&B bookings went from crazy busy to just busy – we had some rooms sit empty for a few nights running, we were often only turning one or two rooms and even had a few nights with the house to ourselves which seemed very strange. A common theme among our guests during September has been house hunting in the area which is always exciting and we have been able to share our experience since moving over here.

The high-season activities in the region came to an end – with la rentrée came a change of pace in the region and end to the night markets, soirées gourmandes, festivals, outdoor cinema, live music in the square etc. It was sad to see it all finish, but the village has stayed lively, the weather has been mostly great and having fewer tourists around makes it easier to park, get a table at a café, move around the markets. I really enjoyed this time of year last year too.

The weather became autumnal – yes we had a final ‘sting in the tail’ heat wave with temperatures well into the 30s again in September, but the nights have been down as low as 3 degrees, and daytime highs in the low to mid 20s have replaced the August mid to high 30s. Breakfast on the terrace gradually came to an end and the water temperature in the pool has dropped below what I am prepared to swim in but it has still had a lot of use during the month.

We started making plans for the winter – it is still hard to imagine at the moment, but it is going to get VERY cold at times, we need a pellet burner installed in the kitchen and need to get stocked up with fuel. The non-guest areas of the house are in desperate need of decoration, the roof needs some attention, the garden needs a lot of work… plus we’ve got some holidays booked and a few other projects lined up.

We’ve been full again this weekend, Eymet has been hosting the annual conference of rural mayors and we were fully booked within about 30 minutes of its schedule being confirmed a couple of months ago. It’s a big event with around 500 mayors visiting and has been a welcome boost to our end of season bookings. It also great to see so much still going on in the village including fireworks on Friday night.

As it stands, we’ve got one more week of B&B bookings then we’re closed until April next year and I have to say we are ready for it! As September progressed, we found it more difficult to stay motivated not to cut corners and not to let our standards drop. This reinforces that our decision to close for the winter and start completely fresh in the spring was the right one. We are both tired, in need of a proper break and we’ll have time to get the work done on the house and garden that has been on hold for 6 months.

Je ne regrette rien ?

People often ask us if we have any regrets about moving out here and starting the B&B. The short answer is always ‘absolutely not’ but I thought I’d reflect on that a little more this week.

We don’t see our family as often as we did. We’ve missed some ad-hoc birthday celebrations and not been there for the hugs and moral support as people have been through the ups and downs of life for the last year. Both Tom and I have had to make short, unexpected trips back to England for family matters but being just 20 minutes from Bergerac airport with low-cost flights to Stansted and East Midlands, it is quite an easy trip. With WhatsApp, everyone getting on with their busy lives anyway, and having people to stay with us here… on balance I have no regrets on this so far.

Our income is a lot less than it was. Over the years we have taken expensive foreign holidays, eaten in some top restaurants, had weekends away, London theatre trips etc. We can’t afford that lifestyle anymore. I used to put money into savings every month and I can’t afford to do that anymore. But now we are living in a lovely holiday destination with our own pool and long hot summers. The B&B income allows us to eat out at some brilliant very good value restaurants. We have booked some ‘winter sunshine’ and whilst I’m no longer saving, I am not eating into my savings. Ask our friends and family back in the UK and they say our life is one long holiday now anyway! No regrets so far…

I’ve had a challenging and fulfilling career. For the most part I really enjoyed my jobs. I got to travel, I was always learning new ‘stuff’, meeting new people, challenging myself etc. But I was often working ~50 hours per week with 6 weeks holiday a year. I certainly wasn’t ready to retire – I would go crazy. But now instead of spending my mornings on trains, conference calls and emails earning money for someone else. I spend it serving guests, keeping the house and garden clean and tidy and earning money for us and I often have the afternoon to myself. I am still being challenged every day, meeting lots of new people and learning new ‘stuff’. Oh yeah and I get 5 months holiday a year! No regrets there.

I do get nostalgic for the things in the UK I loved… hiking in the Lake District, running along the North Norfolkand Suffolk coasts, a pint of Adnams in the beer garden at the Waldringfield MaybushPin Mill Butt and OysterSouthwold Harbour Inn etc., Popping into London for a night out / weekend. An all-day brunch at the Whistlestop Café in Woodbridge. A beer and curry evening with friends from work… These have been replaced by some equally great R&R activities here and I can always go back to do them in the UK again so, no regrets, but these have been the sort of things that I think about most often…wouldn’t it be great to…

I could ramble on (even more…) but having reflected on the question a little more today: yes, there are places and things I miss, people I would like to spend more time with, but do I have any regrets ? Absolutely not.

With August coming to a close and the pace of life starting to slow a little here, I’m going to switch to monthly updates to my Blog. 

Business as usual – Highs and Lows Part 2

Tuesday and Wednesday last week both blessed us with a ‘4-room changeover day’.

What is a 4-room changeover day? Well, it means after getting up around 6:30am to prepare for breakfast, doing a breakfast service for 8 people and cheerfully saying farewell to all our guests, all 4 rooms need to be thoroughly cleaned and made up before mid-afternoon when we merrily start to welcome our next 8 arrivals.

There are 8 king size sheets, 4 duvet covers and 16 pillow-cases to wash, dry and iron plus 16 towels and 4 shower mats to wash and dry. Of course, we also need to keep the rest of the house, pool and garden looking great for our guests, stock up the cupboards for breakfast the following morning and stay on top of the day to day running of things…watering the plants, changing a broken light bulb, recycling, touching up paintwork etc… Doing this for two days running is tough. Perhaps it’s where the ‘Chambres Dôn’t’ joke comes from… Tom and I make a great team though and we keep each other going well when the going gets tough. A big‘respect’ to those that do it on their own! 

On Thursday and Friday last week on the other hand, we only had one changeover per day and none on Saturday because all 8 guests were staying for a few nights. So, all our B&B work was done by late morning and we had pretty much of the rest of the day to ourselves (OK there is always SOMETHING that needs doing in a house like this and there is always ironing to do, but you get the idea…) Suddenly it seems like quite an easy way of life.

A few more ‘highs’ that more than offset the ‘lows’ on a typical summer week like last week that come to mind:

  • The guests are great, we have met so many different people and, for the most part, they are very happy to be here and leave feeling satisfied which makes me very happy.
  • Living here is amazing, last week we had the Oyster and Wine festival in the village, the usual Thursday morning and Tuesday evening markets and live music in the village on Thursday and Friday evenings. Running through countryside, the lovely local community, meeting friends out and about when we are shopping etc…
  • We are doing this on our terms. Of course there are the social charges and taxes to pay, but we are working for ourselves and doing this because we choose to. If we decide we want to block some or all the rooms off for a few days, we can and we do.

So, I’m moving into the last two weeks of full season feeling very positive about Le Portanel. We’ve had so many more guests than I was expecting, it has been challenging, a lot of hard work and frustrating at times, but I’m very proud of what we’ve achieved and I’m looking forward to a quieter September and an end-of-season celebration in October!

Moving into peak season

We are well into peak season now. Our occupancy rate across all 4 rooms for August is 98% after sitting at around 50% in May and June. September is currently at ~40% but increasing as bookings come in.

Once the nerves settled and our confidence grew during May, a good routine emerged through June and July with guests often arriving on Thursday or Friday for a long weekend and checking out on Sunday or Monday. With the rooms ‘turned’ and the house clean by the end of Monday, we found that Tuesday & Wednesday became our weekend before it all starts again on Thursday. 2 or 3 mornings without breakfast service or room changeovers allowed us to get out running in the morning before it got too hot or have a lie-in and just enjoy having the house and garden to ourselves for a little while.

As we moved into August however, it all changed. We’ve had several bookings for 5, 6 or 7-night stays. People are arriving and leaving throughout the weeks and the weekends. Whereas weddings were by far the biggest reason for staying with us for the first few months, now there are all sorts of reasons that people are staying in or passing through Eymet and I have to say, I am really enjoying meeting so many different people each with their own story to tell.

Whilst the B&B is more demanding / time consuming now, we have still managed to get out and enjoy the night markets, soirées gourmandes etc. that are so popular here during the summer. We’ve also had family to stay, some in our guest rooms and some in our accommodation, which has been a good excuse to draw a line under the business during the day and get out and enjoy ourselves. There were 12 of us staying in the house at one-point last week… it will feel very strange when it’s just back to Tom and I at the end of the season!

We also had our 3rd heatwave of the summer last week with the temperature back up to 40C. I think that has been the most draining aspect for me so far. Guests are understanding of course, 40 degrees is supposed to be exceptional after all, but if this is going to be the new normal, I think we’re going to need to explore aircon options for rooms that we struggle to keep cool.So, here’s to being halfway through our busiest month and still smiling. There is an Oyster and White Wine festival in town today which I hope to make the most of. Vive La France!

You know you’re in France when…

I was chatting with a French friend over a drink the other day, and she asked me what I have noticed that is different here to living in England, so here are a few of my personal observations.

Sitting in the doctor’s waiting room waiting for my appointment, whenever someone new walked in, they said bonjour to the room and everyone in the room said bonjour back.

Most shops and business close between noon and 14:00 for lunch. Most cafés and restaurants only serve food during the day between noon and 14:00.

Leaving the fabric shop in Bergerac at just before noon, the sales assistant said Bon Appetite as I left as well as Au Revoir.

Leaning against the back of my car in a supermarket car park eating a sandwich because I had not managed to stop for lunch. A lady pushing her trolley by said ‘Bon Appetite Monsieur’ to me.

On the May Day Bank Holiday, La Fête du Muguet, the only things I could buy when I went out hunting for open shops were oysters, bread, and bouquets of Lily of the Valley.

Sitting outside Tortoni’s one Sunday afternoon, some of the local rugby club arrived singing and dancing celebrating their promotion following victory that day. To celebrate they ordered 2 bottles of Ricard to share around.

The fresh produce for sale on many of the market stalls on Thursday morning gradually changes week by week as different food comes in and goes out of season. In some cases, if it’s not in season, it’s not for sale.

Painting my garden gates on the street, as the kids from the middle school walked past on their way home from, a lot of them said ‘bonjour monsieur’ to me completely unprompted.

It is hard finding tradespeople who are available to take on work for you and building supplies are very expensive.

Don’t expect to get much done in August…