I’ve written previously about ways to finance your new life abroad if you’re not ready or able to retire yet. Here’s a delightful discussion of running a B&B, or gite, in France.
Guest Post by Steenie Harvey, International Living
There’s more to sunny southern France than Provence and the Cote d’Azur. One of its most beautiful, historic and unspoiled regions is the Midi-Pyrenees—and it’s here that American David Hatfield and his English wife Linda have made their home for the past six years.
Along with a poodle called Rupert, they live in a gorgeous farmhouse on three acres near the village of Parisot in the Tarn-et-Garonne departement. A boulangerie, shops, and a good restaurant within walking distance…there’s a lake with summer boating and canoeing…fabulous views of the wooded countryside…lots of marked hiking trails. Heaven.
The large farmhouse (with swimming pool and landscaped gardens) was already renovated when David and Linda purchased, but they’ve done some extensive remodeling. Part of it is run as a gîte (self-catering accommodation) which rents for an equivalent $1,500 weekly during high season (July-August). Their summer take up last year amounted to nine weeks of bookings. Not bad, considering the recession.
A keen cook, 72-year-old David “unashamedly loves France.” (Take a look at his blog about food and rural life.) Originally from Northern California’s wine country, with a career in the military and then electronics, David has been smitten with the country since the early 1960s.
Over a cup of tea, I ask David what it is about this part of France that would surprise and attract Americans.
“I think the first surprise would be the tranquility,” he says. “It is very peaceful, but not isolated or backward. There’s plenty of life going on, we’re less than an hour from the cities of Albi, Cahors, Montauban and Rodez; and just over an hour from Toulouse so everything modern is available. But it is quiet and peaceful, life proceeds at its own pace, and there always seems to be time for a chat or a coffee or a glass of wine. It just seems that the hectic and frenzied pace of so much modern life is missing.
“A second surprise would be the sheer beauty of the countryside. It’s not dramatic, but it’s wonderful and very varied. One goes from gorges, to vineyards, to rolling hills, to rivers, to medieval villages…to oak and chestnut forests and to cities all within a short drive along deserted roads.
“And the natives are friendly! Most Americans have a concept of rude abrupt Frenchmen. It’s just not true. It is to a certain extent true of Parisians, but I think all big city dwellers tend to be a bit rude and abrupt whatever their nationality.
“Here the local people are curious about strangers, eager to talk about the area and its history. In other words, just plain friendly. For most Americans language can be a barrier, but it’s easily broken with a modicum of French and a modicum of English on the locals’ part. Everyone has a good laugh together even if the language isn’t working too well.”
When I last spoke with David and Linda, they were thinking of downsizing, and the farmhouse and gîte business was on the market for 695,000 euro ($1 million), agency fees included. Big money, but a fabulous property—their personal dining room alone is over 700 square feet.