I write this as the end of 2017 looms large and the countdown to Christmas is less than two weeks away. This year has flown by. I always feel as though life is like being a needle on a record with every revolution being a year in your life. When you start as a child the needle moves slower around the outer edge of the record but as your record plays and the needle gets nearer the centre the revolutions (or years) skip by a lot quicker! This year seems to have also been the year in which so many prominent people have died at a young age and none of us know what is in store for us. Frightening really, and an added incentive to take life by the throat and get out of it what you most want.
My partner and I have had numerous conversations and thoughts about what exactly we will do when we get to France, as although we will have income that will allow us to live we are not both quite ready to fully retire. Taking on 12 acres and larger/older buildings in rural France will certainly take time to manage, but we still feel there will be time for other things. So the question is what to do?
On moving to France you generally end up with more property and space for your money and that is the same for us. The opportunity to convert some of the barn areas or piggery provide a number of options. The most simple of which (and the most oft done) is to create a gite. We planned on doing this initially as it also would provide a space for people coming to visit to stay rather than have people staying with us in the farmhouse, which as much as I love my friends and family would no doubt get irritating after a time.
The other thing we were unsure of is letting out part of our property and having to share our corner of France with other people. One of the things I am looking forward to in France is getting away from other people, or at least the feeling that you are constantly living cheek by jowl with others. So buying a rural property and then inviting strangers to share it seems somewhat contradictory.
That lead us to thinking about pursuing one of our other passions, which was food related. We love cooking and entertaining and felt this could be something that we could consider.
The piggery attached to the back of the barn opposite our farmhouse is a beautiful looking structure that has terrific views across the valley and would work great as a part time tea shop/pop up restaurant. From discussing this with friends local to where we are in France it would seem there would be demand. However, we would not want to open every day but instead maybe open 3 afternoons per week. Would that be enough to build a loyal customer base and would people travel to our location? Added to this that I have now ruined meat eating for myself through getting closer to the origin of my food and have had crisis of conscience would mean I would prefer it to be a vegetarian/vegan eatery. What demand would there be in a country where most people react as though you have burned their flag when you tell them you don’t eat meat?
Well the answer to that in part has been indicated by the fact that a terrific bistro run by an English couple north of us closing recently through ‘lack of custom’. Now you could argue that we could do things differently, our locations and views are much better and we would offer less structured meal/booking options than they did, but still it is an unknown. Maybe a halfway house could be to renovate the piggery to a basic shell and run a couple of pop up dinners, like Hugh Fearnley-Eatsitall did in his barn in Devon. That would test the market and our ability and passion for it.
So with that idea on hold we returned to thinking about developing a holiday let. We both decided early in conversation around this idea that we did not want other peoples screaming children within earshot. That means that whatever we develop needs to be small scale and geared towards romantic escapes for couples.
Before we purchased in France we holidayed most years in rented houses, villas or gites across Europe and have seen it done very well and very badly. When we looked for somewhere I tried to find something that did not have the owners next door or anything with shared facilities (we hate screaming kids remember). We then went on to look at how nice the inside was, i.e. the décor and furnishings, did the property have a view, a swimming pool or other facilities etc.
Creating the rental unit as far away from where we will be living on the footprint of the buildings will provide both the guests and us privacy. The barn area we are thinking of converting also benefits from the best views on the property. Being on a hill we have 270 degree views stretching up to 20 miles into the distance, so it makes sense to take advantage of these.
Unlike most who buy in France we have been incredibly patient and spent the past 3 years renovating the farmhouse whilst continuing to work in the UK. For us this means we could pay for the renovation work from income earned in the UK meaning the equity from the sale of the UK house when we move will give us a good safety net and provide some funds for whatever we decide to do with the property in France, in terms of gite and tea shop etc.
I really like the idea of creating somewhere special that has some good facilities for couples, i.e. sauna, Jacuzzi and pool etc. Let’s see how far we get with that idea! Who knows really, by the time next August comes around and we have moved to France permanently we could have a whole different plan. I think the trick is to be fluid and go with the flow, what do we think we could do and would enjoy?