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Rachael and Eve
Rachael and Eve
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Rachael’s French Adventure

Author: Lauren Coleman

I don’t know about you but I am obsessed with programmes such as Escape To The Chateau where English couples find themselves renovating rambling French properties. While I’d never be brave enough to embark on such a challenge I take my hat off to anyone who does it. Enter Rachael and her epic Carcassonne bed and breakfast project.

Before making the move to France, I worked in marketing and events for 20 years, including in both marketing agencies and client side roles. Immediately prior, I was working at PapaKåta, marketing their beautiful teepees and Sperry tents. Being involved with such an entrepreneurial small company helped to inspire and reinforce my belief that making such a lifestyle change and setting up my own business was totally achievable.

My husband and I both love to travel and after getting married in the French countryside several years before, we decided we’d like to make the move across the channel. The attraction was the better weather, slower place of life, easy access to all of Europe – plus of course the glorious food and wine! There was no deep-seated desire to own a bed & breakfast, but we wanted a business that would allow us to spend more time together doing more of the things we enjoy.

The Search

We originally spent almost two years trying to buy a property in Brittany, which eventually fell through due to huge amounts of French bureaucracy. We had friends in the South of France, who suggested we visit Carcassonne. With its fairytale medieval Cite, the UNESCO world heritage site is the third most visited place in France. With thousands of tourists, we knew a bed & breakfast would be a good business option, plus it has great weather, is 40 minutes to the beach, and hour and a half to skiiing and cycling in the Pyrenees and an hour to the Spanish border.

Carcassonne

On a whirlwind five day trip, we viewed a range of houses, from grand countryside residences to serene village retreats – and an 1850’s townhouse in the heart of Carcassonne. We were sold on the later’s incredible riverside location with amazing views of the medieval Cite, and its quintessentially French balconied facade. Stepping inside was a treasure trove of period features, from beautiful patterned cement tiles, wood panelling, marble fireplaces, ceiling roses, and at the heart of the house, a magnificent winding staircase with 70 steps over 5 floors, plus outside a small hidden courtyard. The house had been owned by the family through generations, and despite years of neglect, the potential to renovate and create a bed & breakfast was huge.

On that one and only trip to Carcassonne, we also found out we were expecting our first baby! The news helped us make a decision to buy the townhouse there and then, as we knew if we didn’t move to France before the baby arrived, then it would potentially be very difficult to do so after, when support networks, relationships and routines were in place.

So like a typical episode of Grand Designs, we renovated the property whilst I was pregnant, and as I was lucky enough to feel well throughout, I was still decorating the day before she arrived. We considered going back to the UK for the birth, but ultimately decided to have the baby in France. The French hospital care was amazing, and after a standard five day hospital stay, we brought our tiny baby back to live in a building site! We’d rushed to get our owners accommodation finished in time, and it was just about liveable. The rest of the house was full of workmen, noise and huge amounts of debris and dust.

Buying In France

In comparison to the house in Brittany, our Carcassonne sale went through in a matter of months. We’d sold our house in the UK and moved into rental accommodation, so were able to proceed quickly. All seemed to be going incredibly smoothly, but the day our sale contract arrived on our doorstep was the day that the Brexit result was announced! We never expected a leave result and it left us reeling. The ‘safe’ decision would have been to pull out of the sale and await the impact of the decision, but we felt we’d come too far to back out, so we jumped in, eyes shut and fingers crossed and signed on the dotted line.

For our peace of mind, we used a UK solicitor that specialised in French property, and paid for a full UK style house survey, despite this not being recognised or necessary in France. We’d renovated a listed property in the UK so we weren’t novices at tacking period properties. But without fluent French, assessing the major jobs such as electrics and plumbing was pretty difficult as these required French tradesmen. It took us over a year to complete the renovation – slowed down considerably by the arrival of our ‘petite fille’ – plus the slow process of finding decent French and English tradesmen.

Now complete, the house is decorated in an eclectic style, combining classic furniture with vintage elements. We saved and restored as many of the original features as possible, including elaborate vintage wallpaper and floor tiles. Much of the French furniture – such as the giant armoire what we use to serve breakfast – was sourced from French ‘brocantes’ and strolls around Sunday markets. We combined these with some family heirlooms such as my gran’s beautiful ornate sofa, then added some design classics such as eiffel chairs, elieen gray side tables and Barcelona sofas, and lots of modern artwork, to balance the old and new.

The New Life

Looking back, starting a family, a house renovation, and a new business all in one year was a crazy undertaking! Initially anticipating that the renovation would take six months, we ended up missing the first Summer tourist season for the bed & breakfast, finally opening in February this year. Getting Eve settled in French creche has been invaluable in giving us time to complete the work and open the business, and happily creche costs are a fraction of the UK. We try and remember why we set out on this journey – to have a lifestyle change. If you are lucky enough to have a super busy business from the start, you shouldn’t under estimate the work involved. We went straight from completing the renovation to opening the bed & breakfast. Putting my marketing skills to use, investing in great photography, and advertising through Booking,com, we started getting bookings very quickly. Great reviews (our last 10 reviewers have given us 10/10!) mean we are very busy, but we are committed to booking time out to go and enjoy the the beach, mountains and coastline.

Words of Wisdom

If you need to make a livelihood, then its important to keep your head ruling over your heart. It’s very easy to get carried away with a romantic vision of a huge house in the French countryside, for what seems like a tiny investment compared to the UK, but this isn’t necessarily going to be a good business choice if you have to work to get tourists to you. Carcassonne has visitors all year round, so we just need to make our business stand out.

If your language skills aren’t great, like my French, which despite having lessons in the UK, still has a long way to develop, then consider using an intermediary to help with all the life and business admin you’ll be faced with. We wasted so much time and energy trying to sort out our water, gas and electricity supplies, understand the French healthcare system, child support and services, all the business paperwork…precious time which could be better used elsewhere.

If you’d like to book a stay you can find Carcassonne Townhouse on booking.com.

{Contributors}

Images by Brahim A Photo

Author
Lauren likes Paris, Prosecco and Paint Charts
Follow Lauren on instagram @mrslaurencoleman

20 thoughts on “Rachael’s French Adventure

  1. Such a great article. I was a bit worried this would just read as a giant massive ad but it’s actually really informative for buying abroad. Such a brilliant and brave leap.

    Would LOVE LOVE LOVE something on how the French childcare system varies from the English on a RMS afternoon. Am absolutely obsessed with ‘French Children don’t throw food’ and would love to know if it’s true to life. French Children always seem so well behaved and adjusted in public! And so chic!

    **googles whether B & B has family suite**

    1. Hi Rebecca, Thanks so much for reading my post. I’m really glad you enjoyed it. I’m totally obsessed with that book too, it pretty much convinced me that I could handle having a baby! We’re finding out so much of that book is true, I’d love to share my experiences. We don’t take children *normally* because the house is so old and lack of sound proofing makes it difficult to manage for the comfort of other guests, but there may be options in low season when we are quieter, or we also have friends with a fabulous family friendly apartment 🙂 Rachael x

  2. This post is amazing!! Rachael your home is so beautiful and all your hard work and care is evident in every picture.

    Truly, Carcassonne is a wonderful place to visit- I did a work trip there a few years ago checking a tour route and exploring the Cathar castles- it is stunning. And so easy to reach with a quick hop to Toulouse, another fascinating place. And the food! Mon dieu!

    As another die hard europhile (worked for years near Siena) I am desperately hoping for at least another referendum on the settlement. I cried my eyes out on Brexit morning and seeing what has happened since is just… whoah.

    Anyway, huge congratulations on your petite fille (another post on having a bebe in France peut-etre?) and hope your season goes marvellously.

    1. Thanks so much for reading the post and your kind words. Carcassonne is pretty gorgeous, especially when its 25 degrees 😉 We’re seeing Brexit impacting on a lot of people’s lives – for us the main thing so far was the crashing pound when we bought the house, not nice suddenly finding your house has suddenly become significantly more expensive over night! Other friends are worrying about where to send their children to school and university, and we are seeing quite a few older people panicking and selling up in France. So sad. I’d love to share more about having a baby in France, a very positive experience. Rachael x

  3. Oh wow, this is so beautiful. You are so brave to have gone through with it all with the arrival of a baby and Brexit! The interiors in this post are perfect.

    1. Thank you Jade, that’s really kind. Brave is one word to choose, maybe a little crazy too! I honestly think if we had waited to move until after the baby had arrived, we would still be in England now. Fingers crossed Brexit doesn’t bring any nasty surprises. Rachael x

  4. I love this post – beautiful pictures (go on the booking.com website to see even more), interesting story and informative too! Congratulations on taking the leap and making such a good job of it. We built a house in France 10 years ago and there are lots of challenges but it is worth it!

    1. Thank you Catherine, I’m glad you found the post interesting and informative. Wow, building a house in France must have been a big undertaking! Are you resident in France or just a holiday home? Rachael x

  5. As a friend and work colleague of Rachael I have watched how hard she has worked to fulfil her dream, however, when you see it written down you think OMG!! The home she has created with Mark is simply beautiful and I can’t wait for my visit in June. Congratulations too you both for never giving up on your dream.

    1. Allyson, thank you! I agree, when I read it back and think what we took on, we must be a little crazy! All worth while in the end and I can’t wait to show you around in June. Rachael x

  6. I am so full of admiration for people who go and ahead and fulfil their dreams in this way and such a huge undertaking! The house looks stunning and I wish Rachael all the success she deserves.

    1. Thanks Kate, that’s really kind. We took the view of ‘what’s the worst that could happen’ and decided to follow the dream, thinking that if we didn’t enjoy it, we could always come back to the UK and get ‘proper’ jobs again 😉 So far no looking back! Rachael x

  7. Wow, what an amazing project. The house looks beyond fabulous. I could barely do the washing up when pregnant so really admire Rachael for managing all this! Loving the flooring, tiling, use of pattern…I could go on.

    1. Thank you Clare, I was very lucky to feel really well throughout my pregnancy – things could have been a lot different! I’m so glad you like the house decor, I fell in love with the tiles as soon as we entered the house, so many lovely original features that just needed showing off! Rachael x

  8. Another ‘Escape to the Chateau’ addict and avid Francophile here. Religiously watching the current ETTC DIY series on catch up each evening (although not overly fond of some of the people featured) and looking forward to our French hols – wishing now that we were heading further south this time so we could stay here. Next time!

    1. OMG, I did not even know this TV series existed Amy! We don’t see much UK TV over her in France but I am going to binge watch this on my next visit back to Blighty!

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