Paul Jack and his partner Mark moved to St-Antonin-Noble-Val in July 2015 and opened their own chambres d’hôtes business in August. They reveal what it is like to run a B&B in France all year round
Running a B&B in the spring
Maison Belmont is a year-round B&B. However, with early spring being a relatively quiet period we have the time to deep-clean our guest rooms and complete any maintenance or decoration before the summer season starts in earnest. It is also a great time to update our website, ensure our publicity material such as flyers and business cards are all up to date and in stock, and review pricing and any offers we may be making in the main tourist season.
Every room has a folder full of information for guests that needs updating. We need to revise details on restaurants and local attractions to ensure they are all correct and current. Our library of books and DVDs is under constant review – all available for guests to borrow during their stay.
We also increase our presence on social media making sure our Facebook, Instagram and Twitter profiles are up to date and that we post regularly, driving business towards our website. For us it is important not to wait for guests to book but to be proactive and ensure potential guests become real ones through active marketing.
We make time in the spring to contact the local Office de Tourisme and update them on any changes we have made since last season. Recommendations from the Tourist Office are a great way to plug any gaps in bookings. Even in a world of smartphones and websites it is surprising how many people ring the doorbell at 6pm asking if a room is available for one or two nights, often sent by the Tourist Office.
St-Antonin has over 15 restaurants and we use the spring to familiarise ourselves with their menus and prices, ensuring that our recommendations are valid and up to date. We will offer to book tables for our guests; getting a couple or a group into a popular restaurant on a Friday or Saturday night is a great way to impress and will often pay dividends in a positive TripAdvisor review.
While spring does see the return of significant numbers of visitors, it is also a great time to visit other B&Bs on short breaks in other parts of France. This has the double purpose of giving yourself time and space to relax and unwind as well as checking out how other people operate their businesses; great ideas are always best shared.
Running a B&B in the summer
From June to September, early starts to the working day are vital in order to leave time for a relaxing lunch and to make the most of a restful afternoon, as the heat of the day silences even the chirpiest of birdsong!
When Mark was busy getting the B&B ready for our first guests last July he rose early (6am) and worked late (often until past 11pm), but found in the middle of the day a wonderful respite under the shade of a tree in the garden or behind closed shutters.
The village of St-Antonin-Noble-Val springs into life as summer arrives. The arrival of the first tourists marks the change of seasons. For the boulangères, café owners and restaurateurs, gîte owners, canoe experience operators and estate agents, the three months of summer are relentless but also very rewarding.
Do not underestimate how hard you will be working as B&B owners in France. Nothing could have prepared us for the sheer volume of washing, ironing and cleaning we needed to do to maintain the standard we started out with.
We inform guests to arrive between 4pm and 7pm and most are more than happy to oblige. Our check-out time is 11am, leaving plenty of time after breakfast for guests to pack and clear their room while leaving sufficient time for the room to be cleaned and prepared for its next occupants.
As owning a B&B can become a 24/7 job, it is important to separate home and work life where you can. Maison Belmont has clearly defined B&B quarters and private accommodation. It is also important to be brave enough to close the business from time to time to take a break and enjoy the life you have made for yourself in France. We came here in order to enhance the quality of our lives and to do that sometimes means turning down a few bookings.
Running a B&B in the autumn
We have been struck by the significance of changing seasons and the varying rhythms and routines that the calendar presents. As the first autumn leaves start to fall and the summer visitors depart, our village is reclaimed by the locals and a less chaotic, more tranquil and more authentically ‘French’ way of life reasserts itself.
However, for us B&B owners, the autumn can be as busy as the summer. The months of September and October in particular bring settled weather with cloudless blue skies while the temperatures are still in the mid-20s. Visitors still come, many preferring things a little quieter, a little cooler and rather more authentic. Sites and attractions remain open through the autumn months but what have disappeared are the queues and the need to book ahead.
With two weeks of school holidays in France and a UK half-term break, October can bring many visitors, but as the cooler weather arrives and the days shorten it does become time to consider a very practical matter: heating. The sight of the oil delivery tanker arriving in town is a real indication of chillier weather to come.
One large group of guests we welcome here at the B&B are property hunters from the UK. With autumn underway we have again started to welcome people searching for their ideal French property.
During the autumn we take the opportunity to reflect on the previous summer season and review opening and closing dates and pricing, and plan a schedule of work we might need to do over the winter. Late autumn is also a great time to take a holiday to recharge after working hard all summer.
Running a B&B in the winter
We decided to open the B&B for the full 12 months in our first year. This was partly done to help us judge the viability of remaining open, and partly in recognition of the fact that even in the darkest days of winter, St-Antonin attract visitors from near and far. Some come to visit friends and family but for us, the key off-season market is the UK househunter.
For B&B owners, winter in France presents some challenges as well as many opportunities. The cost of heating a large older property is a not inconsiderable challenge. We’re open for most of the winter but we have reduced costs by opening only two or three of our rooms between November and March, and closing to guests for Sunday and Monday nights.
Winter is a great time to work on maintaining your property. Guest rooms need to be deep cleaned from time to time, walls may need a refreshing coat of paint and there is always a long list of other DIY chores to be worked through. This year we have also concentrated on redecorating our own accommodation, which is located on the first floor of our historic maison de maître. It is easy to focus entirely on the guest’s experience, but this is our home as well as our place of work and it is important to us that our own quality of life is enhanced while at the same time prioritising our business.
Another task that can really only be taken when you have some more time available is to review and refresh your website.
With fewer visitors and consequently more time on our hands in the winter, we have been able to explore the region around St-Antonin, discovering some delightful towns and villages in the process. These form the basis of recommendations to future guests. Additionally, we like to offer our guests advice on half-day and full-day drives; these can be trialled in the quieter winter months, giving us the excuse to get out and about ourselves.
We try to make the most of these quieter months to relax and enjoy our life in France, recharging the batteries ready for the busier summer months to come.
Is it worth it?
Remember that B&Bs in France are seasonal; there are busy times and quiet times. There is no regular end-of-the-month salary paid into your bank account. But over the course of the year you will earn enough and your quality of life will be such as to never doubt your decision to take the plunge.
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