Nick Brimblecombe, and his wife Sally, run both a B&B and classic car tours. They tell us how they decided to buy a house in Charente and the practicalities of running both businesses
What was important to you when deciding where to move to?
I think choosing the place was very important. In our case it was a mixture of rational reasons as well as emotional ones. We wanted to be able to get to the coast within an hour or two, but far enough away to avoid summer crowds. We also wanted to have practical access to the northern Channel ferry ports and good road, rail and air connections. We wanted the warm climate and sunshine, and we like that it’s not over-discovered by the British. It is still very much an area where locals live and work, and the economy is quite buoyant here. It’s not a tourist area in itself, but it’s a very rewarding area for holidaymakers. From an emotional point of view, we just fell in love with the light and the way it illuminates the fabulous stone and architecture from the 11-18th centuries. We loved the Grande Champagne countryside with its stupendous vineyards and rolling hills and the unspoilt Charente valley with its beautiful river.
So many people seem to fall in love with a property which decides everything. That seems to me to be completely wrong. What you’ve got to do first of all is to look very hard at the whole area. We sort of had an idea about what kind of property it would have to be, but I think we were equally interested in where it was.
How straightforward is the classic car rental side of business?
The practicalities are fairly fraught. First and foremost you have to find out whether you can get an insurance policy to allow you to do what you want, and it’s very difficult. I was fortunate because I was doing it in the 1990s and I could get the policy that I wanted. I’m technically a garagiste (mechanic) in France – I have a garage policy – which allows me to hire self-drive older cars. That sort of insurance is pretty much impossible to get now.
It’s a difficult service to offer because people regularly want a service that you are unable to provide. For example, they might want to hire an old 2CV and drop it off in Nice, or tour the Loire Valley. Logistically that’s not possible. The cars we have stay here at the Logis, and can be driven on the carefully selected, beautiful and empty roads that we have chosen as part of the holiday. Because there are very few people doing classic car hire on any scale in France, I tend to get all kinds of enquiries, a great deal of which we’re unable to satisfy properly.
Hiring classic cars is not something that should be considered lightly. I have the benefit of having done it for eight years in the UK, and am passionate enough that if it makes no money I don’t mind because I like the cars!
Do you have any tips for choosing accommodation to run a B&B?
We wanted guest accommodation that was separate to where we live, which I think is nice for guests as well. It gives you a little bit of respite when the season is busy.