Expats Nick and Rebecca Harman bought a derelict hotel in Chardonnay in Burgundy in 2007 and transformed it into a successful business
Our first year in France from a personal perspective was relatively easy. We had been visiting the area [the department of Saône-et-Loire] for a number of years as Nick’s sister is married to a Frenchman and, although they lived in the Far East, they had a house here where they spent their holidays. We would meet up there and got to know a lot of their French friends. When we decided to move, it was the obvious choice. It’s a beautiful part of France and the perfect stopover point for people travelling to Med or beyond.
On the business side, it was a little different. We bought a derelict hotel in the village of Chardonnay which required a total renovation. It was not habitable so we also bought a house in the village (which we now rent out as a gîte). The locals got to know us well during the two years of renovation so we integrated well. I think they really appreciated us breathing life back into the village. When Rebecca celebrated her 50th birthday we had trouble keeping the numbers below 140!
Since we opened in 2007, nearly three years after we left the UK, we have molded the business to suit us. In our first year we just took things as they came, which meant working seven days a week, with lots of late nights and early mornings. Now, seven years on, we are more in control of our lives. We close just before Christmas to spend time with family in the UK and then fly off to Thailand or the Caribbean for three weeks, before reopening at the end of January for Burn’s Night, which is sold out every year. We close every Tuesday and never take room bookings to give us a night off and a lie-in on Wednesday morning.
As for challenges, we’ve had quite a few. We had never run a bar/hotel/restaurant before so that was a steep learning curve. But the biggest challenge was that we had never worked together. We were both at director level in our separate fields so were used to making decisions and delegating so it was quite a shock to be thrown together. But our roles have evolved and we each have our own areas of responsibility. Oh, and French bureaucracy – need I say more!
The rewards are incredible. We’ve always enjoyed entertaining and now do it full-time. Most of our guests arrive as clients and leave as friends. We have invitations to visit the world over; Holland, Germany, Russia, Australia and South America among others. Our Christmas card list is massive. Our themed evenings, be it Chinese New Year, Greek night, barbecues, fish and chips, etc, are always sold out. We have amassed about 400 email addresses of local people so advertising special events is easy.
Our advice to anyone looking to make the move – do your homework (what, where, how), find out if you can work together, and above all learn the language. One of you must have a good command of French.”
Catch up with a couple running a hotel in Dordogne