What it’s like to run vegan cycling holidays in France
Peter Quaife and Natalie Lynch found their niche in France by running vegan and vegetarian cookery workshops and cycling holidays in the picturesque town of St-Antonin-Noble-Val. They tell us what it’s like
How did you discover St-Antonin?
Back in 2011 we were cycling along the Aveyron valley and we remember thinking that cycling doesn’t get any better than this – it was just amazing. Natalie’s bike broke just outside St-Antonin so we had to spend some time here.
What led you to move permanently to France?
There were a few factors. We had been talking about it for a long time. Peter’s job as a university lecturer had become highly pressurised and eventually he got very ill and it was important for his health to do something less stressful. When we came back to St-Antonin to see whether we might want to actually live here, we remembered the amazing scenery around the town, rather than the St-Antonin itself.
Was your initial aim to start a cycling holiday business?
It was what we came here to do. Peter is a real cycling geek and this place really is remarkable for cycling. It’s also completely off the beaten track – no one else is running a cycling holiday business here. And we also found we really liked the town. It’s not just about the cycling – we have to live here too. It ticks a lot of boxes for us.
What is St-Antonin like?
It is a particularly stunning little town. Also it’s got life to it; it’s a living town – there’s a school, a cinema, there’s a real sense of community. It’s just a really friendly place where everyone helps each other out – it’s quite an amazing place.
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You renovated the property that is now your home and B&B. How did it go?
It was incredibly stressful. It took about 15 months to renovate, which was actually very fast, but the whole process was horrendous. We had a baby (Sam was seven months old when we moved here) and we also ran out of money, so Natalie ran a market stall for a while to generate some income. We never planned to run a food business, which we run along side the B&B (we run vegetarian and vegan gourmet weekends), but running the stall led to catering work which surprised us because she is a vegetarian/vegan cook.
How did the B&B business go?
In the first year we had very good occupancy, but when we got to the end of the season we didn’t have anything to show for it because the taxes here are so high. In our second season, things were quite different because there were the terrorist attacks, the strikes and terrible weather, and we didn’t have any bookings, so we decided to take a risk on admitting to being vegetarian. We were really surprised that we started getting bookings in straightaway and within about a month of us declaring ourselves as vegetarian and sticking ourselves on a handful of free listing sites, we were number 1 on Google for ‘Vegetarian B&B France’. We’ve now found a niche because we are probably the only place in Europe that runs vegan cycling holidays. Having a niche was really the only way to be profitable because we were no longer competing with all the other B&Bs in town because what we offer is unique. Our cycling guests also really appreciate that we are able to direct them to vegetarian/vegan-friendly restaurants where I’ve already explained their dietary requirements.
Where do your guests come from?
Most of our cycling customers are from America, and we have a lot of English speakers living in France who come to the vegetarian cookery workshops which Natalie runs. It has been hard reaching vegetarian and vegan French customers.
Do you have a favourite place?
Abbaye de Beaulieu-en-Rouergue is a grand abbey, about 15km away, which houses a fantastic art gallery.
Do you have a favourite market?
St-Antonin market is one of the best markets in the region – it’s amazing and it’s right on our doorstep.
Read more about Peter and Natalie’s cycling business here and learn more about their chambres d’hôtes.
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