Charmaine Raubenheimer left her native South Africa for a new life running a gîtes business in Bouches-du-Rhône in 2011. She explains what she loves about living in Provence
What were you doing before you moved to France and what prompted you to make the move?
Before moving to France I was running my own business in South Africa providing services to professionals such as personal shopper, administrative assistant, chauffeur and secretarial services. This was a niche market and very few people were providing these types of services. I have loved France for many years. I lived in London for two years when I was younger and used to enjoy trips over whenever I could. We moved to France in 2011.
What attracted you to Bouches-du-Rhône?
My husband is French and was born in Bouches-du-Rhône, so we came here for holidays about once a year to see family. I fell in love with Provence from the start and dreamed of one day living in Bouches-du-Rhône. I found that the weather suited me, the people are friendly, and the hours of daylight in the summer. My husband was happy to stay in South Africa but we both wanted a French education for our daughter and a safer environment for all of us.
Did you find it easy to find a suitable property?
We didn’t find our property that easily. Since my French was not yet good enough, we knew I’d struggle to find work, so we had to find something with outbuildings so I could start a gîte business. After two years of searching we eventually settled on a property with a separate two-bedroom cottage and its own private garden, and a very large barn which is attached to the house and could be converted into two studio apartments. The renovations took one year.
How easy has it been to get the business established?
I was very lucky that I had a French husband to help set up my business. Once everything was set up, I registered with the mairie and the tourist office, then on Airbnb and HolidayLettings. Most of my reservations come from Airbnb. In our area, the seasons very much dictate how busy I am. In winter I have absolutely no guests, in autumn they start dwindling. On spring and summer I am very busy – everyone comes here to seek peace and quiet and sunny days!
What do you most enjoy about living in Bouches-du-Rhône?
I love the sunshine and blue skies here, the ability to eat outdoors, very often from breakfast through to dinner. I adore rosé wine and some of our local vineyards are organic, which is important to me. I love that I can go walking and cycling all over the place, down to the Durance river and up to the Luberon mountains.
Where is your favourite market in Bouches-du-Rhône?
This depends on what I’m looking for. For fruit and vegetable we like the Saturday morning market in Sénas, and our local one in Mallemort on Friday mornings. For a commercial-style market for our guests we recommend the market in Lourmarin, where one can find boho chic clothing, handmade decorative items, lavender oil, olives, saucisson, etc. Another one is in St- Rémy-de-Provence.
Are there any good restaurants you can recommend?
There are so many! For lunches in our village there is the popular Le Jardin that I always recommend for the close proximity and lovely fresh salads. We also recommend a restaurant called L’Auberge du Vieux Village that serves mostly meat dishes – the meat is aged onsite by the owner.
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