Running a scooter business on the Côte d'Azur
PUBLISHED: 11:56 06 January 2015 | UPDATED: 16:52 04 January 2016
A Franco-British couple reveal how they set up their home and business on the Côte d'Azur and prove that you don't need to be a millionaire to live on the French Riviera
Written by Gillian Harvey
Exploring the Côte d’Azur by scooter will give visitors a whole new perspective on a famous holiday destination, even those who already know the region well. This was Phillippe Dumont’s thinking when, together with his British wife Farhana, he came up with the idea for their fledgling company Riviera Scooter. French-born Philippe knows the Côte d’Azur like the back of his hand and this insider knowledge combined with his skill on a motorbike has proved a winning combination; enabling visitors to explore this beautiful part of France on two wheels by taking one of his custom-made tours.
“There are so many beautiful places to explore,” explains 44-year-old Philippe. “As well as the stunning scenery and familiar views over the ocean, I try to build something different into tours. There is so much here: tiny hidden vineyards – even olive oil factories. Exploring by bike means I can share my knowledge of the area and show customers – even those who have been coming to the Côte d’Azur for many years – something unique.”
Exploring has always been in both Philippe and Farhana’s blood. The pair met while separately backpacking across Canada, and ended up running a backpacker’s hostel in the small town of Nakusp, in the West Kootenay region of British Columbia, in 2002.
“We deliberately set up the hostel in an area of Canada that was off the usual backpackers’ trail,” says 40-year-old Farhana. “We really wanted to bring something different to travellers and open up somewhere new to them. And that’s really what we’re doing in Côte d’Azur too.”
Having run the hostel for 10 years, it was family life that eventually called the pair back to France in 2012. “Philippe’s father lives in Cannes,” explains Farhana, “and when the children were born, we wanted to be closer to family.”
This is what led the couple, together with daughter Mirabelle, now six, and son Romeo, now four, to up sticks and move to a family home, just a stone’s throw from the picturesque beach in the beautiful traditional seaside village of Golfe-Juan.
“We were drawn to Golfe-Juan because of its proximity to Cannes,” says Farhana. “But we also love the art galleries and workshops, as well as the traditional architecture.”
Despite the change in culture, the couple’s children were able to settle into French life very quickly, having been exposed to French from a very young age. “Philippe always speaks to the children in French, and I speak to them in English,” explains Farhana. “This gave them a real head start when we arrived. Mirabelle in particular is now fully conversant, and has a beautiful French accent. Mine, I’m still working on!”
As well as seeing Philippe’s father in Cannes on a regular basis, Farhana’s family, who are based in Surrey, are just a short plane ride away. Philippe’s sister, meanwhile, lives in Brussels, and also visits them during school holidays. “With our family quite spread out, we don’t see them as much as we’d like,” admits Farhana, “but actually that makes it all the more special when they do come to stay.”
After the move to their beachfront home in 2012, work became a priority and Riviera Scooter, and its sister company Riviera Biker were soon born, drawing together the couple’s skills in hospitality, and Philippe’s considerable talent as a biker. “Philippe always says he’s not employable by anyone else because of his unusual skill-set,” explains Farhana. “So we needed to do something for ourselves.”
The company now runs five tailor-made tours, from the glamorous guided tour of Cannes, to the ‘So Grand Canyon’ tour, which takes customers to Les Gorges du Verdon – the largest canyon in Europe. In addition, the couple are happy to create customised tours for those with particular requirements, ranging from spectacular tours of the local coastline to more specific exploratory tours for househunters looking to buy in the area.
Despite the popularity of their tours, the couple have decided to keep their business on a small scale for the time being. “Making sure that customers have a great experience is crucial,” explains Philippe, “but safety will always come first. This is why we limit our tours to four people at a time. It makes the whole thing more personal, and means that we can ensure both our customers and other road-users are safe.”
Indeed, although anyone who holds a regular driver’s licence is legally permitted ride a Vesper 50cc, the couple recommend that prospective customers get a little experience. “Some take to riding a scooter like a duck to water,” explains Farhana, “but others find it much more difficult. We always advise that people find an opportunity to practise before they come; it makes so much difference. Occasionally, when people struggle, Philippe will have them on the back of his scooter, riding pillion. He’s great with passengers, and really puts nervous riders at ease.”
Although the couple also hire scooters out to holidaymakers – even offering a ‘fly and ride’ airport pickup service – and arrange accommodation for guests, it is the tours where their hearts really lie. “Lots of people tell us that coming on one of the tours has been the highlight of their trip,” says Philippe. “It’s such a lovely feeling when you know you’ve made a real difference to someone’s holiday.”
Another great perk of the job for this gregarious couple is the sheer variety of people they get to meet. “We both really love meeting new people,” says Farhana. “We get customers from all over. The majority so far have been Belgian and American, but we also get a lot from Canada, the UK and, of course, France. It’s really great that our tours have such a wide appeal, and it’s wonderful to meet new faces.”
As well as regular holidaymakers and travellers, the couple have also hosted tours for more well-known faces and have several celebrity customers on their books. “Of course, it’s exciting to meet someone well-known, but after a while, it’s all about enjoying the tour, and sharing the wonderful sights and sounds of Côte d’Azur – you forget that someone is a celebrity and just make sure they have a great time, as with any other customer.”
As well as the tours, the couple have taken on a few more ambitious projects; a particularly memorable one being a wedding. “There were 150 guests, and we took them on scooter tours in small groups,” says Farhana. “It was amazing – but we were completely exhausted afterwards.
“We also find we get a lot of honeymooners who want to build something special into their trip, and quite a lot of people buy tours as presents for their partners, for Christmas or a special birthday. It’s great to share in people’s celebrations, and a real pleasure to provide something different as a special treat.”
With the season stretching from April to October, the precious few months over the winter are dedicated to family, and taking stock of the season that’s just passed. “We moved here to enjoy family life, and sometimes we feel quite stretched over the summer,” explains Farhana. “It’s great to be busy, but it’s also lovely when the season ends and we can really enjoy time with our children and also with their grandfather.”
Winter is also a good time to review the tours, and build in new elements for the following year. “We’re in a state of flux at the moment,” admits Farhana. “The tours are very popular, and we could expand considerably. But at the same time, we feel what we offer is so unique and personal, and if we do take anyone on, they would have to share our ethos, our dedication to hosting and, of course, be an experienced and accomplished rider. Until we can be sure, we’d rather stay as we are and keep things a little more personal.”
One thing’s for sure: with so many possibilities, this adventurous couple will always be able to satisfy their need for excitement and change. And the fact that they can live out their dreams in one of the most sought-after locations in France is quite simply the icing on the cake.
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