What's it like to live in Cordes-sur-Ciel?
PUBLISHED: 11:43 18 January 2017
Moving to the enchanting village of Cordes-sur-Ciel was a dream come true for Dutch couple Christianne Zeelen and Nico Thomassen. Now running a B&B in the village, they are well and truly settled in the French way of life
When did you first come across Cordes-sur-Ciel?
We visited the region in November 2009, not knowing Cordes-sur-Ciel or the Tarn region at all. We fell in love with this magical place – the different landscapes and the medieval villages made us decide to move to this part of France.
Why did you decide to start a B&B business in France?
The B&B business is a very well known one in France. We wanted to buy a property, as opposed to rent, and back then in France, the properties were, as they are now, very affordable.
When it came to buying a property, did you have something specific in mind?
Because we were looking to run a B&B, the most important criteria were the surroundings, proximity of airports, motorways and being located in a village with stores, such as a boulangerie and a pharmacy.
Have you done much work to the property?
Over the last few years we’ve renovated the rooms to our standards with new bathrooms and we have redecorated. We also redesigned the garden and made a special roofed area where we can have dinners and breakfast for up to 14 people. We’ve done all the work ourselves because it’s much cheaper. Because we’re not artisans, the work took more time than we expected, which was stressful at times.
What are your day-to-day responsibilities in the B&B?
I am responsible for cleaning the rooms every day, the laundry, and everything which has to be done to keep the house clean. Nico’s main task is the kitchen – being a son of a Dutch chef, he prepares meals for our guests. He also takes care of the garden and the business correspondence. You have to be a jack of all trades – it’s one of the most important things. Without being one, it’s almost impossible to survive in the French B&B business. You have to try to keep the costs low and do your best.
Any advice for those thinking of opening a B&B?
Make sure the rooms are impeccably clean, and be friendly and welcoming. Also, think about how people will hear about you. In the beginning, we were quite quiet but now we have our own website with the possibility to book direct, which we prefer. Two of the most important sites are Tripadvisor (where we have a five-star rating) and Booking.com (which takes 15% commission). Those sites are very expensive but it’s necessary to join those sites because lots of tourists visit them. Also, after six years in business, we can say that word of mouth has started to have an effect; many of our guests have been recommended by others.
Any tips for learning the French language?
In general, if you don’t speak their language, don’t think the French willspeak another language to you. You have to take lessons. Our neighbours welcomed us immediately, but it took a year to integrate properly. The French are very friendly to you when you are friendly to them.
What’s it like living in the area?
It was a 100% surprise to discover this fortified bastide. In summer the village and the whole region breathes a medieval atmosphere and during these months, Cordes-sur-Ciel welcomes thousands of visitors from all over the world, so the village is very alive. It becomes a very quiet place in the winter. Winters are mild and much shorter than we were used to; it’s the typical climate of southern France. One of the bonuses for us is that we have four seasons, all four with their beautiful colours and temperatures.
Is there anything you wish you had of known before you moved to France?
French law is different and it’s essential to know the ins and outs, as well as taxes, and healthcare, etc. Looking back, we took a big risk moving to France. We didn’t have much money, but by working hard we’ve survived.
And the risk paid off. Christianne and Nico’s hard work and determination has led to a wonderful life in one of the most beautiful villages in France.
Have a look at Christianne and Nico’s B&B, La Maison au Puits lamaisonaupuits.com
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