Comedian’s guide to starting a B&B business in France!

Written by on September 18, 2019 in Expats in France, Gîtes in France

Goats with a horse in a verdant field in the Loire Valley in France

British stand-up comedian, mod, expat, goat whisperer (maybe) – and now Chambre d’hote host – Ian Moore’s unique insights into life in the Loire Valley will make you laugh out loud…

Hosts, Goats and Chambres d’Hôtes

Man with a microphone in a theatre

There’s a point in my first or second book, probably both, where my wife, Natalie, and I sit down and have one of those ‘The future, what shall we do?’ conversations. We’d already lived in France for a few years, but the weekly commute back to the UK to perform stand-up had left its mark; a hollow eyed ‘dead man walking’ stare whenever I had to leave home and the family, a spine so damaged from overuse of budget airlines that it resembled a fairground helter skelter and a mini-bottle rosé addiction from trying to make the Eurostar feel more glamourous than it actually is. It was time for a change, we agreed. Time for a new chapter in our life.

‘Well one thing we’re definitely not doing,’ I said, tapping the table for emphasis, ‘is opening up our house as a chambres d’hôtes! We moved here for peace and quiet, not for other people.’

Natalie laughed, ‘Can you imagine?’ She snorted, ‘You as a host? Having to be nice to people?’ She could barely control herself now, which was slightly insulting. ‘No, definitely not a chambres d’hôtes!’

A comedian with a B&B in France

Our chambres d’hôtes opened in 2018 in a u-turn so dizzying that the term u-turn itself seems inadequate, It was more a triple axel half loop with salchow and our heads still haven’t stopped spinning. So why the change of heart? Man, woman and three boys dressed in white posing at their gite BnB in FranceHad the sardonic stand-up comic, the professional cynic, mellowed? Was I suddenly, that awful thing, a ‘people person’? Well no, not exactly but in the end, you have to take what you have and work out the best way forward. I wanted to be at home more and concentrate on writing and the French house prices meant that, having sold up in Southern England, we had a big property with numerous outbuildings that would make a fine bed and breakfast independent of the family home. And, despite being told too many times for comfort, that maybe I wasn’t ‘genial host’ material, it was still a no-brainer.

‘I can change,’ I kept repeating, ‘not commuting every week will soften me.’ Of course, this was before French bureaucracy got involved, a combination of rabbit warren and threshing machine that has one purpose in mind, and one purpose only – to break you. For example, the necessary courtesy visit to the local Mairie to tell them of our plans added an extra 5,000€ to the bill when it turned out the new stable for the horse, let’s face it a glorified shed, also needed planning permission.

‘Your horse needs planning permission,’ said the Mayoress apologetically.

‘I don’t think we’ll get her upstairs to your office.’ I replied, to no-one’s amusement.

When renovation on the outbuildings eventually began, it was a massive relief. Not just that the project, eight months after that Mairie visit had finally begun, but that our outbuildings were finally being put to some practical use rather than acting as a Brocante recycling depot. For years we had pitched a stall at the local Brocantes and every year, thanks to Natalie and the children, we’d come back with more needless junk than we’d set out with. Now it was time to end this rigmarole and dump the whole nonsense at the dechetterie. (My favourite French word incidentally, dechetterie, it’s the local refuse tip but literally sounds like De-Shittery – which is exactly what it is.)

Eight fraught months later the place was finished, the gravel for the driveway went in on October 28th and our first guest arrived the following day, ‘This is beautiful,’ the guest said, ‘have you been open long?’

‘About 40 minutes.’ I muttered under my breath.

Goats can sell B&B nights!

Long farm house style building in the Loire Valley with shutters and surrounded by a big garden

The idea of opening in the depths of winter was our canny way of using what would certainly be just a trickle of guests as Guinea-Pigs while we learnt the Chambres d’hôtes ropes, but immediately we were booked up! We had always reckoned that the heart of the Loire Valley was going to be fairly busy what with the chateaux, the wine and the cheese and so on, but the world famous ZooParc de Beauval just 20 minutes away is open all year round and packed out to boot. Plus, Natalie never stops smugly reminding me, our own mini-farm is partly stocked with animals from the zoo itself. Not Pandas, well not yet anyway, but our goats came from the zoo. They are, and I hate to admit this, a selling point. I’ve had a fractious relationship with the goats. I see now why the Zoo Beauval was so keen to be rid of them. They’re constantly finding new ways to escape their paddock and eat the roses, while encouraging the horse to do the same. I once had to wrestle a goat to the ground in our neighbour’s garden when she complained of being attacked. I carried the thing back home, it clinging to me like a hairy rucksack.

I had complained bitterly about their behaviour for years but was now told that they couldn’t be sent back, that they were, in fact, a non-negotiable asset and I had to put up with it. I stormed out to the field to address the goats personally and in no uncertain terms.

‘Now listen goats,’ I began, finger-wagging at the bemused animals, ‘I’ve had enough. But you play fair and I’ll play fair…’

I gave them the dressing down they thoroughly deserved and felt strangely empowered by my futile actions not realising that while doing so, a crowd had gathered. Three families staying in the chambres d’hôtes had assembled quietly to see what the fuss was all about. What they got was a middle-aged man in a tight-fitting suit reading the riot act to three utterly disinterested farm animals. I went red.

‘New members of staff,’ I said striding off like Basil Fawlty, ‘just breaking them in.’

I expected Natalie to be angry at the show too, but no.

‘That’s it,’ she said, ‘give the punters the angry, absurd, pent up man that’s in your books! That’s a great selling point!’

And that’s how it happens. One minute you think you have to calm down to run a BnB like the perfect host and the next you’ve created your own kind of ‘man at odds with the world’ theme park. A sort of Dollywood for expats. But you know what? It works.

Ian has written two books on living in France and travelling as a comedian. In 2019 his first fiction was published, a crime novel set in the Loire Valley. All his books are available here

And if you fancy a few days at Ian’s Chambres d’hôtes and to watch a grown man swear at livestock, you can see the place here

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