"For goodness sake" I pointed out forlornly to la patronne, "I'm not moving out of my own room no way! What about the quality of life we are always on about?"
"But with Jonathan away at his sixth form college in the UK right now", Clair retorted swiftly, "and then off to university for four years after that, there's a spare room going downstairs. And besides, from all accounts having people pass through the house is supposed to be a lot of fun." Talk about knowing your man. For Clair then played her trump card. "And besides, it might even turn out to be a nice little earner, you never know."
Call me mercenary if you will. But it was all that was required for me to pick
up the phone and dial out the number for Gites de France. After all, as the old
saying goes, if a job's worth doing its worth doing well.
One lettre de motivation, two cheques, three photographs and four weeks later a small delegation from the above named august institution duly arrived at our modest pad Le Round du Biou, situated in the pine forests and hills to the north of Montpellier. Marie-Jo Verdier's team from Gites de France Herault's office was charming, professional and efficient from the outset.
We have some good news for you Monsieur et Madame Josephs. We think that your villa would make a very agreeable Chambre d'Hote. I would expect it to be ranked with three epis.
"But the bad news, I am afraid, is that there are a number of things which will have to be done for you to meet with our requirements and if you do indeed want to join us. I will put all of them in writing. You will then have some time to implement them and we will return - at which time we would like you to have a breakfast prepared - set out exactly as you would do for your guests."
It was not that Marie-Jo was trying to be obstructive in any way. Au contraire. But rather, as she repeatedly pointed out, the brand name of Gites de France and its famous green sign was highly respected both nationally and internationally and therefore had to be rigorously protected and defended at all times. Yes sir!
Two days later the little list arrived. Change the mattresses - they were not wide or long enough. When the new ones arrive don't forget to put not only a pvc/cotton mattress liner but double up with a covering sheet too. The sheets themselves would have to be d'une certaine qualite as would the blankets, towels and linen. The electrical fittings over the sink were too near the bath and were therefore not conforme. Once altered an official letter to that effect would have to be provided by a fully qualified electrician who belonged to such and such an organisation. We are not crazy about your carpeting either - but that can wait - nevertheless do please reverse the cupboard doors so as to provide more hanging-space - oh, and provide a small table where guests can place their luggage - not forgetting the bedside table which should not have an electrical radio alarm placed upon it because that, biensur, could run into problems relating to licensing and
copyright. Oh maman, please!
"I told you it was all a waste of time", I pointed out to Clair helpfully, immediately upon receipt of that letter. "That's going to cost us the best part of fifteen hundred quid for starters. I'll give you and your nice little earner!"
Of course it's difficult for me to put all of this into print. For I would be loath to appear as the weaker partner. And yet I must remain faithful to the script.
"Well, you can say what you like - but we're going to do a Magnus."
"That's right. I've started so I'll finish. Let's work our way through that list item by item and get the whole lot done."
Two weeks later the new posh mattresses arrived - nice and large, to boot, in order to deal with the apparently larger sized north Europeans! Three weeks later our specially ordered outsized sheets arrived - for these two single mattresses when put together make one helluva king-sized bed! Four weeks later new curtains and a matching bedspread. Eric the electrician duly delivered his attestation. I was never going to admit it, of course, but the whole process of 'doing up' the house was a lot of fun. And then the part of the proceedings in respect of which Madame Josephs was most nervous of all - setting out the breakfast as if we were receiving guests. Wow! Did she spring into action with an impressive range of home-made jams, apple crumble, rock cakes, croissants, viennoisserie and baguettes. And all served up, thank you very much, on our best tableware.
Et felicitations Madame Josephs pour votre petit dejeuner" came the back from Gites de France. So much for we Brits not knowing that much about good grub and good food! Clair was 'right chuffed', as they say in Yorkshire and when our official three epis ranking came through in the post we were both tickled pink, I have to admit.
Getting on to the Gites de France website was fairly rapid, true enough, but what really counts is their highly thought of printed guide - and it can really take a year or two before the phone calls start coming through. We were fortunate because we managed to establish a small network with two other local Gites de France families both of whom gave us constructive advice and, more crucially, sent us their overspill. Which in no time at all led to our first booking. A Spaniard. A chap from Madrid attending a conference in Montpelier and on his own for two nights.
We had also been advised that the French and Spanish take their coffee very seriously - and that it would be as well to invest in a good machine. We splashed out on a top of the range Magimix and spent hours studying the manual.
"Signor", I enquired politely when the appropriate moment came.
"Filter coffee, espresso - or perhaps a cappuccino?" I have come to the conclusion that there is Basil
Fawlty lurking somewhere in us all!
"No, gracias, I don't drink coffee. I'll have a nice cup of tea por favor."
We also decided to set up our own website, independent of (but linked to) Gites de France - and there was still more investment in setting up www.bbfrance.co.uk But I have to say that it has more than paid for itself. For even though we have only been 'open for business' for approximately 10 months we have been unable to keep pace with the demand.
More importantly than that - it's also been good fun, as Clair has confidently predicted from the outset. If you are thinking of this modest enterprise yourself though - be under no illusions - its also hard work. Its hotellery through and through. You must also enjoy 'le contact', as the French say - meeting people. We do. We wasted no time in establishing a Visitor's book which, far be it from me to brag, is full of kind comments and appreciative remarks. Two groups of guests have even left presents - and friendships have been forged. It might not be the mother of all money-spinners (although there is certainly some money to be made) but as they say in Parliamentary circles, 'I would not hesitate to commend it to the house'.
*ears of corn - the ranking system used by Gites de France.
Jeremy Josephs is an English freelance journalist who lives in Montpellier in the South of France, when he's not busy writing he also runs a B&B www.bbfrance.co.uk© Jeremy Josephs all rights reserved.
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I was totally opposed to the idea. Of converting our bedroom and en suite bathroom into a B and B. "For goodness sake" I pointed out forlornly to la patronne,...