Print Posted By Lost in France on 13 Sep 2012 in Real France - Expat Interviews

A Hotelier in Normandy

Debbie and Daniel Armitage moved to France in 2000. They run Maison du Vert, a vegetarian hotel and restaurant in Normandy.

Maison du VertWhat made you move to France and how long have you lived here?
We've been here since November 2000. It was a really chance thing. We were just on holiday and we stayed here. It was a hotel and restaurant at the time but it wasn't much good. We saw it was for sale and just decided to buy it. We'd just moved house in the UK and never even considered moving abroad. I think it was the view from the garden that did it - I just fell in love with it. And I'd always had this pipe dream of running a vegetarian restaurant but never thought it would happen. We were lucky enough to have some savings locked up in a flat we owned in the UK which meant we could sell up and use the proceeds to buy this place.

Which part of France do you live in, and what's it like to live there?
We live in lower Normandy - the actual area is the Pays d'Auge. I really love the scenery - it's beautiful undulating countryside - it's very green and full of wildlife. There are lots of really pretty little towns full of half-timbered old buildings which I really love.

Do you have children, if so how easy was it for them to adjust to a French school?
We don't have any children - but we do have lots of cats!

What is your age?

Where were you born?
I was born in Reading but brought up in Gloucestershire

Do you work, if so what do you do and how difficult was it to find work or start a business in France?
We own and run Maison du Vert which is a vegetarian hotel and restaurant. We didn't find it too difficult to set up. The notaire we used here had a really good translator that he worked with because our French wasn't very good so we actually didn't find it too difficult at all. But when I look back on it I think we were so happy to be doing this and so excited we didn't really notice the hurdles we had to jump over. We just kept going. The notaire basically registered the property as a hotel and restaurant business and that just started the ball rolling - we started to get all the paperwork from the Chambre de Commerce and we just filled it in. I remember having to queue up there for hours at one point, but actually the most difficult thing to sort out was getting our driving licences. We used Credit Argicole for banking and they have a great service for British expats called Britline which is all in English. That was really handy. I'd definitely recommend them.

How's business for you nowadays?
Every year we get more customers and we have a great reputation locally too. We gets lots of repeat bookings. Just last night we had a local family in and it was the first time I think any of them had had a vegetarian meal. And they loved it. When I look in the restaurant most evenings I know that pretty much half the people there are French. And vegetarians are a very rare thing in France. They love their meat. So I think just by that one evening we might have saved a few chickens or a cow! A lot of local families come here for celebrations for a special meal - birthdays and even a few weddings and when you think none of them are vegetarian that's pretty impressive. We never for a moment expected local people to come to eat here.

What was the worst mistake you made when buying in France?
I think trying to do everything right from the start. It nearly killed us. We opened year-round, both got up at the crack of dawn to do breakfasts. We did lunches and evening meals. You need to pace yourself and be happy earning enough to just get by to begin with. Nowadays we close for nearly 6 months of the year to recharge our batteries and keep the hotel and the gardens up to scratch.

Your best tip or advice to other people considering moving to France?
Learn French. Because we didn't plan it at all, we had no time to even try to learn the language really. We found the place in mid-July and we'd moved in by mid-November! It would have been much easier and we'd have been able to integrate better locally had we spoken French right from the beginning. People think you can just move here and you'll pick it up along the way, but that's not how it works at all. You have to immerse yourself in it.

Did you find it hard to integrate or adjust to your new life in France and do you have any tips to help others?
I don't think we are that integrated if I'm honest. Even in the UK we had our fairly defined circle of friends and we didn't tend to go to local events or anything anyway so we haven't integrated here in that way either. But we have got French friends - I do think if our French had been better at the beginning we'd have more French friends. So I would encourage people to join local clubs and things. We were open all year round and didn't have time.

What's the best thing about living in France?
I really like the attitude to life. I like the way that everywhere closes at lunch time and people have a proper lunch and the fact that people are friendly. When we go into our local town, Moutiers, we always see loads of people we don't know, but we recognise and they always say hello and shake your hand. People are just more friendly and they make time for each other.

And the worst?
I honestly can't think of anything. Hmm. Marmite is really expensive!

This post was written on behalf of P&O Ferries your perfect partner for your next channel crossing from Dover to Calais.


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