Print Posted By Lost in France on 28 Jun 2010 in Real France - Expat Interviews

Running a restaurant in Brittany

Robert lives in the picturesque town of Huelgoat in Brittany where he has renovated an old hotel and turned it into an award winning restaurant.

The forest at HuelgoatWhat made you move to France and how long have you lived here?
We first came to France 20 years ago and bought our first house here 10 years ago. In 2003 a former Hotel came up for sale and we bought it even though it had not been used as such for some time, it had previously had the reputation of being one of the best restaurants/creperies in the area. So since 2004 we have been renovating various properties and in 2009 we opened the restaurant of the hotel, it is called Le Jardin Secret. We are delighted that in the very short time of just one year, it has become an award winning restaurant.

We felt that UK was getting more crowded and yearned for a decent way of life that was a bit slower and had more quality.

Which part of France do you live in, and what's it like to live there?
Huelgoat, Finnistere, Brittany. It is one of the most scenically beautiful parts of this country. In the middle of a national park, with beaches just 40 minutes away. Tranquil countryside, distinctly Breton.

The locals are very friendly and helpful, our Mayor or Maire has done so much to encourage the business even visiting and giving his ok for us to open, cutting across the inevitable red tape, the Maire also took part in handing us our award for the restaurant, more later!

We have a once a week small market on Thursdays where people meet up and chat, most things that we have needed, we just ask one person and it seems like tom-tom drums, within a day someone turns up to do the job.

Do you have children, if so how easy was it for them to adjust to a French school?
No children, but friends have, it is like paradise for them, what is amazing is how quickly the kids jump in without inhibitions and learn French so easily.
Being a very small village there is a sense of safety and peace here, very little of the trouble we had seen with youths in the UK. Possibly because everyone knows everyone and who their kids are.

Open quote. Interviewee gives their moving to France tips Pay your taxes, don't annoy your neighbours, obey the law and everything will be fine Close quote

What is your age?
I'm 55.

Where were you born?

Do you work, if so what do you do and how difficult was it to find work or start a business in France?
Our business in France is a former Hotel that is now a restaurant, Le Jardin Secret. We bought the building with the idea that others would be running it as we have other businesses that take us travelling around the World. Unfortunately the people we chose to employ were unable to continue after a few months due to health reasons, and we suddenly found ourselves having to be hands on. Fortunately we now have excellent staff and last November we were nominated for the Daily Telegraph's Best of British award, we did not know of this at the time, but in March this year, we were totally surprised to win this award and the Mayor presented us with the Daily Telegraph's Best of British, Best Restaurant in France award! This has been totally due to hard work, long hours and trustworthy staff. You can see the award here.

There is a lot of red tape but as with all businesses we decided on an excellent accountant and first rate attorney right from the beginning and this paid off.
Since the award, we have had another Chef join us and we are going from strength to strength. The original 10 en suite bedrooms that formed the hotel part of the building have been revamped, certain times of the year the village is swamped and there can be a great demand for decent accommodation, we have decided not to rent the rooms as a B&B ourselves but are opting for a company taking that part of the business over as a separate enterprise but allowing their guests to have priority bookings at the restaurant.

What was the worst mistake you made when buying in France?
Leaving things to others who claimed to know the system, and learning that as long as it is not their money, they will happily spend yours!

Your best tip or advice to other people considering moving to France?
Do your research of the area, visit many times, no matter what anyone says, their property will not sell yesterday, so don't be pressurised.
Go to the local bars and ask about the area, local bars and their clientele know everything!

Ask questions at the Mairie concerning the property.

Did you find it hard to integrate or adjust to your new life in France and do you have any tips to help others?
Providing that you are willing to have a friendly attitude towards local people there is not difficulty integrating, they do appreciate you TRYING to speak French, and they WILL correct you and help you.
Get a good translator if you do not speak French, do not rely on friends for this but approach it professionally.
Make sure you do your sums, do not expect things to be way cheaper than UK, many have turned up and bought here because of cheap property or cost of living, only to find that taxes and health charges wipe them out. You do need to see this kind of move not as an "escape to the country" but as starting out life again, with all it's costs, you will make mistakes so have a contingency fund.

What's the best thing about living in France?
The whole way of life, the freshness of the food, relaxed attitude, providing you do your part no one will bother you.
As one Mayor once told me: Pay your taxes, don't annoy your neighbours and obey the law and everything will be fine!

And the worst?
Bureaucracy is a nightmare, no queuing at banks, people will and do walk straight in front of you if you are timid.

Beware of other expats offering their services, it seems everyone who cannot find any work becomes a professional at something. As in Spain where I lived for years it is often the other expats one has to watch not the locals. Check people out that they can do what they claim, never give deposits to anyone unregistered.

What do you think?

Join Our Newsletter - Today