Having received more than a few e-mails commenting on the lack of an update on the website, I shall first apologise to our avid readers and blame all the people who stop ‘chez-nous’ to eat, drink, or sleep and in a lot of cases all three and keep us so occupied that there is no time to do anything other than run the business and sleep. Mind you, the plus side is at least I know there are people out there who actually read it so I’m taking time out on our one day off to put finger to keyboard. Becca and Sophie have gone off to Chalon to do girlie shopping and as I was there yesterday at the wholesalers restocking the fridges I’ve managed to spend my morning weeding the back courtyard, cleaning our apartment, changing the oil in the two friers, repairing the sliding door on one of the shower cubicles and cementing in a catch on one of the shutters that had fallen out. No rest for the wicked!!
We have been kept on our toes (well feet, actually) all season and our turnover continues to rise, each month being better than the previous year. It will have to reach a point when we can do no more and the figures will plateau out but it hasn’t happened yet! The big bonus this year is that VAT on the sale of food and non-alcoholic drinks has dropped from 19.60% to 5.50%. This makes a big difference to our VAT payments (about a 1000€ a month) but, as the accountant said, we need to reinvest it in the business because we will only have to pay tax on it at the end of the year!! Installing a hot tub is top of the list at the moment!!
I can’t believe we are in our third year already, the time passes so quickly. Every day is different as you never know who is going to come through the door so it makes for a very varied job. Our biggest headache is stock in the kitchen, how many people do you cater for? Everything (barring a couple of desserts) is fresh so you cannot carry unlimited quantities. To put it into a domestic context it’s like preparing a dinner party for eight people only to have another six turn up at the last minute! The best example of this was a Thursday night when we had ten reserved and ended up feeding twenty-six. Fortunately Sophie was home that night so she was able to help out. Becca and I on our own would have struggled.
Our guests are arriving from far and wide and our guest book now has entries in Russian, Slovenian, Czech, Chinese, Arabic, Greek, Lithuanian, and Thai. We’ve met some lovely people and can honestly say we have a world-wide circle of friends. It’s very rewarding, this business, and all we are basically doing is what we used to do in the UK at weekends, entertain! It’s as simple as that and the plus is that we are making money at the same time. It’s very rare when we don’t have to get up early in the morning to do breakfasts for guests as our occupancy level is rising all the time. Many of our guests are repeat business and are staying longer than the normal one night stopover to take the opportunity to explore the area prior to going home. One family from the Netherlands spent ten days camping in the south and then four days with us. Their two daughters fell in love with Chanel and Chablis and left in tears when they had to say goodbye to them.
Gite bookings are also on the up and considering it is only the second year we only have one week left free between the beginning of June and the end of September. We also have two weeks booked in October and an enquiry for Christmas and New Year.
One downside for us is that summer holidays are out of the question. It’s the height of our season which runs from April to the end of September so we holiday in February when Sophie gets a two week half term and again at the end of October when she gets twelve days. This February we spent two wonderful weeks in Singapore and Thailand courtesy of Tony and Shirley and have already reserved for next year. Their house in Phuket is to die for.
Eating out in the local restaurants cost about 12€ for the three of us and the beaches are stunning with the sea at 28 degrees in February. In October, (we can’t wait!) we are driving down to Alicante to visit Les and Sandy who we haven’t seen for over seven years, then two nights in Barcelona, one night in Andorra, then on to Karen and James in the Tarn et Garonne (north of Toulouse), another good place to holiday www.gitedefoyt.com and finally back home.
Our special themed evenings continue to go well. Our summer barbecues attract 60 people a time and we’ve hosted various lunches and dinners for special occasions. It’s all go six days a week but when a special invite comes along we do shut for the odd extra day. A few Sundays ago we closed all day as our neighbours Maurice and Marie-Noëlle invited us for lunch with about thirty other people. The attraction was they were roasting a whole pig on a spit!!
Needless to say we had a great time even putting up a good performance in the boules competition which lasted four hours. The real bonus was that most French don’t eat the skin of animals so we got all the crackling, the best bit!! The weather was glorious, a bit cooler than the norm this summer as we have been averaging 30 degrees plus most days and we had a wonderful day.
Sophie has had a very good year. She continues to do well at school finishing first in class for French and like most of her friends is sporting the latest in braces on her teeth. She’s six months into the treatment now and the gaps where she had four teeth removed have practically vanished. She’s spent a very happy summer holiday, breaking up from school in the last week of June and the freedom that her motorbike has given her has been a big bonus. Last year she had to rely on us to take and collect her from friends but this summer she has clocked up over 2000 kilometres so she’s had to work a few evenings and weekends plus turning round the gite and the bedrooms here to keep it fuelled! I think our new life has helped her immensely. In UK we were always out of the house and if we were still there it would have been impossible to ferry her around to friends all the time. Here she has her independence and is learning a lot of practical things – she can prepare meals, clean, serve behind the bar (as family, she has the right by law even though she is fourteen), in fact she can do most of the things we have to do. We are very proud of her. Her dance gala was a huge success in June and everybody said how well she danced. A lot of work went into it having started the choreography in January and dancing two evenings every week until the weekend of the show. The final week was very tiring for her with rehearsals every evening and then two performances.
We’ve been very lucky that we are having a glorious summer although with a few days at 40 degrees plus it’s been a bit much. We’ve been able to picnic by the river on the odd Tuesday when we weren’t doing something else much to the dogs’ delight who spent most of the time in the water. The good weather has also given us an abundance of soft fruit. Last year a storm in April destroyed most of the blossom so we had a very poor year. This year has been the total opposite. There has been so much that people can’t give it away. Neighbours have brought us cherries, plums, peaches, figs, greengages, mirabelles, apricots, melons and we are just starting to get the first of the pears and apples. In cherries alone we ended up with over fifteen kilos and there comes a time when cherry clafouti loses its appeal!!
On a final note they started the ‘vendange’ on August 27, the earliest this century!! They are already talking of a very high quality wine as we had a nights rain two days ago which swelled the grapes during their final ripening. For the next week they will be hand-picking for the Crémant de Bourgogne, the sparkling wine, and then the machines move in. The locals reminisce fondly of the old days when the café would be full of grape-pickers in the evening, drinking, eating and in some cases sleeping on the terrace until it was time to go back into the vines for another day’s picking. The good old days!