David and Karen Taylor live in Saint Saturnin Les Apt in Provence, where they run a gite business and are lucky enough to have their own olive grove. Here they speak to FrenchEntrée about why they left the UK to start afresh in France…
What attracted you to life in France?
It appealed for being a stable country in the EU. It is easily accessible if one wants to return to the UK. As the most visited country in the world, it is also important for good transport connections for our business. The climate is great and the scenery is wonderful. The local French believe you work to live and not the other way round. The local produce dictates seasonal menus and cooking accompanied by probably the best wine in the world, Provence rose.
Have you found it easy to integrate?
The area is made up of a range of people, the Provencal probably making a fair percentage with many other Europeans and other nationalities. We have several French and French speaking friends who we regularly socialise with.
Describe your property.
Our current home we built in 2007. We tried not to make it look modern, so it has 100 year old roof tiles, traditional wooden shutters, combined with geothermic brick construction and under floor heating. We only needed two good bedrooms, so the rest of the space goes to the gites and chambre d’hote from where we derive our income. The house is called Le Verger and is set in about 5,000sqm with a large heated infinity pool. We enjoy an amazing view that changes every hour of every day. At the same time we built our own home, we took on the task of building a second house, Le Chêne – a detached three bedroom, three bathroom property with its own pool.
How did you find your dream home?
After searching for a house that would work as a gite business which we were not successful at, we decided to design and build it ourselves. We envisaged the whole process would take a couple of years, so bought a house called Les Cypres which we lived in. We have retained the house, which has its own pool and private garden and is very popular with our regular clients.
You divide your time between running a gite business in France and travelling further afield. How much time do you spend in Provence each year?
We are full time residents; our rental season runs a full six months, in fact in 2012 even longer (28 weeks). Before the season there is preparation to do in the gardens, pools and interiors. At the end of season again there is much to do in the garden in preparing for winter and then olive picking in November. We always spend Christmas here and then plan a little travelling time in mid January to mid February. Even then we are working, dealing with enquiries and maintaining the website etc.
The gite business appears to be going very well. What’s your secret?
We have many repeat clients and we aim to always have something new or improved. Also the fact that we are on hand to help with restaurant bookings etc but at the same time discreet and non intrusive. Finally, our location within walking distance of the village is a big selling point.
Did you have any experience running a business?
I was a partner within a firm of estate agents in Surrey, so plenty of experience of working with the public and being self motivated. Karen has a background in catering and was self-employed for a period.
What happens to your olives?
Our first crop was just 19kg which we took to the olive oil mill in the village where we received back about a litre of oil for every five kilos of olives. We were met with gloomy faces the first time, but warmly welcomed when our crop rose to 250kg for two years running. The oil won an award in the rough guide.
What about the lavender?
Provence is synonymous with lavender and we are surrounded by it! By our pool we have a large patch of lavender creating a lovely aroma when you are swimming. We typically cut ours mid August to maximise the pleasure and our guests can take the flower to dry.
Are you able to manage the olive grove and gites by yourselves or do you have help?
We have a specialist to cut and prune the olive trees, as it is important to maintain their form. The olive picking we spread over a weekend with friends and family helping (depending on crop size) rewarding them with lunch normally outside even mid-November. We carry out most maintenance ourselves, including the gardens and pool and the weekly changeovers. It is preferable to keep it like this to maintain our standards.
Tell us your top tips for those staying in the area.
Visit the famous villages such as Gordes, Roussillon, Bonneiux & Menerbes. Get out the car and walk, there is so much beautiful countryside to explore. Buy a baguette, some cheese and a bottle of rose and enjoy a picnic. Cities such as Avignon and Aix offer much history and culture. One week is never enough – two or even three minimum. After seven years we are still finding new things.
Are there any downsides to living in Provence?
The sangliers are real pests. They caused a great deal of damage to our garden and we have spent quite a sum to try and keep them out. The French paperwork must have ruined many a forest, everything is in at least triplicate. There are no Indian restaurants in the area and the occasional pub at the end of a good hike would be welcome!
How important is it to celebrate the anniversary of your move to France?
Every day is a celebration! We have great memories of all the wonderful times we have had, none of which we would have experienced had we not taken the plunge.