Meet Chris and Marian Blake
Chris and Marian Blake from Wiltshire have a gîte complex, La Petite Auberge, just outside of Eymet in the Dordogne. FrenchEntrée went to meet them in the run up to the start of their seventh season…
It’s not until April that tourists in the Dordogne really start to make their presence felt, meaning that those offering them accommodation, cultural excursions, food, drink and souvenirs can take the chance to enjoy a bit of downtime and get ready to welcome the crowds of visitors.
For Chris and Marian, preparations include installing a gym, cleaning the pool, tending the garden, keeping an eye on email enquiries and an ear out for the phone when it rings. They even move out of the main house and into one of the smaller apartments in summer.
However, the winter has also proved lucrative for their gîte business, when prospective buyers come out for two or three months to get to know the area before making an offer – often on a property within striking distance of the gîte complex. That’s how they made a lot of their English speaking friends here, who they still meet up with on a regular basis – to have a drink, play cards and even skittles. Marian also got to know people through a sewing group.
For a while, the combined effects of the recession and a poor exchange rate meant demand for long winter lets went down but Chris and Marian say that things are starting to pick up again. But B&B accommodation proved a lot of work for little money, especially out of season. Having discovered that there were few options for large parties seeking accommodation in the area, Chris and Marian decided to let out the entirety of their own property and move into a smaller gîte to maximise returns in peak season.
It was in low season that Chris discovered a love of golf, which he now takes every opportunity to practise, especially as come summer you can’t leave the house and there are always repairs that need doing.
Over the course of seven years, Chris and Marian have learned a fair amount about running a business in France and living like the locals. Here’s what we took away from the conversation:
• You’ll never make so much as £20,000 a year from letting a single gîte. You need a complex
• There are courses for gîte owners, but Chris and Marian are happy to offer their guests the benefit of their experience for free
• Don’t be afraid to open your mouth. You’ll never learn if you don’t practise your French
• It can be tough sharing your home with other people. You cannot argue in front of your guests!
• People on their holidays are generally very nice to be around
• Hunters dinners (repas de chasse) are not to be missed. Village fêtes also come highly recommended and can go on until the early hours
• Of those people Chris and Marian know who have returned to the UK, grandchildren and pensions were both important factors
• If you’re working as opposed to retired, there’s less time to spend on the internet. You tend to find things out by word of mouth instead
• They miss cheddar cheese and bookshops with comfy chairs