Through the years one of the questions I am most often asked is “why gîtes?” With a background in horticulture, boat building and luxury yacht chartering, why spend the last 17 years running a gîte complex? The answer is simple I didn't choose it, it chose me.
In the mid-1980's when the world was plunged into the deepening gloom of the last real recession I was building and chartering luxury, ocean going catamarans. Now as I’m sure you’re aware, luxury and recession do not make good bedfellows, and I decided it was time to make a quick exit from the business and try my hand at something else. I sold my last two charter boats in America and returned to the UK to plan my next move. There was however a slight hitch, having spent the previous 15 years or so sailing, sometimes in stormy waters, sometimes becalmed, but always at a tempo I could handle, I found the pace of life in England too hectic. I had no idea what I wanted to do next, and England wasn’t helping me decide. My life had been extremely varied; I’d been through my Fred Wedlock and Adge Cutler phases and had carried on through my days of fishy tales and sea shanties. I had accumulated a wealth of stories, anecdotes, songs, sea shanties and comic verse and I thought it might be a good plan to buy a house in France where, the pace of life was notoriously slow, and write my memoirs lest these gems should be lost to humanity. Consequently in order to contemplate my next move, I decided on the spur of the moment to investigate potential properties in France and I asked my friend Tim if he fancied a holiday in on the other side of the Channel.
With Tim's and his 4 year old daughter in tow I set off. It was the second week in August, not the best time to take an impromptu trip to France, and all we could find with only a weeks notice was a campsite near Royan in the Charente-Maritime. I didn’t know much about where I wanted to be but I thought that this was as far South as I wanted to go. We had been told by everyone that everywhere would be closed as it was “The French Holiday”, of course true to form it was.
I had managed, through John Evans an estate agent in Bournemouth who specialised in French property, to get three appointments with French Estate Agents, and he assured me that they were interrupting their holidays especially to see me. True to their word they did interrupt their holidays, not only that but their attitude was totally different to my experience of English Estate Agents. The refreshing thing was that unlike their English counterparts who only ever seem to be interested in rushing you through the viewings and selling you anything as long as they sell you something. These Estate Agents took the whole day, not to sell me a property, but to sell me their part of France. Henry Prouteau the agent whom I eventually bought from explained to me that it really didn't matter if I didn't buy from him, as long as I bought in the area. The reason was, he explained, that all of the other agents in the area operated in the same way, so he might not sell to me loosing out to a competitor, but on another occasions he would pick up buyers from other agent’s sales pitches. To be honest in the Fontenay le Comte area there were only two agents and they were both part time, how things have changed. Today in Fontenay le Comte there are thirteen Estate Agents.
There was in those days such a huge selection I could have picked several houses in the three areas that I looked, but having spent three days looking at houses, I eventually bought La Grange, the first house that I had seen on the first day of looking.
It was my intention to renovate the house while I waited for idea that would make the change of direction that my life needed, and I thought that I would be able to live off the interest from the sale of my boats. My immediate priority was to build a swimming pool as this part of France can get mighty hot in the summer and having spent so long on and in the water I couldn’t leave it behind altogether. I was also renovating the house with a view to having family and friends over to visit and, if necessary, doing a little bit of B&B to supplement my income. Circumstances however have a way of laying waste to the best laid plans and changing the way we live, and this time was no exception. The bottom fell out of the money market with the crash of the ERM and I was no longer able to survive on the interest generated by my savings. It was a case of either use up my capital or procure gainful employment. I hadn’t worked for anyone for longer than I could remember and I wasn’t really keen on starting now. Looking at the property I had bought and the work I had started the answer to my dilemma was clear, convert La Grange and start renting out gîtes. In consequence I drew up plans for the conversion of the two farmhouses at La Grange into 6 gîtes, and the rest, as they say, is history.
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