When I have time, I’ll be a good girl and do my chores. Camilla Luddington
My Daily Chores- What it’s like to run a B&B in southern France?
Around 7:00am I hear the birds outside my window waking with the sun. I putter around my house before anyone wakes up, and eventually find my way to the kitchen to make my first strong cup of coffee.
We have an aluminum stovetop espresso maker, the kind my grandparents used back in the day, bought from the local Budapest IKEA for a few Euros. It makes the richest cup of Joe. There is something comforting about that initial cup of Java that brings me to life. I snuggle into my favourite chair with my old red StarBucks mug to catch-up on email, Facebook and Twitter posts on my old reliable MAC.
First thing, I check our listing sites to see if any new bookings have gone through while we slept. We use only free listings that take a portion from each reservation, that way there is no initial investment for a site that may or may not produce bookings. One of these two sites has a policy to book through on a calendar without our okay, the other I choose and both pre screen. I can book off days on both calendar incase I get a direct booking. For us, this system works well. So far, we have never double booked, and been lucky with awesome guests.
In the high season, I can expect a new booking or two daily, especially for our Chambre D’hôte, our daily rental. The apartment usually books up first and rents out weekly, even though we offer daily rentals on there as well. People generally book the apartment for weeks at a time around their flight or vacation schedule.
The Languedoc has paths for cyclists along the Canal Du Midi and offers a sample of traditional southern French life. Many people go along on bike without pre-booking their accommodations, as they do not know how long a day’s travel will take them. The organic traveler goes where the wind blows them. We benefit from these types of globe-trotters and often find cyclists at our door wishing to stay who found our information at the local tourist office. They are an interesting laid back bunch.
I lift my eyes above my red framed readers to see Alfonz make his way down the rickety staircase. Shortly after, one by one, the children come to greet us. I hesitantly push myself off my cozy chair to make the kids breakfast. I know once I get up it will be awhile before I find more computer again.
For the last six years, Daniel perpetually starts his day with cereal and warm milk, while Angelina changes her mind on a whim. Today she asks for chocolat chaud – hot chocolate. Sometimes she wants to eat what Daniel eats, and other times she requests freshly made smoothies with vanilla yogurt and whatever fruit I can get my hands on.
Next, I prepare breakfast for our guests. We normally ask the night before what time they want their meal, whether they desire a croissant or pain du chocolate, coffee or tea, and we throw in a fresh baguette for good measure.
Daniel finished his breakfast and off he goes to make his bakery run for us and for his other clients on his BMX before 9:00am daily.
I reach for the small plates and place them neatly on their own flower patterned blue tray to carry outside to the terrace. Not sure why every B&B has dainty patterned linens, pillows and dishes, but it seems a right of passage for B&B owners to purchase such things in abundance and is often expected by travelers.
A napkin, a knife, a little spoon goes on one side, and a coffee cup and a juice glass goes above. Wobbling, I take them to their place on the little outdoor table by the pool where the morning sun in shining. If it rains, our guests will run to the sunroom to a big wooden table overlooking the flowers along the concrete fence. Today is clear with no sign of rain.
I buy our clients all kinds of local jams, usually purchased at Vide Grenier sales (flee markets), from somebody’s grandmother personal crop for a couple of Euros. Alfonz is sure that the apricot jam is the best in the region; by I lean towards the raspberry. Fig is a specialty item in France, and is an on hand necessity for French guests. The majority of our guests choose classic strawberry the most.
For the sweet tooth, Nutella takes a position on the table alongside the basket of seasonal fresh fruit. Right now apricots, pears and plums make a pretty arrangement of orange, light green and deep purple colours. Sure enough by the time the second pot of coffee brews for our visitors, Daniel arrives from the bakery on the square with our bread delivery.
A cutting board with a bread knife takes a spot on the table, and Daniel places the warm baguette on it, and one croissant or chocolatine on each plate. He goes upstairs and gently knocks on the door to let the tenants know it is time for breakfast. They make their way down stairs.
I offer yogurt and smoothies. Most people eat very little, but once in while we have what I call starving cyclists. Who, for whatever reason, come to us so ravenous. My theory is that in this weather, some people acclimatize on their bikes and do not realize the toll this heat, humidity and wind will take. We guess they start in Toulouse and by day four, from whatever cold country they come from, by the time they reach us in southern Capestang, they wither. To these folks my heart goes out, and I usually offer a breakfast upgrade for 5€/couple.
Last time I made French toast, which here they call ‘Pain Perdu’ (lost bread) made from the left over baguette from the night before. France is spoiled, and us in turn, when we only eat the freshest of bread or rather go without. With artisan bakeries on every block, there’s no wonder why.
Alternatively, we have a protein punch breakfast for cyclist as well, but for them I need a day’s notice as I do not always have salamis, hams and fresh cheeses on hand. Our family can always improvise, and try to go out of our way to please our guests.
Furthermore, when we had a vegetarian group stay with us, two upstairs and two down stairs, the morning meal plan included humus and veggies. They were very happy and gave us an excellent review. The one lady, a vegan, said she hadn’t eaten well since vacationing in France and we donated a jar of Ratatouille to help her along.
My favourite part about running a B&B is talking with the guests from all over the world: US, Canada, England, Sweden, Austria, Germany, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Hungary, Russia, New Zealand, Ireland, Scotland, Australia, Czech, India, China, Philippians, Holland, Greece, Poland, Finland, Norway, and all over France.
Usually they want to talk about their trip, what to see around our home, where they have been before and where they are going. Some know our story from the website and let us know how they found our rental. Occasional they have seen us on TV, and more often, they ask us how we ended up in the Languedoc from Canada.
If you think people on vacation would rather be left alone, eat in peace, and then leave. Oh contraire mon frère! The majority of nomadic people, especially short stay hostel travelers, are openhearted wanderlusts, looking for the experience not an all inclusive holiday. Many share the insight, that it is the journey and not the destination that makes the trip.
Usually our long stay company ends up hanging out with us for at least one evening, sometimes more, and on a few a rare occasions, they lengthen their stay and become our friends. Moreover, rare still are the return customers that we plan a trek with during their next stay. (Greet and Stephan from Belgium come next week when we plan a river rafting adventure down the River Orb).
Usually after a second pot of coffee, and endless chatting, it is time for our guests to leave to make way for the next vacationers. I clean us the dishes, package up their baguette for them to take and by the time I finish cleaning the breakfast mess, they pack up and are ready to leave.
We say our goodbyes, exchange email addresses or business cards and wish each other well. Our family comes out to wave them goodbye. As I watch them leave down our street. I always wonder if I’ll see them again.
Next is change over. I strip the beds, take their towels and do a hot water load of laundry with fresh smelling bio soap. I question the bio products of course, but at least I try for a better environment.
While that is washing, I take my bucket full of magic tricks and vacuum cleaner up stair to make the room sparkle. With a flick of my wrist, a wiggle of my nose… I wish it were that easy.
I swear by Fabreeze for the pillows, curtains and bare comforters. I do not like the fruit smelling variety and prefer the traditional scent. Our mattress and pillows have protective covers but at least once a month I wash those with the curtains. I wipe everything down, dust off the shelves, and make sure nothing is broken. If we have people in the chamber d’hôte for more than two nights, I defrost the fridge for the next people.
On average, our guests stay three nights. Some borrow the bikes, others take in an olive or wine tour and some relax poolside, especially if it is over 40 degrees like this week in August. During the five-day festivals, our guests hung out with us during the day or stayed close to home and they venture out for the festivities once the sun set.
Our B&B in that sense is not traditional, as people stay with us not just to sleep and eat breakfast and then leave, on the contrary, those who have longer visits, often take days to lounge around.
The washing machine rings to say it is done and I take the linens out of the unit and place them into an IKEA bag to haul outside. I loving place each item on the line to air and sundry. I try to make the creases perfect, as I do not iron them. To some this is sacrilegious, although for the entry-level market we cater to, we simply do not make enough profit off our income for me to spend each day ironing. I would have to increase the prices, and truth be told, we are full and the difference would not come back to us.
I put fresh change-out linens from the drawer and put them on the beds. I love the sky blue ones best, bringing the outdoors in. I match them with French-country print pillowcases. At last, I wash the floors by hand, and finish work for today. Voila! We are ready for the next tourists. Overall, preparation takes about an hour.
Guests frequently arrive after 18:00 in spite of the fact anytime after 13:00 is fine. We have had people arrive in the am trying to extend their vacation before the other guests have even left. We roll with the punches, and try to make it work. I totally understand extending a vacation, especially remember the days of two week holidays a year. Here, our life feels like a holiday, and I want to help out fellow explorers make the most of their escape.
We expect payment on arrival to get it out of the way. I have made the mistake of waiting until the end, and felt I had to hunt them down to pay. To save bad vibes, better to start with it.
I love when the people want to be here with us. A few times now, we invited guests to share our BBQ, and pot luck a meal together. Usually the younger travelers on a budget fall into this bracket; backpackers, cyclists and young people who travel across countries by car who bring their own food for the duration of their stay.
Although conventionally a B&B is to sleep, eat and leave the next day, and to come back in the evening if they want to do it again; we have accommodated some of the budgeters, by offering our outdoor BBQ area for meals and extra space in our outdoor fridge as well as additional plates and utensils. By eating at home they can save some money, and usually we get to know them better in the process.
The room has a mini fridge, however we rather people not eat in there. We set up three tables for people to enjoy. All of which can be as private as they want.
Other than keeping the rest of our house clean and presentable, we also keep the gardens well groomed and the pool clean for our guests. The work is only slightly more than having a family of four to look after, so for Alfonz and myself, we do not mind at all.
That is a day in the life at Le Petit Platane. Do I love my job? Yes I do. I could not imagine a better way to meet people, stay home with my kids and make money at the same time. The children learn so much to boot when they share in the responsibilities around the house by answering the phones, and meeting clients. They learn to run a business, a homeschool education in itself.
Unfortunately now that we moved to Budapest Le Petit Platane is closed. I endlessly enjoyed my rural French life and sharing it with fellow travelers. It never felt like work to me at all.