Putting down roots

Pre­par­ing for the busy sum­mer sea­son at a Tarn-et-garonne B&B

French Property News - - Contents -

Guests love home­made jams and the French view fait mai­son as a badge of hon­our to be worn with pride

If win­ter comes, can spring be far be­hind?” wrote the poet Shel­ley. Spring comes early in south-west France. You no­tice the changes around Valen­tine’s Day. Trees de­pleted of their fo­liage over win­ter be­gin to bud giv­ing an ex­pand­ing green tinge to the wooded hills and val­leys, the prom­ise of a big­ger trans­for­ma­tion to come.

Tem­per­a­tures be­gin to pick up as March pro­gresses and as the trees bounce back to life; so does the bird­song that ac­com­pa­nies the re­turn of colour to the coun­try­side.

Here in St-an­tonin-no­ble-val, Valen­tine’s Day acts as a start­ing pis­tol set­ting off a frenzy of ac­tiv­ity as shops, restau­rants, cafés and B&BS throw open their win­dows and dis­card any win­ter blues in an­tic­i­pa­tion of an­other busy hol­i­day sea­son, wel­com­ing vis­i­tors from all over the world to our idyl­lic lit­tle cor­ner of la France pro­fonde.

St-an­tonin’s weekly mar­ket (ev­ery Sun­day of the year in­clud­ing Christ­mas Day) grows as stall­hold­ers re­turn from their win­ter re­treats and the first of the new sea­son’s pro­duce tempts shop­pers from near and far.

The French show far more re­spect to the sea­son­al­ity of fruit and veg than the Bri­tish and early spring means the reap­pear­ance of as­para­gus, radishes, rhubarb, new pota­toes and salad greens. To­wards the mid­dle of May, the sweet­est of straw­ber­ries from Lot make a tri­umphant re­turn which is great news for us jam mak­ers.

Jam packed

Since mov­ing to France and open­ing Mai­son Bel­mont we have been able to cre­ate our own ver­sion of The Good Life as our won­der­ful gar­den has made us vir­tu­ally self-suf­fi­cient in veg­eta­bles and soft fruits. We grow our own to­ma­toes, cour­gettes, aubergines, pep­pers and pota­toes. We also have a plen­ti­ful crop of rasp­ber­ries and figs each sum­mer as well as herbs such as sage, rose­mary, thyme, pars­ley and mint.

I make all my own jam for guests at Mai­son Bel­mont – a skill only re­cently ac­quired – and spring brings an abun­dance not just of straw­ber­ries but plump sweet apri­cots and cher­ries as well. Guests love home­made jams and the French view fait mai­son as a badge of hon­our to be worn with pride by any host. Home­made jam is also a use­ful in­come stream as we sell to guests who want to take a lit­tle of their hol­i­day away with them when they leave.

Apri­cot, straw­berry and fig jams are a sta­ple of any good B&B break­fast. I also use spring as an op­por­tu­nity to try out new break­fast treats from home-baked breads to muffins, brown­ies and oat­cakes. Once we are busier, time to think, plan and ex­per­i­ment be­comes lim­ited. Although not en­tirely self-suf­fi­cient in baked goods (there is a won­der­ful boulan­gerie in St-an­tonin) we al­ways top up with some of our own home­made favourites.

Green fin­gers

At Mai­son Bel­mont, we are lucky to have a well-es­tab­lished, large and beau­ti­ful gar­den, and spring with its longer and warmer days means hours spent plant­ing and pre­par­ing for the com­ing sea­son. Reg­u­lar trips to mar­kets and gar­den cen­tres be­come part of our rou­tine from March un­til mid-may. Late frosts, even as far south as Tarn-et-garonne, can be a prob­lem so we have learned to do as the lo­cals do and don’t start plant­ing out un­til 15 May.

Our gar­den is a very spe­cial place. In the sum­mer, it pro­vides an oa­sis of calm and shade for our guests but spring is when the hard work needs to be done to en­sure it is at its best in high sea­son. We have over 20 va­ri­eties of rose bushes, all need­ing prun­ing and tend­ing, as well as pots and con­tain­ers to plant and wa­ter through the spring.

Ready for sum­mer?

Mai­son Bel­mont is a year-round B&B. How­ever, with early spring be­ing a rel­a­tively quiet pe­riod we have the time to deep-clean our guest rooms and com­plete any main­te­nance or dec­o­ra­tion be­fore the sum­mer sea­son starts in earnest. It is also a great time to up­date our web­site, en­sure our pub­lic­ity ma­te­rial such as fly­ers and busi­ness cards are all up to date and in stock, and re­view pric­ing and any of­fers we may be mak­ing in the main tourist sea­son.

Ev­ery room has a folder full of in­for­ma­tion for guests that needs up­dat­ing. We need to re­vise de­tails on restau­rants and lo­cal at­trac­tions to en­sure they are all cor­rect and cur­rent. Our li­brary of books and DVDS is un­der con­stant re­view – all avail­able for guests to bor­row dur­ing their stay.

We also in­crease our pres­ence on so­cial me­dia mak­ing sure our Face­book, In­sta­gram and Twit­ter pro­files are up to date and that we post reg­u­larly, driv­ing busi­ness to­wards our web­site. For us it is im­por­tant not to wait for guests to book but to be proac­tive and en­sure po­ten­tial guests be­come real ones through ac­tive mar­ket­ing.

We make time in the spring to con­tact the lo­cal Of­fice de Tourisme and up­date them on any changes we have made since last sea­son. Rec­om­men­da­tions from the Tourist Of­fice are a great way to plug any gaps in book­ings. Even in a world of smart­phones and web­sites it is sur­pris­ing how many peo­ple ring the door­bell at 6pm ask­ing if a room is avail­able for one or two nights, of­ten sent by the Tourist Of­fice.

St-an­tonin has over 15 restau­rants and we use the spring to fa­mil­iarise our­selves with their menus and prices, en­sur­ing that our rec­om­men­da­tions are valid and up to date. We will of­fer to book ta­bles for our guests; get­ting a cou­ple or a group into a pop­u­lar restau­rant on a Fri­day or Satur­day night is a great way to im­press and will of­ten pay dividends in a pos­i­tive Tri­pad­vi­sor re­view.

While spring does see the re­turn of sig­nif­i­cant num­bers of vis­i­tors, it is also a great time to visit other B&BS on short breaks in other parts of France. This has the dou­ble pur­pose of giv­ing your­self time and space to re­lax and un­wind as well as check­ing out how other peo­ple oper­ate their busi­nesses; great ideas are al­ways best shared.

Spring is the sea­son when life be­yond the con­fines of our home re­sumes. Out­door cafés quickly fill with peo­ple en­er­gised by the re­turn of the warm sun and the prospect of a glo­ri­ous sum­mer ahead. As Vic­tor Hugo once wrote: “Win­ter is on my head, but eter­nal spring is in my heart”. maison­bel­mont.com

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