Living an environmentally responsible lifestyle was paramount to Rosie and Simon Hill’s move to Normandy where they run a successful eco gîtes business, as Catriona Burns discovers
It’s dinner time in the Normandy countryside and as a rack of homereared pork cooks slowly in the oven, Rosie Hill crosses the flower-strewn garden to her vegetable patch and picks tonight’s harvest of new potatoes, summer courgettes and sweet cabbage.
“It’s all gone in a few minutes but it’s so good knowing that it’s my own produce,” Rosie says. “Zero food miles were used to get it, I don’t use any chemicals, so it’s good for the environment and it’s good for my health, although my back might not say the same...”
Living off the land is not just a means of having a lovely way of life for Rosie, her husband Simon and their teenage sons, Tom and Ben; this back-to-basics approach is at the core of their eco-friendly gîte business that caters for green holidays in rural Calvados. For some visitors, the concept of a sustainable lifestyle is new but Rosie never knew anything else.
“I’ve always been an eco person,” Rosie explains. “And I’ve always been a gardener. My grandfather had a nursery and I used to follow him round – I probably drove him mad! I think being green is just in my blood.”
With such green-thumbed beginnings, it was perhaps no surprise that when Rosie and Simon began to think about starting up a holiday rental business, they went down the green route. “We thought it would give us a unique selling point,” Rosie explains.
Not only would their eco ethos shape the property renovation, it would be a deciding factor in where they would base themselves, as Rosie explains: “We wanted to be close enough to England because we thought most of our customers would be coming from the UK and we thought it was a bit daft to come to an eco gîte if you’d hopped on a plane and flown a long way. Ferry travel is quite environmental and we’re only one hour from the ferry port so people aren’t using huge amounts of fuel.”
Gardening practicalities also meant that northern France was the most sensible choice. “The climate is similar to what it is in the UK so for me the gardening was the Facing page:
This page: The property in Normandy is surrounded by a large plot of land where the Hill family keep animals and grow vegetables
The house is well insulated to save on energy; a wood burner heats the house