“It made sense for the table d'hôte to be vegetarian too”
Natalie Lynch, 36, runs vegetarian chambres d’hôtes Le Cheval Blanc in St-Antonin-NobleVal, Tarn-et-Garonne. She lives with her partner Peter Quaife, 50 and son Sam, three.
W e were cycling through France around five years ago and my bike broke near St-AntoninNoble-Val, so we ended up spending a few days there and fell in love with it! We’d often thought about living in France and decided to try to give it a go, eventually moving here in 2014. Previously we lived in Birmingham and worked in academia.
Peter is a very keen cyclist and the initial plan was that he would run cycling holidays. We had an idea about running a B&B, but the house was a renovation project when we bought it so anything like that was a good way off.
Peter has been vegetarian for 20 years, and when I moved in with him in 2009 and we were cooking and eating together, it was easier to eat vegetarian food for both of us and I found I liked it.
When we first arrived I took a stall at the local market, which is one of the biggest in the area, to bring in a bit of extra money while we were doing the renovations. I mainly made cakes and sweets and as people got to know me, they’d sometimes ask me to cater small events. I’d find myself saying, ‘I’d love to, but I don’t cook meat’ and the answer was almost always: ‘that’s fine’.
So when we set up the table d’hôte, it made sense for it to be vegetarian too, and it’s been really successful. I really enjoy vegetarian cookery – cooking without meat forces you to be a bit more creative with textures and flavours, I think.
Our clients are a mixture of nationalities, including some French. We have quite a lot of Germans who come to visit – the vegan scene seems to be quite big there. I think being a little bit niche helps us get more out-of-season bookings and we’re hoping that once we become a little more known, word of mouth will be powerful enough to allow us to bypass the booking sites.
Following an NVQ in food hygiene and handling in the UK, I registered the business as an auto-entrepreneur (now micro-entreprise) and undertook the four-day course about running a business, plus a second foodhandling course. It was much more straightforward than I was expecting, and the Chambre de Métiers seemed happy to accept my UK qualifications, but I thought I may as well do an extra course as a refresher.
We moved to France partly to spend more time together, but as it is, we’ve never worked harder! In the summer, as well as running the chambres d’hôtes, I was catering at several festivals while Peter was running his cycling business and in between this, we have to look after Sam. But it was fine – we got a local girl in to help out now and again, and things will get easier as Sam grows up and our businesses become more established. We certainly don’t have any regrets at all.” lechevalblanc.net and stantoninnoblevelo.com
These pages: Le Cheval Blanc is a vegetarian B&B run by Natalie Lynch and her partner Peter Quaife in Tarn-et-Garonne