“We live in an amaz­ing part of the world and I’m re­ally ex­cited that our daugh­ter will grow up here”

Living France - - Lifestyle - se­cret­pyre­nees.com

In 2013 Zayne and I ran the Tour de Mont Blanc trail, cover­ing 100 miles in five days. It was then that the seed of ‘wouldn’t it be amaz­ing to live in the moun­tains?’ was first sewn. Over the next cou­ple of years we started brows­ing prop­erty web­sites and quickly re­alised that the Alps were too ex­pen­sive and we’d pre­fer to be in the Pyrénées. We also wanted to be within rea­son­able dis­tance of an air­port and needed a house which could be con­verted into at least three – one part for us, one for a B&B and one for my mother Anna. She’s very much a Fran­cophile and had de­cided to move with us.

We found our house in Lasseube in Jan­uary 2016. It’s a real coup de coeur, be­ing in an 18th-cen­tury con­verted stone farm­house with nine bed­rooms and four hectares of land over­look­ing the Bearn Pyrénées. We moved over in March 2016.

The next year was spent ren­o­vat­ing – not only did we have to di­vide the prop­erty into three so that it would work for us all, but there was a huge amount of dec­o­rat­ing and land­scap­ing to be done. We did the vast ma­jor­ity our­selves, mainly to save money but also be­cause it was of­ten dif­fi­cult to find some­one who would com­mit to do­ing the work.

We now have three B&B rooms and we are plan­ning to add some sa­fari tents next year. So far, most of our clients have been French or Span­ish, mainly re­tirees and, sur­pris­ingly, very few Brits. This sum­mer was our first and we weren’t sure how it would go, but we ad­ver­tised on Airbnb and Book­ing.com and were pretty much fully booked for the sum­mer months.

The Pyrénées have so much to of­fer – great ski re­sorts which are fam­ily-friendly but also with enough chal­leng­ing ter­rain to keep al­most any­one happy, and plenty of walk­ing and cycling. I’m re­ally keen to help pro­mote the area as a des­ti­na­tion and am work­ing with La Con­fédéra­tion Pyrénéenne du Tourisme, and I’m help­ing them to pro­duce videos and on­line con­tent to do so.

I did a de­gree in French at Poitiers Univer­sity for three years, so I am lucky that my French is flu­ent. Zayne is South African and didn’t even learn French at school so it’s a lit­tle harder for her, but she’s mak­ing progress.

The big­gest chal­lenges in­clude it be­ing dif­fi­cult to find out in­for­ma­tion about what kind of busi­ness struc­ture to adopt – there’s lots of con­flict­ing ad­vice and you kind of have to piece it to­gether. It seems to take ages to get any­thing done and I still get caught out by ev­ery­thing clos­ing at lunchtime. How­ever, we live in an amaz­ing part of the world and I’m re­ally ex­cited that Ariella is go­ing to be able to grow up here, with so much space and beau­ti­ful scenery. We have kept our house in Lon­don and you can never say never, but I see us be­ing here for the next 20 years at least.”

Ad­ven­ture ath­lete, au­thor and jour­nal­ist To­bias Mews, 40, runs his cham­bres d’hôtes Se­cret Pyre­nees in Lasseube near Pau with his wife Zayne, 42. They have one daugh­ter, Ariella, two.

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