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