After visiting new friends Jane and Gary Langton at Mas d’Augustine, the chambre d’hôtes they own and run in the south of France, I asked if they would share their “inside” stories with me and Barefoot Blogger followers. Happily, they agreed!
The original post about the Langstons, The Truth About Owning and Running A Chambres d’Hôtes in the South of France, told us the history of Mas d’Augustine, the eighteenth century silk mill converted to a luxury B&B that’s located outside of Uzes. The personal bits of the first story were told by Gary. Now it’s Jane’s turn …
Whose idea was it to own and run a B&B? Yours or Gary’s or both?
Jane: “A small boutique hotel has been my dream since my thirties. I wanted to work at something I love doing. My vision was to combine my love of beautiful things and my passion for cooking into a business. To create a holiday place where guests could enjoy a stylish décor, superb food and exceptional service. Unfortunately, this was far from Gary’s dream. It was probably his worst nightmare.”
Did it take much persuasion to convince Gary?
Jane: “It took a lot! Fortunately he couldn’t come up with an alternative way for us to work together in the sunshine, so he gave in !”
How did you decide on a business in France?
Jane: We thought long and hard about our where we would locate and we considered various different countries. South Africa was probably my favourite destination but we thought it was too far away from our combined family of seven children. We considered Spain because I had lived and worked there and I loved the sunshine, the food and the wine. However, I was not keen on the ex-pat lifestyle on the Costa del Sol. France seemed the obvious choice — as long as we headed south.
What was the condition of the property and house when you bought it?
Jane: “Once we decided upon France, we searched the whole southern coastline and came across Uzes by accident. A friend recommended that we stop by Uzes and visit the Place Aux Herbes at lunchtime if we happened to be nearby. We did and we loved it ! Focusing our search in and around Uzes, we looked at about fifty properties until we found Mas d’Augustine. It was love at first sight for both of us. The old mas was badly in need of some TLC but it offered us the opportunity to create our five ensuite guest rooms — and still have our own private family house with two ensuite rooms.”
What prepared you for taking on the project of a B&B?
Jane: “Nothing prepared us! It has proven to be much harder work than I anticipated! I have cooked and cleaned for a large family for twenty years, at the same time carving out a successful career, so I thought this challenge would be easy — it wasn’t. It is incredibly hard work.”
How do you divide up responsibilities?
Jane: “We have a very clear division of responsibilities. There are certain jobs that Gary simple will not do. For example, he will not clean the bathrooms. Gary scrubbing toilets is just never going to happen. So I clean the rooms and make up the beds. I’m very fussy, so in the long run, its easiest for me to just do them myself. Gary does all the washing and ironing and he does it well. There are no creases in our bed linen. He takes charge of the front of house and I take on all the cooking. Gary loves to talk and I love to cook, so it works. Gary looks after the pool beautifully, it’s always glistening. I’m in charge of the garden and have had lots of successes and lots of failures trying to work out what grows down here and what doesn’t. I spent ages planting daffodil bulbs only to find they bloomed in January when we were closed. By Easter, when we opened for guests, I just had lots of straggly leaves! Gary, under strict supervision, does all the chopping and hedge trimming. Left on his own, my flowers seem to disappear.”
What has been the most fun about renovating the property?
Jane:”The original renovation was great fun, we spent 18 months creating the finished property. From the shell we bought, it now looks exactly as I imagined, inside and out. So it is my dream home.”
What has been the least enjoyable part about your new life venture?
Jane: “The worse part has been sorting through all the French bureaucracy to get ourselves, and the property, registered and operating legally. Gary had to take two courses in French, in order to understand how to get the correct licences for a Chambre d’Hotes in France.”
What’s the hardest part?
Jane: “Getting up every morning to prepare breakfast. There are no days off once the season starts. Its every morning.”
What did your family think?
Jane: “First of all, they said we had made them homeless by moving abroad, but once they saw the project, they understood why we wanted to do it. Now they love coming over whenever possible and all think they have the best back garden possible!”
Do you ever regret your decision?
Jane: “Not at all, we are both very happy with our new lifestyle. We work together extremely well. Going from seeing each other just at the weekends to working together 24/7, it was a risk. But it’s great fun and we both love it!”
Describe the very best day you’ve spent so far.
Jane: “The best days by far have been our daughters’ special celebrations here: Frankie’s 21st birthday party with all her friends and Kathryn’s wedding for 40 guests and family.”
And the very worse day?
Jane: “The worst day was right back at the beginning. We completed the sale on the house in August 2010 and scheduled to move down in December. In August, we planned and ordered our new kitchen. The idea was for it to be installed prior to our arrival in December, in time for Christmas. When we got to October and had heard nothing from the kitchen company, we became suspicious. Then we got the news. The company had gone into receivership. So not only would our kitchen not be fitted but we had lost our very sizeable deposit. We moved down in December, the house was freezing, the fire just billowed smoke and we had no kitchen! But we sorted the fire, got the heating going, bought a little hot plate and, using this and our George Forman grill, we had a great Christmas lunch!”
Since you love to cook, will you share a favorite autumn recipe with us … or two?
Jane: Of course. Here are two recipes we enjoy serving ourselves and friends in November — after the guests have left for the season. They’re easy to prepare and remind us it’s Autumn. Spicy parsnip soup and a lovely apple cake.
Spicy Parsnip Soup
A tasty warming soup for the winter months, made with simple ingredients. You can omit the chili if you prefer less heat and the flavor will still be wonderful. This soup makes a filling lunch, or serve smaller portions as an impressive starter to your evening meal.
Ingredients – serves 4
2 Large parsnips
½ Onion, finely chopped
500 mls Chicken stock
150 mls Cream
1 tsp Turmeric
1 tsp Ras el Hanout
1 Large clove of garlic peeled and crushed
1 Piece of ginger (about 3 cms long), peeled and grated
1 Small red chilli, deseeded and chopped – optional
Salt and black pepper to taste
- Peel, core and slice the parsnips, place them in a saucepan with the butter and sweat until they soften.
- Add the chopped onion, garlic, ginger and chilli (if used) and cook for a further 5 minutes until soft, but not browned.
- Add the spices and cook for a few minutes to allow the flavour to develop. Add the chicken stock and simmer until the parsnips are very soft (about 15 mins).
- Remove from the heat, allow to cool slightly and then liquidise until really smooth.
- Place back on a gentle heat and stir in the cream. Adjust the seasoning to suit your taste with black pepper and sea salt.
- The soup can be thinned down by adding water if required.
To serve, reheat the soup gently and serve garnished with some finely chopped parsley or coriander, crispy croutons and some crusty bread.
our breakfast buffet for our guests and then also as a dessert, warm with cinnamon ice cream.
Apples are in season now! This cake was a great success with our guests, lovely and moist and not too sweet! It would also be really good served slightly warm with some vanilla ice cream.
Ingredients – serves 8
25g Ground almonds
225g Soft butter
200g Castor sugar
25g Vanilla sugar
(I use vanilla sugar in this recipe but, if you can’t find any, use a tsp of vanilla essence and 225g of castor sugar)
500g Apples (Granny Smith or similar)
225g Self-raising Flour
2 tsp Baking powder
1 tsp of Powdered cinnamon
Butter for greasing the tin
- Preheat the oven to 160C (fan assisted). Line the bottom and sides of a 24cm loose bottom cake tin with baking parchment.
- Peel and core the apples, then chop into cubes and toss in the lemon juice to prevent them from turning brown. Set aside.
- Whisk the butter and sugars together in a large mixing bowl until thick, pale and creamy.
- Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well between each addition.
- Sift together the flour, baking powder and cinnamon and fold gently into the mixture.
- Gently stir in the ground almonds and chopped apple. Mix thoroughly.
- Spoon the cake mixture into the prepared tin and bake in the centre of the oven for 1 hour.
- Check the cake after 30 minutes and, if it is becoming too brown, place a piece of tin foil or baking parchment loosely over the top.
- After one hour, check to see if the cake is cooked by inserting a skewer into its centre – it should come out clean.
- Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin.
Serve cold on its own for tea or breakfast, or warm as a delicious dessert with crème fraiche, mascarpone, cinnamon or vanilla ice cream.