Tag: owning and running a chambres d’hotes in France

Mas d’Augustine Chambre d’Hôte: Ready For Business

It’s time to catch up with Jane and Gary of Mas d’Augustine, the classic French B&B outside Uzes, France. With the winter chores done and a few holiday getaways behind them, I asked Jane: “what’s it like to be welcoming guests again.”

Here’s Jane’s response:

“This has to be the best May we’ve had since we moved to Uzes – the weather was just stunning, beautiful blue skies, lots of sunshine and cooler evenings – it is definitely one of my favourite months.

French B&B

Mas d’Augustine

The garden looks beautiful this year, as finally it is maturing and our lawn really looks like a lawn rather than a cut field!  Considering it was just a huge expanse of sand and weeds when we bought the Mas back in 2010, it has come a long way. The extended vegetable garden is now planted and we will soon be picking our own salad leaves, potatoes, tomatoes, peppers etc

French B&B

New lawn at Mas d’Augustine

May was a very busy month and we had lots of clients from all over Europe. It is always difficult to get started again after the winter months and this year whilst we had a few guests over the Easter period it is not until May that the hard work really begins.

French B&B

Mas d’Augustine

Gary is so much better than me at getting up in the mornings, I really struggle to get out of bed before 9 am but once we start work that is out of the question.  He is always up first and takes on the task of laying the breakfast tables and cooking the bread and croissants.  I follow half an hour later and sweep the courtyard, water the plants and vegetable garden and then make up the fresh fruit salads. Once the guests start arriving for breakfast Gary is front of house and I am happily making tea and coffee in the kitchen.  Then the egg orders start and Gary loves walking into the kitchen and saying “two scrambled eggs, two soft boiled and four poached!”

French B&B

It took us a while to realise why we were so tired at the end of our first season…… there are no weekends!  Once May has started we do not get a day off until the beginning of October, breakfast has to be made every morning whether we just have a few guests or we are completely full.  We split the tasks very well between us, Gary has responsibility for all the laundry, washing and ironing whilst I clean and make up the rooms.  Gary looks after the pool and grass cutting whilst I do the gardening and cooking.  All the other jobs are shared and considering we are working together 24/7 there are very few arguments!

French B&B

Pool area at Mas d’Augustine

The only time we fall out is in the evening when we are offering the Bistro menu, I am very calm and organised in the kitchen and Gary gets a little stressed when we are really busy, mainly due to the fact that he is hungry and cannot sit down to eat until the dinner service is over.

French B&B

Gary taking care of the all-important wine service at Mas d’Augustine

We had a wonderful Table d’Hotes evening with some super guests from Belgium and Switzerland, and of course we sit down and enjoy the meal with them so it’s a lovely relaxing evening for everyone.  It is always so interesting to meet people from other countries and most of our guests become friends and we look forward to them returning the following season. But the most exciting time for me was the week we were visited by my son Edward and his friends.  They came to stay with wives and girlfriends to take part in the Aix-en-Provence Iron Man competition.  This was the first time most of them, including my son, had competed in such an event.  It involved swimming 1.9 kms in the beautiful Lake of Peyrolles in the city of Peyrolles-en-Provence.  Then a 90 kms bike course passing through Pays d’Aix and eight surrounding towns climbing up the mountain Sainte-Victoire and finishing with a 21kms run through the city of Aix-en-Provence and La Torse Park.

French B&B

Jane’s son running to the Iron Man finish line

We were able to watch the final running stage, as they had to complete 3 loops before passing the finishing line at the Rotonde in the city centre. They had an amazing day and they all completed all three stages to gain their Iron Man medals!

French B&B

Iron Man fans celebrating

Then it was back to Mas d’Augustine for a huge celebratory BBQ and an opportunity to try out the new barbeque which Gary built during the winter months.  The idea is to hold BBQ and boules evenings with our guests during the summer season.

As soon as the celebrations were over and the boys had left, it was back to cleaning and bed making to be ready in time for the new intake of guests.  We were fully booked and everyone was dining, so there was lots to do. But, on the Thursday, I went from cleaning toilets to modelling (for charity).  On the 25thof May there was an amazing charity fashion show, followed by a luncheon on the grounds of Chateau Arpaillargues, organised for Cancer Support France, www.cancersupportfrance.org.  We all had a great time modeling a summer collection of clothes from a dress shop in Uzes. The event was attended by over 90 guests, raising over €2,900 for the charity.

After the fashion show it was a quick lunch for me, just a couple of glasses of wine and then back home in time to prepare table d’hote for our ten guests.”

 

The French B&Bn Table d’Hote Menu 

Smoked salmon terrines with pickled cucumber and wasabi cream on a roqette salad

Roast fillet of pork with Ardeches vegetables, roast tomatoes and a port wine sauce

Strawberry and white peach vacharins, with a raspberry butter sauce

French B&B

“We had a lovely evening, the guests dining by the pool until the early hours.  I am afraid I left the clearing up to Gary that night and I fell exhausted into bed.”

Mas d’Augustine, a former silk farm built in the latter part of the 18th Century, retains many of its original features and has been restored with respect for the original architecture. For information about a visit with Jane and Gary at Mas d’Augustine in the village outside Uzes,  La Bruguière, check out the website: masdaugustine.com

 

More posts on Barefoot Blogger

The Inside Story: Owning and Running a Chambres d’Hôtes in the South of France

An Expat’s Life in A Chambre d’Hôtes in France: Jane’s Story

If Owning a Chambre d’Hote in France Is Your Dream, Spend a Day Picking Olives

A Slice of Life in the “Off” Season: A Chambre d’Hôtes in France

“Company’s Coming!” Owning and Running a Chambre d’Hôte in the South of France

Friends and Family for the Holiday at Mas d’Augustine

 

French B&B

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A Slice of Life in the “Off” Season: A Chambre d’Hôtes in France

Time to check back in at Mas d’Augustine and find out how the owners and managers, Jane and Gary Langton, are spending their time at the chambre d’hôte off season … with no guests, but plenty of chores. As we visit the Langtons, it appears that Jane has quite a few projects in mind. Let’s see how they manage it all…

“It’s a busy time of year in the Chambre d’Hôtes business………even though we’re closed,” says Jane.  

I suspect, most people think during the chambre d’hôte off season we have our feet up in front of the fire doing little or nothing before we welcome guests in April. Unfortunately, this is not the case, as there is just too much that needs to be done both inside and out.

I had planned for us to be working in the garden this week but we had to stop as, despite the beautiful blue skies and sunshine, it is just too cold. I have decided to increase the size of the vegetable garden this year so that we can offer a wider selection of organic home-grown fruit and vegetables. As a consequence, Gary has (reluctantly) agreed to remove the existing hedge (circa 5 metres high) which will enable me to plant a long row of tomatoes. Previously we had room for 6 tomato plants, but I want to include a wide selection of Heirloom tomatoes in all colours, as they are such an important ingredient in Provençal cooking and straight from the garden the flavours are really intense.

All the hedges bordering the property need to be cut, olive and fruit trees pruned and there are two Italian Cypress trees that need to be cut down as they did not survive last year’s hot summer. I also have a plan to improve 3 of the existing flower beds, which involves the building of a dry-stone wall, changing of soil and the re-shaping of the beds. I am hoping to create a new lavender bed, a white rose bed and extend the giant poppy bed. I think Gary is rather grateful for the cold snap, as he is not an enthusiastic gardener!

chambre d'hôte off season

One of last year’s flower beds

Before the cold snap started, Gary moved our lemon trees to their winter home up on the terrace and I have wrapped up the diplodenia – fingers crossed it will survive the freezing night temperatures.

Gary has just returned from a quick trip to London to welcome his new granddaughter into the family. Mathilda was born last Friday and we are looking forward to her first visit in the summer.

While he was away I pressed on with the redecorating. I have nearly finished painting the main kitchen, but decided to leave the ceiling to Gary. Next week we will start the office, closely followed by re-varnishing the front doors and re-painting all the windows at the front of the mas.

 

chambre d'hôte off season

 

chambre d'hôte off seasonPainting and decorating done, we will be tackling the garden to make certain everything is ready for the first shoots of Spring in mid-February. Then, in March, it will be time to clean the terraces and fill the pool, layout all the garden furniture, clean the summer kitchen and get the rooms ready for our first guests in April.

I like to add something new to the guest rooms every year, so we will spend a few Sundays visiting the local brocante and antique markets searching for interesting items.

There is one job that Gary looks forward to every year………. tasting the dishes for the newly designed menus. Over the next few weeks I will prepare all the new recipes for us to sample and critique.

We are enjoying hearty French classic dishes to help keep out the cold. One of our favourites is a traditional French stew. In the Languedoc region this stew is known as a Cassoulet. Made with meat, sausages and beans, it takes a while to cook and prepare but, on a cold winter night after a hard day in the garden, it’s definitely worth it.

chambre d'hôte off season

Cassolet

Cassoulet

A wonderful change from traditional casseroles, it takes a while to cook but the flavours are wonderful and very warming

Ingredients – serves 6

140 grms of pork belly

140 grms of smoked bacon

300 grms of garlic sausage

600 grms of haricot beans, soaked overnight in plenty of water

1 celery stick

1 small white onion

2 carrots

2 large plum tomatos

6 cloves of garlic

2 tsp of lemon juice

2 cloves, crushed

6 confit duck legs or 6 pre-cooked chicken legs

25 grms of goose fat or 2tbls of olive oil

1 tsp of dried mixed herbs

Method

1. Chop the bacon, pork belly and garlic sausage into bite sized chunks.

2. Drain the beans that you soaked overnight and tip into a large saucepan with the bacon, sausage and pork belly. Cover with water and bring to the boil, blanch for about 15 mins. Drain and set aside. Heat the oven to 120 c.

3. Chop the celery, carrot and onion and peel the garlic leaving the cloves whole.

4. Heat the goose fat or olive oil in a large oven proof casserole or frying pan and over a low heat sweat the garlic, onion, carrot and celery for about 5 minutes until softening. Add the tomatoes and herbs and continue cooking for another 5 minutes.

5. Add the sausage, bacon and pork belly to the pan and cook for 2 minutes, add the beans and then 1 litre of water.

6. Bring the mixture to the boil and add the lemon juice, cloves and season with salt and pepper.

7. Transfer the casserole to the oven and cook uncovered for 2 to 2.5 hours, stirring occasionally, the beans will soften and thicken the juice.

8. Remove the cassoulet from the oven. Now add either the confit duck legs or your pre-cooked chicken legs, place them under the beans and cook the cassoulet for another 2 hours for duck and 1 hour for chicken

Serve the cassoulet in bowls sprinkled with chopped parsley and plenty of crusty French bread.

chambre d'hôte off season

Proud Granddad Gary and Mathilda

At the chambre d’hôte off season there’s always time for a horse ride

chambre d'hôte off season

Stay tuned …

Mas d’Augustine, a former silk farm built in the latter part of the 18th Century, retains many of its original features and has been restored with respect for the original architecture. For information about a visit with Jane and Gary at Mas d’Augustine in the village outside Uzes,  La Bruguière, check out the website: masdaugustine.com

Visit Uzes

An Expat’s Life in A Chambre d’Hôtes in France: Jane’s Story

After visiting new friends Jane and Gary Langton at Mas d’Augustine, the chambre d’hôte they own and run in the south of France, I asked if they would talk about chambre d’hôte living 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 to talk about chambre d’hôte living.

chambre d'hôte living

Jane preparing lunch for our visit

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, chambre d’hôte living 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. 

chambre d'hôte living

Pool area at Mas d’Augustine

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.”

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How do you divide up responsibilities?

Jane: “We have a very clear division of responsibilities. There are certain jobs involved with chambre d’hôte living 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.”

chambre d'hôte living

 

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.”

 

chambre d'hôte living

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!”

chambre d'hôte living

Courtyard and garden at Mas d’Augustine

 

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.”

chambre d'hôte living

 

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. 

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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.

chambre d'hôte living

Spicy Parsnip Soup

Ingredients – serves 4

2 Large parsnips

½ Onion, finely chopped

20g Butter

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

Method

  1. Peel, core and slice the parsnips, place them in a saucepan with the butter and sweat until they soften.
  1. Add the chopped onion, garlic, ginger and chilli (if used) and cook for a further 5 minutes until soft, but not browned.
  1. 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).
  1. Remove from the heat, allow to cool slightly and then liquidise until really smooth.
  1. Place back on a gentle heat and stir in the cream. Adjust the seasoning to suit your taste with black pepper and sea salt.
  1. 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.


Apple Cake

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.

chambre d'hôte living

Apple Cake from Jane’s kitchen at Mas d’Augustine

Ingredients – serves 8

3 Eggs

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

Lemon juice

 

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 160C (fan assisted). Line the bottom and sides of a 24cm loose bottom cake tin with baking parchment.

 

  1. Peel and core the apples, then chop into cubes and toss in the lemon juice to prevent them from turning brown. Set aside.

 

  1. Whisk the butter and sugars together in a large mixing bowl until thick, pale and creamy.

 

  1. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well between each addition.

 

  1. Sift together the flour, baking powder and cinnamon and fold gently into the mixture.

 

  1. Gently stir in the ground almonds and chopped apple. Mix thoroughly.

 

  1. Spoon the cake mixture into the prepared tin and bake in the centre of the oven for 1 hour.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. After one hour, check to see if the cake is cooked by inserting a skewer into its centre – it should come out clean.

 

  1. 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.

Enjoy!!

Mas d’Augustine, a former silk farm built in the latter part of the 18th Century, retains many of its original features and has been restored with respect for the original architecture. For information about a visit with Jane and Gary at Mas d’Augustine in the village outside Uzes,  La Bruguière, check out the website: masdaugustine.com

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