Maison Laurent - a little piece of Lancashire hospitality in the French region of Languedoc
PUBLISHED: 00:00 27 March 2014
A Lancashire couple’s long-held dream to run a luxurious guest house in France has brought them a top award. Roger Borrell reports
If you’ve spent years dreaming about making a fresh start without being quite bold enough to take that leap into the unknown, Anthony Pinwill has two words of advice.
‘Do it,’ he says. ‘We did and we haven’t regretted it for a moment.’ He and his wife, Rachel, had successful careers in Lancashire but they also had a hankering to take their lives on a new course.
‘I was having a drink with a friend and telling him about our long-held ambition to run a guest house abroad,’ says Anthony, who ran a travel business in Lancaster and Morecambe.
‘When I told him I was approaching 50, his response was “Stop talking about it and go and do it – or you never will.”’
It proved to be the spur they needed. In 2008 the couple from the north Lancashire village of Yealand Conyers found an imposing if ramshackle house in the pretty Languedoc village of Pieusse, a few miles from Carcassonne. ‘It’s about 150 years old – a typical maison de maître. If you imagine a large square house with a veranda in a French village, this is it. It had been empty for anything up to 20 years. It was a wreck – that’s the only way to describe it.’
They commuted between Lancashire and France to watch progress on what was to become Maison Laurent. Local architects and builders restored the property without any of the horror stories you hear about and the community put out the welcome mat. A good eye for décor and a decision to go for high quality furniture and fittings have helped to create a luxurious but relaxed chambres d’hotes.
‘We made a conscious decision to put a lot of money into furnishing the house,’ says Anthony. ‘We want people to feel very comfortable. They are coming here to spend their holidays in our home so we didn’t want to kit it out cheaply. It’s not a showhome – we want people to relax - but we get a lot of positive feedback about the furnishings.’
So positive, in fact, that in just under four years of business they have been voted number one of the top 25 French bed and breakfasts in the Travellers’ Choice awards run by TripAdvisor.
Their season runs from April to October and they are pretty much booked solid during that time. They have the added attraction of being in the middle of one of the world’s great wine producing areas and within easy reach of five airports.
‘I have to say the weather played a part in our decision to move here,’ said Anthony, who also cooks highly rated evening meals. ‘We love the UK, but this lifestyle would be impossible back home.
‘Running a guest house is really hard work – it’s 24/7 during the season. We don’t close or leave it to someone else to run so it’s hard - not something we’d want to do for the rest of our lives.
‘But we get a lot of pleasure from it and we go somewhere hot in the winter or I can go skiing nearby.’
And the French language was no barrier to settling into their new life? ‘Hmm,’ he says. ‘That’s still work in progress – in fact, I’m just dashing off to my weekly French class!’
Anthony and Rachel say having a top class website is fundamental to running a successful guest house. You can find theirs at www.maisonlaurent.com