What would you do (property advice needed)

I'm living in France since 3 years, married to a french wife and looking to install myself & family in some french region. Currently I live between the Cote D'Azur and Herault.

My situation: I'm a classically trained chef, entrepreneur and with my wife run a european online business (commerce). This is giving me the freedom and possibility to 'work from home'. Its 1 year that we have travelled around France to discover the regions. Since I have build this business 5 years ago, and now Its almost running by itself, I am looking forward to invest my energy in a second income and diversify my assets.

My goal: Is to live simple, ecologically, in the countryside, and have an activity may it be in the form a of gite, b&b, chambre d'hotes etc. I also would/could run workshops, seminars from home and online (cooking classes). The idea of growing food small- to medium scale too is appealing.

I have experience in gardening and organics, lived 10 years abroad in NZ, Australia, Austria, SouthAmerica, Thailand etc. etc. I have attended various workshops and have a diploma in Permaculture which is a Holistic Agricultural Management Practice .

Now looking for 'objects' to fullfill this potential I have come across possibilities

1) I could buy a House that is in good condition , has some land (3000-4000m2), install 2 gites and run the in a 'tourist' minded way (meaning focus more on gastronomy)

2) I could buy a house with lots of land, for example 1 ha in the Hautes Pyrennes, then become more self-sufficient and slowly offer retreats for guests.

3) I could buy just land , 5000m2-6000m2 and build my house from scratch using local and natural materials. Then slowly install small units for tourism. Similar to option 2.

Because I'm not living alone my requirement are as follows:

1) Main House with 100m2 and possible separate apartment (Duplex) of 20-30m2 for my mother in law

2) 2 or 3 separate Gites or little dwellings for guests

3) some orchard/land where to grow food and entertain my guests.

My budget is about 200-250k which is just enough for such a concept (?), however it all depends which region one chooses and the scale. I'm not going to buy a Chateau, this project can be done relatively well if simple and bootstrapped.

As an 'example in the Dordogne you could get away with it, if you invest some time and do some homework. I can build the chalets/units over time.

Knowing there's plenty of people here with good advice I'm curious what you think!

Which problems/errors would you tell me to avoid? Where to invest ?

My regional preferences are : Languedoc, Auvergne, Lot, Gironde.

I'm using the most beautiful villages of France as a reference for where to look http://www.les-plus-beaux-villages-de-france.org/en/map-most-beautiful-villages-france

Any feedback, honest one very appreciated.


I would go for option 1, perhaps buying a property that you can put your own stamp on, and build up slowly (concentrate on the first gite, with a pool). That would bring in income to do the rest. In the Languedoc ( the best area for such a project, 250 k would still be a bit tight. Option 2: 1 ha is a lot of land, when in fact your main need and source of income would be accommodation. Option 3 sounds like an awful lot of work and a long time perhaps without sufficient income.

The house we are renting sounds like it might fit the bill, we have now chosen our property to buy and will be moving out in the next 3 montsh, but it has 4 hectares or prime land (bit much?) house could be suitable (as our mum-in-law lives with us) and the mayor is open to allowing additions or a new build(s) guest cabins? on land (we asked him as we were originally looking to do this for our family visits. However, it is in Charente - plenty of demand for high quality chef in local chateaux restaurants by the way, one just got its Michelin star; and a lot less than your budget even if you add the cost of the chalet/cottage build in. Fantastic french neighbours by the way - we are only moving 3km so we will keep our friends this way.

Good luck

(140,00 euros). cheers


Maybe one day ...at present we have strong family ties in the UK including a mum, aunt and uncle in their 80s and small grandchildren. My daughter, husband and children usually come out to France when the weather is nice in the summer as do friends and colleagues. FaceTime is brilliant for keeping in touch but it isn't the same as being with them..

We did have grand plans to convert the barn next day into another property and put up a pine lodge on the piece of land we own in the village (hence my sympathy with the idea of letting some properties/moving in and out of the main house). However with the passing years, we haven't really got on with much more than renovating the main house and I hope to complete my main aim of converting the loo into a second shower room - maybe this year?

The nearest town is Quillan which has some lively events/festivals in the summer and the big cities are Perpignan, Carcassonne and Toulouse.

Let me know if you'd like any further info about the area - there are quite a lot of writers/ artists (including a sculptress)/ organic farmers etc in the area (and one in the village). There are a couple of properties for sale too, including one owned by friends of ours who have moved back to the UK and a couple of really nice chalet-type houses including one with quite a bit of land and lovely views.

All the best with your search,


HI Cheryl, thanks for the encouraging words !

I agree that having some clear plans (and evtl. backup plans) + outlying them into a vision board works wonders.

Back in 2011 I met my (current) wife, we lived in Germany as I was resident there. Before we embarked on a tour to Thailand we draw the vision board you mention. The exciting thing about is that many years afters we are still moving with that criteria and vision in mind. Getting closer day by day, sometimes we loose track and at times it feels that the image pops up by itself.

Your description of Cathar country is spot on. Having researched that area and heritage I'm always speechless by its beauty! How lucky that you manage to grow your dream while living in the UK.

Are you planning to move there for definitely and longer eventually ?

Ivan, go for your dream! But design it first - create a vision board with pictures of what you have and will be doing. It's almost scary how doing this can bring your dreams into reality...

Like you I have a French spouse ( a professional translator! ) so French admin doesn't scare me. We mainly live in the UK but visit our French property several times a year to keep the language skills fluent and current. Our place is in a tiny village in Aude in the Languedoc (Cathar country!). Property is very good value in a stunning location (views of Mount Bugurach) and the area has started to be discovered (European funding to encourage tourism). It's far enough south to have good summer temperatures but being in the foothills of the Pyrenees, much more pleasant in August than stifling-hot towns. It has the added advantage of having some expert renovators (not us, our neighbours Pete and Lesley) who are singlehandedly renovating a huge building into three properties and therefore know everything, as well as being very helpful with guidance and advice.

Hi David!

Merci for the words. I'm well aware of the risks associated. Perhaps downshifting is really the solution...
Majority of us come here to do so, but at the end of the day we must not just survive in France ? Or maybe yes!

Scary to read trough people's experience in running an enterprise I must say. That said I have a strong entrepreneurial spirit and It will be hard to beat it down.

As the saying goes: What does not break us makes us stronger.

Cheers - Ivan

Hi Ivan

Follow your dream !!, but I would really think very carefully about doing it in France at this present moment !!.

The economics, politics, tax increases, company charges, and a whole load of other problems that are occurring on a regular basis in France, and other EU country's too, does not make for good investment or small business plans at the moment.

I wish you all the luck in the world !, and hope that you WILL make a go of it !

Following through this ;)

How permaculture inspired a couple from Yorkshire to move to France, renovate a derelict building & create a sustainable lifestyle, connected to the land & nature.


inspring for all those who want to 'simplify'

Just today I saw a doc on the Averyon and they are introducing back Saffron ...

If the trend continues more and more companies will favour locally grown products rather than have it shipped for miles.

With cheaper labour we are also more competitive in the global market well.... not sure that is an ideal but definitely moving the economic pole , which again may result in more depression elsewhere and repercussion in here.

Bit of a mess... hope we'll get out safely.

Amen to that ! I really hope Southern EU can recover from the current crises as its mostly effected.

The potential is enormous. Agriculture and small-scale farming are quite seen as a 'poor' job when in fact they hide enormous cash/capital opportunities.

Savoie problem is air pollution , Chamonix has days where they advice kids and elderly to stay indoors, considering that we are not in Paris I don't feel wanting to end up locked indoors in nature due to high emissions.

I second you on the negotiation part.

a neighbour here is growing saffron, 3 year great! Now it was so little so he needed to really do more other work. So Gite is a must and I think with the development in Islamic countries it can only get better for the South-European countries.

Agree to the Basque, Savioen can be expensive, but there are places sometimes. Important to have the cash available instantly. Is best when negotiating the price.

Thanks Annette! I had been considering your choice of finding an organic/biodynamic farm and build residential after acquiring the land just needed to get a CU. And as you suggested use their (cheap renting) farming land to run my premises. This is an idea worth investigating. So many farms have land but lack community. As long you are not competing with crop and working in a supportive scenario I think it may be the best option since you are not forced to invest in heavy and expensive equipment just by yourself. Something like CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) but in a different context being that you buy and rent near them.

Mistakes may happen but what you want to avoid is to really go off the cliff with no water under you :)

In Permaculture they teach you how to avoid Type A Mistakes.
Just today I open my email and there was a very interesting thread about learning to choose and set up a farm / design ....

I have 0 affiliation with the site http://permacultureapprentice.com/how-to-set-up-a-permaculture-farm/?utm_source=Permaculture+Apprentice&utm_campaign=98e8cd7936-Market+Gardener&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_b83df42adf-98e8cd7936-212267025

It basically teaches you that there are a set of stages and criteria by which one should prioritise ... I think that many of the points described in the article are a valid guideline to avoid in a later instance realizings your worked the 'hard' way around things...

True, my french wife is easing the whole lot though she is not an administrative lover either (she hates banks often more than I do ha ha), but I trust that her language and possible connection that will result are + points to help us trough any scenarios. Along that I know a few young french students / graduates working in the social entrepreneurship startup scene, I think and hope that involving them in the project might be useful at times, may it be admin/accounting or marketing help !! Let see.

At the end one must be skillful in using and coordinating resources, perhaps get even a funding done (gofundme, kickstart etc. have been used for similar projects before) to cover this 'administrative and side' project costs.

Roquebrune sounds great !
Surely I will keep you informed thanks again for the support and share of information. I indirectly learned a lot by answering and reading you.

You sound like you have it covered! :-)
The red tape and bureaucracy drove me nuts (even some 15 years ago) but you do have the secret weapon of a French wife ;-)
You are right about restoring old (in terms that it's encouraged) but make sure you investigate it fully with someone in the village/area (independant) who knows the property before you buy it, so many people get "caught" with "the dream" of the picturesque farm house restoration. (Especially when they know you are not from the area). Employing some local specialists (in the building industry) seems key too to both integration and welcome although often won't be the cheapest route, it will pay dividends later in terms of acceptance.
If you are happy to have others live with you, there are many work/holiday students that you can have come and help in the process on a room and feed basis in return for labour.
A very good friend of mine has done excatly this in the Roquebrune area, she a French pharmacist, he an SA architect. They are about ten years in and have a stunning place (house fully restored) with additional holiday accommodation and working the permaculture idea along with an eco river camp.
I wish you a lot of luck and hope you will blog about your exploits here :-)


I think both can work, if my house happens to be on a busy street I will not shut down my doors to potential visitors.

E.g. Hikers, tourists looking for some healthy grub, sandwich, drink.

Its all about how you setup your place from the beginning. For instance you can hire part-time, open even once a week as this guy has done (in Quebec though).



Investment for properties sake (increase in value over time and added improvements) will obviously yield better in more expensive sought after areas but will cost more outlay for less.

We are currently in a very sought after area and looking forward to move in a let's say mid-range area. However from residential to country-side. The move will be done not in a rush so to test it. We might be actually renting a house in the country side.

It's super easy to overcapitalise in "cheaper" areas. Equally when you do need to sell you are selling to a small market (most don't want the bother/upkeep/expanse of land). Additional staff/workers will come into play if you go too big....
The more land you have the more you are pouring money into it. Small scale can be very effective if you invest in tunnels/irrigation and some kind of synergy for soil (manure from horses/chickens etc).

Agreed, the small scale here is very important. We are not farmers, but farming ain't rocket science. I hope I'm not over-estimating my skills, however running a chicken tractor, growing some beds, this all can be learned, and being that I have professionally worked I trust that I won't be completely a green thumb failure :) What matters is just like you say: finding a marie and legal frame that allows us to run the project. I think that this depends very much also from the political landscape of each town/council and mairie. Something we are considering very well: is to move to a place where we are 'welcomed' otherwise no sense to swim against the redtape.

Water is key and a cost factor from region to region will play a part unless you can get scheme or off grid source. Yes very much considering water and accessibility (in terms of roads) as a key criteria.

New build will be easier to create and incorporate any kind of long term savings from renewable/energy saving/free energy sources. As you know converting old buildings can be very costly.... This is something that I'm not 100% clear. I see and notice that old building can be bought cheap for different reasons with plenty of land: The town/mairie is happy to see an old building reflourish, so do your first connections: the one who own it. They will be happy to have you there and invest, and provide some sort of support. That's something I'm not only hoping but actually learned. Some parts, specifically and also un-developed places don't let you do much with land. Regulation can be very strict here too with building. Because currently the trend gravitates towards: bring back the old rather than create more new. I'm talking about a specific case here in the Herault where regulations have become very tight. 10-20 years ago you could set up dream properties. Now its more delicate process. Then again, restauring a building can be expensive process if you can't rely on yourself and the sourcing. However yes its still a risk to underestimate real costs so proper and realistic planning must be undertaken !

Additional income could be created by growing to order for local restaurants/ farm stall sales etc of excess crops. Correct , greenhouse could provide year long winter crops.

Take into consideration what your local consumers are buying and prepared to pay, and what is available at low cost (ie cheaper to buy than you growing yourself) Good advice, we aim already at 50-60 % of growing our own. Reaching that goal would be a big success. And its 20/80 approach. WE don't want to go crazy at the end its about using little input to have maximum output.

Heirloom seeds and organic are really taking off here and seeds can be purchased on line. If you get it right you can recycle those seeds for many years and maybe have enough to sell on too.
Both growing and guests are seasonal, main income for living costs needs to remain from another source. I have seen very few people that can do the off grid totally self sufficient thing alone!

I lived off grid and in some off grid communities and agree : its hard long-term. I don't want to seclude myself either. More about gaining autonomy and have a sense of protection, however I strongly belief in exchanges and circulating economic value in the surrounding community as its better to share the cake with more people than just aim for the biggest slice yourself. IN the end we all benefit from spending some coins on each other :!

All these questions really depend on what your family needs and what income you still need to generate for the next say 10 years? You may be better buying residential and renting a small piece of land to play with (on a five or ten year lease?) until you know where you are going with the growing/smallholding/gite idea?

Yes that is something we may want to consider. We could continue to rent our current residential property and try the 'thing' for 2-3 years. However I don't want to loose either too much time overthinking it :) If the project is sound and the fundamentals are present I won't hesitate either.

As the regulations are fairly strict there I would suggest plenty of homework for both accommodation and small scale agriculture so that you are not restricted with what is allowed when you do purchase.

That's something I need to sort out. I'm considering to take a consultant, legal representative as things get 'hotter' So far we are still in a process mode. I was considering also to create a sort of "pitch" for our project and hand it out to potential partners or people that can help us find our way trough.

Good luck deciding what you want :-)

Cheers ! And good luck your way too in SA ! :)

Forget the shop. If you have surplus sell at a local market. Don’t complicate your life with too many ideas. More business equals more taxes.

Great advice, The moving back and forth in the gite idea is something I honestly have never thought and yet it makes perfect sense. I can easily down-shift and may even be able to convert the house in a duplex renting 2 places (assuming the house is big enough).

In adjunction to the chambre d'hote / gite business I was thinking to convert part of a base floor room in a little shop. This of course after evaluating and seeing the feasibility of the project.

I would offer some organic products partially from my locally sourced producers, imported and partially what I can grow at home (sprouts, eggs, greens, veggies).

I agree, I don't see it as a lost cause. I think one can be equally unlucky in other similar 'business-friendly' places.
France can be a pain for administrative reasons, but I hope that with some intelligent networking and finding the key partner /methodology I can overcome it. Partially it's already done. And there is one advantage (which I don't wish anyone) there's less competition with more complexity :)

I second your words Chris! Tarn was also attractive, around Albi, but it might get bit too hot there.
I saw that http://www.saint-cirqlapopie.com/ has some nice properties and near a park (i love greenery).

I have been using http://www.ville-ideale.com/ and http://www.linternaute.com/ville/ to actually get a bit of a virtual glimpse of life towns/quality of life and other criteria.

Somehow funny reading french people complaining at each other as it depicted the various traits life reserves in the country-side!

Taking all things with pinch of salt is essential, same-wise I won't ignore it completely..