Odd guests and bad reviews - eight tips to running a B&B in France

We spoke to a Danish couple who moved to France for a quiet life but started a five-star ‘chambres d’hôtes’ instead

Ex-jeweller Leif Vinther, 70, and his ex-doctor wife Lucy, 58 had no hospitality experience but learnt to expect better reviews in summer and wine quality matters
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Leif Vinther, 70, and his wife Lucy, 58, never planned to open a B&B when they gave up their jobs in Denmark and bought a house in Lot in 2000.

Fast forward 22 years and the couple are proud owners of the five-star chambres d’hôtes Le Balcon des Jasses.

They originally moved to the French countryside for a quieter life, buying a larger property to house Mrs Vinther’s mother – but she never came, staying in Denmark instead to care for her own mother, who is now 110.

It meant the couple had extra room.

A visit to the tourist office convinced them to try a B&B.

Mr Vinther previously worked as a jeweller and Mrs Vinther as a doctor, so neither had any experience in hospitality.

However, they soon found their feet and told The Connexion success essentially boils down to few key things:

1. A shaky start is OK

The first five years were up and down. We did not know how to do the dinner or manage things.

We are in a small village and, back then, guests could never find us – no one had GPS. I would go cycling around trying to find them. These days, they arrive without a problem.

2. Bread, bed, wine

When we started, a guest from Paris who had owned a B&B told us the golden rule was beds, bread and wine.

We used to sell cheap wine because we thought people would not want to splash out. We were wrong.

3. Keep it clean

Everything has to be clean. This is something we do every day and now we also have to disinfect because of Covid, so the past two years have been ‘double cleaning’, if you like.

4. Expect worse reviews in winter

Some guests are negative. This is more likely in winter, when they stay indoors.

In summer, when people sit outside (we have a big garden with chairs, hammocks and a Jacuzzi) people are generally happier.

5. Be prepared for odd guests

One family brought their fish tank, and would sit with it at the table during breakfast. Another group brought a horse and asked if it could go in our garden.

My wife eventually said yes. The next morning, after the horse had eaten all her tulips, she was crying.

6. Set some rules

We do not take dogs any more because most of our guests are retired and want peace.

We do not take children under six for the same reason – to create a quiet, pleasant atmosphere.

7. Reward loyalty

We get a lot of people on business trips and have a system where if they stay five times, they get one night free, to keep customers coming back.

8. Expect long days

You start at 6:00 to make breakfast and people stay up late after dinner enjoying wine.

It is hard, but if you cannot accept this, do something else.

Of course we get tired, but we enjoy it. The best part is meeting new people, learning about different cultures and having nice talks.

We moved here to have a quieter life. It might not have been so quiet, but it has been fun and interesting!

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