Yesterday morning a friend phoned.
“What are you doing this afternoon? How about coming to see Veronique’s new house?”
Elisabeth picked me up just after lunch and we set off. On the way she explained that Veronique and her husband had bought an enormous country mansion as a ‘bed and breakfast’ business.
It was sold as a ‘going concern’ with bookings until October. The problem was that the outgoing owners had left the place in a filthy state and the new management were supposed to be ready to welcome guests the day after they moved in.
“We can’t cancel” said Veronique’s husband.
“We have no choice” said Veronique.
So Elisabeth spent some time over there and they set to work scraping off grime and taking down cobwebs so that the place was fit to receive guests.
It is a top class establishment with rooms let at 110 euros a night but they had to get in plumbers to finish off the toilets, replace the terrible curtains and sort out the decor in general.
One big disadvantage is that visiors have to enter through the kitchen and also share their sitting room so the family can’t feel at home.
There is one dingy room with an appalling brown ‘en suite’ on the ground floor for Veronique and her husband (although he works in Paris for most of the week). The boys have a makeshift dormitory in an attic and their daughter sleeps on a mattress on the floor in the office.
They have plans for renovating the ‘dependences’ (outbuildings) to provide five new guestrooms and a sitting room with a different entrance so that the family can claim their own bedrooms and have some privacy. They are also gong to convert a barn into separate accommodation for their elder daughter.
The work is expected to take about two years in all.
The advantages are many. The setting is idyllic. The grounds are bordered by a stream which also flows under the sitting room (as it used to be a mill) and soundproof doors open to reveal the rushing water while you can watch it without the noise from inside through very thick glass.
In the outbuildings there is a ‘nightclub’ – two rather dark rooms with tables, chairs, a bar and a sound system – another bar which they intend to transform into a further guestroom and a large room for functions which opens onto a decking terrace and the swimming pool.
In fact, the week after they took over there was a party for sixty people, with external caterer of course. However, Veronique’s plans include building a ‘proper’ kitchen next to the function room. Not that she wants to take on the cooking herself!
She is worn out already and feels that she is constantly in demand. One of the washing machines had broken down and the ironing was piling up but she shut the door on it and, after welcoming a new family, she found the time to sit down at the table under a tree and have some coffee, cake and a chat.
Despite being only an hour away from us, the climate was noticeably milder and she said they had been having meals outside ever since they moved. The children were still playing in the pool at six o’clock and didn’t come out freezing!
If I were twenty years younger (and rich enough to finance the renovations) I’d welcome the challenge, but I can’t say I envy her all the work involved in running a house like that. Not without quite a lot of help anyway.
We left a little after seven and drove to Reims station to meet Elisabeth’s elder son. It was beginning to get dark as we approached Charleville but we were able to make the slight detour necessary to view Woinic the boar.
It is a monstrosity! When you think it took 20 years to make and cost 600,000 euros, it’s not surprising that some people are rather cross. There are those who approve wholeheartedly but Elisabeth and I are not among them.
As we went through the town we passed a new eating place “La Pataterie”.
“How are you for time?” asked Elisabeth. “Would you like to try it?”
It was getting on for half past nine but what the heck. I said yes and phoned home to let them know I’d be late.
We had to go and pick up her younger son from home and then drive back again. It was very full and we had to wait for a table but the service was quick and the food was good. The boys had jacket potatoes with chicken curry and salad, Elisabeth had jacket potato with smoked salmon and I opted for a salad Nicoise which turned out to be HUGE.
She brought me home near 11 o’clock and I expected Bear to be snoring but he was still up and watching television.
I told him briefly about the day.
“Huh. I’m glad I didn’t come. i wouldn’t have liked that.”
I was inclined to agree.