I’m Phoebe, a British and Australian passport holder, “from” no particular place with no “home town”, a true adult TCK (third culture kid) expat from birth. Having lived in 8 other countries I now live in the South of France on the Côte d’Azur where I run a gite (holiday apartment / vacation rental) called Lou Messugo and I write a blog with the same name.
The French Riviera aka ‘summer holiday land’
I moved to the Côte d’Azur in 2007 with my family as my husband was transferred with his job. I had no clear idea of what I would do, but was still on parental leave with my youngest son. I knew however that I was done with teaching English, which is what had allowed me to earn a living while continually moving country until then. The South of France and the Côte d’Azur in particular is one of the most visited parts of the most visited country in the world. I’d long harboured a secret desire to run some form of guest house / holiday cottage / B&B and finding myself in “summer holiday land”, as I like to call it, this idea kept niggling away in my mind. I knew I’d found the right area to make this dream a possibility and when we decided to build a house the dream could become a reality.
How I found my niche
I had spent many holidays in the South of France as a teenager and returned a few times over the years but each time I visited the Var, further West. I didn’t really know the Riviera (Côte d’Azur) and was immediately struck by its wealth. Everything seemed designed for the super rich – from the mega yachts moored in Antibes to the abundance of huge luxury villas dotted along the coast and in the hills. I noticed a lack of affordable modest accommodation of high quality (and good taste!) and I realised I’d found my niche market.
We designed our house in such a way to incorporate a private apartment with a large outdoor area and shared use of our pool. I really enjoyed sourcing little Provencal touches for the gîte and renovating antique furniture. I wanted the apartment to have character and style but to be affordable for those on a normal – not mega – budget.
Being in such a popular part of France I didn’t need to do much to attract my first visitors – I had a lovely website built and signed up to one of the big vacation rental portals, and later to Airbnb. Staying at the top of the searches in an ever increasingly saturated market has been a big challenge.
I’d been a big Facebook user from the start and set about making a page for the gîte early on. I espoused social media and set about fulfilling another dream – to write. I started a blog, initially as a way of letting my guests in on my local knowledge in a bid to make sure they had a truly authentic, unique and enjoyable holiday. I wanted to let them know about interesting and unusual events, lesser known places to visit and explain certain idiosyncracies about France, French culture, language and food. It still serves this purpose, and I hope that people visiting France wherever they’re staying, not just at Lou Messugo, find it helpful too, but it’s become so much more.
I discovered that I loved the writing side of things and not just the “fieldtrips” and research. I also discovered the whole other world that blogging is. When I set out, I didn’t know anything at all about blogging. I bought a few books and started to write. Along the way I stumbled across other bloggers and have learnt enormously from them, developing my blog into what I hope is becoming a bit of an authority on France. I also write about travels within Europe, expat life and multiculturalism. These are all important to me and my life.
Travel is my all abiding passion
I couldn’t imagine a life without it and I started very young – I first moved country at only a few days’ old and since then I’ve lived in 9 countries and travelled to more than 60. I’ve been an expat all my life, it is profoundly part of who I am and naturally influences my world view. I met my (French) husband, in Hanoi, Vietnam and we have two boys who are bilingual and tri-cultural. Together we travel a lot, it is something we’ve done since they were born and having kids has not stopped us from continuing on our quest to go everywhere, see everything, it’s just changed it a little.
Running a gite I welcome guests from all over the world which helps keep my wanderlust alive when I can’t travel far myself. We’ve had people stay from countries as varied and far as Azerbaijan, New Zealand, Brazil, Iceland, USA, Singapore, Australia, Argentina, Ukraine… and pretty much every country in Europe. I love meeting these travelers and sharing my passion with them.
My gite is very popular, with 80% occupancy and a TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence but I honestly don’t consider myself an “entrepreneur” – I just do what I love.
My top tips
- My top piece of advice to anyone setting out in business is to work with something you love, it makes all the headaches worthwhile. France is renowned for its crippling bureaucracy and running a vacation rental has been no exception to this stumbling block, even down to what the place is technically called (for tax reasons). Having a French husband and speaking good French has helped enormously with tackling these issues, so my second piece of advice is:
- learn the language as soon as you can (especially in the absence of a native partner).
- Thirdly, believe in yourself, be persistent, and use social media to the full for marketing/spreading the word – it’s free and so powerful!
Connect with Phoebe:
Gite website: http://www.loumessugo.com