20 June 2014 by Jessica Boston
Meet the owners: Le Verger, Eynesse, Dordogne
Deborah and Richard Hubbard live in France with their two sons in a rural area surrounded by Bordeaux vineyards where they rent out their large luxury gite to holidaymakers looking for a truly relaxing family or group break.
A Leap of Faith
It’s a big change from their old army lifestyle but living abroad was certainly not something the Hubbards were afraid of.
“We were used to moving from country to country with the army so we’d always travelled; we’d lived in Belize and Germany as well as around the UK.”
After Richard completed a stint in Iraq, the couple decided a change in lifestyle was needed.
“There is never a ‘right time’ for these things so we just made a leap of faith” says Deborah. “The children weren’t seeing enough of their dad and after Iraq we just re-evaluated what was important to us and Richard left the army and we started looking for a property in France that could provide both a home and a business opportunity”.
Deborah is no stranger to the holiday letting business. She’s the third generation of her Southport family to get into it, although the first to take the idea across the Channel. She’s also a chartered surveyor with a degree in estate management so she was well aware of what they were getting into.
“It was 2007, the property crash was coming in the UK and it seemed a good idea to try somewhere new. France felt like a safe bet, not too far away, not too different to England, and I’d always loved it since my first visit on a school exchange trip.
We took some family holidays to explore Charente and when we stayed in Gironde I just felt really at home – I even cried when we had to go home!
We concentrated on that area with our house-hunting and because we knew exactly what we wanted it was quite easy to narrow down the search to three possible properties, one of which was Le Verger.”
A Manor for the Whole Family
The property they chose was a run down manor house, part of an estate that once belonged to the nearby Chateau Soulac.
“The manor itself was in need of some TLC but it’s just beautiful and had such potential to become a really stunning holiday let. We were determined to provide something special, somewhere families could relax and enjoy a bit of luxury – something sadly lacking on a lot of family breaks!
We wanted to provide everything a family would need from practical equipment for babies and young children to entertainment and facilities for all ages, a kind of home from home, but better!”.
The manor house had another building on the site that would become the Hubbard’s home. It was originally built to house the migrant grape pickers who came from Spain to help with the grape harvest in the surrounding Bordeaux fields and it’s still dubbed ‘The Spanish House’ today.
Getting Accustomed to France
Deborah’s children were just 3 and 9 years old and hoping they would take to a new French life with the different school system and language was, of course, a concern but the family soon settled in, becoming a real part of the local community.
“It was hard for the boys at first but they soon got to grips with speaking French, probably more quickly than us to be honest. I remember my husband commenting on how lovely it was that our older son was singing French songs when in fact it was his own made up song mostly consisting of the French words for rude body parts!”.
Learning French alongside their children and making all kinds of contacts at the school gates, the Hubbards got to work on the huge task of getting the Manor up to rental standard in just six months.
“We did some ourselves and used tradesmen for other things; with my background in property management and renovations, I was able to avoid too many problems.
The main issue was that we couldn’t advertise the property for the first summer season until we had everything sorted as there were no photos we could use! The swimming pool was empty, the rooms were painted in garish colours and so shabby looking, there was so much to do before we could market it properly. It was all a bit last minute but the bookings came in and we were in business!”.
An Exceptional Holiday for the Family…
And no wonder, Le Verger really is an exceptional property. It sleeps up to 14 people and is surrounded by vineyards, private and secluded with space and safety for children to play outside and an attention to detail that makes for magical holidays for children and adults of all ages.
“We knew what it was like having a family holiday and sometimes it can feel more like an ordeal than a treat,” said Deborah. “We wanted to lay on all the extras to make it easy for parents and fun for kids too.
The gite has a huge trampoline, climbing frame, space for football, a dressing up box, Brio train set, all sorts of toys inside and out. The pool has inflatables and underwater lighting and for the adults, of course there is the spa to relax in”.
… and for Adults
Luxury for adults is also laid on in spades with extra comfortable beds, a well equipped kitchen and BBQ for foodies, plenty of areas for relaxed socializing both inside and out and Deborah and Richard have fitted a spa in the ground floor of the Manor with a hot tub Jacuzzi and swim spa. You can even pre-book beauty therapists and masseuses to come and pamper you in the comfort of your holiday home!
“Offering our guests the chance to get five star hotel services in a rural gite is our aim. You can book spa treatments, babysitters, caterers, whatever you need to make your holiday special. We can also recommend a very wonderful, very French, very reasonably priced restaurant just 15 minutes away for you to try, but it’s so special it’s a bit of a secret so you’ll have to ask us where it is when you get here!”.
A Good Move
So has it been a good move?
“Yes. We have a wonderful life in France. We’ve been here seven years now and it’s home. I mean it’s not all lounging around with a glass of wine, it’s busy, real family life but I wouldn’t change a thing! We belong here now. My younger son is ten and he has such freedom, he loves horse riding and school and when he pops down to the local shop he ends up chatting away to the locals in there for ages!”
“The village shop is such a funny place, it’s tiny but it seems to stock everything you can think of, including hilarious local eggs that have the odd one that is absolutely enormous just packed in with the rest!”
“The weather is great, the community is lovely, there’s always something to do from horse riding to zumba to sightseeing, brocante markets, food markets, gardening and walking our dogs in the vineyards. And that’s not counting all the painting and updating and maintenance for the gite too! We have so many friends here, and friends and family from all over the place love to come and visit too – though they stay with us in our home, not in the gite, that’s for business only!”
Deborah’s recommendations when visiting Eynesse:
- Visit the night market Farmers and local producers hold an evening market where they set out long communal trestle tables and stall sell local food and wine which you buy and sit to eat; it’s a wonderful way to see the ‘real’ France and meet local people and other holidaymakers while trying the delicious wine and food from the region. It’s a family affair so children are welcome too.
- Horse riding and wine tasting in the vineyards Whether you’re a seasoned rider or a complete beginner, riding in the vineyards is a real treat. You can even combine your ride with a wine tasting tour with the local Chataleine. Decide which wines you like best and stock up – prices are very reasonable. Don’t miss the Clairet, it’s a rose that’s a speciality of this area and one of my favourites.
- Relax! Don’t plan too much! Seriously, we often find our guests’ plans to explore and rush about the region evaporate when they actually get here. The pool, the spa, the house, it’s all on hand for you so there’s no need to go anywhere really! It’s safe for children to free range and explore so you can relax and enjoy a proper break.