Half timbered houses, Morlaix, Brittany

Manoir de Coat Amour – Jenny and Stafford Taylor’s Brittany Venture

Stafford and Jenny Taylor moved to France following early retirement in 2004. “We felt too young to stop working and the idea of running a B&B and holiday home rental business seemed like a great way to have a new adventure together” says Jenny. “We didn’t want to travel too far afield as our children and grandchildren are all in England. We’d always loved France and spent many happy holidays there so it seemed like the perfect solution.”

Manor house in Morlaix with 12 acres of gardens

The Taylors set about viewing properties in Brittany until they hit on the beautiful manor house and grounds in Morlaix. “It’s such an impressive looking house, so beautiful and quintessentially French we knew it would appeal to holidaymakers as soon as we saw it. The main house is set in 12 acres of gardens and was ideal for developing our B&B business. There was also a partially converted stable block and tiny disused gate house with potential for development into a couple of holiday lets”.

“The thing that really sealed the deal was the position of the property on the outskirts of Morlaix. So many of the properties we’d seen were in such rural settings that we felt it would be hard to sustain the B&B side of the business, and from a personal point of view, living a couple of minutes’ drive or a short walk from the local shops and restaurants is just so convenient. Morlaix even has a marina to moor our boat “Silent Flight”.

Modernising the manor house

In January 2005, Stafford and Jenny moved in. They wasted no time in undertaking all the essential upgrades and redecoration necessary to start welcoming guests. Indeed, their first visitors arrived just six months later! The manor house had previously been a holiday home for a wealthy family and it was definitely in need of some modernisation to add en-suite bathrooms and electrical points. The stable needed renovation to become a three bedroom gite, and the gatehouse required a full refit including an extension to create a bijoux gite ideal for couples.

The Taylors were familiar with the renovation process having previously done up old houses in the UK, and Stafford’s background as a Head of Repairs and Maintenance stood them in good stead.  He was able to co-ordinate local tradesmen to complete the work, rapidly increasing his limited French vocabulary into the technicalities and tools of the trades. “The French tradespeople were excellent,” said Stafford.

“They may take a longer lunch break but that’s the only break they take – no stopping for tea and coffee every hour or so. It’s a better culture in my opinion, taking quality time to have a proper lunch with friends or family but still working efficiently to get the job done, it’s a better balance. I also love it that everything still closes on Sunday here – it’s seen as a family day and I think that’s important”.

Traditional french furnishings

With the renovations underway, Jenny set about scouring the local antique markets, auctions and brocante shops to furnish the properties. “I so enjoyed finding all the pieces,” Jenny says. “It really was my favourite part of the renovation process. I wanted to get traditional French furniture to compliment the style of the house. There is such a lot of fun to be had seeking out the perfect bed or bureau, every piece has a story behind it for me now.  The big brocante antique fairs that come to the area a few times a year are well worth a visit as you never know what you’re going to find!”

It didn’t take long for Jenny and Stafford to settle in to the community. “You need to make an effort to get to know people, speaking the language is a must and although neither of us were very proficient at first we’re now fluent. Stafford even had support from the Chamber of Commerce who provided him with private French lessons to help him brush up his skills!

We’ve done our best to welcome the local community to enjoy the property with us by holding ‘open garden’ weekends and providing B&B accommodation for people visiting friends and family in the town. We’ve also always used local trade’s people which had an unexpected bonus when the gardener who helped us restore the parkland and gardens was able to show us documentation that gave us a wonderful insight into the history of the house.  We were able to discover the lineage of owners tracing all the way back to 1451! We’ve named each of our B&B rooms after a previous owner to remember the rich heritage Coat Amour has.”

Office de Tourisme for their guests

Cafe du Port, Le Dorduff, BrittanyAs well as keeping up the excellent standards with a never-ending programme of annual refurbishment and maintenance, Stafford and Jenny see it as very much their role to act as an Office de Tourisme for their guests.

“So many times guests will come to us and ask what they should do that day, for some we almost end up providing a daily itinerary for their holiday!We make it our business to know about the local tourist attractions and events in the town.

We try out new restaurants as often as we can so we can offer plenty of recommendations. Eating out is such a pleasure here with all the locally grown vegetables and fresh seafood available. One of our favourite places to eat is Le Café du Port at Le Dorduff just outside Morlaix. It has a wonderful seafront terrace and serves delicious food and wine at very reasonable prices, perfect for a leisurely lunch. There are so many good places to eat here that there’s sure to be somewhere to suit everyone.”

As well as ensuring guests have up to date information about local markets and restaurants, the Taylors can recommend a whole range of daytrips in the region. “We encourage our guests to tell us a bit about themselves; what kind of things they enjoy or perhaps would like to try out, and of course it often depends on whether there are children to consider and their ages, but there really is such a lot to do here for everyone and anyone!

Of course some guests prefer simply to relax by the pool and recharge their batteries, but for those who want an excursion we can recommend beaches, islands, chateaux and historical sites to explore. Take a boat trip, try your hand at sailing or extreme beach sports, or just take a walk on one of our recommended routes to work up an appetite for lunch. A holiday here is whatever you make it!”

The success of Coat Amour has been beyond the Taylor’s expectations “We didn’t know it but we really grabbed a tiger by the tail when we started this venture” says Stafford.

“It can be jolly hard work in high season but we love the lifestyle and it really has been the adventure we were after, even though I spend less time sailing than I would like”. Jenny agrees “It’s an ideal balance, we still see our family and friends, visiting the UK at least four times a year, and many of them come to stay with us in early or late season when we’re less busy with guests. I love meeting all the holidaymakers who come to stay with us. It’s so interesting to get to know people from all over the world and introduce them to this wonderful place”.

The Taylor’s top tips when visiting Coat Amour

Carantec beach, Brittany

Visit Chateau du Taurau. This beautifully restored defensive castle was built in the 16th Century to stop the English looting the port of Morlaix. A great day out for people of all ages, and for added excitement you can arrive by boat from Carantec, Roscoff or Plougasnou.

Try the local restaurants. From the splendour of Patrick Jeffroy’s two Michelin star restaurant at L’Hotel de Carantec to more typical French bistros in Morlaix including Les Bains Douche (situated in a building that was once a bath house) and the family run Le Viaduc, the food in this region is not to be missed.

Visit the lighthouse at Carantec. Rather off the beaten track, on the Isle Louet off the Point de Penlan, the close view of the lighthouse is reached by walking along the coastal path. Discover the oyster farm shop selling freshly picked oysters and shellfish, a paradise for seafood lovers. From here, continue on the coastal path for breath-taking views of the bay, and finish at the main Carantec Beach for a refreshing drink in a seafront café.

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