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Theo & Mary Bosman, 66 & 65 years old, two children , the eldest daughter 41 years old and divorced, the second daughter 38 years old, married to Scot, no children. Hotel/restaurant , and a building company specialized in renovation.
The Netherlands, The Hague.
In 1976 we were sent out by a Dutch company "Ballast Nedam" to Dubai, to set up a computer company to support the big construction they were building in the Middle East. Since that time we have never returned to live in Holland After three years in the Middle East we moved with the company to England. In 1990 we started in France.
The reason why we live in the Auvergne is the fact that we bought a castle in the neighbourhood of Vichy. It was a run down 1 star hostellerie, now it is a 3 star hotel with a gastronomic restaurant. Since a few years my husband also has a building company.
From 1990 onwards. At the time when we started with Chateau de Maulmont we did not live in the Auvergne on a permanent basis. We visited the chateau on a regular basis to see how the renovation was advancing. We appointed a manager to be in charge of the chateau and to supervise the renovation works.
In 1996 we decided to go and live in the Auvergne as it was difficult to supervise the renovation and the hotel business from a distance. Although we came very often, the situation was not ideal. Before we had different businesses elsewhere, now we wanted to concentrate on Chateau de Maulmont, and make a success of it.
We have done many different projects, in the beginning the difficulty is to find the way. Such as the right companies for the work, good tradesmen, who would keep their promises, not too expensive and who did a good job. In the beginning we made several mistakes, for the simple reason that we did not know anybody. Our French was very limited, in fact it was forgotten "school French". It as very difficult to negotiate quotations, if you don’t speak the language. Also in the Auvergne there are very few tradesmen who speak English. This makes it very difficult to communicate!
Your initial project
Our initial project was Château de Maulmont, a beautiful building, but in fact inside and outside was a disaster. A huge work, but also a challenge. We bought the Château from a Frenchman, who had bought the chateau from a bourgoise family ten years earlier, the last few years there were two old ladies living in the chateau with a handicapped girl. The building and the grounds were totally neglected, they only used a few rooms of the castle. The previous owner did start to renovate the building, but unfortunately he did not have very good taste, and he was also running out of money. After a number of years he lost interest, for him it was too big a place to renovate, so he decided to sell the castle. At that particular moment we were in the Auvergne, and that is how it happened. When we arrived at Chateau de Maulmont we fell in love with it, you can say "tomber amoureux".
In fact by chance! We did not know the Auvergne ! We were looking for a building which we could renovate. At the time there was an advert in "The Sunday Times : "Castle for sale , derelict, no roof etc...not very expensive » We decided to make a little trip to the Auvergne to go and see this castle, but when we arrived in the Auvergne the estate agent explained to us that the chateau mentioned in the advert was no longer for sale. It was not clear whether it was sold or taken off the market.
Anyway we never saw it! While we were in the Auvergne we found it a stunning area, unspoilt country side, lots of space, not overcrowded, quiet, beautiful landscape, and also interesting culture. Roman churches and nice towns around such as Vichy, Riom, Thiers and Clermont Ferrand... We stayed a few more days in the area and visited several properties, but there was nothing that we found interesting. We decided to return to England, and we popped along to the estate agent to thank him for the effort of showing us around, and to say goodbye. The estate agent told us that there was another chateau for sale and maybe we would like to see that before we went back. That is how it all happened, we arrived at Chateau de Maulmont and really it was a "coup de foudre" .
The reason why we are in the Auvergne is because we bought Chateau de Maulmont. We came to the Auvergne by chance and were very pleasantly surprised.
We received subsidies from the Conseil General and the Conseil Regional , which was very helpful. Even though it was a small amount compared to the total investment, this financial support was very much appreciated. Also in the first few years I participated on some tourist fairs, we were offered a place on the stand of Maison de France /Auvergne. This enabled us to find some possible travel agents, and other tourists for the hotel. I have been to fairs in London, Bern, Berlin, Paris...
We did not receive any technical help, but my husband is a civil engineer and therefore has an excellent technical base. He also has a good feeling for old buildings. I love interior decoration and gardening, which has been very useful to do up the chateau.
The most important item was finding the right companies for the renovation. We did find the right firms for the renovation, but we have made some mistakes as well.
Most important is the language. It is essential to speak ,write and read French. Secondly it is important to understand the French administration system which is complicated and very bureaucratic
Don’t compare with England, it is different in France. If you want to come to France, to live and work, you have to adapt to the French way of living. Have an open mind, don’t keep comparing with your home country. Important to learn French, to be able to find you way and understand your environment.
France is a nice country to live! Certainly the Auvergne! The climate is better, more sun, less rain! There is a lot of space, it is not overcrowded. The French lifestyle is relaxed, not as much pressure!
Don’t idealise France. To start a business in another country is not easy, the administration system is complex and difficult to understand in the beginning. This requires courage and a positive attitude. Have an open mind for the technical systems and methods in France, it is different from home, but it has its advantages and it is sometimes better...
We did not have preconceived ideas about the Auvergne. The most important thing for us was how to renovate « Château de Maulmont » and how to make it a viable business. Through Château de Maulmont we have made many contacts: in the building trade, tourism, culinaire and garden design. We also came to understand the official system, and slowly we found our way. Although it has not been easy, we can now look back on a number of good years. We have learned a lot, sometimes the hard way.