This picturesque ivy-clad eight-bedroom country house in the beautiful Limousin region of South Western France is called Touvent and has proved a lucrative investment for its current owner, Englishman Anthony Simmonds. He bought the place three years ago as an already established hotel business and has since significantly increased core lettings during the summer months as well as introducing twice-yearly cookery schools in the traditionally slack periods of the autumn and spring.
When not overseeing these, he has also found time to convert a former derelict bakery in the hotel grounds into an additional four-bedroom house for himself. Simmonds is now planning to sell the business on as a going concern. The asking price? A little over €1million - roughly what one would expect to pay for a fairly average family house in one of the better areas of London. The potential return? "Touvent is currently bringing in between £25,000 and £30,000 gross income a year from the combined takings of its summer lettings and the cookery schools," Simmonds says.
He fell in love with the place as soon as he saw it and was particularly intrigued by its history - it was built in 1875 and had originally served as the home of François Mitterand's grandparents. The statesman himself often holidayed there as a child and wrote nostalgically about it in his memoirs.
Simmonds was also impressed by its stunning riverside setting as well as its surrounding countryside of rolling hills, sunflower meadows and rippling wheat fields. Its location had much to recommend it as well - just 3km from the charming little village of Aubeterre and an hour's drive away from both Bordeaux to the West and Bergerac to the East where cheap direct flights run regularly to and from the UK. He was also convinced that, if he implemented a few key changes, he could significantly build up the hotel's profitability and turnover.
"It was never my intention simply to use Touvent as my home," he says. "I had recently retired and was looking for a new and challenging project." Touvent certainly provided him with that. The house itself was already in a relatively good structural state as the previous owners had recently re-plumbed and re-wired it throughout. However, there were still a few lingering problems with damp and the outside was desperately in need of a lick of paint.
Simmonds attended to these minor chores and also spent quite a lot of money on refurbishing it. He also doubled the number of en suite bathrooms so that now all of the hotel's rooms - two doubles and two twins in each of its two wings - are fully en suite.
However, by far the biggest task he tackled was reclaiming and building on to the single-storey derelict bakery in the hotel's grounds. He retained the old bread ovens, but otherwise gutted the building, adding on a second floor and new roof to create a four-bedroom house that he could live in himself.
It had also always been part of his plan to supplement the core hotel business with a cookery school and, even before he'd found Touvent, he'd established contact with Valentina Harris, a former TV cook who had been running a school in Tuscany for several years. She loved Touvent as much as he did and particularly liked its extensive catering facilities.
Valentina happily agreed to hold an annual school there specialising in local cuisine for two months of the year. Since then, the venture has gone from strength to strength and this year's courses - featuring guest appearances by Ready Steady Cook's Ross Burden and Cliveden's head chef Daniel Gadmiche - are already practically fully booked.
Simmonds is now promoting the cookery school as an essential component of the business.
"Valentina is keen to continue with the existing arrangement by negotiating a new deal with the new owners," he says, adding that all of the other hotel staff are likewise willing to stay on under new management. Simmonds says running the hotel can be fairly demanding during the peak months of July and August and when the cookery schools are in progress. For the rest of the year, however, business is slacker and he has traditionally maintained only a skeleton staff.
Apart from the good will of the staff, also included in Simmonds' asking price are a number or more tangible items including most of the antique furniture, the beds and bedding, as well as all the cutlery, kitchenware and an extensive selection of electrical goods.
There is scope, too, for yet further expansion. Planning permission is already in place to convert another semi-derelict outbuilding into an additional three-bedroom holiday home.
Simmonds himself, meanwhile, is planning to move back to the UK to pursue other projects. "It's been a great experience living in Limousin," he says, "I've felt a wonderful sense of achievement in having made such success of the business but it's now time to move on."Reuse content