The first in a new series of featured owners, Paul & Miriam Kluijtmans have used French Connections to let their beautiful collection of Provencal properties for some years. The exposure they’ve gained through the site has helped them achieve peak season occupancy rates of 95%, with a regular stream of frequent customers returning year after year. So, what is their secret? We asked them a few to share some helpful hints and tips.
1. Tell us a bit about you; Who you are, where you come from, etc?
Miriam and I are of Dutch origin. We lived very busy international careers working as an executive for an American IT company and as a designer for an architect’s firm. We have worked and lived in the Netherlands, the UK and the USA, but in our hearts, we always dreamed of living in France one day. We got married in our parent’s vacation house in the Ardèche in 1983 and in 1999 we decided to make a drastic change in our way of living: together with Miriam’s parents, our two daughters and two friends we bought a former wine estate in Provence, at the base of the Mont Ventoux.
2. How long have you owned your properties and what inspired you to let them out?
We knew from the start that we wanted to rent out a number of vacation houses and we designed a profile and business plan of what the ideal estate would have to offer for ourselves and our guests. Of course, you aim at an area that has the best climate, surrounded by nice nature and other attractions for the guests, not too isolated and reachable within one day of travelling for most of the future guests. We also wanted a building with history and character with some relation to wine production. Dad had a wine import business. After nine months of searching and many visits, we found it on the internet which was quite novel in those days. In September 1999, we moved to Crestet and started a huge renovation of the four buildings of Domaine du Crestet that would result in 800 m2 of living space and a total of eight houses. Our objective was to optimise and combine original materials from the building with modern comfort. Our experience in international engineering and architecture helped a lot. Our first two houses opened in June 2000. The total renovation took a total of four years. The French were still on Minitel in those days, and during our registration with the local tourist office, we were told that after our registration it would take three years to get a full high season of rents. We went straight on the internet starting with French Connections (and one German portal site) in December 1999. By March 2000 our first high season was totally booked! Since then we have always been able to rent our houses well within a season from start the April to the start of November with an average occupancy of 95%.
3. If there is one bit of advice you could give to other French Connection owners, what would it be?
Sell your rentals well, but never oversell. We have always listed our properties with the maximum number of pictures and very detailed information, but we always love it when our guests say: the house is much better as pictured on the net: you have exceeded our expectations! Personal attention is crucial. Make sure that you offer quality and clean houses. When there are questions or problems address them quickly. We communicate with our guests in four languages and always start the week with a typical French “apero” with all the guests at the edge of the vineyard. There are many challenges to overcome, things are not easy in France but after two or three attempts things get done. Speaking French is essential from day one and ensure you integrate well with the locals, one has to be pro-active in that.
4. Is there one bit of positive feedback from your renters that you hear over and over again?
We have a club of 10+ visits, and recently one family returned for the 15th time. The most repeated compliments are:
- Your houses have so much character, they are always clean, so well-equipped and everything works
- every vacation here we find new things to do here
- you have created a little paradise on earth! You are great hosts!
5. What is your favourite thing about French culture; food, wine, countryside etc?
In Provence, we have found the locals to be very friendly and easy going. There is respect for being different as long as you try to integrate and show respect for them and their country. The space and history that surrounds us is amazing, from the small picturesque villages - many of which many date back to the Roman times - to the cultural main town Avignon, as well the great expanses of nature. From our estate, we and our guests enjoy taking lots of hiking and biking day trips and often accompany this with a marvellous Provencal lunch on a medieval village terrace overlooking the vineyards, with the great Mont Ventoux beyond. We are in the heart of Cotes du Rhône and surrounded by the great wines from Chateauneuf, Gigondas and Rasteau with over 1200 producers within an hour's drive. Every day we can visit a number of different fresh local produce markets, all within ten minutes. The books promised us 300 days of sunshine a year, and it has happened for twenty consecutive years. After the occasional rain shower, the mistral wind blows the clouds away and cleans the air that then provides the crispness and an incredible, blue sky admired by the best painters of the world.
6. What is your favourite feature of your property?
Watching the grapes ripening as you are relaxing in the pool and after that enjoying a nice glass of Cote du Rhône, and maybe a game of petanque with views of our vineyard and the sun setting on the Mont Ventoux, discussing which restaurant to visit after that…