Mick and Julie purchased the little house in Les Breuillons, Bethines France in 2003. At the time it was a ruin, part of a building that at one time was three houses, (French peasant cottages of no size, consisting of one room and a loft above for animals) they had the section that used to make up two homes in the past, but had long ago been made into one house with a living room, kitchen and bedroom on the ground floor and a loft acceded from outside by a ladder to a side opening. When they first purchased the property they engaged the services of a builder, looking to get some of the work done quickly so as to make the property more comfortable for their future visits, they soon realised that, financially this was not a good option and once the initial basic work was complete, they elected to take sole responsibility for the renovation work.
So, for the following years every opportunity they had Mick and Julie would spend most of their holidays visiting and restoring the house including installing a staircase and adding two bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs along with an en-suite bathroom for their main bedroom down stairs.
We could now list all the work that needed to be completed to make this little house a home, Mick and Julie will be the first to admit even they cannot remember everything they had to do, maybe later as things are remembered we will add them, but for this short opening we will leave the first and now main cottage here.
Just as they finished the little cottage, some 10 years after purchase, the attached even smaller house became available. As it was actually attached to their house, they decided to purchase that also, they quickly set about turning that one room with an upper loft into a one up one down with its own private bathroom, soon after completion life events took over. Julie lost her parents, Mick’s father died and his younger sister also passed with cancer. In 2014 Mick was involved in a serious accident on his motorbike in which he sustained serious injuries, including 8 broken ribs a punctured lung and seriously damaged left foot, the ribs and lung have now healed, the foot will always be a problem, but not one he allows to hold him back.
This was just after they had moved house in the UK, out of the city, they had decided they would renovate this new house and stay until retirement, then they would move to France. Mick was settling in to renovating the 4-bed house, total remodelling the house putting on a small extension to the rear and purchasing a small plot of land from the local council to allow them to extend the garden and maybe grow some vegetables and keep bees. Mick finally got back on his bike in 2015 after his accident, putting over 10k miles on his new Honda 1800 F6C with his best riding buddy, Zorba at his side on a 1500 Honda Valkyrie over the next 12 months.
In the summer of 2016 together, they took off on a tour of Europe. Shortly after returning from this trip David Martin, AKA ZORBA phoned Mick with the devastating news that he was terminal with pancreatic cancer with a limited time to live, Mick and Julie along with most everyone that new Dave were shocked to the core by this news. The following few months went by in a blurr, with Mick and Julie reflecting on the previous few years and this “final” news, it was time to make a change. Life is short, Zorba, when he was taken was only 52 years old, Mick at the time was 56, Julie 55. They are so proud to have some of Zorba’s ashes behind a plaque in a wall that David actually encouraged Mick to start building some years earlier at Belonga Mick.
So, the last quarter of 2016 Mick and Julie after long discussions decided to make the move to France sooner rather than later, maybe semi retire, run the little house as a bed and breakfast and let the small attached cottage as a gite, sounds good. One slight problem, they were, not for the first time, living on a building site, so when will they be able to move? Sooner rather than later was the decision, so they set about finishing the house to go to market, sell up in the UK and make the move a permanent one.
Julie continued to do what she had always done, she’d get the train to work in the city at 7am and return home at 6.30pm, to another surprise at how much work had been completed. Mick was hard at it, in between trips to France with a trailer load of belongings every few weeks, doing a few days’ work there and returning back to the UK. Within 12 months the house was finished, the garden was landscaped and it was put on the market in September 2017 and with great surprise an offer was made and accepted on the house within 24hrs of it going up for sale, so quickly they hadn’t had time to get any pictures or estate agent literature prepared, the move was on. So, it was early December 2017 that they finally, loaded the last trailer and set off to France with a one-way ticket.
Once in France they immediately set about remodelling the upper bedrooms, whilst they were okay for a holiday home, they were not up to a standard for paying guests, so after doing that and redecorating most of the cottage that winter, they were ready to accept their first guests in March 2018.
What they didn’t have was any land, it would have been nice to have a garden and something to do when not entertaining guests. Soon after moving another property became available, one they referred to as “the professors house”. This came with nearly an acre of land and a couple of large barns, all mostly in a state of ruin, but “with potential”, an offer was made and excepted. They now had three houses and a handful of barns along with the land to keep them busy.
But wait, the story doesn’t stop there.
Mick had been feeling unwell prior to leaving the UK, he had made several visits to his Doctor and had been advised to take antacid relief for his indigestion. It took about 6 months to get registered with a doctor here in France, along with all the other little bits of administration that have to be taken care of to ensure you are living here correctly and free to work, a stressful time, but in the sun who cares.
Winter soon rolled in after the first year, but with work to do it was hardly noticed, however, Mick was beginning to feel decidedly unwell, eventually in the March he went to the doctor and mentioned it. Being as thorough as she could, the doctor gave him a full medical but found nothing serious was wrong, his blood pressure a little high and after testing his cholesterol, this also needed reducing, let’s see how we get on with meds. It wasn’t long before he was back at the doctors, this time he was experiencing, “discomfort” in his chest and getting light headed. Within a week he had had a chest x-ray and was back at the Dr with results, nothing. Again, he explained the symptoms, but this time also included the indigestion, for which he was still taking antacid relief though it was not having much effect. The Doctor immediately referred him to a cardio specialist. Mick attended the appointment at the cardio’s office and an ECG, nothing unusual, but being thorough and given the symptoms the Doctor said he will conduct a stress test the next week and a scan, cutting the story short Mick was admitted to hospital within a few days of this, where he initially had an operation to clear an artery in his heart (balloon), followed the week later by the insertion of 3 stents. As you can imagine this set the plans back a little, Mick now had to take it easy for a while, not as easy to do as it is to say, he was soon back at it, all be it at a slightly slower pace.
We roll on 12 months; the land was cleared and a decision was made to restore one of the large barns, maybe put in a small bar, somewhere for the guest from the bed and breakfast to relax and eat, so was born MJ’s Bar & Grill, now a fully licensed bar and restaurant along with ,what soon will be its own dedicated catering kitchen.
But wait, again the story doesn’t stop there, a fourth property came available, this was very close to the first little house, too close to want neighbours, oh what to do? yes, you’ve guessed, Mick and Julie put in an offer and after negotiations they purchased the house along with a few more barns and a little bit of land.
Then in 2020 Mick revisited the cardio specialist for what he hoped would be the last time to be signed off and told all was now okay. The final examination included a nuclear stress test on an exercise bike, Mick failed this dismally and actually had a mild heart attack whilst on the bike, best place to have it in a specialist hospital. It was quickly diagnosed he needed more investigation and at least one more stent. This was not going to be straight forward given the location of the blockage, at a branch, between two of the previous stents and there was always the possibility of more invasive heart surgery, the success of this procedure would not be known until after the operation. Well, the day soon arrived and fortunately Mick came through needing just one more stent. So far 12 months later, it appears all is well though life for Mick is now at a slower pace, some would say his slow is the equivalent to others being rushed off their feet, it was back to Belonga Mick to recuperate.
This mostly happened during the Covid pandemic, Mick and Julie were lucky in many respects, not least, the area of France they are living was not affected to any great degree by these events so disruption to hospital visits were minimal, but it also meant that the new bar and restaurant ventures along with the Bed and Breakfast business, as with most businesses of the time ground to a halt. Not being people to stand still, they quickly adapted to do take away food, Pizza, and fish and chips at least that kept them on the map and slowly introduced local people to their establishment. They also used the quiet time to advance the renovations, landscaping an area outside the bar area in anticipation of maybe being allowed to start outside service at least. They also made a start on the renovation of another barn, removing the roof with the intention of lowering it and fitting PV/solar panels for electricity generation. It was while doing this project that Mick had another mishap, while descending a ladder that was on the upper floor of the barn he stepped backwards and the floor gave way, he fell heavily, only about 10 feet but it left him with a few bruises and a stiff arm. His arm slowly got more painful and became difficult to use, thus resulting in another visit to the Doctor some 5 months after the event, well he couldn’t go sooner, he had a wedding to organise, Mick and Julie were getting married in June 2021 after some 22 years of being together, the wedding having been postponed from 2020 because of Covid restriction, this time nothing was going to stop it.
So, here we are, as I write, Mick is waiting for an appointment for a scan on his shoulder, he has had an x-ray but it shows nothing, he is also going to physio therapy on a regular basis.
Oh one more thing worth a mention, when Mick and Julie first arrived in France in 2003 neither of them spoke French having not even studied the language at school. They still struggle with the language, but putting that aside manage to run the business with guests who are in the main 95% French along with some from other European countries, even the bar is patronised by mainly French, something they are grateful for, what better way to learn a language than to be totally immersed. They continue to run Belonga Mick and MJ’s Bar & Grill and welcome guest locally and from all over Europe, most weekends they are fully booked in the restaurant and a reservation for a table is advised, and although the actual summer holiday season has ended, they continue to get guests at the accommodation and again have periods where they are fully occupied.
Looking to the future and the addition of the 2nd gite in the very near future things look bright.
Now we have got this far I will continue to relay their story as it develops, along with the odd story from the past as remembered.