Interview with Laura Pantry, Owner of Belair le Camping in the Dordogne, France
Belair le Camping is a new Glamping site established by Laura and Ben Pantry from East Anglia. The site opened in April 2017 with fully refurbished communal facilities, an outdoor cinema and a selection of six luxury belle tents available to enjoy. The new season sees the Bell Tents receive new decked platform and plans to build a Woodcutters cottage in the woods. Plus the family and site have recently featured on A New Life in the Sun on Channel 4. I caught up with Laura to find out what she’s learnt from her first year running of a Glamping site…
You’re about to embark on your second Summer season at Belair le Camping what lessons have you learnt since this time last year?
Gosh so many! A lot of lessons we learnt on the job – such as the maximum number of adults we could accommodate in our tents. We allowed a ladies group of 4 into our large 6m tent last year, some sleeping on air beds. The feedback was not great! Whilst the idea of a group all sleeping under the same roof sounds good, in reality we cannot fit two king sized luxury beds and all the luggage that accompanies 4 adults into one tent – no matter how big the tent! So we changed our policy pretty quickly. Another example is supplying all tents with a clothes drier for wet towels and swimming costumes – something we hadn’t considered when we opened. Our biggest lesson financially is learning that prices must be lower than in England – camping and glamping simply attracts a lower nightly rate in France, and the season is much shorter. You earn your main money in the summer, anything else is a bonus! So our expectations have changed for this year, and we are offering much more competitive prices off season.
What attracted you to this part of France?
The Dordogne is famed for being similar to the rural English countryside. We lived on the Essex/Suffolk border so adore all the green fields. However the countryside here has much more wildlife, woodland, rivers and hills and the sky has never looked so big! Plus this area is popular with tourists and ex-pats, great for our business and making friends.
How does the pace of life differ to back home?
We live at a much slower pace. Not rushing around because of traffic, there isn’t any! No commuting to work as we can step outside our front door to work! The french bureaucratic system is famously slow and not speaking the language means everything can take longer too.
What were the highlights of last season?
Our first opening weekend back in March was amazing, the guests were wonderful, and gave amazing feedback to us. The weather was glorious and spent April though to September in the swimming pool. We met great English friends who have helped us make France a home. Plus our girls are now settled into school, a big relief for us all, plus it means we have more time to work on the campsite to renovate our own home.
And any disasters to share?
Many ups and downs were featured on A New life in the Sun – particularly the croissant disaster! Usually the Boulangerie has many pastries in stock, however that particular day we had a full site – all wanting croissants. Needless to say, there wasn’t enough for everyone so I had to decide who was getting breakfast. Luckily Pain au Chocolat is a wonderful compromise so no-one was unhappy. But I did learn to order the day before, and since then everyone has received their breakfast order.
What Glamping plans do you have in store for 2018?
Work has commenced on an enormous decked area nestled on the edge of our woodland. A Luxury 6 metre Bell tent will sit on the decking, plus a hot tub will be on decking too. A wonderful private space for a romantic getaway or family fun. This extra special space will be opening in April 2018. We have also made improvements around the site, such as a woodland chill out zone, a communal fire pit outside our social area and generally better landscaping around the site.
How has featuring on the Channel 4 show ‘A New Life in the Sun’ impacted on your experience?
Whilst exciting, having a camera crew filming most of last year was exhausting. The pressure of setting up a new business in a foreign country is daunting enough! Having to thinking about what you are saying, wearing, trying to not make mistakes, two young demanding girls wanting attention etc… it was a lot to think about! However we were really pleased with the editing and final episodes and gained lots of positive feedback and bookings from the show. We would encourage anyone in a similar position to consider it.
Image: Courtesy of Channel 4
What advice would you give to anyone thinking of setting up their own Glamping site?
I have received lots of emails from other families looking to make the same move. I would encourage anyone to follow their dreams and Glamping as a business is rewarding, fun, sociable and you can meet many lovely people along the way. But, it is seasonal and hard work. I have a mixture of business, computing and customer service experience whilst Ben has years of practical experience to build and renovate the site. Ensure that any premises you look at will have planning permission, in France it can be tough to getting planning permission. We bought an existing campsite and renovated it to our own standards. And be realistic about earning potential, a secondary income would be advisable in the first few years of business.
Finally…what makes Belair le Camping stand out from other Glamping sites?
We like to offer fun in France, whilst being able to relax in the countryside. Alongside our beautiful bells, we have a fun social area with pool table, cinema, outdoor pool and space to relax. We are blessed to have many wonderful towns, villages, chateaus, caves, lakes, rivers nearby and of course, restaurants and fine dining. We love being here and we hope our passion for Glamping here in France means our guests have a special stay.
To celebrate their second season, Belair le Camping are offering half price stays for April 2018. Visit belairlecamping.com/bookings and enter promo code APRIL2018.