Ciara Kenny

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Call of France was too strong to ignore

WILD GEESE: Martin and Síle Dwyer, Le Presbytere, Languedoc, France: The chance to run a chambre d’hôte was an offer the Dwyers couldn’t refuse

Tue, Nov 20, 2012, 11:00



WILD GEESE: Martin and Síle Dwyer, Le Presbytere, Languedoc, France: The chance to run a chambre d’hôte was an offer the Dwyers couldn’t refuse

"There are great bonuses to living in the south of France - good food, wine and weather." Síle and Martin Dwyer

Cork-born chef Martin Dwyer spent 15 years running the acclaimed and multi-award-winning restaurant Dwyer’s in Waterford, but in 2004 he received an offer for the restaurant he couldn’t refuse.

Dwyer, along with his wife, Síle, upped sticks and bought a 12th-century presbytery in the Languedoc to run as a chambre d’hôte.

“We always wanted to come to France. There are great bonuses to living in the south of France – good food, wine and weather,” Síle says.

The couple have always had a love of France according to Síle, who had studied there. Martin also did some of his training in France and was for some years the commissioner general of the Irish branch of Euro Toques – the French association of chefs.

Recalling his time at Dwyer’s, he says: “We bought a back street place and we were living above it. It was a very unfashionable area but we served quality food, so people kept coming back.”

Over the years, the restaurant managed to attract luminaries including composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, actress Drew Barrymore and US diplomat Jean Kennedy-Smith.

In 2004, it was purchased by Guy Kelner. “We were offered a good price at the height of the boom thankfully.

“I had good kitchen French having spent time working in hotels in France after college. Síle was also fairly fluent in the language.”

The couple first saw the house they eventually acquired in France in the summer of 2006 and signed the papers to purchase it by December.

“It had been empty for three or four years, so was a bit dilapidated. We were back and forth for a while doing it up before officially opening for business in September 2009,” Síle says.

Unlike traditional guest houses and BBs, guests at Le Presbytère can also opt for an evening meal, dining with Síle and Martin.

“We sit down and eat dinner with the guests. In fact, they are the ones that sit with us, at the same table we sit at every night.

“It’s one benefits of the chambre d’hôte style. We are immune from health inspections as we eat the same food as the guests at the same table. We also don’t have to pay VAT, which is great,” Martin says.

As well as running the guesthouse, the couple also organise nature walks (conducted by Síle’s brother) and cookery courses, taught by Martin.

“While I’m still cooking it’s much easier. I design the courses I run. Also, I can tell people what they’re having for dinner as opposed to creating an entire à la carte menu every night.”

Good weather, wine and food have not been the only benefits Martin and Síle have noticed since setting up their business in France.

“I had a minor heart operation, which was completely covered by the French health system,” says Martin. “One day I was seeing my GP, the following day I had an appointment for a meeting with a cardiologist. Two days later I was booked into the cardiac clinic in Montpellier. Everything was very quick.”

And his advice for others thinking of setting up businesses abroad? “Having the language is the singular most important thing. You have to be able to talk to customers and suppliers and file accounts in the language of the country you are in.”

It’s also good to learn the various idiosyncrasies, unique to each country, that will help your business, says Martin.

“We have got great support from the mayor. The mayor is the most important person in villages in France, so we made sure to get him on side.”