Escape to the sun. How you could try out your dream before you commit

Setting up a B&B in sunnier climes is an attractive proposition for many people as they approach retirement. The owners of Finca Montgó Javea in Spain’s Costa Blanca are looking for a caretaker couple to run their B&B for 10 weeks next year. Bill Lumley pays a visit

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Many B&B owners have considered deploying their expertise somewhere with a warmer climate, yet have found themselves in the generally colder, wetter climate of the UK not least by uncertainty about the hidden risks. Jacki and Gary Mudge had no hospitality experience when they bought and renovated Finca Montgó in Javea eight years ago, and they have not since looked back. Now, after making the stylish B&B tick over the way they like, they plan to take a sailing break next year in Greece. And to do this they need a caretaker for the time they will be away.

Both Jacki and Gary had corporate careers as directors at global IT firms. As the global recession was taking hold in 2008, Gary found himself suddenly able to take a career break, having just been involved in the sale of a small software company. The kids had grown up, and the couple sold their UK property before deciding what to do next.

Both were familiar with the beauty of Javea in Eastern Spain, as Jacki’s parents had lived there since the mid-1980s. “We couldn’t figure out what we wanted to do next, so we thought we would take six months to a year to come out here, just over a decade ago,” says Gary. “We rented to begin with and have not returned.”
In fact, running a B&B was Jacki’s vision, he says. “I was still dabbling with business ideas after we first moved to Javea, and I wasn’t ready to retire.”

Property hunting

While renting, the couple quickly decided they wanted to stay, and they soon set about finding a property to buy. It was not a question of falling in love with somewhere on their first visit: in fact, they ended up looking at some 70 properties before settling on this sizable estate in Javea.

In the process, several the properties they looked at, were in need of major renovation. Finca Montgó in Javea, 70 minutes from Alicante and 90 minutes from Valencia, was one such property. They eventually decided that since they had undertaken a property renovation project in the UK, it might be fun to take on such a project in Spain, with the idea of potentially selling it at a profit. This solution would justify Gary not working full-time for a couple of years.

He recalls: “In the event we didn’t need to sell it, recognising that maximising the additional income we could create through running a B&B would be a great lifestyle. This has since proved to be the case, for we have met many fantastic people through it. And it justifies us living in and enjoying a much larger property than we probably would do otherwise.”

He adds: “I had been told that if you are going to renovate a property, by the time you do up your third one you will get it right. This is only our second renovation, but I don’t think we got anything badly wrong, although there are some very minor things we may have done differently.”

Location location location

Finca Montgó enjoys a wide variety of countryside views and is surrounded by extensive mature Mediterranean gardens set against a backdrop of the magnificent Montgó Mountain an Montgó Natural Park. Finca Montgó itself looks out over vineyards towards the ancient Tres Molins windmills and the distant Bernia Mountains.
Jacki says: “Located 100 kms from Valencia and 90 kms from Alicante, Jávea is famous for its crystal-clear waters and white sand beaches. It has been voted as one of the healthiest places in the World to live by the World Health Organization, and boasts 320 days of sunshine a year with an average temperature of 21 degrees!”

There are three distinct areas in Javea: the beautiful historic old town, which is typically Spanish with narrow cobbled street and white washed houses a lively and bustling port area with a pretty beach and marina, and the Arenal, a superb golden sandy beach which has consistently been awarded the Blue Flag and has something for everyone.

And if that’s not enough, within 45 minutes you can be up in the mountains!” she adds.

Sourcing builders

One of the biggest concerns for anyone planning to take on a property renovation abroad is finding the right builders to undertake the work you need. For the couple finding the right property and in the circumstance finding the right builders to assist with the renovation was relatively straightforward.

Jacki explains: “Having been living here for a year in rented accommodation, and because we are chatty friendly people and enjoy meeting new people, we had the advantage of local recommendations from a good network of people on the ground before we began the renovation. Out of that, we met several people who had used a couple of builders, and I was able to tap into their experience.”

They were thus able to see the standard of work that builders had completed and to learn their strengths and weaknesses. “We had some good recommendations and did a lot of work prior to reaching agreement with the builder of our choice,” she says.

After the builders finally left in mid-2012 the couple carried out a trial run on their B&B from October that year. “This helped us find out any potential problems, issues, enhancing customer experience and satisfaction before going full-blown with the B&B in 2013,” says Jacki.

As a B&B team, the couple work well together, says Gary. “Jacki manages the enquires, bookings and housekeeping, and she is also great on the catering side. In addition to ensuring the gardens and pool are spick and span, I’ve become incredibly practical – when things do go wrong, which they do, you need to be able to fix the problem,” he says.

Guest profile

Finca Montgó is strictly not for families with children. “Finca Montgo caters for adults only, offering B&B or self catering for those who are looking for tranquil surroundings where they can relax with their partner or have fun with their friends,” says Jacki.

“It isn’t that we dislike children, we just initially decided that as there are numerous local villa rentals and a couple of B&B’s catering for families, there was a gap in the market for Adults only and therefore that would become our USP.

“We make absolutely no exceptions,” she stresses. They follow this rule so strictly that if their own family members come to stay bringing children, they close the business for the duration. “Our guests simply do not want three-year-olds running around,” says Jacki.

Online bookings

Their guests come predominantly from the UK, Holland, Spain and France. For the first couple of years, their business was generated purely from the website she had put together. Jacki says: “We would appear on the first page of a Google search, and people were referring us on a pretty regular basis to their friends and family, and we offer a 5% discount for any referrals, which has always worked very well.”

They welcomed numerous returning guests in their first two years of business, and at the end of the second year they signed up to HolidayLettings.co.uk primarily for the 10-14-day peak July-August period. This was additional helpful as the site had an automatic link-in to ‘speciality lodgings’ on TripAdvisor.

Government intervention

That all went well until the Valencian government suddenly decided in May 2018 year that all holiday rental properties were required to have a licence. Jacki says: “Without any warning, overnight HolidayLettings went from 3,000 properties in Javea to just two that held a licence at that point.”

The impact was shocking, and the B&B lost all 180 of its 5 out 5 reviews on TripAdvisor. Finally, in August 2018, they managed to get their licence and then found themselves having to start building their profile all over again. “We now only advertise on TripAdvisor and make no use of any online booking platform,” says Jacki. “The reason for that is that we like to verify our guests. For instance, we need to double-check that they really are not bringing any children along. With the exception of returning guests, we don’t offer one-night stays, so booking.com doesn’t really work for us, besides which they charge a very high commission rate.”

They have now fully recovered from the sudden regulation change. Gary says: “We have reached a situation where many of our guests are returning visitors, and we get a lot of referrals. In order to ensure that we are the right property in the right location for our guests, we prefer to have some upfront dialogue with them, which is not always possible through the online booking platforms.” But he admits: “If we did want to ramp up the revenue in the future, and we did use any of those platforms, we could be busy most nights of the week from Spring through Autumn.”

Breakfast

Breakfast at Finca Montgó starts with freshly squeezed orange juice and tea/coffee. Jacki says: “I bake nuts, seeds and dried fruit with cinnamon and serve it with Greek yogurt topped with local honey, which always tends to go down very well.”

This is followed by a standard breakfast of a seasonal fresh fruit platter, charcuterie board of meats, cheeses and tomatoes, freshly baked bread, pastries and homemade preserves. “Most of our guests stay an average five days, so I try to vary it,” she says. “Many of them – especially our French and Dutch guests – want the same breakfast every day. For others, I make a traditional Spanish tortilla, scrambled eggs and smoked salmon. Whatever they want I can generally make to order. We had one Dutch guest who simply wanted two fried eggs every morning!”

The couple cater for small numbers of people, so if they have any special dietary requirements or preferences then they can usually cater for that. “I do make it very clear that English breakfast is not on the menu,” she says. Gary interjects: “We did make an exception once. The only person to ask us for a full English was French, and I jumped at the opportunity because I do like a full English breakfast. Jacki cooked that one,” he says, adding, “Unfortunately, he didn’t like black pudding!”

The property includes two apartments, which guests can book either as a B&B or self-catering, the latter of which is particularly popular in the peak months June to August.

One of the many attractions of Javea is a complete lack of large hotels, an admirable policy of the local council. “It is mainly villa and apartment rental,” says Jacki. Yet the villa experience that Finca Montgó Javea provides for guests comes at much less of a bank-breaking price than renting an actual villa. “If you rent a villa in the summer for a week it would cost you at least 5,000 euros for something similar to this,” explains Jacki. “What guests here can do as a couple is have the villa experience, but without the huge cost.” Indeed, that’s the way her website works: it is found by people searching for “accommodation B & B Javea.”

Food and drink facilities

The B&B does not offer evening meals, but it does offer an honesty bar system. “This works very well because it saves people having to go shopping if they fancy a drink,” says Jacki. “Guests have use of our barbecue and bar area, which is very popular in the summer.”

The lack of evening dining is no problem for visitors, however. “There is a lovely French restaurant less than five minutes’ walk from the B&B, and in Javea itself there are 365 restaurants including several 2-star Michelin restaurants as well as low price but high-quality restaurants,” says Gary.

He stresses the importance of striking the right balance when operating a B&B in sunnier climes. He says: “I have no experience running a B&B in the UK, but here it is very important to have nice external areas: you don’t come to Spain only to spend your time inside.” However, this brings with it challenges, he says. One is the need to keep guests comfortable both with shade in the summer months and with internal comfort out of the sunshine. “You need terraced areas with shade, but out of season it can get quite chilly in the evenings, so you need to put as much emphasis on the room, for example the quality of the bed as you do to having quality outdoor facilities. That is a challenge. For instance, we have a bar area designed like an English barn, from where we serve breakfast. However, in the winter it is often not quite warm enough in the mornings, so we also need to have the ability to serve the breakfast indoors,” he explains.

The property is less in demand in winter obviously but still gets busy over Christmas when, as in peak season, a minimum four-night stay is required. A significant proportion of those staying out of season are people looking to retire in the area using the B&B as a base while looking for a property to buy, says Gary. “There is a big exp-pat community here of Dutch, English and Belgian” he says.

Caretaker opportunity

As the couple prepare for their eight-week trip to Greece next year, they are looking for a couple to take over the running of the B&B in their absence from mid May until the end of July. Gary says: “This is an opportunity for anyone such as a UK B&B owner wishing to relocate to the region and to get a feeling for its ups and downs. We hope that we might be able to find the ideal couple who may be interested in ‘test-driving’ the highly rewarding lifestyle of living in and operating a B&B in beautiful climes.”

He adds: “My view of the type of person who would be interested in trialling it is, an early retiree or perhaps somebody with B&B experience but who wants to move to Spain.”

Anyone parachuting in to run the B&B next summer should not be too bothered about the need to attract, maintain and process new bookings while they are there. Gary says: “Our experience tells us that 70% of our bookings for the ‘caretaking’ period will have been taken by the end of April. We can still handle bookings ourselves while we are away next year because it is all carried out online, and we will have constant internet access. But whoever looks after Finca Montgo while we are gone, can do it if they want to gain experience handling extra booking and to see how we go about it – or if they perhaps wanted to maximise the bookings while they are here,” he adds. The latter of course would thus enable Gary and Jacki in turn to maximise on their own trip to Greece.
“For us it is not totally financial, and I don’t see the two-month period as a financial opportunity for whoever comes to run Finca Montgo, but we are happy to share a bit of revenue or pay their flights out here. It’s all about finding the right people and then we can then make it happen for them as well,” he stresses.
In order to verify that whoever looks after the B&B in their absence is right for the job, they would like them to fly out sooner rather than later. “We’ll put them up for nothing. Flights to Alicante or Valencia are quite cheap between October and December,” he says.

Jacki adds: “We’d like to meet them and make sure we are both compatible.. Before that we would perhaps like to speak to them over the phone to determine their expectations and to answer some of the inevitable questions that they will have. For them it will be an opportunity to see what our lifestyle is really like. They might be looking for something to do in their retirement that creates more income and learning how to create a rewarding lifestyle running a people focused B&B here in sunnier climes,” she says.

If you are interested in the opportunity get a taste for running a B&B in stunning countryside with a climate to match and are considering looking after Finca Montgó next year, contact jacki@fincamontgojavea.com.

The accommodation

Los Establos Apartment – Located in the beautiful grounds of Finca Montgó, this south facing one-bedroom air- conditioned apartment has rustic charms of a Finca with the comforts of contemporary living.

It comprises of one bedroom with king size bed, a kitchen, wet room, cosy sitting and dining area. The covered terrace and open patio give a private outside area, with stunning views over the vineyards towards the ancient Tres Molins windmills and distant Bernia Mountains, a perfect spot to sunbathe or enjoy eating ‘al fresco’ in the sun, shade or moonlight.

The accommodation is flexible – for couples who require more privacy, they can book the Los Establos apartment and the adjacent guest room and have sole use of the Los Establos facilities.

Los Establos Guest room – Located adjacent to the Los Establos apartment, this spacious air-conditioned south facing en suite guest room has the option of super king or twin beds together with a private covered terrace and ‘chill out’ area

The spacious Finca Apartment comprises of one large air-conditioned bedroom (super king or twin beds) with a shower room, kitchen, dining area and comfortable sitting room. The patio gives a private outside area with stunning views of the Montgó, a perfect spot to sunbathe or enjoy eating ‘al fresco’ while watching the changing sunlight at dusk.

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