Last year Kara, Martin and their daughter Beth left their life in the UK behind and moved to the small town of Bareges in the French Pyrenees to start a new life running a chalet and mountain guiding business called MountainBug. Kara and I had been exchanging emails since they first listed their chalet on our website and I was fascinated by their story and the fact that despite being in good jobs and having recently had their 1st child, Beth, they were still able pack up their entire life and move to a different country. Not only would it be a new home, but also a new culture, new language and a completely new career.
They’ve just come to the end of their first winter season in Bareges, so I thought I would catch up with them and see how they’re getting on.
Before leaving the UK, Martin was working as an IT consultant & Kara was working as a freelance management consultant. She had just given birth to their daughter Beth, so I wanted to ask Kara what made them decide that the time was right to quit their jobs and move to the Pyrenees?
Kara explained that in the past, they had both taken a year out travelling together. Martin had also started a mountain leader course. Having discovered that they could survive and thrive living abroad together and Martin’s passion for the mountains, a new life in the mountains became a possibility.
While for many, having your first child would be reason to root down, for Martin and Kara it had the opposite effect. Martin’s work required a lengthy daily commute. When Beth was born it highlighted that they were not spending as much time together. Martin feared that he may become one of those dads that misses being there as their child grows up.
It was at this point that they decided to rethink how they would like to live their life. They wanted to be together, to do something that they were both passionate about and combine their love of the outdoors with their interest in the hospitality industry. A couple of friends from University (Rob and Emma) were already living in Bareges running a chalet and were looking for business partners. Martin and Kara had been to visit them a few times so had a good idea about what would be involved. It was at this point that the idea of moving to the mountains became less of a dream and more of a real opportunity to switch lifestyles.
Ok, so you decided to make the move. How did you go about it?
Once the decision was made to move, Rob quit his job in IT and headed off to the Scottish Highlands to complete his Mountain leadership qualification. Meanwhile, Kara wound down her consultancy business.
The plan was to move to Bareges ahead of the fast approaching ski season and work as chalet employees under the guidance of Rob and Emma. This gave Rob and Emma time to focus on the launch of their new 19 room hotel in the resort. So the timing was perfect.
MountainBug Mountain Holidays offers accommodation in the chalet on a weekly basis. It has 5 rooms. Whilst the hotel can accommodate weekends and nightly stays. Extending the accommodation side of the business in this way made it possible for MountainBug to provide more flexible holiday packages.
What was the hardest part of making the move?
Being on our own in a new country and adjusting to the new language and different culture. Also, living so far from friends and family. We miss not getting the time on our own to go out and enjoy ourselves as we have a lack of babysitters to call upon.
So now that you have your first ski season behind you, how did you find it? What were the highs and lows?
The lows were definitely organising the move last year – cancelling the milk etc. We were really nervous about the move and even once we had arrived, for the first few weeks we still thought that what we were doing was crazy. But we stuck with it.
The highs really only came after the first couple of weeks which saw our first Christmas and New Year guests. We received so many compliments and even repeat bookings for the following season.
What’s next? Do you have any plans for next season or the future?
We’ve had a great season and have agreed to give it another year and see what happens. The next step would be to move out of the chalet and hire staff to help cater for the guests. In the long term, we would like to expand MountainBug to bring more people out for winter and summer activities and hopefully one day we would own and manage our own chalet.
What advice would you give to anyone else that might be thinking of moving to the mountains?
Before you start, plan out the move and your first year. Also, have a backup plan just in case it doesn’t work out or you have to move back to the UK. Be realistic too. We agreed that when we moved out that we would give it one year and then revisit our plans to see what we wanted to do next. You should also know what you’re getting into. For example, we had travelled together for extended periods and knew that we could not only live, but also work together. Before considering such a lifestyle change, I would recommend trialling the key elements, such as working together, cooking, cleaning etc., to see how things go.
When you do arrive, don’t expect everything to run smoothly. The first couple of weeks are exhausting, but after a little time, you will be able to get your timing right for all the daily tasks, such as cooking, cleaning, meeting and greeting etc. and you start to put systems in place. As time goes on, it becomes much easier and you will be better prepared to deal with the unexpected.
For more information about MountainBug and to see what Kara and Martin are up to check their website – www.mountainbug.com