Hi, my name is Sylvia and I thought I would share with you my experience of starting a B&B in the mountains and lakes district of Austria (right on the Slovenian and Italian border).
Why did I leave my comfy 9-5 civil service position in England to move with my husband to Austria where no fixed income awaited us? I guess I got tired of commuting every morning to sit in front of a computer in an urban office complex working on non-self-directed tasks… sound familiar?
And yeah, the weather in England is pretty mind-numbing for a Canadian girl too… not hot, not cold – just a lukey 15-17° with frequent grey skies all year around – and not even a decent dusting of snow to brighten up your life. Man, that can really get you down, and after 20 years there I felt I had paid my dues. So even though countless people recommended I wait until retirement I felt that life is for living now and who knows if any of us make it that far…
So my British teacher husband and I packed our bags and scarpered for Austria. No fixed income awaited us and he did not speak any German, Risky? Yeah. Crazy? Probably. Regrets? None.
Yeah, it was a risk but as I am writing this I am watching 2 bullfinches mob a tufty eared squirrel away from the bird feeder, watched by two deer and a buck. So I guess that´s a big reason. The lake at the foot of the hill is perfect for swimming in summer and skating in winter and the mountains we see all around offer great skiing and walking. Another reason is my dog (really) he spent all day every working day on his own in our suburban house, waiting for us to get home so that he could get his measly walk before we dashed to finish our household tasks. Not the life a puppy dreams of… and now he has me home all day! Lucky old dog, although he does tell me to shut it when I jabber on at him…
We got the idea to run a B&B because my mom had a lovely B&B in Niagara on the Lake, which she enjoyed a lot. I also speak fluent German (which helps when moving to rural Austria). So even though I had a pretty clear idea of what was involved I have found out that the learning curve is endless; I still wish I had discovered the B&B Coach then, but better late than never! J
When we got here we needed to get the B&B started quickly to get some cash flow in, as the house we have here is pretty big (5 bedrooms, most with en-suites). I did some key updating, just the essentials, making sure all the toilets worked and cracked sinks were replaced etc… I bought sufficient sheeting and towelling and enquired with the local tourism office what formalities were involved and registered with the relevant government department and got to work. `Private room rental´, which is how B&Bs with under 10 beds are classed here, are pretty straightforward to run really, you register with the authorities and they provide you with a guest book to fill in for each guest, this document is used to assess the overnight taxes you are charged for each guest.
I love it, sure the cleaning and the laundry can be tiresome when you are coming to the tail end of a busy season, but you are your own boss and can set your own schedule. I can fit my work around my interests and not my interests around my work. I open and close my room availability to make time for friends and family, and I limit the number of rooms available when I have other projects on the go. It´s perfect for us really.
The best bit though is meeting the amazing people who stay with us, we get really interesting guests; from the gorgeous Dutch motorbike woman who told me about her plans to open a florist shop just using common weeds (while she smoked her cigar and drank a cold beer on our terrace), and the Spanish farmers son who disobeyed his father’s wish to take over the farm and ran away to become a world class barber with barbers schools all around Europe (he was from Valencia, not Seville, just in case you’re wondering); to the Ukrainian financial expert who quit the cut throat financial world to write children´s books about guardian angels, and even Eurovision Song contest winners, remember Getty from Teach-in? Din-a-dong? 1975?… honestly, the stories these people bring to our breakfast table would make having a B&B worth it, even if it did not make me a cent (which fortunately it does!).
Our breakfast table and conversations fill me with hope for the future too – seeing people from all around the world get on with each other and converse over passing the butter and jam. Would I do it again? In a heartbeat.
About the author:
Sylvia Campbell is a transplanted Canadian, owner of ´The Highlands´ B&B, in the village of Latschach in Carinthia, Austria. In addition to running her B&B, she teaches in the local high school on a part-time basis and does project work with a local children´s museum to keep her life interesting.