“Our philosophy is guided by three key words; Experience, Adventure and Escape. When the idea for Zero Neuf was first conceived, our primary focus was cycling but we quickly realized it was one piece in a far bigger jigsaw”
After being weighed down by the pressures of everyday life, Mike and Joss, along with their two boys, set out to create a new one. The couple have found a way to cultivate a lifestyle filled with stunning landscapes, adventure, and a rich cycling community. They’ve invited any and everyone to go along for the ride.
We spoke with Mike of Zero Neuf to learn more about the cycling adventures he and Joss have built, the 19th century farm-turned-inn they restored to perfection, and how their lives have changed as a result.
"We really liked the idea of creating something that is accessible to all, bringing people together and building a community to benefit everyone in a relaxed and beautiful setting. That’s Zero Neuf."
First, tell us a bit of the origin story in Zero Neuf’s foundation, what drew you to starting a family-run inn and cycling experience.
In a nutshell, our previous life was very lacking in quality time and we often felt it had no real purpose; we lived in a high pressure bubble, working long hours and it often felt like we were merely existing. We craved the sorts of experience, adventure and escape we had both enjoyed as children and young adults and wanted our two boys to experience the same thing. I’m a cycling nut, lover of mountains and nature, a bit obsessed with coffee and a great believer in quality craftsmanship (regardless of the industry). Joss is a creative mastermind with a passion for home decor, a fabulous cook, baker and grower of amazing fruits and vegetables. She is the beating heart of Zero Neuf.
We set out to build a destination that allowed people to share their love and passion, ideas and stories for cycling, food, creative and the outdoors. We really liked the idea of creating something that is accessible to all, bringing people together and building a community to benefit everyone in a relaxed and beautiful setting in the South of France. That’s Zero Neuf.
There is a feeling of creating a holistically fulfilling experience at Zero Neuf that is centered in cycling but not necessarily ending there. Food and creative projects are a major focus as well, can you tell us a bit more about the intersection of all of those ideals.
Our philosophy is guided by three key words; Experience, Adventure and Escape. When the idea for Zero Neuf was first conceived, our primary focus was cycling but we quickly realised it was one piece in a far bigger jigsaw.
“In an overly connected world, we want people to enjoy the simple pleasures again.”
Our guests gather experience, seek adventure and find escape in different ways but there is an intrinsic link between cycling, food and drink and the creative world and this has allowed us to push the ‘destination’ and ‘community’ messages. By changing tack, it allowed us both to indulge our passions; Joss in the creative world and my cycling obsession. We both love food and drink and the outdoors so it was the perfect platform from which to build the business.
Our market research also led us to believe that an opportunity existed to fill a gap in the market, particularly in this region. Another destination like Zero Neuf did not and does not exist. In an overly connected world, we want people to enjoy the simple pleasures again; birdsong, nature, river swims, spare time, picking fresh fruit and vegetables from the garden - things that were once integral to people’s lives but have since got lost in the world’s noise. Our guests comment after their first night here ‘I’ve had the best night’s sleep, it’s so quiet here’. And it is; it’s blissful.
Owning, working, and living on the grounds harkens back to traditional innkeeping. What is your work/life balance or do you see those two things as one?
This is a really good question! There is very little separation between our work and life because of the way Zero Neuf operates. We live on site and made a conscious decision to be part of the guest experience - much of the pleasure we derive from running Zero Neuf comes from our guest engagement. During our main season (March-October), our days are long (often over 15 hours) and the pressure of running your own business can be immense but we need only remind ourselves of what life was like before and how lucky we are to both be in a position to indulge our passions whilst living in this beautiful part of the world.
Tell us a bit about the farm you renovated, its history, and the process in rejuvenating the life of the property.
The farmhouse dates from the 19th Century and it was once the main source of food, milk and water for the local village of Gaudies’ inhabitants. It is built entirely from local river stone, quarried from the surrounding land (the beautiful River l’Hers passes the bottom of our garden). Older village residents talk of daily trips to the farm to collect milk, vegetables, fruits and meats and of herds of cows in the surrounding fields and it was a working farm until the late 1980s. It seems it was the beating heart of the village and this was one of the driving forces that inspired us to bring it back to life.
We spent two years renovating the old, worn out farmhouse, determined to make the village proud again of this once grand farmstead. Both Joss and I worked closely with a builder so our blood, sweat and tears are now in the fabric of the building and to think we share that with people dating back over 200 years is pretty cool. Since completing the work, we have been inundated with messages of support and thanks from local people and the mayor himself gave it a big seal of approval. This means the world to us. We remained sympathetic throughout the renovation and hope the original masons would approve of the work. We are immensely proud that the farm is now ready to see out another 200 years.
What do you see as the parallels between cycling culture and hospitality culture? Can you give us a feeling of the communal aspects of Zero Neuf?
As the world becomes increasingly complex, it is clear that people are seeking ‘escape’ more than ever and the bicycle is providing more and more people with the means in which to find it.
There is a strong historical link between hospitality and cycling; from early track racing, cyclo-tourism and the ‘cafe raids’ of Le Tour to modern day cycling cafes and hotels. We see ourselves as an extension of this culture and as I have already stated, we set out to build a destination that allowed people to share their love and passion, ideas and stories not just for cycling but for food, creative and the great outdoors; enforcing Experience and Adventure which are central to our philosophy.
But, Zero Neuf isn’t just about the international community who stay here, we have built strong partnerships with local musicians, artisans and craftspeople and we share their passion and produce with guests. Community is an integral part of what we do and central to our plans for the future.
There is a spirit of freedom in cycling, which is amplified by the freedom of a holiday. H.G. Wells writes of the feeling of a cycling holiday in Wheels of Chance:
“Only those who toil six long days out of the seven, and all the year round, save for one brief glorious fortnight or ten days in the summer time, know the exquisite sensations of the First Holiday Morning. All the dreary, uninteresting routine drops from you suddenly...”
Can you describe the perfect day at Zero Neuf?
HG Wells’ prose is wonderful (and very apt in our modern societies) and we hope our guests feel the same way when they arrive here! We’ve sat and pondered this question and we’ve concluded a perfect day here is a collection of experiences; the first rays of morning sunshine falling on the Pyrenees, the boulangerie run, dialling in the coffee machine, the guest chatter at breakfast, the rolling of tyres and clicking of gears as we drift along the valley towards the high Pyrenees, the friendships formed on the road and around the table, a river swim with local craft beers chilling in the water, a delicious homemade dinner cooked by Joss and washed down with local organic wines, watching the last rays of evening sunshine fall behind the mountains, stargazing from a lounger, a restful night’s sleep in comfortable beds with soft linens.
Words by: AO Staff
Learn more: Zero Nuef