For the lifestyle you want

La vie est belle for top barrister Rebecca in her new role as gite owner

Rebecca Randall likes to embrace change. After a successful career in the media, including the FT and Reuters, she trained and qualified as a barrister and is now on to her third career as a French gite owner.

Rebecca joined the chambers of 25 Bedford Row in 2005 and has worked in criminal defence ever since, defending in many high profile cases and being featured in the Legal 500 for the last three years.

In 2016, along with her husband, Greg, she purchased a derelict paper mill in the Dordogne, Moulin de Fontalbe. After a year of intense renovations, Fontalbe was transformed into a luxury six-bedroom gite, alongside a comfortable home.

Rebecca made the leap to live full time in France in November 2018 and to forsake London life for a new life, mainly in wellies, with a pony and a border collie and took on the steep learning curve of managing a hospitality business.

After just two seasons in business Fontalbe has recently been awarded five stars by the Dordogne Perigord Tourism board, the highest internationally recognised accolade.

Rebecca now combines running Fontalbe with her ongoing career as a criminal barrister in the UK.

She spoke to The Best Life Project:

  1. How will Brexit affect the French gite business? 

I’m hoping that Brexit will have little effect upon the business.  People will, I hope, still want to come on holiday to the beautiful region that we live in.  We are also lucky in that we are not solely reliant on the UK market, a lot of our guests come from Holland, Belgium and Switzerland.  The only issue that we have discovered so far is that we can no longer get Amazon Prime, which is distressing but not detrimental to the business!

  • Will you need a French passport?

No, although I am considering applying for French nationality once I have lived here for five years.  At the moment, I have applied for and received my Carte de Sejour which is proof that I am a French resident.  This will mean that I can travel freely between the UK and France and will hopefully avoid any difficulties at customs.

  • How has the business been affected by the pandemic – any positives? 

We have had to adapt and become more flexible.  We were hoping that 2021 would be our “big” year but it looks as if that will be put back another year now as we just need to consolidate after 2020.  Last year we were fortunate that we weren’t totally reliant on the UK market, so when people had to cancel we were able to fill the weeks with European guests.  It wasn’t as successful a year as we had hoped, but it could have been a lot worse.

As a positive, the extra time spent here has meant that we have managed to complete projects that would otherwise have been put on the backburner. It has also enabled us to be more creative with what we offer guests and we have had the chance to put in place lots of exciting plans, such as our Gourmet Experiences. 

  • How hard was it to find the perfect property and renovate it? 

It was very hard and is not for the faint hearted. We must have seen over 50 properties before we found Fontalbe and we were searching for over two years, driving thousands of kilometres. My advice is to find an estate agent that you trust and that you get on with and who understands your brief, otherwise you will end up tearing your hair out.

We were lucky to find our brilliant designer who shared our vision for Fontalbe. He had his own team of builders who literally moved in for a year and undertook all the renovations. We also ended up bringing a caravan from the UK and parking it in the garden so that we could spend as much time as possible on site.  I will never stay in a caravan again…..

Our renovation was relatively painless because of our fantastic designer and builders. However, frequent curve balls were thrown our way – like the concrete fish tanks under the lawn when we dug all our septic tanks in, the total lack of plumbing and electrics and so on.

Specify your budget and then be prepared to throw it out of the window! It was all worth it though for what we now have. 

  • What drew you to this particular property? 

The setting. Fontalbe is situated on her own private island and is idyllic, surrounded by forests and streams. We are also close to a busy village, which was very important to us (French bars and boulangeries!). The house had huge potential to turn into our dream property and to maximise business potential. It was very much a blank canvas so that we could create what we wanted. 

  • Do you have any visitors at the moment or is France in national lockdown?

We don’t have any visitors at the moment.  We are hoping to welcome guests for the spring, which was always our plan. We have launched our Gourmet experiences for 2021 allowing guests to book a room rather than the entire gite, to experience the fabulous food locally and to brush up their own culinary skills. Right now, France isn’t in lockdown, but other countries are and travel is, unfortunately, very difficult. 

  • How do you combine barrister work with a hospitality business?

Prior to Covid I was spending the summers here, running the gite business and then out of season I was commuting backwards and forwards for trials in the UK. At first, it was a bit of a shock to the system but I was lucky to be getting the best of both – time in the City doing the job I love and time in the country here. It did mean lots of flights and relying on the hospitality of friends, but it was worth it.

At the moment I’m based in France and have been since lockdown in March. I managed to get the last flight out of London before France closed its borders. I love it here, but I am desperate to go back to the UK to see friends and get stuck into some work, which I have missed much more than I thought I would.

  • Hopes/fears for the future and survival tips for 2021. 

I hope we have a successful season with lots of happy guests, future bookings and an extended season. We are hoping that our new Gourmet Experiences will be a huge success and that people will love cooking with award-winning private chef Pip Priestley. I hope that I will be able to get back to the UK to see my friends and continue working as a barrister and that things will get back to normal – whatever that is anymore. 

Survival tips – be flexible, be innovative, be creative, get outside. Don’t beat yourself up if you haven’t memorised the works of Shakespeare or learned Taiwanese. Appreciate friends and look forward to that time you can share a bottle of bubbles together without a bottle of hand sanitiser being next to it.

For details of how to book Fontalbe for a holiday or information on the new Gourmet Experiences go to: www.fontalbe.com

For latest details on travel to France check YouGov here

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Diane Cooke
Diane Cooke is a three times award-winning journalist who has worked for UK national/regional newspapers, magazines and websites.

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