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Career change in France: Amsterdam charity to gîte guru in Dordogne

We talk to a successful gîte owner and consultant about why he quit a top fundraising job for a new life in France

Rupert Springfield (left) and husband Franck van der Hooft moved to Dordogne in 2015 for a new professional challenge Pic: Stella Gommans / lemasdordogne.com

When Rupert Springfield and his husband Franck van der Hooft moved to Dordogne in 2015, they were looking for a new professional challenge.

“I was head of fundraising for a Dutch breast cancer charity and Franck was a theatre producer,” Rupert says, “but we needed a change.”

The couple had been living in Amsterdam for 15 years and wanted somewhere quieter. 

The idea of rural France came when the pair spent a holiday in Dordogne in 2013. 

“Like so many others, we loved the stunning countryside, the history of the region, the weather and the markets full of local produce,” says Rupert.

“The properties were affordable, and we met gîte owners who were running successful businesses here.

“In the past, we had talked about one day doing something in hospitality, and it was as if everything suddenly fell into place. We decided to find a property we could run as a gîte.”

Despondent after two year property search

The couple had exacting ideas of what they wanted to achieve within their budget, so spent two years searching for the right location to realise their dream. 

They had almost given up when they visited an old farm that would become their eventual home.

“We had viewed 69 properties by that point and despondency was beginning to set in,” admits Rupert. 

“However, when we drove up the hill to Le Mas, it just felt right.”

Read more: Property search led to 12th Century chateau in France’s Loire Valley

Farmhouse and outbuildings needed work

The property they chose comprised a traditional stone farmhouse and several outbuildings. It had been renovated in the 1990s, but still needed a great deal of work.

Undeterred, the couple bought the property for €427,500 and budgeted around €300,000 for renovations and furnishings. 

While the works, which began in October 2015, were extensive, they opened their doors to guests in June 2016.

The main farmhouse has been converted into a five-bedroom gîte, and a smaller building into a one-bedroom cottage.

A barn, meanwhile, has been transformed into a two-bedroom home for Rupert and Franck. 

The property also includes a swimming pool, games rooms, a summer kitchen and plenty of outdoor space for guests to enjoy.

Gîte success led to consultancy

The gîte business quickly became a roaring success, with more than half of guests making repeat bookings. 

In fact, things went so well that another gîte owner approached them asking for tips and advice.

“So while still running our gîtes, we set up a consultancy business in 2020 to help other gîte owners achieve their full potential,” says Rupert.

Gîte Guru advises existing and new gîte owners on every aspect of running one, from interior design to marketing, in order to maximise occupancy and ensure the business thrives.

“Some owners are struggling, others are doing well but want to increase repeat bookings and lower costs,” says Rupert.

“We visit the properties, meet the owners, look at their business and come up with a plan to reach their full potential.

Read more: Odd guests and bad reviews - eight tips to running a B&B in France

No commute or endless team meetings

“We moved to Dordogne for a new challenge and a different life, working both as our own boss and together for the first time. 

“Not only do we love the unspoilt countryside and the clement weather, but our working life is really enjoyable, with great guests and clients.”

Unexpected opportunities have also arisen, such as filming for a TV programme and writing an article for the Sunday Times.

Rupert says: “We weren’t sure how we would manage working together, but we agreed on our goals and divided the tasks quite naturally. 

“Being our own boss has been a real revelation too. The whole week is ours to do with as we like – no commuting, no endless team meetings, and no structured office hours.

“So we arrange our work around time outdoors – walking our dog and making the most of the countryside.”

Great move personally, professionally and as a couple

In terms of the job, there are no regrets either, despite both men having enjoyed their previous roles immensely.

“In charity fundraising, there was inbuilt job satisfaction in knowing I was working for a worthy cause,” says Rupert.

“Although it was full-on, it was a great role to have. And Franck loved producing Cirque du Soleil in Europe and then theatre in the Netherlands.

“But our current situation does not just offer us job satisfaction – it has given us the life satisfaction that Amsterdam could no longer offer.

“Personally, professionally and as a couple, it’s been a great move.”

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