La Madelene is a renovated C12th priory set in open countryside between the Mt. Ventoux and the Dentelles de Monmirail. Though extremely tranquil (no near neighbours) it is 5 minutes by car from the nearest village, Malaucene and 10 minutes from the town of Vaison la Romaine. It is surrounded by orchards and vines. The house comprises of 10 bedrooms ,9 bathrooms, several public spaces and sitting rooms, with landscaped terraces and a 11 x 5m swimming pool. This beautiful property is now owned Philip and Jude Reddaway from London. Phil tells us all about why they decided to set up Rhone Wine Holidays and the challenges they faced when starting out.
Can you tell us a bit about your backgrounds and what influenced your decision to set up Rhone Wine Holidays?
We were both at the stage in life (rising 50) when our current careers, mine in the London media world, Jude in University academia were giving us progressively less satisfaction year by year, and we were keen to re-energize and embark on a new adventure away from the corporate treadmill. We were also attracted to the idea of working together for the first time in our married life. We knew the Rhone area well from many years of holidaying and I had, since student days, been wine obsessed with a specific leaning towards the wines of the Rhone valley. Before moving to France I studied at the WSET (Wine&Spirit Educational Trust ) in Bermondsey , London for three years, and have their diploma in wine studies. Combining a passion for and a knowledge of the wines with a location in beautiful sunny Provence seemed like a sound recipe for starting a wine tour business!
What were the biggest challenges you faced when starting out?
There were many! Dealing with French builders during the year long renovation project with our “holiday” level of French was a big struggle. The work started in July and on the 1st August they all disappeared for 5 weeks on vacation. Getting our heads around French finance and tax (we set up a French business, a SARL – impossible without hiring a competent local accountant)) and health – it took Jude 18 months to get the all important “Carte Vitale”, passport to French health care. But most of all the heart ache of the early years was watching our 8 year old daughter struggle at the village school – who had never before coped with a foreign child with only her numbers and colours in French. It was all worth it as she is now a well adjusted bi-lingual 19 year old!
I imagine there must be a great choice of wine tours in your particular region of France – what makes yours different?
The majority of wine tours in the area are “day tours”, participants are picked up at their hotel or B&B and taken out for the day. Our point of difference is that our tours are residential. Guests usually stay three nights at La Madelene and enjoy not only the wine tour but the accommodation, garden, pool, Jude’s take on Provençal cooking accompanied by fine wines from our cellar and meals out with us as hosts at our favourite restaurants. It’s more a complete experience than a simple wine tour and the feedback we get from our guests – and the number of repeat visits – suggests it’s appreciated.
Tell us about the tour packages you have on offer and what’s included in the price.
Our most popular package is our “Selected Domaines“ three night tour which offers three nights accommodation, an 8 winery tour over two days which includes a day out at Chateauneuf du Pap; all meals whether at our table or at great local restaurants, all wines served at the meals, a Champagne reception and “Rhone Wine Briefing” on the first evening. We charge €1475 per person sharing a room. We also offer some one day/one night tours.
In your opinion what do you think it takes to make a great host?
Successful hosting requires a personality open to befriending all manner of different guests, at all hours, whether the host is feeling on form or not! Having “off” days is not an option – just one negative Trip Advisor review can be seriously damaging. Preparedness to multi-tasking is also a plus– I have had to switch effortlessly from delivering talks abort Viticulture and Vinification to cleaning bathrooms and Jude from making truffle infused soups to running up soft furnishings on her sewing machine.
If you could go back to the beginning would you do anything differently?
In the early years we charged relatively low rates reflecting our lack of confidence as novices in this business and subsequently we struggled somewhat financially. It wasn’t until we began getting fantastic one on one feedback, ecstatic Trip Advisor reviews and started to build regular repeat business (one couple came back for wine tours on five occasions in 4 years!) that we finally felt able to charge rates that offered both value to our guests and a really viable living for us – these days we are able to take our own long haul vacations!
Lastly what advice would you give to our readers who may be thinking about relocating to another country and setting up a B&B business.
Learn the language, get professional advice (accountants/lawyers), remember that guests like the feeling they are sharing your home for a few days ( void a them/us configuration or attitude) and get savvy about internet marketing and social media – everyone else is and there’s a lot of competition out there!