FREE SPIR­ITS

Steve and Ja­nine Bunce have found the per­fect place to bring up their three chil­dren. Deborah Cur­tis learns why Tarn ticks all the right boxes

Living France - - DESTINATION -

When their el­dest son reached the age of seven, Steve and Ja­nine Bunce de­cided it was now or never to make the leap to France. They sold up in Wey­bridge, Sur­rey, and in April 2014, they moved with their three chil­dren, Tom, Char­lie, and Evie, to run a gîte busi­ness in the heart of ru­ral Tarn.

“We wanted to bring up the kids like we grew up,” says Ja­nine. “I sup­pose it’s ev­ery­body’s dream to see their kids run­ning off into the fields and play­ing; and hav­ing to make up their own games rather than be­ing sent some­where or taken some­where and then be­ing di­rected. They can do that here and they have taken to it like ducks to wa­ter. They rush home from school and rather than jump­ing on iPads or Xboxes, they’re out­side play­ing on bikes, hid­ing in all the dif­fer­ent barns, play­ing games out­side, run­ning around; it’s just per­fect for them.”

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The chil­dren are now eight, six, and four, and are all en­rolled in lo­cal schools where they are thriv­ing.

“They came here with very lit­tle French and they had a tough first six months but now they are fine,” says Ja­nine. “You can’t tell the dif­fer­ence be­tween them and a child who’s been liv­ing here since the day they were born. It’s stun­ning how they pick it up and they’ve got a lovely ac­cent as well; a re­ally broad Tarn ac­cent.”

The cou­ple bought La Bastide, an es­tab­lished gîte busi­ness, which had been run suc­cess­fully for 13 years by the pre­vi­ous English own­ers. The prop­erty stands in 14 acres on the edge of the vil­lage of Puy­calvel, and they knew as soon as they saw it that it was the one for them.

“I think we’d al­ready bought it be­fore we’d even driven down the track into the place,” says Ja­nine. “We just thought: ‘Wow! It’s amaz­ing.’ We had a look around and fell in love with it. It was per­fect, be­cause it meant we would have an in­come from the gîtes.”

It was a steep learn­ing curve that first year as the gîtes were fully booked, and they had to hit the ground run­ning, but they love this new way of life. It’s a far cry from their pre­vi­ous ca­reers in IT.

“It’s hugely dif­fer­ent,” says Ja­nine, “but I’ve al­ways loved cook­ing and hav­ing friends over, and peo­ple round, and so it was a good fit for us. The first year was a bit of a bap­tism of fire. We just ba­si­cally had to run with it, and it all worked out ok.”

Once things qui­etened down, they had time to take stock, and de­cided they wanted to re­fur­bish the gîtes and put their own stamp on them.

“The gites were all up and run­ning and they were all nicely fur­nished, but they lacked a lit­tle bit of French­ness,” says Ja­nine. “There were a lot of English things in them, and the dé­cor was quite jaded so we wanted to upgrade them a bit.”

With help from their friend Sarah, who is an in­te­rior de­signer, they de­cided on a new look for the three gîtes and then got down to work.

“We have worked re­ally hard on the in­te­ri­ors to give them a rus­tic French farm­house look,” says Ja­nine. “We went to some bro­cantes and vide-gre­niers and picked out some pieces and they look amaz­ing. We spent nine months paint­ing and dec­o­rat­ing, and chang­ing bath­rooms round, but it was worth it. We’ve had some re­ally good feed­back from guests who came this sum­mer.”

Up to now, the ma­jor­ity of their vis­i­tors have been English, but they are hop­ing to at­tract more French and Span­ish hol­i­day­mak­ers in fu­ture, and are ea­ger to share all that this beau­ti­ful cor­ner of France has to of­fer.

“It is truly like go­ing back to the 1970s here,” says Ja­nine. “We love the peace­ful, quiet pace of life. You feel you’re re­lax­ing and there’s noth­ing too se­ri­ous go­ing on. The rolling coun­try­side is fan­tas­tic, the weather is stun­ning, and the peo­ple are gen­uinely friendly. They have wel­comed us with open arms.”

Steve and Ja­nine and their grow­ing fam­ily are at the be­gin­ning of their French ad­ven­ture and they hope it goes on for many happy years to come. tarn-gites.com

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