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
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