Attracting more than 300 guests a year, with some coming from as far afield as Australia, the US, Japan and South Africa, Manoir de Maffrécourt is a fine example of how to set up a successful gîte business.
Owners Grant and Sandra Endersby bought the Manoir, built in 1830 and near Sainte- Menehould in the Champagne- Ardenne region, in May 2004. Initially, they used the property as a weekend home, commuting to the UK during the week. But slowly they began to put into place more ambitious plans.
“The main purpose of relocating was to run our own gîte rental business,” says Sandra. “We moved to France permanently in 2005, the year we opened for business. “The house itself was in reasonable condition [when we bought it] but we needed to create guest accommodation to enable us to acquire an income. “We converted an unused section of the first floor into a two-bedroom apartment and an outbuilding in the garden into a one-bedroom cottage. And we've improved the land by planting trees and turning it into a wildlife haven.” The two-bedroom apartment in the main house sleeps up to six people, while the one bedroom cottage sleeps up to four. Both are equipped with UK and French satellite TV, including a media centre with more than 300 films, a DVD/CD player, iPod docking stations and free Wi-Fi.
Adds Sandra: “Guests can choose to cater for themselves or take advantage of our breakfast and evening meal menus, delivered to their door. “Our 24-hour reception area is stocked with a selection of wines and champagnes and operates on a tick sheet basis, enabling guests to keep track of their purchases during their stay. Because this is our home, we offer a 24-hour concierge service to help guests get the most out of their stay with us.”
The Endersbys are confident about the future of their business. Occupancy was up during 2010, despite the depressed financial climate, with bookings up by almost ten per cent. And they've been taking bookings for 2011 since last October.
“Revenue from the gîte business has increased by between five and ten per cent every year since we opened in 2005, and in 2010 was in excess of €60,000 (£50,850), an average of more than €5,000 (£4,240) per month, which for just two gîtes is extraordinary,” comments Grant. “We've achieved this by continually monitoring the business, adding to the range of services we provide and remaining flexible to the demands of customers.”
Embracing what their region is famous for, Grant and Sandra offer champagne tasting evenings at the Manoir. They also have a champagne shipping service (www. champagne-direct.eu), specialising in the house of Comte Audoin de Dampierre, which means they can offer quality bubbly to guests at wholesale prices. Perhaps that's the secret to the popularity of Manoir de Maffrécourt – adding a bit of fizz to your stay there!
How we turned our Manoir into a gîte business:
To create our first guest accomodation we converted an unused part of the main house into a two-bedroom apartment. This part of the house already had its own entrance so was perfect for the conversion.
New windows let light into this section of the house for the first time in over 200 years. We used reclaimed forest oak for the new floor and kept all the original ceiling beams. We focused on comfort with a touch of luxury and plenty of space.
Originally a two-roomed outbuilding, we added a kitchen and bathroom. We kept the original floor tiles and fireplace, and also the large arched window in the bedroom. We fitted an original French tub bath, relocated from the main house, to add to the authenticity of the accommodation.
We created an impressive guest reception in the main entrance hall. French doors were installed for access to the garden. Guests can use the reception at any time to purchase wines and champagnes and access other services, or just for a chat!
We renovated one of the smaller bedrooms which was in a particularly bad condition. We made the room larger by moving a wall, and added new windows. Re-plastering and painting made an enormous difference. We kept the original oak beams with French graffiti from the 1800s!
The gravel drive
It took 15 tons of gravel to resurface the front drive. This has improved the look of the property and, we believe, creates an impressive first impression for guests.
The five acres of grounds have changed enormously in the last seven years. We've created a natural environment for the abundance of local wildlife, with the emphasis on conservation and sustainability. We've been coppicing our own wood for winter fuel for the last four years and have planted over 200 new trees. Sixteen nesting boxes made from reclaimed wood have been located around the garden and are regularly used by nesting birds.
We create natural wildlife habitats from garden waste and manage the garden sustainably without the use of chemicals. All our fruit and vegetables are grown organically and we compost our kitchen waste. Our free range ducks and chickens are a great source of fresh eggs and an added attraction for guests.