After a year of intense renovations, Fontalbe was transformed into a luxury six bedroom Gite, alongside a comfortable home. Here we gain a first-hand insight into the ups and downs and new trends in luxury holiday home rentals.
What inspired you to create Fontalbe?
We fell in love with Fontalbe on a sunny April day in 2016. The whole place was virtually derelict but it just felt right. We have been lucky enough to have travelled extensively and to have stayed in some of the best, and most unusual, hotels and resorts in the world. We wanted to bring to Fontalbe the things that made us happy when we travelled, the things that we spoke about afterwards and that made us smile.
We wanted to create a high end, unique and luxurious home from home for our guests. Somewhere that they would walk into and feel at home and kick their shoes off, but at the same time give them things to marvel at, to smile at. We were lucky enough to find an amazing architect, Joris Van Grinsven, who shared our vision – to keep as many of the original features but combine them with an industrial modern finish, to respect Fontalbe’s industrial heritage. When our guests first arrive they see a typical sandstone building, albeit with unusual dark grey shutters. However, when they enter they are presented with enormous open spaces, huge beams, concrete floors and worksurfaces. The inside and the outside of Fontalbe are juxtaposed to one another and is one of her unique features.
Ultimately, our vision was to create a place that people fell in love with, dreamt of when they went home and wanted to visit again and again. Where they feel at ease but still able to appreciate the finer things in life.
How do you see the luxury rental market changing in the future?
I believe that guests are going to want a truly unique experience and to leave all their troubles at home. They will want more seclusion and privacy and the opportunity, if they wish, to be able to stay in a home from home where services come to them, rather than the other way around. They will still want to experience the culture, food and wine of the country that they are in but will want more of their experiences to arrive at their doorstep.
I also foresee that there may well be more use of private jets, so that luxury travellers can avoid the previously unforeseen perils of normal air travel. Here, at Fontalbe, we are fortunate enough to have Bergerac airport – with the capacity for private jets – a mere 25 minute drive away.
What you’ve learnt from this year?
Flexibility and resilience! It has been an incredibly tough year for everyone in the hospitality industry. Here at Fontalbe we were luckier than some as we have international guests and don’t rely solely on the UK market. Therefore, when the borders were closed for the second time in August we were able to act quickly and speak to our European OTAs. We managed to fill the weeks that had to be vacated by British guests.
We’ve also learnt that by being on site we can offer a far more personalised service to our guests and that this is something that they genuinely appreciate. We have the insider knowledge, that you can’t find in guide books. We know the best places are to swim in the river, to eat, to shop, the best markets, the best bars.
How Fontalbe has evolved to meet client needs post pandemic?
This year has taught us that we need to be adaptable and, when necessary, have more flexible booking and cancellation policies. As a host you need to deal with each set of guests on an individual basis.
We are also conscious that when guests arrive they may want to self-isolate with their bubble. Therefore, we have increased the breadth of services that we can offer here at Fontalbe and have been liaising with local suppliers. We are now in a position to offer takeaway dinners from our fabulous local restaurant, delivered sushi, yoga classes, cookery workshops and wine tastings. We have also started to offer services such as grocery shopping and bread and croissant collection.
What will luxury travellers’ top priorities be for house rentals?
I believe that luxury travellers are going to want more bespoke services brought directly to them. After a global pandemic many travellers are going to want to come away and, if they choose, not leave their accommodation. Therefore, it is up to us, as hosts, to bring the Perigord to them, with imagination and lots of insider knowledge. This also means that the accommodation has to provide a true home from home, with They are going to want to plan their trips prior to their arrival, rather than leave things to chance.
What is your plan for 2021?
We are planning to offer more bespoke, concierge type services for our guests. We would like to tailor make trips for our guests, both prior to their arrival and when they are here. We have already arranged Gourmet Experiences with award winning chef, Pip Priestly. These can last from 3 days to a week out of season, or you can combine one with your stay. Our guests will be able to cook Market to Table, hone their cooking skills, go foraging or truly immerse themselves in the fantastic food of the Perigord region. Each and every one of these experiences will be tailor made to the client prior to their arrival.
We have been living here for the last two years and have an extensive list of contacts that we can call upon for our guests. We can arrange private wine tastings, trips to vineyards (be a winemaker for a day!), caneoing down the Dordogne, yoga teachers, book tables in restaurants, cheesemaking….the list is endless.
Our philosophy is that if our guests want it, we will do our very best to arrange it.
About Rebecca Randall, co-founder of Fontalbe, Dordogne
After a successful career in the media, including the FT and Reuters, Rebecca changed direction and qualified as a barrister, being called to the Bar in 2005. Rebecca joined the chambers of 25 Bedford Row and has worked in the area of criminal defence ever since, defending in many high profile cases and being featured in the Legal 500 for the last three years.
Rebecca made the leap to live full time in France in November 2018 and to forsake London life for a new life, mainly in wellies, with a pony and a border collie and took on the steep learning curve of managing a hospitality business.
After just two seasons in business Fontalbe has recently been awarded five stars by the Dordogne Perigord Tourism board, the highest internationally recognised accolade.
Rebecca now combines running Fontalbe with her ongoing career as a criminal barrister in the UK.
(Photography – except portraits – is by Ellen Rockliffe @rockliffeandco)