Thank you to Fiona Tankard for this interview with us at Gusto Wine Tours –
This is a a little snapshot of why we are here and why we do what we do!
Gusto Wine Tours in Umbria
It was just after their wedding in Falmouth, Cornwall in 2000 that Mark and Giselle Stafford decided life was too short to spend on the usual nine-to-five routine.
Neither had a serious career (Mark was working as a painter and decorator and Giselle in an office) and they didn’t have kids or pets to worry about.
They reckoned that if they travelled to mainland Europe it would be relatively easy to return to the UK should a family emergency arise.
Mark took an intensive TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) course in 2001 and then they sold almost all they had, packed their remaining things into a camper van and set off.
‘The plan was to travel around the Mediterranean coast but we only got as far as Italy,’ Giselle explains. ‘We went to a party at a friend’s place near Lake Trasimeno in Umbria and that was that, we fell in love with the place immediately.’
Fortunately, Mark quickly got a teaching job. ‘The contracts for TEFL teaching lasted a year,’ he says. ‘But we soon found out that lots of teachers abandoned their jobs after a term to continue travelling, but we were older and had a sense of responsibility, so we stayed!’
Making the Big Move
Over the next few years the couple lived in two countries, spending winters in Umbria in the camper van and summers in the UK. They had to keep returning to Britain in order to earn enough money to keep going.
They went back full-time for a couple of years for family reasons in 2005 but missed Umbria so much that they moved there permanently in 2007. By that time, they had sold the camper van and planned to live in a proper house!
Unlike many expats, Giselle and Mark decided to rent. ‘We don’t have any inclination to buy (nor the money!)’ explains Mark. ‘We found a little place to rent within a few days of getting here. It was fine for three years, but it wasn’t ideal. We found our current house quite by chance.’ …..
‘We were looking for places to have lunch and new cantine to visit for our new business Gusto Wine Tours,’ Giselle says, taking up the story. ‘We saw this house, which was just what we were looking for. We got the keys shortly after and Mark decorated it over the next few months. We moved in in August 2010.’
From Teaching to Tours
Their new business was born from necessity. Teaching English wasn’t working out for the couple so in order to stay in the region they loved, they had to think of an alternative. Mark had made friends with quite a lot of cantine owners through teaching them English. This had also kindled his interest in all aspects of wine and wine-making. It wasn’t long before this interest turned into a passion.
In 2009 Giselle and Mark went on a wine tour in California’s Napa Valley and the final piece of the puzzle fell into place. They would start their own Wine Tour business in Umbria! They launched in 2010.
Considering they started just four years ago, it is amazing how visible the business has become. ‘We were lucky enough to be put onto Trip Advisor by a friend who had come out on a tour with us and that helped us more than any other advertising, including our website,’ Mark says.
‘We’ve had quite a lot of compliments on our website,’ Giselle adds. ‘The first version wasn’t the best it could be, but I did another version on my Macbook Pro. I learnt on the hoof really and try and keep the site up to date!
‘Honestly, I’m not sure how many of our customers actually LOOK at the website,’ laughs Giselle. ‘Nearly all our enquiries come from folks finding us on Trip Advisor’.
‘Without the internet we wouldn’t be where we are now. We are active on Facebook (and get bookings via the page) and Twitter, we have a blog, the website and Trip Advisor. We are on the first page of Google organically. We tried AdWords, but I wasn’t convinced it worked at all for us. ‘
The couple have mixed feelings about Italian bureaucracy, feeling that at times they got poor advice or none at all when they needed it, so are still in catch-up mode. They have now entered into a friendly working relationship with a local travel agency in Foligno. ‘That keeps the bureaucrats happy!’
Giselle and Mark have lived in Italy full time for almost seven years and admit that it has been a learning curve, sometimes a steep one. ‘It helps to have a good support system. If not family, then friends. We already had some Italian and expat friends here when we moved and we now have a few more.’ says Mark.
When it comes to the Italian language, Giselle tends to let Mark do most of the talking. ‘We speak English at home and as I work from home I don’t have the chance to get out and practise Italian as much as Mark. My school report would read “could do better,” ‘ she confesses.
They feel it’s important to travel home too, usually going back to the UK for a few days a year, with Mark going more often because his 90-year-old father lives on his own. ‘And my mum is very active and usually comes out to see us a few times a year,’ Giselle adds.
Do they miss their home country? ‘I miss my friends and people with the same sense of humour. I don’t really miss the UK,’ Mark says. ‘Sometimes I’d like a less complicated life where the goal posts don’t change constantly, but the good outweighs the bad here, and while that balance keeps up, we’ll continue to live here!’
Advice on Starting a Successful Business
Having been through it themselves, they have some words of wisdom for people wanting to come to Italy and start their own business. ‘Think carefully, because if you don’t ask the right questions, then the answers will not be forthcoming,’ Mark says. ‘We’ve found that no professional advice is given without you asking specifically. This can be enormously frustrating as you may not even KNOW what the right question should be.’
‘There a lot of rules and laws that are simply not the same as the rest of Europe and tax laws are a prime example. If you don’t fit into one of their job boxes, there seems to be no facility to create one. Because you don’t fit, you supposedly can’t do what you want to do because you have no tax code to pay the government!’
‘And think about the kind of business you want to open,’ Giselle says. ‘Is there actually a market for it? What is the market – Italian, expat or international? Remember that many Italians don’t have a lot of ready money and if they do, they choose carefully what they want to spend it on. A product or service from a foreigner might not interest an Italian. In fact, in four years we’ve only had two Italians come on a tour!’
It’s obvious they love what they do.’We live in the countryside, we have a nice house, gardens, a vineyard at the back, a veggie patch, a couple of lovely dogs – it’s a great lifestyle.’ Giselle says. ‘But if one day Italy and its crazy laws get too much for us, we’ll leave. We’re here because we want to be and because we have a successful business here. But we are here voluntarily!’
Tel: 0039 3383 298691 (Mark)
Facebook: Gusto – Umbrian Wine Tours
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