‘It was a little bit of destiny,” says Deirdre McGlone, speaking over the phone from her home by Lough Eske in Co Donegal, where she and her family are in lockdown.
he and husband Marc Gysling celebrate their wedding anniversary on Valentine’s Day and on that day in 2020, the couple were indulging in a little online window shopping, dreaming about buying a second family home in rural France.
“We had seen Le Moulin and were glancing around at others too, but the video kept cropping up on screen and we were laughing, saying, ‘What’s at play here?’”
When they took a closer look, they saw that the owners were operating it as a holiday rental with options of catered and serviced accommodation. “So we said, ‘Let’s go over and see.’”
Le Moulin sur Célé is a 14th-century converted millhouse and tower in rural France — an idyllic escape by a river in the Midi-Pyrénées. “We’re big fans of Escape to the Chateau,” laughs Deirdre, who fell in love with France when working in Charles de Gaulle airport on a college placement while studying for a degree in European Studies.
Blissfully unaware of the pandemic that was looming, they hopped on a plane to check it out. It was only when they visited that they realised there was the option of buying Le Moulin as an operating business, complete with bookings for summer 2019. “And we thought, ‘Well, sure, with our experience, how hard can it be?’”
Sometimes you just have to follow your heart and trust that it will take you and your family on greater adventures than you can imagine. Heart, trust, family, adventure and imagination: these five words could be a manifesto for everything that Deirdre and Marc, who is originally from Switzerland, have built together.
And so, the couple who made Harvey’s Point not just a household name in Ireland, but one of our most internationally celebrated hotels, find themselves back at the beginning of a whole new adventure, swapping a 77-bedroom four-star in Donegal for the six-bedroom Le Moulin sur Célé.
“We’ve done our hotel part and now we’re going to do high-end holiday rental,” she says. “And there’s a big market for that, now more than ever with people wanting a place that they can just call their own home for a week or two.”
It helps when the home in question has a soft-bottomed river snaking through 15 acres, a sandy beach with safe swimming, and a riverside firepit, barbecue and hammocks. Le Moulin comes with canoes, a croquet lawn and a grass tennis court, should you feel sporty; hiking, cycling and horse-riding trails in the area for exploring; a choice of well-maintained gardens and two terraces for lounging in or out of the sun at different times of day; and a swimming pool for dips in between sipping on the local wine. Inside the thick walls of the main house is a home that can be cool in the summer and cosy in the winter with big log fires to snuggle up beside — soon to be made all the cosier with a touch of Magee Donegal tweeds in the upholstering.
“It’s a fabulous property with huge potential,” Deirdre enthuses, before listing off the five-star touches that they’re keen to add, including air conditioning throughout and the repurposing of the old mill that you pass through to get to the river (“It might even become a gin bar”). There’s a secluded cottage on site that they plan to renovate as a separate romantic bolthole with its own plunge pool, and potential on or nearby to develop a little community of self-contained gîtes. There’s even a small vineyard which Deirdre would love to see provide wine once again.
“But we’re only going to sensitively restore Le Moulin to its former glory. We’re not going to try and turn it into a big wedding venue. It’s a high-end holiday rental for people who want maybe two families together, or maybe 10 or 12 friends to escape to a rural retreat in a very charming place. With a river!”
In total, up to 13 guests can stay. The location, near the quaint village of Saint-Sulpice, “gives you the chance to get to meet everybody in the neighbourhood but still have your own privacy”, Deirdre says. “We just sort of stumbled upon the Lot area — though we always kept away from the busy areas. By nature, we prefer nature! Our own type of family holidays were always somewhere you’d get to meet the locals rather than many, many other tourists, so that you’d really immerse yourself.”
It also has Saint-Cirq-Lapopie and Rocamadour, two of France’s most beautiful medieval hilltop villages, within easy driving distance, and is less than two hours’ leisurely drive north of Toulouse and its airport.
If that all sounds rather romantic, there is a delightful synergy in how Le Moulin came into their lives — and one that chimes with the true romance out of which Harvey’s Point was born. Deirdre and Marc first met in 1989, when Harvey’s Point had newly opened and where she was working as a young receptionist and he a budding chef. Marc had come from Switzerland to help his brother Jody run what began as his own personal escape on the edge of Lough Eske, but had morphed into a 20-room guesthouse and restaurant. En route to becoming head chef himself, Marc trained at Harvey’s Point kitchen under French chef Thierry Delcross, who would go on to own and run Castle Murray House with its famous seafood restaurant in nearby Dunkineely.
For 30 years, the Swiss-Irish couple’s lives were heavily entwined with the growth and development of what came to be named Ireland’s No. 1 hotel in Tripadvisor’s Travellers’ Choice Awards for seven of the last eight years. They even got married there, on Valentine’s Day in 1996, and ran the hotel with a loyal team after buying out Jody. Harvey’s became beloved for its glittering lakeside views from palatial suites and dining rooms, an assured food offering that included one of the best breakfasts going (think freshly carved ham and pancakes to order), live cabaret entertainment and superb wedding venue facilities. But what really kept repeat visitors coming back, and scooped prestigious awards, was the consistently warm, genuine service at the heart of it all. And Deirdre and Marc were always at the heart of that.
As they approached their 30-year milestone in 2019, the couple began to wonder what would come next. So they sat down to talk with their three children, Carl, James and Christina. “We asked them would they have aspirations to run Harvey’s Point, should we keep it on for them,” Deirdre explains. “Each of them said — and I suppose that’s the modern way — ‘No, Mummy and Daddy, we love the place but we want to have our own dreams.’ So we said, ‘Let’s go out while we still love it but still have time for ourselves as a family.’ It was like a good sports person wanting to finish your last match on a high rather than hang on.”
By March of that year, the hotel had been sold as a going concern (for an undisclosed sum) to a fund managed by Davy Real Estate, complete with its most valuable asset — the excellent team of staff that Deirdre and Marc had fostered over the decades. The family decided to take a year out before making any rash decisions about what to do next. Fast-forward to their wedding anniversary window shopping on Valentine’s Day 2020. Looking back now, one long year later, things have not gone quite as envisaged for the new owners of Le Moulin sur Célé. “But the best-laid plans, eh?” Deirdre laughs ruefully. “Sometimes you have to just adapt — or see the funny side of things!”
The silver lining of this unexpected hiatus is that, as well as continuing her ongoing work as a consultant and mentor to the tourism industry and women in business in Ireland, Deirdre gets more time to be a hands-on mammy.
“Timing is everything,” she says. “I was needed in Harvey’s Point in those earlier years. Now, I’m really relishing the time with the kids before they fly out of the nest. My cooking is still terrible, but I’m still a mammy. I’m home when they come home from school and the fire is on. And we got a new dog, a little golden Labrador called Harvey. He’s the joy of our lives now and he’s keeping us all entertained.”
For the rest of 2021, Deirdre plans to hold fort as her oldest son, Carl, navigates the Leaving Cert and when it’s possible to travel again, Marc will go to Le Moulin to oversee the renovations ahead of reopening “with a lovely swing in spring 2022,” as she says.
The couple has some grand, if still-evolving plans, for next year, such as possible wellbeing retreats, or celebrations of the culinary connections between Ireland and France. As luck would have it — or destiny perhaps — Marc’s old mentor Thierry Delcross (ex-Castle Murray House) lives a short drive away, so they are rekindling that connection to see what they might do together. The garden itself is prime for picnic-style parties with live music and “André Rieu-style” entertainment — and as Harvey’s fans know, this pair could always throw a good party with its fair share of romance.
“We were 25 years married on Valentine’s Day this year,” Deirdre says. “Exactly a year since we fell in love with the prospect of this exciting new chapter for us, and as we bid farewell to 30 years of Harvey’s, which was a beautiful experience.”
And despite the unexpected twists and turns of the last year, she adds, “It still feels very right.”