Mark Silver has created an oasis at Le Mas Candille, a luxury 46-bedroom hotel with a Michelin-starred restaurant, in the south of France. He speaks to Janet Harmer about the challenges of launching a business overseas and enjoying a drink with Brad Pitt
Can you describe the style and setting of Le Mas Candille?
The hotel was originally an olive farm, set in 14 acres, five minutes' walk from the medieval village of Mougins and just 15 minutes from the Croisette in Cannes. As well as the Michelin-starred restaurant and poolside summer restaurant, we have three swimming pools, two jacuzzis, a hydrotherapy pool and the only Shiseido spa in Europe, set in its own Japanese gardens.
What inspired you to develop the hotel initially?
During the early 2000s, I was advising and consulting for various hotel groups regarding spa developments. One such hotel group was attempting to buy Le Mas Candille, which at the time was a tired 20-bed hotel. Eventually the deal fell through, and it was offered to me. I have a simple view of life - if you are offered an opportunity, take it!
What have been the biggest challenges of running a hotel without prior operational experience in hotels?
I have been lucky to have had a good general manager who handles the day-to-day business, I tend to get involved in the marketing strategy and cashflow management. The biggest challenge is running a business whose next month's budget could be wiped out by a global event happening an ocean away. You certainly learn to develop nerves of steel when running a hotel!
What have been the biggest challenges of developing a hotel in France?
Initially it was gaining a comprehension of the etiquette and French way of doing things. Longer term, the biggest challenge is offering five-star service with very heavy employment on-costs.
How have the French taken to a British guy establishing a luxury, Michelin-starred restaurant and hotel on their patch?
I think after 12 years some of them are starting to like me! Seriously, that has not been a problem; I think they have appreciated someone coming into the village, investing and creating jobs.
What do you enjoy most about running your own hotel in France?
I have a great team of professionals at the hotel, and to see them in full flow, in high season, with a full hotel, is a great feeling.
What have been the highlights and greatest achievements in running Le Mas Candille?
Getting the hotel open, then staying open has been, in itself, an enormous achievement. Getting in to Relais & Chateaux, obtaining and keeping a Michelin star, winning the various awards we have won over the past 10 years. Oh yes, and having a quiet drink in the bar with Brad Pitt was pretty cool - for him probably!
Do you have plans for developing Le Mas Candille further?
We have three projects on our wish list at the hotel: further development of the spa and poolside restaurant, larger banqueting space and more rooms. However, realistically we need to keep ourselves focussed for the next few years without the distractions of new projects.
Do you have a family with you and how easy has it been for you all to settle in France?
My wife and my three youngest children moved here 10 years ago while my eldest daughters stayed in the UK. We sent our children to the local French school, and the first six months were difficult. It then became progressively easier as our language skills developed.
CV Highlights: Mark Silver
Opened the Academy, a multi-purpose health and leisure club and spa
â- 1996 Launched Academy Leisure, a consultancy business
â- 1999 Academy Leisure wins four spa management contracts with Holmes Place, spa management business split off into Academy Spa Management
â- 2000 Created FC1 to develop Le Mas Candille
â- 2001 Phase one of Le Mas Candille opens
â- 2002 Le Mas Candille fully operational and the Silver family move to France
â- 2005 The restaurant at Le Mas Candille wins a Michelin star
â- 2011 Winner Best Luxury Service in National Competition for Best Hotel, awarded by the French Secretary of State for Economy and Tourism
â- 2011 Runner-up, Best International Spa in Sunday Times Travel Magazine Readers' Awards