Making it Work

West Cork guesthouse with a Tuscan twist

Dunowen House branches out into organising Italian cookery tours

Kela and Stephen Hodgins of Dunowen House in West Cork. Hodgins has organised the first trip for tourists from Ireland to go to Tuscany for an immersive experience learning cooking across the region. Picture: John Allen

A west Cork guesthouse is expanding its business to provide gastronomic tours of Tuscany as well as delivering Tuscan cooking classes in Ireland.

Dunowen House was started by Kela and Stephen Hodgins in 2014 and has an annual turnover over €250,000.

“The house itself is a whole house private rental property. It’s like coming to a country house hotel only that you have it exclusively to yourself. We started it as a guesthouse but we found there was a demand from groups to take the whole house. We cut out the guesthouse side quickly, to concentrate on promoting Dunowen to individual groups,” Kela Hodgins told the Business Post.

“At the time, there were few large or luxury properties available to rent. We started with self-catering but we found that people wanted more than that. What has become popular is private catering, ranging from full-on to just doing a dinner party,” she said.

Beyond the bed and board, the business quickly evolved into helping tourists plan their entire holiday.

Company details Dunowen House

Founded by: Kela and Stephen Hodgins in 2014

Staff: 2

Turnover: €250,000

“We’d help them create itineraries, put them in touch with local activity providers, and provide a whole concierge service.”

It was through these continued additions and amendments to what Dunowen House did that it evolved into arranging tours far beyond its own bounds.

“I realised early on that social media was important for us. We didn’t have the budget for large promotions or marketing. From there, I developed good contacts and relationships as we built the business. Through Instagram, I met a sort of Tuscan equivalent of ourselves.

“We started to chat and give each other tips. I told them that I’d love to learn how to make real Italian dishes and they wanted to learn to bake. We hatched a plan to go to each other and learn. While we were together and getting to know each other, we realised it was something that other people would like to do,” Hodgins said.

Hodgins has organised the first trip for tourists from Ireland to go to Tuscany for an immersive experience learning cooking across the region. The week-long tour, which is already booked out, takes place in October. Then, in November, Dunowen House will organise its first single-day and weekend-long Tuscan cooking classes at its west Cork home.

“The plan is to expand these tours. We can’t double the size of the property so there are limitations with it. To grow the business, we need to add more services and experiences. By doing these extra events, courses and tours, we can do that,” Hodgins said.

“The courses and education side in particular could appeal to the business to business market. The aim this year is to develop relationships with small travel agents in the North American market and provide unique experiences for their customers in west Cork.”