The easy guide to picking and renting a gite in France
For a really easy and laid back holiday in France, you can do very much worse than rent a gite for one or two weeks. A gite in French is literally a shelter, but over the years has been refined to specifically refer to a converted barn or other farm building, and has been expanded to include any building offered to rent to guests. In spite of the fall in the value of the Pound against the Euro, renting a gite still offers a reasonably economic and very pleasurable way of holidaying in France.
There are a number of organisations offering gites. The principal one is Gite de France, a national body who approves all gites entered under its guide, and ensures that specific standards are complied with.
Gites de France web site is at : http://www.gites-de-france.com/gites/uk/rural_gites. According to their web site they act for 43,000 property owners and 56,000 properties.
With the expansion of the French gite holiday market, a number of other web-sites have sprung up, some of which cater to specific British owners.
Gites are found all over France and, with the expansion of cheap flights to France are usually within striking distance of an airport. Car hire, if you do fly, is a must though, as by their nature, gites are out in the country, and French local bus and train services are nothing to write home about. We have always taken our own car. Driving on the “other” side of the road presents no problems providing you concentrate, and your standard car insurance will cover you for legal requirements in all EU countries. Do check with your insurance company about the level of cover you hold, though. You may want to take out additional cover for vehicle recovery. In addition, taking your own car means that you can shop for wine and other items which are still good value in France.
Gites de France have an advantage in that they have a large and efficient inspectorate; every gite has to be inspected before appearing in their guide or on their web-site. They also have a follow-up and appraisal system for renters, who are invited to comment on their experiences.
Most – but not all – gite owners speak or understand a modicum of English. This will be normally apparent on their web page. When booking a gite, for many regions it is possible to book directly on-line, making a payment by credit-card. Some gite owners prefer you to contact them direct, by post or e-mail. A reasonable translation can be carried out using Google language tools, or other web-based services such as Babelfish.
Most gites have a booking deposit arrangement, paying around 25% of the rental on making the reservation, and the balance approximately one month before the booking.
The traditional change-over day for gites is Saturday, with the premises being available from 4 pm. When leaving the gite you are expected to vacate the premises by 10 am on the Saturday morning. This is to give the owners a chance to get the premises cleaned and restocked. It also gives you a chance to pick up supples at the local market or in one of France's excellent supermarkets.
The kitchen facilities in the gite will normally use bottled gas for cooking, and a suitable supply should be available to you on arrival. The kitchens themselves are normally well equipped, although English guests may find the absence of an electric kettle and the small size of cups provided to be a little strange. We have always managed by taking a number of cheap mugs and leaving them on our departure. Water can be easily boiled in a saucepan for making tea. Coffee makers usually use filter papers.
All gites have a Barbecue, so remember to buy some charcoal and lighters on the Saturday.
Strangely for France, wine glasses supplied are frequently small or of the tumbler type. Guests may prefer to take some cheap glasses from Ikea or Tesco's. Then, if you break one, you don't have to replace it.
Bottled water is available in quantity all over France; guests may prefer to use it for making drinks and tea, although the tap water is perfectly clean and can be drunk and used for cooking, etc. without additional precautions.
A full inventory is supplied, and the owner will show you how to operate all the equipment supplied. It is normal to have a washing machine and dishwasher supplied, and this will normally be identified on the web page prior to booking.
A swimming pool is part of many gites and can be included in your search criteria when selecting your gite.
A cash deposit (or caution)is normally payable on arrival. This will be repaid on departure. Should you wish to leave early on Saturday morning, i.e. before 10:00 it will generally be possible to collect the deposit and close out the formalities the evening before.
Gites normally come without bedlinen, but this is normally available to rent for a small fee (location de draps). Blankets or quilts will normally always be supplied. Do check on the status of the bedding – arriving to find that the gite has no bedding and the nearest large supermarket is 30 miles away on 4 pm on a Saturday with a car full of fractious children is not a good way to start your holiday. We have always taken our own towels in any event.
Several times we have arrived at a gite to find the owner has left a (very welcome) bottle of local wine for us. Our experience with French gite owners has been nothing but positive.
Most gites are available from June to October – with more and more also accepting bookings outside this period. The price of your gite will vary depending on the season. High season INVARIABLY includes August. This is the main French holiday period. We have always tended to take our holidays in June or September. After the first weekend in September the population of Paris has all returned to work, and many places will be deserted. Meanwhile, you can have the place to yourselves, and are still in the best weather period.
Finally, if driving – and we always do, remember not to overload your car before heading for home. The French police take a dim view of overloaded cars. Your maximum kerb weight will be shown in your vehicle documentation.
We love gite holidays – we've been taking them for ten years now, and will be back in one next year. There's so much of France to explore.