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Accommodations France - What to Expect in Vacation Rentals

Marta Rojas, April 2009

@Marta wrote this article for us several years ago.

You can find a wide variety and great selection of vacation rentals in France - chic apartments in Paris, dream chateaux in Bordeaux, family holiday villages, charming cottages on provincial farms and posh villas in the south of France.

France is the number one travel destination in the world. Vacation rentals have long been popular with the French and Europeans and are increasing in popularity among travelers from North America and other international countries.

Gîtes de France is an association of rural property owners and the term gîte is frequently used for a rural rental. American and English terms are also used - villa rentals, vacation rentals, holiday cottages, self catering. Chateau is used for larger historical properties in areas such as the Loire and Bordeaux. Holiday Villages, Apartment Hotels (Appart'Hotel) or Residences are apartment resorts popular with families.

Popular Vacation Destinations
France is divided into 95 departments (not including overseas departments). These are then grouped into official regions. Sometimes vacation rental descriptions refer to the department and not to the region.
Most parts of France are popular with travelers but these areas are the most popular and have many vacation rentals.

Paris: A vibrant city which has attracted lovers, artists, musicians, trend-setters. Everyone wants to visit Paris. See the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, the Champs-Elysées, the Louvre and more.

Provence: Roman ruins, village markets filled with fresh produce and local souvenirs, vineyards and olive orchards - there is much to see in Provence. The Luberon, a wine-producing valley surrounded by mountains, is a favorite location for vacation rentals.

Cote d'Azur: From the glamour of Cannes to the Italianate streets of Menton, the seaside of south east France has long attracted tourists. Once a retreat for the English wealthy, it has now become a quick destination via low cost European flights. It can be quite crowded in summer months.

Aquitaine: This is the quiet rural area of the Southwest France. The Dordogne (also called Perigord) in the northern part of the region is a popular destination.

Types of Places You Can Rent
are rural self-contained properties and are buildings typical of the region they are located in. The Gîtes de France association has been in existence since 1951. These rentals are usually French owned so you have a chance to get to know local people. They are sometimes independent properties and sometimes part of small community of properties. They are different from region to region in France and are aimed at European travelers. Many are lovely places to stay and are excellent value.

Apartments to rent can be found in Paris and many of the larger cities such as Nice. In smaller villages, you will find townhouses, stone houses or farmhouses a short distance from town. Some may be furnished very simple with IKEA style furnishing or others may be furnished more stylish with antiques or regional decor. There is something for every budget and dream.

In towns and villages, rentals may be in tall narrow buildings and on multiple floors sometimes with narrow staircases. In the countryside, properties may be on farms (Mas) or in small hamlets (hameau).

Holiday villages or residences are large apartment resorts which are great for families. A holiday village will typically have a wide variety of facilities including restaurants, pools, day care, children play areas and scheduled activities. These are typically located along the seaside. Pierre Vacances Holiday Villages is one of more well known companies specializing in holiday villages.

Finding and Booking Vacation Rentals
There are many good local agencies for rentals in Paris but not as many local agencies for rentals outside of Paris. Local tourism bureaus and rent-from-owner directories are better options for finding rentals, as are vacation rental agencies based in the UK and US.

Booking Procedures
Weekly Bookings
: Most vacation rentals are from Saturday to Saturday. Rentals in the larger cities are more flexible. Some rentals are available by the weekend.

Payment: Credit cards are not as popular in France as in other European countries. Some agencies may use them, but you may be expected to do a wire transfer for the deposit and balance, or even a cash payment for the balance.

What to Expect in French Vacation Homes
We describe the basics of what to expect in the About Vacation Rentals - European Houses section. Below we list a few things unique to vacation rentals in France.

The quality of vacation rentals in France is good. Rentals can range from rustic to opulent. It is not uncommon to have to provide your own towels and bedding or rent them. Kitchens are fully equipped with all the pots and pans, dishes, cutlery, etc. that you need for cooking meals.

In our years of renting in France, we have seen a few "bad" rentals, especially in the lower price rentals. But most rentals have been in good shape.

Older Buildings
Many vacation rentals are in historical buildings or barns (some over 100 years old) that have been renovated and the arrangement of rooms may be a little odd. The bathroom may not be on the same floor as the bedroom or the dining room on a different floor from the kitchen. This adds to much of the charm and character of a French vacation rentals. But if you have any mobility issues, you will want to ask about stairs which can be quite steep or low beams which are part of a traditional cottage.

Parking may not be located right next to your rental especially in the villages but there is usually some type of parking near by. You may need to park in pay lots in larger cities.

Many French vacation rentals have all the modern conveniences but always check to see what is in the cottage you are thinking of renting.
  • Air conditioning is unusual and maybe extra if it is available. Electricity is expensive in France. Thick stone walls and the window shutters help keep a place cool. If traveling in the height of summer, you may want a place with a pool so you can cool off in the hot afternoons especially in southern France. Open windows in the morning to let in fresh air. As sun begins to rise, close shutters and keep house dark and cool. In the late afternoon/evening, open shutters again.
  • If you are there off-season (October through April), be sure to ask about heating (chauffage). Some rentals may not have heating or may be very limited. You may also have to pay extra for heating during these months and it can be expensive.
  • Many rentals are equipped with a clothes washer. You may not have a dryer especially in the warmer areas such as south of France. There will be a rack or an outside line to hang clothes on if you do not have a dryer.
  • Outlets can be switched off at the wall (if something is not working, make sure the outlet is switched on).
  • Refrigerators tend to be smaller in size and some places may have under-the-counter fridges with no freezer. Full sized refrigerators are referred to as "American refrigerators".
  • Many kitchens do not have an oven.
  • Kitchens in Paris apartments can be very small, almost the size of a closet. It is possible to do full meals in the kitchen but with only one person in the kitchen at a time. But, it is Paris and you probably do not plan to cook all your meals there.
  • Even outside of Paris, some places have "mini kitchens" or a kitchen with a small stovetop (sometimes 2 burners), under-the-counter fridge and small work area.
  • You may not have an American style coffee maker. Most rentals come with some type of single serving coffee maker - typically a French press coffee maker. You may also find more modern types of single cup coffee makers such as a Sensio. There will usually be an electric hot water kettle which is super fast to heat water for tea or French press coffee.
  • You may need to use matches to light gas range tops. Many will have an electric sparker but occasionally they will not. Some apartments may also have a gas valve near the stove that will need to be turned on when you arrive.
  • Showers may not have a shower curtain. Occasionally, you will have a walk-in tiled shower or closed corner shower but many are open showers with a drain in the floor. If your rental has a bathtub, the shower may be a handheld shower unit in the bathtub and no place to hang the shower head for a standing overhead shower.
  • You typically do not find square washcloths as you do in the US. You may find a terry-cloth mitt instead. You may want to bring along your own washcloths.
  • You will come across a variety of different sized beds depending upon the size of the bedroom. Smaller bedrooms will typically have a double bed. Larger bedrooms may have a bed similar in size to the US Queen. Pillows tend to be square in shape versus rectangular. You will typically find a duvet instead of sheets and blankets.
  • Many rentals will provide bed linen and towels but there are many cases where the renter is expected to bring their own. For Europeans who are driving to the rental, this is not a problem but not very convenient if you are arriving from overseas. You can frequently rent both bed linens and towels for an additional fee. Check the list of what is supplied either in the description or terms and conditions of the rental. You should specify that you want to rent linens when you book the rental if they are not automatically provided.
  • Apartment buildings will have a timed switch for lighting stairways and halls. I like to bring a long a small flashlight to locate the switch and to use if the light is too short.
  • It is not unusual to close shutters at night. Rural properties that I've rented have had wooden shutters but I have also had apartments in Southern France with metal roll down shutters controlled by an electrical switch.
Shopping for Groceries
Most villages will have a small grocery store (une epicerie or une alimentation) and a bakery (une boulangerie). Casino is a big grocery chain in France and you may find a Petit Casino, their version of a small grocery store, in your area. Very small villages or small hamlets may not have any stores. Larger villages and cities will have additional specialty stores in the center of town selling only items such as meat, fish or cheese. You can find bigger supermarkets (supermarches and hypermarches) on the outskirts of larger towns and in cities.

Larger villages or city neighborhoods will have an outdoor market once of week. Depending upon the size of the village, these will have a variety of items for sale including vegetables, cheese, meat, prepared food in addition to items such as clothing, linens and souvenirs.

Afternoon Siesta: In the countryside and smaller towns, shops close for an afternoon break, usually from 12:30 or 1pm to 4pm. The larger supermarkets on the outskirts of town may be open but the village shops and the village itself will be closed. Shops typically close at 7:30pm in the evening.

Closed on Sunday: Most stores are closed on Sunday although you may find some open until 12:30pm in larger villages and cities. Supermarches are also typically open until 12:30pm on Sunday. Most rentals in France are from Saturday to Saturday with an afternoon arrival. You may want to arrive, check-in and see if the vacation rental owner provides any staples then head out to the local shop to get some groceries. Don't forget to check your supply of toilet paper and soap - I've been rentals which only had one roll supplied.
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