Running a French Holiday Gite in Rural Brittany

Friday, March 31, 2006

Off to "La Belle France" - back next month

We're off on our own holiday tomorrow to Brittany (guess where we're staying ?) for 10 days so unless I can find a public access PC I won't be blogging until we get back.

I'm sooo looking forward to the break, the peace and quiet, the pottering about, and the french wine!

Now that we've got the main house all sorted out there's no real urgency to do DIY although I doubtless will do some things whilst I'm over there (I've got a gate to build for one thing).

Main task though is to watch the builders putting in our new patio and gravelling the drive (and hopefully digging some new flower beds with their JCB for us as well) ! I'll upload some photos when we return but in the meantime you can read the article I posted in January with the plans.

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Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Mothering Sunday and the Pink Panther

Last Sunday was Mothering Sunday which was a bit different as it was the first Mothering Sunday since my mum died in May last year. The day started too early as the kids tried to get us up at 6:45 (answer was no!) and then they made Liz breakfast in bed as it was "mummy's special day". Toby made Mummy some butter sandwiches (lucky Mummy!) and the day was off.

We kept busy by doing some retail therapy at the new Ikea store in Milton Keynes which is about 30 miles away from us, but it took more like 50 miles to find it after we'd been several times round MK. I think the IKEA map on their website is 'vague' to say the least! Anyway, once it was found I programmed it into the Satnav in my car so we can find it again without the detour.
As usual in Ikea we seemed to buy lots of little things but the bill added up. In our defence we did buy some stuff for our Brittany Holiday Home (cushion covers, light for the bathroom, etc) as although the prices are slightly cheaper in France the nearest Ikea is in Lorient which is over 2 hours drive away.

After Ikea we went to the pictures to watch a film. Given that our two children are 5 and 8 we were looking for a family film and the only one on (at all) was the remake of The Pink Panther with Steve Martin. I've read a couple of reviews of it that used phrases such as "Peter Sellers must be turning in his grave" so it wasn't the top of my "must watch" list.

IMDB Entry for The Pink Panther
I have to say that I wasn't really all that impressed by the movie. Peter Sellers I loved but Steve Martin just bumbled his way through the movie. The film seemed to contain many of the same Sellers jokes (failing to say words properly, attacking his accomplice at every opportunity, getting his hand stuck in a vase) and not a lot of original humour. Normally I quite like Steve Martin (Father of the Bride was one of our favourites that we saw a year or so before we got married and loved it so much we bought a copy for both of our parents), but PP wasn't Steve Martin's best hour IMHO.

The beauty of the Sellers "Clouseau" was the subtlety that he brought to the character - he was clumsy as opposed to stupid. Martin's Clouseau was just stupid and vain and in the end solved the crime by intellectual reasoning rather than 'having it fall in his lap' as per Sellers. Jean Reno plays the straight laced sidekick very well and there's a nice scene with Clive Owen doing a cameo role as 006 in a casino, but all in all it wasn't my cup of tea.

By the by, apparently the French celebrate Mother's Day (Fete des Meres) on the last Sunday of May. The typical celebration is to present a very special cake, which usually resembles a bouquet of flowers, to their mothers at a family dinner.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Our house-hunting guests have found somewhere to live

Follow-up to the story of a house-hunting couple who wanted to stay in our holiday Gite for a week whilst they were looking for their own holiday home in the Josselin area.

Although they had originally planned to only stay in our Gite for a week whilst they were looking round the area, they did mention that they might change their plans and possibly want to stay on a bit longer. Fortunately the Gite wasn't booked the following week either so I gave them my mobile number and suggested they send me a text at the end of the week if they were planning on staying on.

One evening whilst I was driving home I received a text message from them telling me that they'd found a place they liked, wanted to stay on, and they were due to sign the Compromis de Vente (agreement to purchase) the following Monday.

At the time I was sitting on the M25, in the pouring rain, in an enourmous traffic jam and they were sitting in Brittany, on our lounge sofa, drinking a glass of wine. I think I know where I'd rather have been...

So they stayed on another week, signed the papers, and are hoping to move over there permanently once the rennovation works to their new house are complete.

Lucky, lucky lot.

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Saturday, March 18, 2006

Nantes to Brest Canal

Back in February my old school friend Patrick (who was the best man at our wedding over 10 long long years ago) holidayed in our Brittany Holiday Gite.

Patrick's always been keen on Canals and so spent some time exploring the Nantes/Brest Canal that runs past only a few miles away from our Gite.
The 200 mile long Canal was built by Napoleon to mitigate against the English costal blockade that was seriously disrupting trade in the region. Nowadays the Canal is used mainly for tourism, fishing, pleasure boats, kayacs or just walking and cyling along the towpath.

He's promised to write a page about the Nantes/Brest Canal for our Gite website, but in the meantime here's a few photos:

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Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Spam booking enquiry

So when is a booking enquiry not a booking enquiry ?

When it's a spam booking !

Logged onto my email yesterday and was excited to see a ' booking enquiry' email. When I designed the website I was quite keen to ensure that I didn't get any more spam than I do already so I deliberately didn't put my email address on the website. Instead I wrote a contact us to enquire about Gite availability page which would behind the scenes email the enquiry details to me but without having to display my email address anywhere on the site.

On the whole this has worked reasonably well. I still get a few emails addressed to admin@websitename but I think it's far less than I would get if I had the email address in plain text just sitting there to be harvested by all the spam engines of the world ! Only downside is that prospective guests have to fill in a form to contact us but this doesn't seem to have been a problem to anyone as far as I know.

Anyway, the "booking enquiry" email I received looked like this:
Booking enquiry submitted by Richard (

Address: 3445 minchester steet usa

Telephone: 448717205190

Adults: 2

SmallChildren: 22





I've obscured the email address and removed all the blank lines (the original email was all double spaced) but the extensive use of capitals, interesting spellings ('inEternet'), grammar ('a modeling programed in your avenues' - wonder if he means modelling session in my street ??), inconsistency of email address (Robert....) and name ('Ben') and everything else is just as I received it.

To me this just looks so obviously like an attempt by someone who's not a native English speaker to do some kind of dodgy deal. My guess is that if I replied I'd have some kind of "processing fee" to pay or the cheque would bounce. I just don't have time for things like this so I've ignored it.

Oh and Robert, if you were genuinely looking to book, we've already got a booking for the first two weeks of June so we can't accommodate your female models (and 22 small children) at that time anyway, sorry.

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Thursday, March 09, 2006

Learn a French word-a-day

One blog that I've been regularly receiving for some time now and can thoroughly recommend is French word-a-day which sends out regular (thrice-weekly) emails which they lovingly describe as a "slice of French life".

The authors moved to France a number of years ago and started their site in 1999. Each email is based around a French word (yesterday's was ciseaux - scissors), contains the dictionary definition, a proverb using the word and then a little illustrative story interspersed with French words and phrases, all based around the word of the day.

I have to admit that although I've been receiving the emails for some 6 or more months, I'm a bit behind on actually reading them and improving my French !

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Sunday, March 05, 2006

New Aer Arran flights from London Luton to Lorient

Reading London Luton airport's news page the other day I learnt that Aer Arran have started a new 6 days-a-week service from Luton to Lorient in the Morbihan department, about an hour's drive from our Brittany holiday cottage.

Aer Arran
Looking on Aer Arran's website I found out that they already fly regularly from four Irish airports (Waterford, Cork, Kerry and Galway) to Lorient. I added these 5 routes to the travel options page of our Gite website, so along with the existing RyanAir and FlyBe Brittany routes means a grand total of 16 different budget ways of getting there.

PS: Just after pressing 'Publish' I looked at AerArran's site again and found that they've introduced another 10 new routes including Cardiff to Lorient and Liege (in Belgium) to Lorient.
Better go and revise our website again - anyone know Dutch so I can add some website pages aimed at visitors from Holland and Belgium?

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Thursday, March 02, 2006

New LD Lines ferry service from Portsmouth to Le Havre

Last year P&O Ferries announced that they were withdrawing from the 'Western channel' and would no longer run ferries from Portsmouth to Cherbourg and Portsmouth to Le Havre. This news didn't go down well with those of us who own holiday properties in Brittany and Normandy as the worry was that Brittany Ferries would then hold a near service monopoly and increase their prices. In fact they wouldn't hold a monopoloy as Condor Ferries also run a successful high speed service from Poole and Weymouth to St Malo and Cherbourg, but Condor are owned by BF and competition would definitely be reduced.

I heard recently from Martin Selway who owns a lovely Gite close to us and the town of Josselin (useful if we're full or you've a large group who want to holiday together but not be on top of each other) about a new ferry service from LD Lines that's taken over the P&O Portsmouth/Le Havre route - Martin's tried it and can recommend it:
A tip for your blog - have you seen the new ferry line just started from Portsmouth-LeHarve with LD Lines? They have taken over the defunct P&O route and seem to have slashed prices. Next week we are paying £130 for a return crossing with outbound cabin for myself, wife, and two daughters. This beats Brittany Ferries hands down as they are charging £348 for the same trip. They have a special offer on at the moment for car + 2 for up to 5 days for £47. Perhaps the prices will go up when they get more established?

Thanks for the tip Martin, happy to add pass it on and I've added it to the travel options page of our holiday Gite website.

LD Lines currently run a daily service that leaves Portsmouth at 11pm (arrives at Le Havre 7.30am) and then returns back from Le Havre at 5pm (to arrive in at Portsmouth at 9.30pm). It's motorway almost all the way from Le Havre to our part of Brittany so should take less than 4 hours to drive, plus you go over the fantastic Pont de Normandie bridge that towers over the River Seine.

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