Running a French Holiday Gite in Rural Brittany

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

From Gate to No Gate and back to Gate again

I wanna tell you a story ...

First we had two pairs of gates to the two gravel driveways of our Holiday Home.

Here's one of the pairs looking quite happy with the world, doing their job keeping wandering cows out and wild children in.

And then last December the guests that were staying at the Gite sent me a text to tell me the wind had broken one of the gates - not a happy gate any more.

So when I was over at the house earlier in the month, one of my jobs was to restore the gate to it's former glory and make everything well in the gate department again.

When I got there it was pretty clear what the problem was, the three cross-way spars (which were not all that thick) had over time rotted, then in the gales had snapped in two. This called for a rebuild rather than "lick of paint" job!

Unfortunately as I was only over at the Gite for 3 days (Sat, Sun, Mon) I had to get a move on with getting the repairs done. Quick trip out to Bricomarche in Pontivy and I bought 3 pieces of what I guessed was pressure treated pine - none of the wood they had in stock were described with words like preservative; the most likely candidate was rough sawn and a yellowy colour so I hoped this was the right one. Back home cut the pieces to size and painted them on both sides with undercoat and gloss paint whilst I dismantled the old gate which was fortunately nailed together and easily came apart.

By Monday afternoon the coats of paint were fairly dry and it was time to reassemble with lots of screws to give it more strength. Apart from nearly assembling it all upside down (and all the bolts being in the wrong place) it all went back together OK. Final job was to drill the holes for the hinges which were bolted on to the cross-spars with 60mm coach bolts.


When I bought the new wood I hadn't really noticed that the new wood was thicker than the original broken spars and now the original coach bolts were not long enough to go through the hinge, the gate and the cross spar. No way could I bolt it all back together. By then it was 4:50pm and the shops would be closing soon! Hared off in the car to La Cheze where there's a small agricultural supplies shop, but it was closed on Mondays. Carried on to Loudeac which is the next sizeable town and found a builders merchant that had all the coach bolts I could desire.

Unfortunately by then I'd forgotten what length bolt I needed! Thinking that the old bolt wasn't too far short I plumped for a box of 70mm bolts and was very relieved when they fitted perfectly.

A few final adjustments and another coat of gloss paint and the new gate looks good. Some of the upright parts of the gate will need replacing soon as will some of the other gate but for now we're back with 100% gate operation.

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Sunday, January 28, 2007

Freezer Spare parts - try the manufacturer for cheapest parts

I've been busy today buying a replacement compartment door flap for our Bosch freezer after it was molested by one of the kids. After shopping around it goes to show that it's sometimes cheapest to buy from the manufacturer rather than from a reseller such as espares or partmaster (which is owned by Dixons):

SupplierItem PriceDelivery ChargeTotal

Unfortunately can't buy bits like this from ebay which is my usual favourite source.

Postscript (Tuesday 30th Jan):

I ordered the door from Bosch on Sunday afternoon and it arrived first thing this morning (Tuesday), so excellent delivery times from them as well as a good price. Also this morning I belatedly received a price from InterSpares who wanted a mere £32.63 for the same part! Moral is clearly to shop around for spare parts.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

With ReviewMe you get paid for blogging (or not as the case may be)

I came across an interesting new Blogging community site tonight, Review Me where Bloggers are paid by advertisers to write about their article or site.

Here's there explanation of how it works:
  1. Submit your site for inclusion into the ReviewMe publisher network. Begin by creating a free account

  2. If approved, your site will enter the ReviewMe marketplace and clients will purchase reviews from you.

  3. You decide to accept the review or not.

  4. You will be paid $20.00 to $200.00 for each completed review that you post on your site.

It's an interesting idea and I can see how it's trying to capture another different aspect of web social networking so I decided to create an account and give it a go and register the Blog with keywords such as Brittany, Gite, France, etc and a nice snappy description that might entice advertisers to send me the odd dollar or two.

Unfortunately the blog was not accepted and the rather terse FAQ answer as to why simply said
To be accepted into ReviewMe, a blog must meet a minimum number of citations, subscribers, and traffic. If your blog is rejected, you may want to return in a few months' time and submit again.

So instant fortune has escaped me again ...

Be interesting to see if it actually catches or is just another here today, gone tomorrow concept.

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Thursday, January 25, 2007

2007 French Public Holidays

Courtesy of, here's details of the French public holidays for 2007:

2007 French Holidays and Observances
Jan 1New Year's DayLe Jour de l'AnJul 14Bastille DayLa fête nationale
Apr 9Easter MondayLe lundi de PâquesAug 15AssumptionL'Assomption
May 1Labor DayLa fête du TravailNov 1All Saints DayLa Toussaint
May 8WWII Victory DayFête de la Victoire 1945 Nov 11Armistice DayL'Armistice
May 17Ascension DayL'AscensionDec 25Christmas DayNoël

If you are holidaying in France this year don't forget that most French shops close on public holidays (unlike in the UK), so do your shopping beforehand and spend time with the family relaxing!

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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Fishing in Brittany

It's not particularly my cup of tea, but Brit-Mag offers a useful downloadable guide to fishing in Brittany on their website - the rules, regulations, times and locations you can fish, etc.

If anyone's any additional practical experiences of fishing in Brittany or France, then please do leave a comment.

Monday, January 22, 2007

New shower controls (at a good price, courtesy of Lidl)

Whilst over at our Brittany holiday home last week I found that the temperature control of the downstairs shower had been broken. Someone had obviously had turned the temperature control too hard (perhaps not realising that there was a limiter switch that needed to be pressed in to get the shower to be hotter than 38 degrees-C), and as a result had stripped the thread off the control knob.

Although I took the controls apart to look inside, it was clear that it wasn't repairable and that I'd need a new control knob, or more likely a complete new shower control. After looking at several plumbing merchants and Bricolage (DIY) depots I couldn't find anywhere selling replacement knobs so looked like a whole new control was needed - prices seemed to vary between €100 to €160. Unfortunately no time to do anything else before I came home.

Back in blighty I had a look at a couple of places and found that similar shower controls were a similar price, from £70 upwards to £250 (or more!). Sigh, more expense.

Then last week I received one of the bi-weekly special offers emails from Lidl and found that this week's special offers included shower controls for just £19.99.

I popped into my nearest Lidl to take a look and found that it was just what I wanted. It looks to be of good quality, is solid and well built, and like most Lidl products comes with a 5 year guarantee.

It's worth commenting on these guarantees, which from my limited experience I've found that to be excellent. Last year I bought a heavy duty SDS hammer drill from Lidl (again for a good price) and after using it to break up some bricks, part of the handle broke. The drill had a 3 year guarantee and to make a claim I just had to photocopy the receipt and the first page of the instruction manual and send them off to the service department. A few days later a complete brand new drill arrived - I guess it's easier and cheaper to just send out a whole replacement item than to hold all spare parts required. I've subsequently managed to bodge the handle back together again so I've got 2 drills for the price of one - one for the UK and one for France!

I've bought the shower control from Lidl and will be fitting it next time I'm over at Easter. Do recommend the Lidl special offers if you live close to a store; you're automatically emailed twice a week what's in stock, and often things are at good prices. However stocks are limited so you do have to go within a day or so of the special offer arriving.

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Saturday, January 20, 2007

Stuck in London due to the gales

I'm not having much luck with the weather lately. Last Thursday I couldn't get to France because of the gales and this Thursday I arrived at Kings Cross to catch the train home to find absolutely every train cancelled due to this week's gales.

There was nothing running northbound out of Kings Cross, Euston, Thameslink or Liverpool Street and no replacement bus services as apparently the A1, M1, M11, A10, etc were all closed.

Lots of helpful railways staff telling lots of confused commuters that there was no way home that night. Everyone just stood around waiting for something to change but I gave up and went to stay overnight at my Aunt's who fortunately lived in Woodford, and even more fortunately the Central Line was still running so I was able to get there without too much additional trauma.

By Friday evening everything seemed to be back to normal and I was able to get home again.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Out of control with cruise control

Got back on Tuesday evening after a quick weekend jaunt to Brittany to check up on things and to take over yet more furniture and kids toys.

As I wrote last week I ended up having to hire an estate car from Hertz to go to France as the loan car I had from Enterprise (whilst my car is being repaired) couldn't be insured for overseas use.

The hire car I ended up with was a Ford Mondeo Estate, and although I have to admit to not being a Ford fan, it did have a lot of room inside and went OK. The "killer gadget" that got my attention was cruise control, which is not something I've ever experienced before. The principle of cruise control is dead simple, you set the speed you want to drive at and can increase and decrease it via steering wheel buttons.

At first I found cruise control incredibly frightening as if you set it at (say 60mph), you'd soon find the car in front had slowed down slightly and I'd be inexorably accelerated towards a collision - requiring a rapid jump on the brakes to disengage the cruise control. After scaring myself silly a few times I started to get the hang of it and found that I actually did quite like the feature.

In France there's much less traffic around (and in my opinion much better lane discipline on the roads) so it was a doddle to sit cruising along for mile after mile along the autoroute from Boulogne to Brittany. Even in the UK I found it useful to ensure that I remained under the speed limit and I'm sure I annoyed one or two other motorists by sticking precisely to 50mph when they were tailgating me in the M25 roadworks !

So cruise control goes on the list of desired features when I replace my Nissan Primera.

As for my trip to Brittany I got quite a lot done, I think the tally sheet was:
   Gate - rebuilt, repainted and repaired
   Builder - doing well with the plastering and due to start on the new windows next
   New sockets and TV in the master bedroom - installed
   Garden - looking good, the gardener's making a difference and there are less weeds around
   New kids slide - built
   Latch on the other set of gates - repaired and screwed back on
   Saucepan lid - repaired
   Air vent over the velux window - repaired
   Shower control - temporarily repaired, will have to be replaced

As usual there was a mixture of doing things I had planned to do and having to repair minor breakages and damage around the house. Just one of the considerations of running a holiday home I guess

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Thursday, January 11, 2007

Blown off course on my way to France

Unfortunately "high winds have caused travel chaos" (in the words of the BBC) and my ferry crossing was cancelled.

Unfortunately the Speedferries Captain didn't decide to cancel the 4pm sailing (which I was due to be on) until 2pm, by which time I had already had to travel part way to Dover. I had been calling their office throughout the day for news either way and when I finally heard at 2:30pm I was already well on the way and had to turn around.

I'm now on the 8am sailing and hopefully the weather will be good enough to cross - the Dover weather forecast shows the winds dying down in the night, but still due to be 27mph at 8am. In the 20 or so crossings to France we've made since buying the Gite 4 years ago this is the first cancellation we've had so I suppose we're doing well.

At least I can now pickup the things that I'd forgotten like the headlamp beam adaptors and some CD's for the journey ...

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We've been reviewed by holiday-home-expert

Much to my surprise I discovered that our Gite website has been reviewed by holiday-home-expert, a blog dedicated to "Information ... Not Sales ... Tips On Buying, Selling & Marketing Your Holiday Home".

HHE has written some very nice comments about the site and raised some really good insightful questions about it as well. As I'm off to France tomorrow I won't have chance to reply properly to their questions now, but I'll get onto it as soon as I get back.

Meanwhile I feel very proud that my own humble website efforts have been thought so nicely of. I put an awful lot of effort into the site design (just remember the multiple attempts and months of work last year before finally settling on a new site design) and it's nice to see that it's been well received.

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Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Lots of "challenges" trying to arrange to get to France on the weekend

Over Christmas I decided that I really wanted to get over to our French House and see how Bob the Builder was getting on with our new bathroom, ceiling and rewiring (all I hasten to add in the second house that we don't rent out - the main building is still in pristine condition!)

Next weekend looked to be the only free weekend in January and it fitted in well with work as I've just finished one project and not yet started another.

Problem is that I've still got the hire car I was lent in December following my car being declared undrivable (after it was rear ended). Talking to the garage last week they were close to finishing it but were still waiting some parts, and to be honest I'd rather put the miles on a hire car than my own car, so I phoned the hire company on Saturday to find out what I needed to do to take it to France.

And therein started an epic challenge that took me most of Monday and a fair amount of Tuesday to resolve.

Just so you don't nod off in the middle, the precis is:
- Phoned car hire company who tell me to phone head office
- Phone car hire company head office, they promise to phone back, which they do, but they can't insure the car for France, I need the insurance company to cover it
- Phoned third party insurance company (who are paying for the hire car) for a cover note but they tell me to phone my own insurance company
- Phoned my own insurance company but they're not providing the hire car so can't cover it
- Phoned third party insurance company (again) who but they can't provide one as my policy is not with them
- Phoned my own insurance company (again) but no joy from them as they don't provide temporary insurance cover
- Phoned third party insurance company (again) and they promise to look into it and phone me back. They do. There is no solution to the problem with my current hire arrangement, but if I take out my own car hire from someone else then they're prepared to reimburse me as long as the daily rate is "reasonable"
- Mucho searching of the internet and find that Hertz will let me take a car out out of the UK for £50; supplement for 5 days. Quoted an online rate of £180. Try logging in with my "Hertz #1 Club Gold membership" number to see if I get a preferrential rate and am now quoted £550! Logout and try again as 'Jo Public', ordinary online rental quote is £180. Login again, my preferrential rate is still £550
- Phone Hertz as I think they're website's gone bonkers and am quoted a normal rental rate of £260 or preferrential rate of £200 with my Gold card
- Phone third party insurance company to get approval .... but they've all gone home!

Next day (today):
- Phone third party insurance and they say YES, the rate is OK!!!
- Check availability on SpeedFerries and the crossings I want are still available for £19 each way. Other crossings on the same day are £25. I pre-paid £24 for 10 SpeedFerry Dover/Boulogne crossings last year so if I could either use up two of these tickets or book new tickets for slightly less
- Check the Hertz website again and decide that Internet price of £180 is still the best so book the hire car at this price
- Phone Hertz pickup point to get the car registration number so I can book the ferry but they can't tell me as their fleet changes too quickly
- Go back to SpeedFerries to complete the booking but I've taken too long and the website's timed out- argh !
- Back on SpeedFerries and they're now quoting me £15 for all crossings this week and next so make my booking at this price

So in the end it's worked out great. The third party insurance company is paying for the Hertz car rental and I've got ferry tickets booked for just £30 return. With fuel and tolls each way it's still only going to cost about £120; for the round trip. It wasn't half an awful lot of hard work though and good job I wasn't all that busy with work!

All I need to do now is to return the original rental car, pickup the new one, pack and go !

I'm off Thursday evening and will be back on Monday evening. Will post some pics of the building work when I return.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Why do I keep on forgetting about LD Lines?

This week I've been sorting out ferries for the February half-term holiday as Liz is going over to our Gite for a week's holiday, and taking the kids and her parents as well. I can't go as I've not got enough holiday left for this year :-(

I was intending to make the booking on SpeedFerries high speed catamaran as I'd already paid in advance for 10 Speedferries open tickets for £24 each way but some 'concerns' were expressed about it being a long drive from Boulogne to Brittany so I was 'advised' (by the boss) to look at some other ferry options.

St Malo is the closest port to our Gite, about 60 miles away, but Brittany Ferries only run one boat a day there which is overnight out and daytime back, but for half term, both Saturday crossings are overnight, which wasn't acceptable as "I can't sleep on the boat". Going Portsmouth/Caen was a possibility but it was going to cost £313 for the return journey and Poole/Cherbourg was another which was cheaper at £297 return.

Both of these prices were more than I really wanted to pay. So back and forth with looking at different options we agreed to go out with SpeedFerries and back with Brittany Ferries, Cherbourg/Poole which was £183 for the single.

LD Lines ferry logo
And then I remembered, LD Lines!

Last year LD Lines took over P&O's Portsmouth/Le Havre route and run one boat a day (out overnight from the UK at 11pm, return from France in the evening at 5pm). For some reason we've never got around to using them yet but we had heard positive reports that they provided a good straightforward service and at a reasonable price.

A bit more surfing later and the deal was done, out via SpeedFerries (for £24) and back via LD Lines (for just £100). Considering I'm booking with only a month to go, £100 is I think a good price to pay and it's eighty quid cheaper than BF.

I'll write about what the family think of the LD Lines service after they've travelled but I suspect we will be using them again (well if I manage to remember them again that is!)

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Thursday, January 04, 2007

"January 9th is holiday booking day" - mind out for the rush!

According to my newspaper this morning's research has found that "January 9th is the most popular day in the year to book a holiday". I'd better brace myself for the rush of bookings we'll receive for our french holiday cottage next week then!

Some people must have started off their new year with a resolution to organise a holiday because we've had two enquiries (and one booking) already this month; one of which was on New Year's day.

Also according to the research January 5th's the most likely day to start looking for a new job, January 30th's the most common day for couples to split up and July 25th's the most likely time to get a tattoo. How (and indeed why) they do this sort of consumer research I find a cause for some concern ...

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Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Happy blogsday!

1st Birthday
Yesterday (1st January) was this Blog's first birthday and so in among the festivities I thought I'd look back at how well things have gone.

In the last 12 months since the very first posting about setting up a CSS print stylesheet so I could print out the website pages for a neighbour who was interested in renting the Gite (which in the end didn't turn into a booking), I've written about a wide variety of subjects related to running a small Brittany Gite business and also to our life in the UK.

I've written about diverse things like advertising on Google, using Vistaprint to produce cheap business card advertising magnets, the many trials and tribulations of managing French builders from afar to get a new patio built, special offers and route details from different Ferry and budget airlines, the long-running saga of redesigning the Gite website using CSS instead of HTML tables, Blogging and Blogger Hacks in general, etc, etc.

When I setout the Blog I wanted it to be an opportunity to write a bit more about our French adventures, both from a self-interest angle, but also to help promote and publicise our Gite and to maybe get some more bookings as a result.

So how have we done with that aspiration? Well in 2006 the Blog's had 1700 new and unique visitors (excluding returning visitors), about a quarter of which came as a result of various Google searches (we're number one for searching for "estage agents bretagne" and number six for "rural holiday gites without pools") and about a quarter come from our Gite website.

I doubt that reading the Blog has been the sole cause for the upturn we've seen in Gite rentals, but I do know for sure that it's one of the contributing factors. I've had a number of renters who have commented that they have read the blog and that they've found it helpful to understand a bit more about the property and to put a bit more of a face to the owners beforehand. It's also nice to start to receive comments about the blog (although more would be nice!) and to build an expat and renters community.

So here's to 2007!

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