Running a French Holiday Gite in Rural Brittany

Sunday, February 24, 2008

We're in print - French Magazine Advert

In early January I was telephoned by a representative of French Magazine to try to encourage us to take out an advert for our French holiday home in their magazine.

French Magazine is published monthly with a circulation of 20,000 copies, targeted at everyone with a love of French culture and holidays.

Each issue has a cover price of £3.99 and is distributed though:

  • Top 544 WH Smiths
  • Top 130 Tesco’s (and is apparently the only French/France magazine sold in Tesco's)
  • 150 Waitrose stores
  • Borders book stores, Eason's in Northern Ireland & East Coast of the USA
  • 2000+ copies are distributed Worldwide (including USA, Canada, Australia, Switzerland)
  • An exclusive deal with P&0 Ferries to supply 5,000 copies into the Club Class Lounges every month – From Dover to Calais 750 crossing per month
  • 150 Waitrose Branches Nationwide
  • 20 Alpha retail Airport sites with frequent flights to France (including Birmingham, Gatwick, Heathrow, Belfast International, Nottingham East Midlands)
  • Smile Convenience Stores in Gloucester/Southwest including Plymouth
  • Tates Convenience Stores in North/North Wales and Midlands

  • ... etc
So in summary, the magazine's got a good circulation and reach to many potential rental customers for our holiday gite.

I do have to admit though to being fairly sceptical about paying serious money for advertising as I want to see a good return on investment from my money.

Generally our Gite advertising has been fairly low cost, currently consisting of Google Adwords, some Fridge Magnets and a couple of targeted website adverts such as RentalSystems. And with this low cost advertising plus some good search engine rankings we're already doing fairly well each year and are reasonably easily able to fill the peak holiday season weeks.

So for instance right now (February 08) we've already taken bookings for all of July and August 08, most of Easter, half of May is filled, and also June is already half-booked. We've therefore only got holiday vacancies in April, May, June and September 2008 and obviously onwards through autumn and into 2009.

If a Gite advert costs (say) £250 and I get back a similar £250 nett amount for a one week rental (nett after deducting the changeover and cleaning fee our agents charge us of course, plus electricity and water usage charges) then the advert is going to have to generate at least two new bookings for weeks that would otherwise have remained vacant before it's proved to be a worthwhile investment.

Renting out the Gite for the school summer holiday's isn't a challenge, what would be ideal is if we can get bookings for the slightly less popular periods in May, September and October when the weather's still good and we've got otherwise vacant weeks.

So having said all that, you can tell that we agonised for several days over whether to take out the French Magazine advert or not. The regular advertising rate for a one-sixth page advert is £400+VAT for 6 months £700+VAT for 12 months; so it was always going to be a challenge to get me to part with that kind of money !

I don't think it's appropriate to reveal precisely how much we did end up paying for the advert, but suffice to say we negotiated long and hard and in fact only agreed that we would take out an advert on the day before the publishing deadline for the March issue (which no doubt helped in the negotiation as they were looking to fill space in that issue).

The magazine's been out for a couple of weeks now and so far we've only had one emailed contact as a result from someone offering expatriate financial services. Still early days and all that so we'll see what happens.

The advert does look absolutely lovely though, we're really proud of it, and if you've got the magazine our advert is on page 115:

Brittany Gite advert in French Magazine


Friday, February 22, 2008

Free tickets for the Home Buyer & Property Investor Show

Next month from 7th through 9th March at London Excel is the Home Buyer and Property Investor show.

For the 17th consecutive year the show promises to be
the major property event for serious buyers, whether you're considering buying for residential or investment purposes, either in the UK or abroad, this show will answer all of your questions

There's planned to be over 250 exhibitors including house builders, developers, estate agents, lenders property investment training companies, etc and 100+ seminars and debates to cover all aspects of buying, financing and managing your property.

So if you're in and around London in early March it may be worth a trip over to Excel to take a look see. We went to an overseas property exhibition ourselves before finally embarking on our own foreign property dream and it's worth going to see some of the companies, get an idea of prices, areas, the buying process, etc.

Tickets are free as long as you pre-register in advance via the show registration website.


Thursday, February 21, 2008

French Land Registry plans now available online

The French Tax authorities have now made available online the land registry plans (cadastre) for large areas of France; useful if you want to check out the extent of a property or a location before you visit.

The new website allows you to view land and building plots, their surface area measurements, print the land map that you can see onscreen (although the viewing window is a little small), or you can order (by post) full sized paper copies of the plans for just €9.50 per plan section.

Right now it appears that the site is still being rolled out across France with some communes being present but a few not yet available (e.g. near to me in Brittany I could find maps for La Cheze, Plumieux, Josselin and St Ettienne, but not Brehan or Rohan).

The map below shows the current state of rollout:

Obviously aimed directly at the overseas purchaser market the site's been launched with both English and Spanish versions available, and they're pretty well produced as well with lots of well written help as to how to navigate, use and query the cadastre records. I'd be surprised if the UK land registry is anywhere near as 'overseas' friendly as this one with providing foreign language variants.

A couple of caveats I did notice though, firstly that the maps are not fantastically detailed, there's little topographical information (say compared to the UK Ordnance Survey plans) and there's no details of title boundaries (as is the case with the UK plans).
You therefore have to take the results presented with care and ask the owner (or their agent) for precise details of which plots of land are actually included in the sale - our own Brittany Gite for instance is actually made up of 4 different plots of land (see our own cadastre picture).
Unfortunately our commune's not yet available on the database so I couldn't check the detail of maps against the Cadastre plans we had when we bought the house.

Second caveat, unlike the UK land registry site, there's no details available either as to personal ownership of each plot, nor the price paid by the present owner.

Having said that though, it's a good useful reference site and definitely worth a browse if you're looking to buy in France.

You can view the site at French Cadastre

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Monday, February 18, 2008

Nice break in France but come back home with sinusitis

I've been away on holiday in France for the last week in our Brittany Gite, although it wasn't much of a lazing around holiday as I spent the week working on the second house, and in particular plasterboarding the ceilings and walls of the upstairs bedrooms in the second house.

When I've downloaded them off the camera I'll post some pictures so you can see how busy I've been as counting it up afterwards, 15 bits of metal plasterboard framing and 19 pieces of plasterboard erected in the week I was there doesn't sound like much of an outcome after a week's work!

It was a nice break though, warm and sunny in the day and cold at night, so nothing to do but to curl up with a bottle of wine in front of the TV ...

Unfortunately the cold and sneezes I went over to France with has developed by the end of the week into sinusitis, half of my face feels like it's on fire now, my teeth and jaw ache, I've a thumping headache all the time that pain killers just don't seem to shift, and all in all I feel absolutely lowsy. I've been off work today and had to visit the doctors for some antibiotic's which do seem to be taking effect already so hopefully I'll be back up again soon.


Friday, February 08, 2008

Getting FluffySearch engine to work on my web site

A week or so ago I wrote about adding a search engine to our website, concluding that although I liked fluffy search I couldn't get the indexer to work and so I was a bit stumped.

Well over the last week I've been back and forth with swapping emails with the Ben Summers, the developer of Fluffy Search, and despite the disclaimer that "Fluffy Search is unsupported. However, if you email us we'll try and help you out, although we can't promise an immediate response", I can only heap praise on how helpful they have been in sorting out my problems.

At the end of the day most of the problems have been of my own volition, both by not reading the instructions on how to configure fluffy search properly, and also with some underlying problems within the HTML of my website.

So that others don't tread down the same problematic route I wend down, the key things I ended up getting wrong in the config file were:
  1. Setting the $docroot_disc incorrectly
    This must be set to the full hierarchical UNIX filename of where your website files are stored. In the end I had to log a support call with my website host, 123-reg to find out the actual pathname.

  2. Similarly setting the $index_loc incorrectly
    This must also be a full unix hierarchical pathname (e.g. /home/vhosts/<username>/searchindex)

  3. Setting $search_script and $page_script
    In contrast, these two variables should be set as URL's as you would enter in your browser (so they're<cgi-directory>/ and / respectively).

  4. Make sure that you've got execute permissions on the .pl scripts
    This is one mistake (perhaps the only mistake) I didn't make! In my case I use the 'manage hosting' option within the 123-reg console to set the permissions correctly.

  5. Set $indexer_cmd to where the make index script is stored
    This is the one I got wrong in the first place. The default config script provided has $indexer_cmd set to '' and I had to change it to './' before it would run properly and create the search index files.

  6. Make sure your website is written with valid HTML!
    This may sound an obvious thing but it was the one that got me completely confused as I'd got the indexer and searching working properly, but when searched for a keyword (e.g. 'weather') and then looked at the page returned with the matching keyword nicely highlighted in red, the underlying HTML was fairly badly broken and several of the page links didn't work any more.

    So for instance instead of nice <a> links like this:
    <a href=><img src=/theme/mast_mos.jpg width=881 height=100 alt="blah blah"></a>

    What I was getting back was
    <a href="/Test/h"ttp://><img src=/theme/mast_mos.jpg width=881 alt="blah blah"></a>

    The bottom line is that my website wasn't written with valid 4.01 strict HTML. When I pointed the W3C HTML validator at any page I got back a slew of error messages, usually 15 to 20 on each page!

    The problem was of my own making of course. What I had been doing over time in an attempt to minimise the HTML file sizes was to reduce any "extraneous" quotes from the HTML, but I'd removed too much. I'd forgotten that any url's or image source filenames (as in <a href=<url> /a> or <img src=<filename>) must be enclosed in quotes if the url or filename contained anything other than letters, numbers and full stops.

    So <a href=index.html> is OK (only letters and full stop in the url), but <img src=/images/gite.jpg> was not (as there's slashes in the filename) and would have to be changed to <img src="/images/gite.jpg">. And so I'm now embarking on fixing all the pages on the site and making them valid HTML again.

And there we are, fluffy search is now all working perfectly on our Gite website and you can take it for a spin over at

I've still some work to do before I can properly integrate it into the site and launch it - correcting the invalid HTML on the remaining pages (currently some of the results pages returned don't show embedded images and have broken links on them), I've got to style the page results so that it looks consistent with the rest of the website, there's <fcs_ni></fcs_ni> tags to add around the navigation structure to stop it being indexed on each page - try searching for Gite and you'll see what I mean, but the hard work of getting the search engine working is now done.



Saturday, February 02, 2008

French numberplates to change in 2008

FrenchEntree reports that the system of French number plates is due to change this year from being allocated on a departmental basis to being allocated nationally, and being fixed for the life of the vehicle.

Current French vehicle number plates are of the pattern of NNNN AAA 99 with NNNN being up to four numbers, then two or three letters AAA, followed by a two digit department number 99. Our holiday Gite is on the border of department's 56 and 22 (Morbihan and Cotes d'Armor) so we see lots of cars with number plates ending 56 or 22. The advantage of this system is that you can see instantly where the car has come from but it causes a lot of administration as cars have to be re-registered in the right department if you move house or if you buy a car from a different region.

In 2008 the system is apparently going to change to AA NNN AA (up to two letters, two or three numbers followed by one or two letters at the end) so the first plate issued will be A 11 A and the last will be ZZ 999 ZZ. The licence plates will be issued chronologically in a nationwide sequence and so won't have any geographical code within the number plate.

If owners wish, they can have a white on blue geographical identification added to their plates which will appear on the far right hand side of the licence plate (opposite the EU logo). The regional code will be on top (e.g. IdF for Ile de France) and the department number will then appear below it (e.g. 92).

In a country that almost makes beauracracy a national pastime, it's interesting to hear that some of the reasons for introducing the change are to simplify the administration effort for drivers and to reduce the civil service workload!

It's going to make it harder to play the game of "spot the car number plates" we play with the children when we holiday in France. The aim is to try to see one car from each department in France (01 - Ain, 02 - Aisne, ... through to 94 - Val-de-Marne and 95 - Val-d'Oise, and of course 2A - South Corsica and 2B - North Corsica). It can get quite a challenge to see the final plates you've not 'ticked off' and gives something to distract the kids with!

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