Running a French Holiday Gite in Rural Brittany

Saturday, January 22, 2011

AerArran reopens their Irish flight service to Brittany

AerArran logo
Quick note to pass on news that of Aer Arran restarting on 1st June their summer route from Galway and Waterford to Lorient with a weekly Saturday service.

Fares are from €69.99 each way, and Lorient is just an hour's drive from our Brittany holiday Gite.

Details of this and other Brittany travel routes by air, road and boat are on our holiday Gite website.

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Friday, January 21, 2011

Vivian Maier - haunting and beautiful photos from the 1950's

Nothing whatsoever to do with France, but goes into my category of CoolWebsites, is an article I just read on BBC News about the Photographer Vivian Maier from Chicago who was a prolific "street photographer" and took literally tens of thousands of everyday photos of her home town of Chigaco. Despite being an untrained amateur her photos are beautifully framed and shot, mainly in black and white.

Quite by accident John Maloof, a real estate agent in Chicago came across the photos and now two years after Vivian's death he's managed to acquire some 100,000 photos which are now being shown for the first time.

Take a look at the Vivian Maier Blog and also Jeff Goldstein's collection (he has "just" 12,000 of her photos). There's more details of the discovery of the photos and Vivian's life in an article in Chicago Magazine.


Monday, January 17, 2011

Great news, we're having an extra Family holiday this year

Last year when I had planned to go over to our Holiday Gite to do some work on the second house (plasterboarding and wiring), our youngest monster, Jack, said that he'd like to come with me.

Mum was not too enthusiastic about the idea but eventually her concerns were assuaged and he went with me for the second week of the Easter holidays.

I actually quite enjoyed it with just Jack, when they're not together the boys are not squabbling and "bouncing-off" each other, so we had a great time, I got some work done on the other house, Jack watched a lot of TV and read books, and it was nice to spend time together as just the two of us.

So this year to be fair I offered eldest monster Toby (who is much less of a monster than Jack) the opportunity to go with me for half-term week in February. I've some holiday to use up and I thought it fair to give him the chance of a 'week with Daddy'.

Toby initially said "no, he'd rather stay at home", and "Jack should go", so I left it for a bit and just before I left for India we talked it over as a family and Toby stuck to his guns and said he didn't want to come.

So then Jack asked if he could come. Of course once Toby had finally made up his mind not to go, I explained that "I would love for Jack to come with me again, but that as his birthday is in half-term week we would have to have his 'main' birthday party when we get back from France".

Seemed to be sorted and I left for India the next day. Had a phone call from Liz yesterday to say that Jack had got himself into a state and he didn't want to go to France with me, but that he wanted all of us to go.

So great news, another family holiday. Sure it'll be a little bit colder in February but the house is well insulated and has central heating and a log fire, and it'll be nice to spend a week together as a family, especially as I've been away from home with work so much recently.

Dates are booked in the Gite holiday reservation calendar, and I'm now looking at ferry options for that week.


Friday, January 14, 2011

French Lessons by George East - book review

French Lessons book cover
The seasonal holiday period has given me some time off work and for once the opportunity to sit down and read a good book.

And so would I consider George East's latest book, French Lessons, to be a 'good book' or not?

An interesting question, and not one I think I have a definitive answer for. I've read all of George East's previous stories of moving to France, and if you've followed the story so far you'll be interested (like I was) in the latest up's and down's of George and his long-suffering wife Donella.

The previous book (French Kisses) saw our hero forced into desperate financial times and having to sell the Mill of the Flea in order to clear his debts, only to take on new and even more massive debts with a large manor-house on the Normandy marshes with extravagant plans to turn it into a B&B, one of the barns into a pub, and to make their fortune in the land that they now both love.

Unfortunately things don't turn out as expected and George begins to doubt the wisdom of the purchase as they "discover" that the neighbours have a large set of kennels that abut their land (how anyone could miss it when viewing the property is somewhat surprising, but George apparently did), and the howling of the hounds every morning is going to reduce the popularity of the future B&B business.

George tries to improve Anglo-French relationships between two nearby pubs with his own self-styled French lessons to the other British ex-Pats, and English lessons and cuisine to the French locals - with predictable results, but before long he's taken on the idea of opening the first in a massive chain of Anglo-pubs that will span the length of France ... only he's decided not to tell Donella of his latest venture ...

The book itself I felt marked a difference in writing style, whereas the first few books in the Mill of the Flea series had real moments of comic hilarity that I was chuckling at for days afterwards, these more recent books, and certainly French Lessons takes on a more introspective style. Quite a few bits of the story give more of an insight to George's views and feelings, how he feels guilty in letting Donella down with his lack of financial stability and the continued money worries they have, how the new book (i.e. this book) just won't seem to get written and how both he and Donella care deeply about the countryside they inhabit.

There continues to be little stories of the East's life in France such as the thread of how he starts to befriend a local wild fox by throwing it scraps of bacon across the riverbank during George's night-time walks, and over time how the fox starts to become slightly less wary of him; only to be rudely reminded of the natural order of the countryside when the fox breaks into their chicken shed one night and does what foxes do naturally with the chickens.

There's also wry and insightful looks at the fellow inhabitants of Northern rural France, both the French and the British ex-pat invaders like the couple with the phantom Gite that doesn't exist (read the book to understand the full story) and the synchronised chain-smoking regulars propping up the bar.

Unfortunately I personally found that the rib-tickling laugh-out-loud humour that was present in the early books such as Home and Dry in France, French Flea Bites or Rene and Me wasn't there in this book, there were plenty of crazy situations that George gets himself into (and not entirely *all* of his own making), there were plenty of witty anecdotes and observations, and I enjoyed reading it, I just didn't find it quite as funny as earlier books.
Perhaps I am getting immune to the excellent writing style, perhaps it just wasn't as funny, or perhaps I am turning into a boring sad old something as I get older?
No rude suggestions as to which please !

I won't spoil the story but there's surprises in the last chapter; the almost-ending turned out to be much as I thought it would be, but the very ending was quite a surprise and marks a definite change of track for the couple.

Anyway, to sum up, French Lessons is a pleasant and enjoyable recommended Christmas read.

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Monday, January 03, 2011

VillaRentals / RentalSystems new website launch

VillaRentals logo
Just in time for the Christmas season and potential customers starting to look for their next year holiday, VillaRentals relaunched their website on the 23rd December with a new cleaner and simpler look and feel, and a number of behind the scenes improvements including an improved ability to upload unlimited holiday property photos.

One of the most significant changes with the relaunched website is to the way that VillaRentals now shows holiday rental prices.  Previously the Gite rental price we charge is displayed against the listing, and then only when a customer progresses towards the end of the booking process are VillaRentals' mandatory credit card and booking fees added.  The end result is not surprisingly that customers are annoyed by seeing the price they pay change.

From now on all this is simplified and VillaRentals now shows from step 1 an all-inclusive weekly rental price.

Previously VillaRentals charged 2.5% for handling the credit card payment and £15 booking fee for rentals generated by themselves, or £8 for rentals that we generate and process through VillaRentals payment engine.
In the new scheme these two fees are replaced by a single combined flat rate 4.5% fee.

The nett-nett is some slight swings and roundabouts. VillaRentals generated bookings work out generally slightly cheaper for the customer (a £500 weekly rental price now costs £522.50 whereas previously the customer would have paid £527.50), and member generated bookings work out slightly more expensive (the same £500 rent would have cost £520.50 and now costs the same £522.50).

All in all though providing all inclusive prices should definitely make things better for our customers. We usually get one or two bookings direct each year from our holiday Gite advert on VillaRentals.

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Saturday, January 01, 2011

Bonne Année 2011, and a look back on 2010

"Bonne Année", or should I say "Happy New Year" to all my readers and visitors.

At this end-of-one-year, look-forward-to-the-next time of year I thought I'd give an update on how things have been for us personally in terms of website traffic and holiday Gite bookings. I last wrote on this subject two years ago when I detailed the visitors and guest numbers from 2005 to 2008, so an opportune time for an update.

Again using Google Analytics reports, website visitor numbers for both the Gite website and this Blog for the last couple of years have dropped a fraction, but in the main have been fairly constant:
     visitors     page viewsvisitorspage views

But unfortunately we have seen a definite downturn in guests over the last couple of years, with 2010 having both the smallest number of guest bookings and the least number of nights where the Gite was rented out:

YearRental bookingsNumber of nights rentedAverage days in advance

Hidden behind these numbers of course are the days and weeks we have occupied the Gite ourselves as a family, and in both 2009 and 2010 we had a number of stays including a 3 week August holiday in the Gite, which is of course prime-time holiday season.

Over the 6 years now that we have been renting our Brittany Gite out we've now broken the Century with 103 different guest holidays, although some of these are families that have been back a couple of times, and two families have been back 3 times, so the number of unique guests is slightly lower.

Again we've had really good feedback from our guests, although I have to admit to not having remembered to copy some of the quotes from the "Gite Diary" that we leave in France onto the online Guestbook comments on our website. Every time I visit I completely forget to sit down and copy some of them over - perhaps this should be my New Year's resolution?

I'm hoping that the booking slowdown is due to the general economic conditions, and we'll see an upturn in numbers as and when things improve. I know other Gite's have really really struggled with just a handful of weeks booked last year, so against this background we've continued to do well. We've kept our rental prices constant for the last two years and are continuing to invest in improvements to facilities at the Gite, so fingers crossed let's hope we are well positioned for a good 2011.

(And so far we've had 5 bookings for the new year, 46 nights in total, with a good chunk of July and August booked, and also an early May booking as well, so things are looking OK so far).

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