France Basics

When it comes to holiday rentals in France there's just one French word you really need to know and that is "gite" (pronounced zjeet). Since 1955, the French government has overseen a network of gites -- privately owned homes of all typeswhich government agents inspect and rate. Today, there are some 43,800 properties in the system, making it the largest such system in Europe (though, to be fair, gites in the French territories are listed alongside those in mainland France).

With that many properties, the variety of rental options is mindboggling. You might find yourself paddling in the indoor pool that's been installed into a converted mill in the Loire Valley; lounging in the flower-filled garden of a former fisherman's home near the historic center of Honfleur; or warming yourself before the massive fireplace in a 17th century manor in Normandy.

Most gites rentals are weeklong, though there are some which give you the option of staying only for the weekend (generally, the longer the stay, the lower the cost per day). Before you book your plane tickets, make sure that your rental allows you to show up any day of the week; many require Saturday to Saturday rentals. (And if you get one of those weekend to weekend rentals, be sure to pick up supplies on the way to your property, as grocery stores in many parts of France shutter on Sundays, and you don't want to find yourself short of milk or toilet paper!)

To rent a gites, simply head to, the excellent, highly interactive site run by the government. Yes, there are private companies such as Villes et Villages ( and Homes Away ( that will do a bit more hand-holding throughout the rental process. But the Gites English-language site has improved so dramatically in recent years that most will find it sufficient for finding good rental options (and you'll usually pay less going directly to it).