TRAVEL CLINIC;Your Questions Answered by Our Panel of Travel Experts, Including a Doctor and a Lawyer
GITE THEE HENCE
We are interested in renting a gite in France, but I've heard that the Gite de France organisation has closed after much criticism. Can you still book gites in Britain?
Alan Mann Chester-le-Street Jill Crawshaw replies: The gites organisation was originally developed by the French government, who gave financial and marketing help to private rural homeowners wanting to let their properties for holiday rental. They are inspected by the non-profit making Federation Nationale des Gites. There are now about 60,000 privately owned self-catering homes available throughout France, promising the simple life Gallic style, offering rural bliss at relatively cheap rates. But it's fair to say that after about 40 years of popularity, particularly with middle-class Brits, the gite movement had lost some of its lustre; facilities in some cases were rather too basic - we preferred proper loos to the flush-and-leap variety! And Anglo-Saxon luxuries such as teapots, kettles, bedside lights, comfortable chairs and more than just the basic sets of cutlery were frequently not available. At the end of last year the largest suppliers of gites in Britain, based in London's Piccadilly, closed down and Brittany Ferries (0990 360 360) took over their marketing operation. They claim to have weeded out the poor properties, keeping just 1,200 on their books. Not surprisingly, with the strength of the pound against the franc, they are reporting booming sales again. Prices start at pounds 196 per party for a week's holiday for five people, including the ferry crossing, though the cost is likely to double or even treble in the peak July and August periods. There's a wide range of properties from country cottages, converted farm houses, mills, even apartments in a luxury chateau. I have tried out various gite schemes with varied success - without being chauvinistic, we have found those offered by British companies of a higher standard than by taking pot luck. At least if something went wrong, we knew who to complain to. Some time ago I attended an "inspection session" with VFB Cottage Holidays (01242 240 340), and I can testify that with over 400 properties throughout France from simple gites to luxury villas with pools, the firm pays the highest attention to detail. They have a number of special offers at the moment, but generally prices begin at around pounds 456 for two weeks in the Auvergne for a family of four, including ferry or the Shuttle, and insurance. Another organisation, Vacances en Campagne (0990 143 681 for brochures) have a fine collection of self-catering cottages, country houses, farmhouses and chateaux in some of the most beautiful regions of France, while Vintage Travel (01954 261431) specialises in Tarn et Garonne - a region of small, unchanged villages and ancient market towns, medieval and spa towns and views of the Pyrenees. Weekly rentals range from pounds 335 in low season to pounds 915 in peak season for a restored barn sleeping six. Normandie Vacances (01922 20278), as its name suggests, goes only to Normandy, offering 120 gites across the region from Dieppe westwards to Mont-St Michel. Prices for two people begin at pounds 289 for a week's accommodation and ferry crossing for car/passengers, and insurance. I also suggest you call 0181-607 9080, the Association of Independent Tour Operators and ask for the AITO Directory of Real Holidays; it is packed with holiday ideas, and includes many companies that offer gite holidays to France. Jill Crawshaw is a travel expert, broadcaster and writer. WHAT DO I DO ABOUT MISLEADING BROCHURES? What can be done if a travel brochure's description of a hotel and its situation proves to be misleading? Our holiday brochure says of the Continental Hotel in Lugano: ". . . being set in beautiful gardens, your hotel offers superb views over Lugano". In fact the hotel is situated next to Lugano's main station, immediately overlooking a very busy main railway line and a busy main road. …