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Renting a gite in France over winter
In this post we really wanted to share what we learnt from renting a gite in France over the winter. Partly to share the practical details of how we found places to rent and the costs, but also the potential pitfalls to look out for, especially if you’re living on a tight budget like we are.
After we secured our Christmas housesit in France, we started looking for gites that offered month long lets over the winter. With no heating in our van we didn’t fancy spending multiple months freezing in the northern half of France.
Airbnb versus renting a gite
To start with, why did we choose to ‘rent’ a gite for a month, rather than choosing an Airbnb rental? Our initial investigations suggested that renting a gite was cheaper than using Airbnb. Most gites are busy through the warmer months, and quieter over the winter, hence they are offered as long term rentals at a cheaper rate.
We did look for places on Airbnb that offered month long rentals, but with the added fees that come with using Airbnb plus a lack of choices that met our needs, we decided to look for alternative options.
Where to find winter rentals or long term lets
The best website I came across in our hunt for renting a gite in France was Rent A Place In France. It’s a bit outdated looking but it is full of lots of gites offering long term rentals in France, and full of all the information we wanted to know. Other websites might have looked swish, but I found them lacking in details and choice.
We found a number of places that we liked the look of and met our needs, so contacted the owners to enquire about availability. Eventually we found two gites – one in the Dordogne and one in Brittany – to stay before and after our housesit.
Our experience of renting a gite over winter
Just a reminder that this is our experience of renting two gites during the winter in France, and therefore not fact. We are sharing it in case it is helpful to anyone else travelling like we are who might want to stop and rent for a bit.
Our experience is very specific to renting over winter and the cold weather that brings with it to the places we stayed. We are also on a small budget (trying to stick to €1,000 a month for a family of four), if your budget is a lot larger I’m sure it would be much easier to stay comfortable!
Gite #1 – Dordogne
All the photos in this post are from gite #1.
Gite #1 was a converted barn. It had a huge open plan living space with a wood burner in the centre of the room. Upstairs was almost like a mezzanine, so half the ground floor was open floor to ceiling (barn height!). There were 3 bedrooms and two bathrooms.
We spent 5 weeks in Gite #1 and paid €625 in ‘rent’. On top of that we had to pay for electricity, gas for cooking and wood for the fire.
Other than the big wood burner, there were radiators to heat the gite. We had been advised that the wood burner was the best way of heating the gite, and that most people just had the radiators on really low in the background. With the bedroom doors open, the warmth from the wood burner and the chimney that ran up through the gite would warm them, in theory.
Our experience was that the wood burner wasn’t that efficient. You had to be sitting in front of it to really appreciate the warmth, and it was such a cavernous space to heat that it never really held its heat or felt warm.
The day before we left Nick went to find out what we owed for bills. It was eye-watering. The cost of the bills almost doubled the cost of our stay at the gite, making it well and truly not budget-friendly for us. We paid €300 for electricity, €60 for gas, and €220 for logs. Electricity is expensive in France, there’s not much more to say!
The owners of the gite were lovely and really helpful, especially when we had problems with the Baby Bus. They invited us round for drinks and gave us local tips. It was nice to bump into them in the Brantome market, it helped to feel part of the community.
Gite #2 – Brittany
Gite #2 was an old cottage. It had an open plan living space downstairs but on a much smaller scale than Gite #1 and with considerably lower ceilings. It had a wood burner in the sitting room space and there was a downstairs bathroom. Upstairs there were 3 bedrooms and a small bathroom off a long corridor. There were heaters in every room apart from the two bathrooms which just had heated towel rails.
We paid €650 for 3 1/2 weeks in Gite #2 (we actually only stayed 2 weeks – details on why below). We had originally booked for a month and we reduced our time there so we could extend our housesitting . On top of that we had to pay for electricity. If we wanted a fire we had to buy our own logs.
Our experience was that the wood burner didn’t really give out much heat, even sat right in front of it. We quickly decided that buying logs from the Super U was going to be costly and we wouldn’t get the heat return from it. In the end we had one fire using the logs provided and didn’t light it again.
Without any heaters in the bathrooms, they were freezing, especially the downstairs bathroom that had the bath in it. The bath was huge and with a limited supply of hot water plus the cold room temperature, we never used it.
Learning from our previous lesson in Gite #1, we asked for metre readings after the first week. Our first weeks electricity costs were €68! We felt we were pretty frugal with the heating as we were already being careful. It seems the cost of electricity in France is super high and there’s no way around this unless we wanted to spend 3 weeks really cold and miserable. We spent €140 on electricity for the 2 weeks we were there.
Our stay in Gite #2 didn’t have the ending we imagined. In fact, we left 10 days early. Mainly were really unhappy with the attitude of the owners towards us. That combined with a few other things and luckily fate stepped in and offered us a housesit. It was in Brittany and ran right up until our ferry date, plus there were chickens and goats to look after.
We feel that these owners were inexperienced with renting during the winter period and were unfamiliar with their gite in winter. The freezing unusable bathroom being one example.
A summary of what we learnt about renting a gite in winter
- It gave our family space after being in the van for so many months.
- You get to use facilities you don’t have in the van – bath, shower, washing machine.
- There is ‘free’ and reliable internet.
- There’s the opportunity to get to know an area – its markets, shops, walks and so on.
- You can receive post!
- It gave us time to work on/clean/repair the van.
- Being in one place we found we ended up sitting around not doing much.
- It’s hard and relentless with children to make sure they don’t accidentally damage anything.
- Electricity is very expensive in France! (The rate is very high).
- It’s expensive heating a house if you are inside a lot.
Our advice to anyone looking to rent a gite over winter
If we were asked to share our advice, these would be our suggestions:
- Pick a gite that is small and easy to heat, e.g. low ceilings, thick looking walls, individual rooms not one big open plan living space.
- Be clear about what extras there are to pay for, e.g. gas, wood/logs for the fire, electricity, water.
- Ask the gite owners in advance for an approx cost of bills for a week/month to help you plan your budget.
- I’d even suggest you ask in advance about their experience of others renting during the winter.
Would we do it again?
It just didn’t suit us. We much prefer housesitting – there are animals to keep us busy and a more homely environment. Plus the bonus of not worrying about an expensive electricity bill at the end of the stay.