Saturday, October 3, 2009

France on $70 a Day - Finding a Gite

This was written in the Dordogne, but, because Internet cafes were difficult to find, it was posted from California.

After a fitful night's sleep, we were out the door before 8:00 this morning. On a side street cafe in Sarlat, David and I discussed our options over coffee and croissants. We really didn't have many choices, though, as a hotel would have been too much for our budget and not provided any of the amenities we needed, like a kitchen and washing machine, and a large house rental would have been prohibitively expensive. Still, no matter how reasonably priced, we knew we did not want to spend another night, let alone a week, in Tapis Vert 2.

Fortunately, I remembered that the tourist bureaus in most French towns help travelers find accommodations. As we finished our petit dejeuner (Doesn't that sound more romantic than breakfast?), we decided to try our luck at that office. We hoped to find a gite that would work for us.

I'd been studying gites (pronounced zheet and rhyming with beet) for some time and knew there were many English websites that listed particularly desirable ones, but we had neither the time nor a computer for a thorough search. Still, a gite would be the perfect answer for us. Though the term originally referred to rudimentary shelters, gites today can be converted barns or workers' cottages which offer basic one-star accommodations all the way up to luxurious four-star mansions with swimming pools and tennis courts. Gites are usually located in rural areas far from public transportation, but that typically is not a problem for travelers since a car is required to visit the more bucolic areas of France anyway. There's further reassurance about this type of accommodation because the French government encourages the development of gites to improve tourism, and they require gite owners to comply with their rules, regulations and insurance requirements.

We were first in line when the tourist office doors opened and were quickly being helped by Stephanie, who spoke fluent English. We told her what we needed—a place with a kitchen, a washing machine and a bit of charm—and she found three choices. The one we chose was a two-star gite, ideally situated midway between the towns of Sarlat and Les Eyzies, with two bedrooms with en suite bathrooms, a living room, dining room, kitchen, washing machine, and garden terrace with picnic table. The cost was 290 euros for the week, plus a 22 euro processing fee. This translates to 44.57 euros a night which, for each of us, amounted to 22 or so euros per night. That's less expensive than most hostel rooms!

We paid the fees, got a map, and walked out of the office somewhat dazed. We had been going to pay 400 euros a week for the shabby, 484 square foot Tapis Vert 2 in Sarlat, but now we had a veritable mansion of 1184 square feet for 88 euros less per week. More square feet, another bedroom and bathroom, and $127 US less money! Now all we could do was hope the place was as charming as Stephanie had made it sound. David muttered that he hoped we hadn't gone from the frying pan into the fire. Before we could find out, though, we had to settle up with Pierre-Henri and give him the unpleasant news that we would be leaving.

We found him outside his chambres d'hote, the historic La Maison du Notaire Royal, in central Sarlat and explained our problem; the apartment was not what we expected and David kept hitting his head on the bathroom doorway. Pierre-Henri was gracious and accepted our explanation and the 56 euros we gave him for last night's stay.

After we shopped for groceries at the Carrefour, we drove the seven kilometers to the easy-to-find gite just off the main road. We'd been told the caretaker would be waiting for us. Jean-Francois led us through the house, not speaking a word of English, but explaining by gesture and demonstration how to operate the washing machine, stove and heating system. When he left, David and I whooped with joy.

We were in a simple, rustic farmhouse that was exactly what we were hoping for. The rooms were huge and furnished simply with beautiful, sturdy antiques. There were two sets of French doors in the dining room and one set in the living room leading to the terrace, so sunshine flooded the whole house. But, at night, when we wanted privacy and darkness, there were wooden shutters we could close.

We sat at the picnic table for a minute admiring our view of the rolling hills in front of us and the pond, complete with four geese, on our left. David, always a country boy at heart, was so excited I thought he'd never unpack. In fact, as I write this now, he's been out for an hour taking photographs of the entire property. Every once in a while, he pops back in to tell me of a new discovery—There are horses and a donkey out back beyond the fence! The road in the distance must lead to a small village! There are fish in the pond! Tonight, he tells me, because there's a new moon and will be little light, we'll be able to see all the stars.

The city of Paris dazzled us with her many charms, and, now, I guess, it's Mother Nature's turn.

We'll sleep well tonight.

Our Pond at Dusk

Practicalities -
Gites can be wonderful and inexpensive accommodations. There are many websites dedicated to helping you find the right place for your vacation. You can also access the French government's site at
If you'd like to take a look at the gite we called home for a week, here's the link. Enter this number in the direct access blank 04 0050 in the lower right hand corner of the page.

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