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France summer holidays guide: self-catering and villas
How to book the best French summer self-catering holiday, with advice on great villas, gîtes, and cottages, our experts favourite properties, and the best booking agents and tour operators. By Telegraph Travel s France experts.
We need to be more specific yet. Eyes will be drawn to Provence and the Côte-d’Azur . Between them, these two drain the most foreign tourists – with good reason. But that can have a heady effect on prices. I have before me details of a sea-view villa on the Cap-Ferrat headland which rents for £42,323 a week. Granted it sleeps 16, in the style favoured by the late King Farouk, but it indicates the sort of circles you will be moving in. A luxury four-sleeper – mum, dad and two nippers – with pool and sea view is, in high season, unlikely to be less than £2,500-3,000 a week.
Going just inland should push that down below £2,000, while real inland Provence – admittedly, some way from a beach – will seem a comparative bargain. There’s decent four-sleeper choice around the £700-800 mark.
Or why not hop just out of Provence, to the Drôme to the north? The south of this département is indistinguishable from Provence, but without the crowds – and I’ve seen cracking four-sleepers for around £700 in the Buis-les-Baronnies district.
Should the two kids nevertheless insist on the Med sea-side, Languedoc-Roussillon will do less harm to the budget. It doesn’t yet have the Côte-d’Azur cachet but who cares when, five minutes from the long, flat beaches, there are acceptable four-sleepers at £700-800?
Brittany and Normandy may be cheaper still – say, £600-750 for our sea-side family-of-four accommodation, but it’s going to rain some of the time and, conceivably, all of the time. The Dordogne is another favourite. I recently came across a cracking 18th-century hill-top cottage near Le Bugue for £981. That said, you’ll find very much cheaper in not dissimilar landscapes slightly off the beaten holiday track in, say, the Auvergne . Around £500 will see you and the family acceptably lodged amid slightly wilder, more remote hills, but no less beauty.
Characterful self-catering stone cottages can be found for reasonable prices in Brittany
BEGNE Bernard – Région Bretagne
When searching, incidentally, don’t ignore newer-wave sites like Airbnb. where individuals rent out part or all of their homes for prices often (but not invariably) cheaper than on traditional rental sites. Customer reviews and payment-via-the-site offer some protection against being ripped off.
Wherever you book, please remember (a) that French accommodation can be snugger than British. When they say: Six sleeper (four plus two) they mean, in our terms, four. And (b) the isolated farmhouse may sound fab, but do you really want to get the car out every time you need bread or a café?
Scroll down for a list of tour operators offering French self-catering and villa holidays
It is also worth considering the shoulder months – May, June and September – when prices drop by at least 15-20 per cent, with not much loss of good weather. Average maximum temperatures on the Côte-d’Azur are around 81F (27C) in July and August, and only three degrees lower in June and September. It’s much the same story across southern France. Of course, this is no use if you’re tied to school holidays, but is worth bearing in mind if you aren’t. Don’t overdo it, mind. Prices are even lower in November or February, but much is shut and the weather unreliable.
And do keep your wits about you. There are sharks out there. If not booking through one of the large rental sites with their own reservation systems (and payment by credit card), don’t pay anything until you’ve had direct contact with, and all the contact details of, the villa owner, then pay by a traceable, trustworthy method. PayPal is good. If asked for a bank transfer, ensure the bank account involved has the same name as the villa owner. Any cheques should be sent to a proper address, not a PO box or some address in the Czech Republic.
Most of all, when you first make contact, expect a fast response. The market is tight. A proper villa owner will be back in touch rapidly. If he isn’t, or if anything else at all raises suspicions, look elsewhere. There are, as we’ve said, a zillion possibilities in France.
Tour operators and booking sites offering villa and self-catering holidays