STANDING OUT FROM THE CROWD
In France, gîte owners can have their property classified by the Comité Departemental du Tourisme for the department in which they live. A team of inspectors will assess the accommodation against a checklist with 130-140 items.
Monique and Harry decided to go through this process with the Comité Departemental du Tourisme du Tarn to give their guests confidence and peace of mind. They have a four-star rating for the farmhouse and a three-star rating for the cottage. Monique would advise anyone booking a gîte holiday in France for the first time to ask for this certification. “There are a lot of organisations that do rankings, but this is official, and if people have doubts about a property they should ask for this certificate,” she says.
Many gîte owners say they spend as much on off-season marketing for their properties as they do on maintenance and improvements. This includes contacting previous customers, updating their website, forging good links with their local tourist office and making decisions on the best ways to advertise their business. Acquiring a high Gîtes de France rating ( en. gites-de-france.com) or a Logis d’Exception label ( logishotels. com) are useful marketing tools, as is a listing from an independent property reviewer, such as Sawday’s Special Places to Stay ( sawdays.co.uk).
Remember that it’s important to make sure that everything is consistently perfect for your guests. A stream of happy customers posting delighted reviews will do more to boost bookings than almost anything else. Happy customers are likely to return year after year, giving you a head start and more time to devote to off-season marketing.
Her approach to shopping is equally spontaneous, letting pure intuition guide her buying sprees. “It’s the feeling I have when I go into a shop,” she says. “Suddenly my eye is drawn to one of the fabrics and I know that it’s going to fit perfectly. It could be a nice shop in Albi or in Toulouse, but it could also be Ikea!”
The result in both the farmhouse and the cottage is rustic, charming and colourful; a home-from-home feel with Cath Kidston-esque patterns sitting prettily against the light wooden furniture, and comfy sofas and soft furnishings toning perfectly with the 200-year-old property’s original features. The walls are exposed stone or white, the floors are terracotta and many ceilings still have the heavy old oak beams. There are two huge open fireplaces in the farmhouse sitting room and a large, cheerful, welcoming kitchen.
Monique and Harry have also done a lot of work outside; creating private gardens and terraces for both gîtes, as well as landscaping and softening the area around the 11m by 5m swimming pool. “We did a lot of work in the garden,” says Monique. “It was very enclosed so we did a lot of cutting back to open it up. We did it year by year and bit by bit because it is important to see what happens and you have to see what works for all seasons.
“We took away all the old conifers and planted a lot of new plants. We have about 50-60 hydrangeas now, and we also planted rhododendrons, lilacs, lavender, and roses. You have to see what works in this soil. We are always