Living France - - Lifestyle -

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. 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 ( saw­

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

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