Sunday, December 28, 2008

Gites 2009

With the New Year just a couple of days away it’s time to sort out the advertising for the coming season. With the major advertising having already been commissioned and sorted out it’s time to re-tune the website and tinker with the smaller external sites that we use, which includes PPC (pay per click-adwords) and free websites. On our website we are going to try to improve the general first impression and usability, the most important change will be an improvement in the number and the quality of the videos available on the site, to this end we intend to host them all on an external server. One of the problems this year has been that some of the videos have not always run when requested. This has been partly due to our own inability to set the videos up properly and partly because of the different ways that the browsers are set up on customers’ computers. I have just returned from a short break, but while I was away I used a cyber cafe to check my email, and any problems with the website. I tried 8 different computers and virtually every one showed me something slightly different on the screen, sometimes it was the spacing, sometimes it was the fonts, sometimes the videos opened and at other times they didn’t. It would be possible to host the videos on "Youtube" (check out our video ) but the quality is often poor and the loading slow) this is especially true if you don’t provide it in a format that is really compatible with their system.
It will take time to re-make my existing videos suitable for the new hosting system but when completed at least they will open every time and in a good quality.
When these improvements are complete I will notify you, in the mean time have a Happy New Year.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Gite adverts and the crunchJust when you thought things couldn’t get any worse in steps Murphy waving his law at you. Yes the pound has continued its

Just when you thought things couldn’t get any worse in steps Murphy waving his law at you. Yes the pound has continued its free fall and yesterday I was given just 95p for a euro. Will it fall any further? I hope not. On the optimistic side I feel like many in the trade that it won’t stay this low forever or for too long, there are sharks out there and they will make a killing soon by forcing the price up, they are just manipulating the market to make money.
Hopefully with the traditional peak in holiday inquiries just about to commence we will see a change in our fortunes, there a few things that we can do to help. Firstly make sure our adverts are up to date and with the best photos available. Secondly if you are going to discount (though I feel that it’s a little too early for that) display it where it catches the eye. Thirdly look for more places to advertise, try some of the free sites like . Fourth and most importantly answer you potential customers main questions, what’s in it for me? Why should I choose your property over all the others out there? To do that you have to understand what holidays are all about, a break from the normal drudgery of life, a chance to recharge the batteries, a chance to life a different life even be it for a short time, a touch of luxury, these are some of reasons, so let them know what is special about your property, what your strengths are, it’s a very competitive world out there so take up the challenge and meet them head on.
Good luck.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

5 Bedroom Gites.

5 Bedroom gites in the Vendee

5 Bedroom Gites offer accommodation for the larger family or two or more families who wish to share. It has become an essential part of every holiday to have use of a swimming pool whether as a stand alone property or on a complex, our two properties offer these choices plus in surroundings that are relaxing and beautiful.

Our Le Cedre Gite is a stand alone. A large spacious farmhouse that has been converted to meet the needs of the holidaying family with an enclosed swimming pool which includes a separate children’s pool. The house retains all the rustic charm of traditional French living yet with all the modern comforts.

Ardoux Gite This large 5 bedroom farmhouse is part of the La Grange Gites complex. Modernised to today’s standards it offers accommodation in 5 bedrooms of which 3 have en-suite facilities.
The advantages of being on the complex are the huge amount of facilities and activities on site which include a heated indoor swimming pool as well as a large outdoor pool, a games and sports hall unrivalled in this part of France and beautiful landscaped gardens and of course other children and their parents to play and socialise with.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

4 Bedroom Gites

CHENE 3 bedrooms sleeps 6 changeover Thursdays.

Chene Split level, 4 Bedrooms, Sleeps 9, Changeover THURSDAYS.

Entrance Hall on the split level has armchars and settee.

Ground Floor American style open plan lounge, Kitchen/diner.
Bedroom and bathroom with washing machine,
patio doors to terrace.

First Floor 3 bedrooms and second bathroom.

Kitchen Large fridge freezer, gas cooker with 4 rings and oven, double sink, micowave , large work surfaces and cupboard space and ample pots pans and utensil.

Dining area Large table and chairs for all the family.

Lounge. large corner settee and arm chairs.

Bedroom 1 off the lounge area has two single beds,bedside table and

Bedroom 2 on the first floor has double bed, bedside tables and wardrobe.

Bedroom 3 two single beds, bedside tables, wardrobe and chest of draws.

Bedroom 4 single bed and a set of bed bunks,bedside table and wardrobe.

Bathroom 1 on the ground floor has walkin shower, washbasin, toilet and
the washing machine.

For more information including,pictures,on-site facilities, prices and booking.
With more and more people travelling to the Vendee by air we have added a new page where you can see all the flights to the Vendee.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

3 bedroom gite with pool Vendee

Gites Vendee

3 Bedroom Gite with Pool in the Vendee

Split Level Gite, 3 Bedrooms, 2 Bathrooms, Central Heating.

large fridge/freezer.
Four burner cooker with oven.
Plenty of work surfaces and cupboard space.
Ample pots, Pans and utensils for self-catering


Solid Pine Table and Chairs.
Settee and air Chairs.
Bedroom 1.

on split level with entrance to front patio
Double Bed
Bedside table
Bedroom 2 & 3.

On first Floor.
2 single Beds.
Bedside tables.
Chest of Draws.
Good views over the gardens and countryside.

Bathroom 1.

on split level opposite Bedroom 1.
Large walkin shower.
Washing Machine.

Bathroom 2.

On First Floor.
Walkin Shower.
Small patio by the car park and split level entrance.
Garden Table and Chairs.
Large Private Patio with Garden table and Chairs, BBQ
Parosol and entrance to Kitchen/diner.
Good views over the landscaped gardens.
Out door pool fenced for security.
Indoor heated Pool
Games & Sports Hall with: TV lounge
Snooker table (full size)
2 American Pool tables
3 Table tennis tables
Skittle alley (full Size)
Out Doors: Boules Court.
Garden Chess set,
Turbo slide,
Garden Swings.

For Prices and more details visit

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Gite advertising

As the main season for enquiries quickly approaches there are some very nervous mutterings throughout the holiday industry. For the last few months the rate of inquiries has all but dried up, virtually every major site on the net has reported at least a 50% drop in the volume of enquiries and of those who are looking most are just window shopping. Everyone is feeling the pinch as a result of the credit crunch, the doom and gloom portrayed every day on the TV and other media doesn’t help and all in all it leaves one feeling that this will be the worst season ever.
There are of course exceptions, in general the larger the property, the more exclusive, the more facilities on offer, and to a point the more expensive, the better the property seems to be booking. A detached five bedroom gite with a private heated pool and all the luxuries seems to have a greater occupancy rate already. This is probably due to two main factors, firstly they are rarer and therefore visitors who regularly use this size of accommodation know that if they leave it too late to book they will end up with little or no choice. Secondly, although difficult to explain, it seems the higher the price of the property the easier it is to let, it seems that many of the public think that the more they pay the better their experience will be. It is also true to say that 10 people sharing a luxury gite at £2500 per week is better value that 2 people in a £500 per week basic gite, especially when you take the cost of ferries and fuel into consideration.
So where does one go from here? Well one could just say “don’t panic it will all sort it self out in the end”, one could double the advertising budget in an attempt to catch those few visitors that are looking, one could cut back on expenditure making economies to maximize what profit there may be, or one could think positively and upgrade the gite with a pool, a dishwasher, some new furniture or whatever else you think might encourage people to book with you. One could reduce the price or make special offers, why not try a "BOGOFF" buy one get one free, for example, book two weeks in high season and get two weeks free at another time of the year. The problem is there are no certainties only great debating topics. What are you going to do? I hear you say, well I’ll probably try a mixture of all of them, I've never been one for putting all my eggs in one basket.
Of Course I will continue to try and get better rankings for the website. The principal question is what keyword is the most important for me to rank for. The answer? Well that will be the subject of another blog, so if you’re interested in finding out, keep checking in.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

vendee globe update

20th November 08.

With the majority of the competitors now in the Doldrums just north of the Equator the daily miles totals have dropped dramatically. There is now laess than fifty miles seperating the first 5 boats after 10days of racing.
Leading still is Loick Peyron in Gitana, 2nd is Sab Josse in BT and third is Armel le Cleac'h in Brit Air.

Of the British contenders Mike Golding in Ecover has moved up to 6th, Samantha Fox in Roxy is 11th, Brian Thompson in Bahrain Team Pindar is 12th, Dee Caffari in Aviva is 15th and steve White in Toe in the Water is 16th.

The Doldrums are so unpredictable that the change of position can often be a question of luck, being in the right place when the winds pick up, rather than on skill and tactics.

I'll keep you updated.

Monday, November 17, 2008

vendee globe latest

The Vendee Globe Latest.

Leading on 17/11/08 is Jean Lecom in VM Matereriaux
Second Loick Peyron in Gitana Eighty
Third Seb Josse in BT

of the British entries Mike Golding in 7th
Brian Thomson in 11th
Samantha Davies in 12th
Dee Caffari in 16th
Steve White in 17th
It should be noted that mike golding has covered a lot more ground than the rest and I sucpect that it because hes taken more westerly to better the advantage when they reach the daldrums.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Gite update

With the autumn now well into its stride and my short break down to the family apartment in Spain quickly becoming a faded memory its time to restart the winter work. When the weather is good then outside work in the garden is a major priority, it's the time to remove the last of the summer bedding plants, to collect up those fallen leaves even though they have not all fallen yet as they stain the light coloured patio slabs and generally make the garden look untidy. It is surprising how one can get depressed when the skies are grey and the paving is dull and one starts to wish that spring would hurry up and come, yet just the brightening up of patios and the tidying of garden in general can lift the spirit.
There is of course other work needed to be done, the general maintenance of the buildings, treating all the outside timbers, filling those bits of jointing in the stone walling that have worked loose, those bits of damage the guests have caused in the garden and around the buildings, on a vast site like ours there is always something needed to be done.
When the weather takes a turn for the worst or when a change of work is required to ease those aching bones then inside there is endless work awaiting. The Tournesol gite is nearing completion of its make over, the new laminate floors are down in the bedrooms, it just needs the skirting boards to be put in place and we will be there. Then it’s on to the Frene Gite with a new tilled kitchen and upstairs bathroom.
Over in the games hall the new toilet block is all but finished and a start on the new storage rooms is under way. We try to keep at least one spare of everything from complete toilets to curtain poles for during those hectic summer months you know someone will have an accident, something will break and as Murphy is alive and well in the Vendee you know it will happen at an inconvenient moment, the week end, bank holiday or what ever when getting a replacement is impossible, so having a spare is not only convenient but saves money and frustration and usually leaves the guest well impressed at your efficiency. The main problem in the past is having all those spares where I can find them. We have precious little storage space except for the large barn, but that needed compartmenting so that it can be easily found and out of the way from the guests, so new rooms have been formed for specialist things like, furniture with racks for new mattress's, chairs, bedside tables etc., another for everything for the kitchen, one for sanitary and plumbing and one for electrical.
The draw back to all this new organisation is that now many of my competitors with gites will now know that i have that convenience store that they can tap into in their hour of need and as I never refuse I may just have to add a few extra items to the store.
The other major job for the winter ahead is to review the websites, perhaps take a course in how to get better exposure for them and plan the campaign for new pages of information for the visitors to the site; this is of course hampered by not knowing exactly what information they would like. This years offerings on Restaurants especially around Fontenay le Comte was well received as was the pages on the beaches of the Vendee, which though finished in general is still being added to by the addition of image galleries as and when I get round to resizing and reviewing the hundreds of photos I took of all the beaches in the Vendee during the summer and Autumn.
Well the sun looks like I may come out so I best off out and start the work instead of writing about it.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Vendee Globe

If you are visiting the Vendee or staying in a Gite, cottage or hotel in the weeks leading up to the 9th of November then take time out to visit les Sables d'Olonne and the Vendee Globe Village.
For many people around the world the word Vendee is associated with single handed ocean racing and not with that facinating part of western France that we all love.
The Vendee globe race takes place every 4 year and starts from Les Sables d'Olonne, the largest port in the Vendee. It is a race for 60ft grand prix racing yatchs by single handered sailors from around the world, with out stopping and without assistance. It is the worlds most prestigious race of its kind and the Vendee Department are truly proud of it. The pubilicity surrounding it is truly amazing with every effort being put into not only the race but to put the Vendee on the map.

This event showcases the Vendée to the world, and the Vendéens take it very seriously. Their publicity machine is working overtime with huge buildings in Paris being lit with the Vendée Globe emblem, and television crews from around the world being invited to cover the occasion. Every school in the Vendée is issued with publicity packs for each child, including brochures, plans, DVD’s and a lot more. Even the auto route toll charges have been suspended for the 3 weeks leading up to the start of the race, and the parking charges have also been cancelled everywhere in Les Sable d'Olonne for the same period.

The Vendée Globe village is contained within the Port de Plaisance and is open for 3 weeks before the start of the race. The Village is packed full of free information, with posters, stickers and brochures that anywhere else in the world would be for sale, here being given away without charge. There is a state of the art interactive sailing simulator to test your virtual sailing skills and videos everywhere. Of course all of the boats with their skippers are there for you to take a close look at, and believe it or not everything is FREE.
During the race the village closes down, reopening again just before the race leaders arrive home.

It’s a show not to miss.

Why the Vendee

Why holiday in the Vendee? you may ask, well my friend Tate has put pen to paper to answer the question and the following is what he has to say.


If you are looking for a holiday in France why would you want to visit the Vendée? After all as a nurse who had just returned from a holiday there said to me “it’s just a strip of coastline with a boring flat plain behind it, isn’t it”? Well actually no it isn’t. The Vendée is without doubt one of the jewels in the French holiday crown. Who says so? Well actually the French, but they say it quietly because in typical Gallic style they like to keep the best for themselves.

For years the French have visited the Vendée for their holidays, enjoying the exceptional micro-climate, the miles and miles of exquisite sandy beaches and the sleepy rural communities. In fact the French liked it so much they chose to build their holiday homes, not in Provence, or on the Côte D’Azur but on the Vendéen coast. Now the secret is out and the Vendée is fast becoming a popular destination for holidaymaker and émigré alike, and if you look at the Vendée in more detail you will find a region of France that is beautiful, friendly, varied and steeped in history. So it doesn’t matter whether you enjoy the sun, water sports, sightseeing or just hanging out with the locals, the Vendée has it all.

Just to place the Vendée in history it was the only French province to resist the French Revolution, and as a consequence a bloody war was fought between Les Bleu’s the French revolutionary forces and Les Blanc’s the Vendéen army which supported the royalists and the clergy. The war raged for 12 years culminating in the defeat of the Vendéen army and the death of some 500,000 Vendéens. A spectacular depiction of the Vendéen War is re-enacted on weekend evenings throughout the summer at The Puy Du Fou. With a cast of thousands drawn from the surrounding communities, and that’s no exaggeration, this sound, light and laser show culminating in the raising of the Chateau is without doubt a totally unique and unexpected experience.

So having placed the Vendée in history let’s place it geographically. The Vendée sits on the French Atlantic coast stretching from the Isle de Niormoutier in the north to Marans in the south. The miles of white sandy beaches are a sun worshiper’s paradise, varying from beaches that literally come into town to beaches that require a walk over high protective sand dunes. Some are well used and some are secluded enough to offer nudism.

The one thing that is constant is that the beaches are clean and plentiful. If you enjoy sharing there are beaches such as Les Sables D’Olonne, La Tranche and La Faute that get plenty of visitors, L’Aiguillon sur Mer even has a beach that is in the town itself. It is incredibly safe for children, with a small fun fair and water slides, there is even a beachside café so mum and dad can have a drink and a meal and still watch the kids swim. But if you like a bit of solitude it’s never far away and a short walk down many of the beaches heading away from the towns will get you all the seclusion you desire.

Not just the province of the sun worshipper there are many great surfing breaks and water sports venues, and let’s not forget the yachtsman, after all there must be some reason, the Vendée Globe round the world yacht race starts at Les Sables D’Olonne. There are plenty of marinas all down the coast, and virtually all of the coastal towns have a harbour. There are modern coastal towns like Saint-Jean-de-Monts a land yachting centre, and my personal favourite Saint-Giles-Croix-de-Vie. It has mixture of old and new architecture, a beautiful harbour and a fabulous seafront and beaches. At the far southern end of the Vendéen coastline is the Anse De L’Aiguillon a wetland paradise and a haven for waterfowl and the whole coastline has oyster and mussel beds in abundance. On very low tides the causeway out to the Isle de Niormoutier has hundreds of cars parked on the sand on either side with literally thousands of people raking all manner of shellfish. It doesn’t take much imagination to realise that the coast is brimful of fantastic restaurants specialising in seafood, making it a culinary dream for the gourmet and gourmand alike.

Behind the coast there is a mixture of sand dunes and pine forests which is almost entirely bordered by marshes from the Marais Breton in the north to the Marais Poitevin in the south. Sandwiched between them and the Armoricain Massif we find “Lucon- Fontenay Prairie” a large plain of relatively flat agricultural land with enormous skies and a light that artists would die for. Much of the marshland is reclaimed, it was drained at first by the Medieval Monks and the lords of La Garnache and further in the 18th century by the Dutch. A trip from Les Sables D’Olonne to Fontenay le Comte on the route of the old Roman coastal road takes you through small villages, miles from the sea, with signposts which say to the Port.

The Marais Poitevin is a large area of marshland criss-crossed with rivers and canals with beautiful villages and picturesque houses scattered along their banks. The Marais Poitevin is the second largest wetland in France; only the Camargue is larger, holds a proliferation of wildlife and is a haven for the twitcher and the casual observer alike. From the ruined abbey at Maillezais to Marans the Marais Poitevin is unique whether you drive or take to the canals on either a supervised tour or by hiring a punt and leisurely discovering for yourself the latticework of waterways that interlace the area. Behind the plain and the marshes is the Bocage, an area of rolling hills, woodlands and farms. The Vendée is one of the major food producing areas of France, it not only grows the raw materials and raises the livestock, but it is also home to some of France’s major food processing companies.

The problem with the Vendée is that there’s too much to tell you about so if you want to know more about the beautiful old town of Fontenay le Comte or the Parc National at Mervent, or the artist’s paradise of Vouvant, or discover the wine route through Mareuil-sur-Lay, or the Breton salt marshes, you’ll just have to visit for yourself. Who knows you may fall in love with it and become a Vendeefile, just like me. – Tate 2008

Well that is why so many of use are Vendeefiles.
Tate writes exclusively for the gites with pools website

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Gites in the Vendee

Another fabulous week of weather here in the Vendee has somewhat lifted the gloom of the economic news that has yet again swamped our screens throughout the week. I have taken advantage of it and continued getting the garden ready for the winter, and have made some changes to the planting to make next year’s maintenance easier.
The upgrade of the Tournesol Gite has continued with the fitting of new double glazed patio doors in the lounge and the replacement of the window in the double bedroom. I have also laid laminate flooring in both of the bedrooms and have applied a fresh coat of paint throughout.
I’m hoping to start the upgrade on the Frene Gite this week by retiling the upstairs bathroom and by doing some remedial work on the kitchen before undertaking a complete redecoration of the Gîte.
There has also been a flurry of activity on the website to finish the pages on the beaches of the Vendée; this must now be the most comprehensive review of Vendéen beaches on the net. I completed the last two pages yesterday with articles on the beaches of the island of Noirmoutier and the coasts Naturist beaches. No matter how much I think I know about the Vendee, it never ceases to amaze me that whenever I carry out research for the pages that I’m writing I find so much more information, it does in fact just goes to show that so far as the Vendée is concerned, I’m really still quite ignorant.

My latest project is research into walking and cycling in the Vendee, writing these articles could be an even bigger challenge than writing those on the beaches, and my immediate thoughts are that I am going to have some problems with the images for these pages. So far as the beaches are concerned my library of images is fairly extensive, but not being an active walker or cyclist there are precious few photos in the collection appertaining to either. Perhaps this is a sign that I need to get more pro-active and take more exercise, especially after reviewing so many restaurants this summer, however with all of the work needed to keep the properties up to scratch and with my bad back, this may not be altogether practical.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

New gite pages

New gite pages
What a glorious week of weather we’ve just had for mid October. Notwithstanding the doom and gloom of the world’s economic problems, which must cause all us Gîtes owners concern over the future of our industry, here in the Vendée a week of sunshine with temperatures reaching the high 20s lifts the spirits and makes us all more positive. So with the old saying, or slightly newer song by Billy Ocean, "when the going gets tough the tough get going", I set aside the temptation to just lie in the sun and relax, and got on with some of the autumn work, not only in the garden and around the Gîtes, but also on the website.
On the website the sunshine inspired me to put up a page on the Vendéen weather, the page has the usual links for the forecast; but it also has the reason why the Vendée has its remarkable micro-climate. The page can be accessed from most pages on the site this includes the pages on beaches, including the 2 more that I have just added. The two beaches that I have added are the beaches of des Granges, to the north of Olonne and the beaches of Bem-sur-Mer, which include des Dunes and la Normandelliere.
Hopefully I will add more pages on beaches this week which like the rest will be full of photos. Another significant page I am working on is about driving in France. I was awakened to the fact that I didn't fully understand the significance of the Priorité a Droit law. This bizare law is the controlling law of the road throughout France and yet the French spend billions of euros telling us that most of the time it doesn't apply. Do YOU know what the law is? If so you could help us compile the facts, and just think of the lives that you could be saving.
Lastly this week on a slightly sadder note my mate Tate, who spends his summers in the Vendée and his winters in Devon, is just about to leave for another year. Tate is the website’s resident “Critique Gastronomique” and writes most of the reviews on the restaurants. We wish him “Bon Voyage”, a fond farewell and look forward to seeing him again in May 2009.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

gite website updates.

Well its been a busy time on the website these last 5 or 6 days mainly due to the weather. After a very dry and sunny September the weather has turned more to autunm and this has meant that I have had more time to spend on the website rather than laying about in the sun.
I have just finished redoing the page on Fontenay le Comte and hopefully by to night added the image gallery. The Series of pages on the beaches of the Vendee is progressing well with pages on the beaches around Jard sur Mer, Payre estuary, Veillon, Bougenay and Les sable d'Olonne.
There is also a new review by my friend Tate on the Restaurant at La Morliere. There may be one more review of a restaurant before Tate returns to the UK for the winter.
Mainly of our past clients and several of those looking to book a gite for 2009 have commented on how useful this information is.

Looking for a gite or holiday cottage then check out our website you will also be able to book ferries at a discount even if your not booking with us

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Credit Crunch and Gites

Credit Crunch and Gites
The credit crunch brings with it a pervasively depressing scenario, and it is natural when one reads about the collapse of the banking sector, the turmoil in the stock market not to mention the sudden drop in house prices to feel overwhelmed by the doom and gloom that seems to infiltrate all levels of society. As gîte owners we have just seen possibly 20% wiped off the value of our properties. Add to that the fact that if we price our holidays in pounds sterling, taking into account the fall in the value of the pound against the Euro, we have seen a reduction in our income for the last year of almost 20%. Further add to that the fact that our visitors for next year will also be feeling the same doom and gloom and therefore may not be booking, and you may feel that we have a right to pessimistic or even suicidal.

But history has shown us that more millionaires are made during recessions and depressions than at any other time, as fortune favours the brave. There is also the fact that people will cut back on everyday items, put off buying that new TV or washing machine as the old one still works, they may cut out those short breaks but the annual holiday will still be taken. Of course they may look for a slightly cheaper version but they will holiday, they need it, they feel that they need a break from reality and drudgery of every day living.
To all this you can add that there will be cheaper deals offered by the ferries and airlines in a bid to encourage more vacationers to their services. You will find that visitors will spend more time at their gîte rather than take an expensive day trip, so things will change but the savvy owner will see an opportunity to expand rather than contract.

For those that have liquid capital there is the chance to buy up property at a greatly reduced price, many items needed like domestic appliances, furniture and garden equipment will be offered at a much higher discount rate.

Now is the time to expand your advertising and attract the undecided, not cut back to save money. Now is the time to emphasise the quality of your on site facilities or better still expand them. Look to see what new Niche markets you can open up, walking tours, cooking or gardening courses, the list could be endless. Yes of course you must check that your prices are keen, but there again, many out there still think that the more they pay the better will be their experience.

The main thing is not to panic especially when dealing with customers, they can smell defeatism and fear and will try to take advantage of it by looking for you to lower the price further. So rather than pandering to them or worse still avoiding them altogether, think positively and act bravely, things will improve and you could end up making a fortune.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Beaches of the Vendee

Beaches of the Vendee
The late September weather is glorious here and having just returned from a quick trip to the UK I decided to finish my tour of visiting all the beaches of the Vendée. It has been a mammoth task and has meant travelling the length of the Vendée coast from Le Collet which is in fact just over the border in the Loire Atlantique to the point at Anse de l'Aiguillon, taking every possible track that leads towards the sea. I have walked over countless sand dunes and along miles of beaches, photographing as I went. The reason for this selflessness is simple; many of my customers ask me what are the best beaches to visit, so for years I’ve told them which my favourites are. I’ve come to realise that this is a personal view and didn't cover those areas that I rarely visit. I therefore decided that producing a comprehensive critique of all of the beaches in the Vendée, including photographs, would be this year’s project. It has been a lot of work, but it has been extremely interesting. As well as doing quite a lot of research I have also visited other attractions and diversions along the way as well as eating out at different restaurants. I have come across some real treasures such as the harbour at Saint-Giles-Croix-de-Vie at sunset, and seen some amazing sights such as the thousands of people raking shellfish at low tide while crossing the Passage de Gois at Noirmoutier. These and many other gems can be found amongst the pages of the beaches which I am now in the process of completing, and which will be the most comprehensive travelogue of the coastline of the Vendée.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

2 bedroom gites Vendee

I don’t know about you but when I search on Google for a term like 2 bedroom Gites Vendee I would expect to get information about two bedroom Gites in the Vendee. When I did this search i found #1 has 2 car parking spaces. #2 takes 2 babies. #3 does have 2 bedrooms as does positions 4 and 5. #6 has 2 bathrooms #7 has 1 bedroom. #8 has 4 bedrooms position 9 is ok and position 10 is my own index page, which may seem ok until you realise that i have a page dedicated and optimised for 2 bedroom Gites in the Vendee. This begs the question what good is it to tell Google that you have a page on two bedroom Gites in the vendee if they then index pages that have no relevance to the search term. occasionally it can get quite comical with pages about car hire turning up when you have asked specifically for gite accommodation, is it that Google thinks you may need transport to your holiday rental once you have booked it, on the assumption that you could find it in the first place.
Our two bedroom gites, Sapin and Tournesol are quite different from each other allowing the choice of either Thursday or Saturday change overs and they accommodate 6 persons and 4 persons respectfully.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Website SEO update

Well another week has passed and I’m afraid to say there has not been a lot of movement on the SERPs , having said that, what movement there was, has been in the right direction.
The Gîtes with pools website did make a move from #51 to #33 which is not to be sneezed at, and all the other pages have made one or two point moves so we’ll keep our fingers crossed.
The site did not do so well and a couple of the pages actually went in the wrong direction, so it may be back to the drawing board on that one.
We are well under way with the local attractions pages, the problem is every time I start a page I find I want to add more. A good example of this is the Marais Poitevin, I wanted to do more than just the Green Venice which is the more tourist oriented part of this fascinating region, the problem with this is that I now have nearly 20 pages planned, and by the time I've finished it will be like a reference book. The same happened with the pages on Vouvant and Mervent, the planned pages will make one of the largest references to these attractions available on the web. The question is will it do me any good apart from the satisfaction that seeing the finished result gives me. It's a real shame that Google doesn't have an algorithm for passion and dedication.
On a slightly different note I came across a website where they have absolutely no passion at all for their subject, it lists the Vendée as a city on many of its pages and there isn't one picture of the Vendée. There are however plenty of pictures of La Rochelle, scores of pictures of bread, wine or things that could be from anywhere in the world, but they all have an "alt tag" with Vendée in it. The most annoying thing is that despite being obviously written by a ghost writer in the USA or somewhere suchlike, they are #1 for attractions in the Vendée. Doesn’t it make you sick.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

New website image

Well it is finally up. The new fresher look and more pages and articles, you can view on and more importantly there is more movement up the rankings, not unfortunatly with the home page but many of the sub pages. The Attraction page has gone from 92 to 35, the Mervent zoo from 33 to 27, Vouvant is streight in at 69 and the home page is at 9 for the term 'gites with pools vendee'
The site is still waiting to indexed or what ever as there is still no move monent.
I'll keep you informed.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Website update

As I mentioned last week I will keep you updated on the progress of the page ranking for website that I am trying out my theory on. I have to report that so far no movement, but that may be as expected as it will take the google robot time to find it and validate its findings this can take from two weeks upwards.
On another front our site has seen some great improvement on several fronts. Firstly the new fresher look website is nearly ready to put up on the server with a lot more pages added for viewers with information on the Vendee and secondly on the increase in rankings of the different pages, namely for odd terms like ‘restaurants in fontenay le comte’ #2, ‘5 bedroom gite vendee now at #2 and the two star movers ‘group accommodation Vendee’ and 5 bedroom gite with pool both at #1 not to mention on page 2 for a whole lot of search terms. Will this be enough to stop advertising on those big websites that rank highly for thousands of search term, probably not but it is encouraging.
The end of the mad season is within sight so thoughts now turn to next years advertising and works needed around the complex. Niggling little break downs that kept re-occurring need to be sorted to make next season better both for me and my customers. The leak on the indoor pool has been traces to the bond de fosse where a split was made in the outer casing by using the wrong length screw. This will mean emptying the pool and putting in a new bond de fosse, well relatively easy it is time consuming, but will save a lot of expensive water and heating costs. As for the advertising I’m still not sure which way I’m going to go. The temptation is to reduce the advertising on the big sites to 1 or 2 and then make up with PPC if needed, or leave it as is for another year. Keep watching these pages to find out.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Website Ranking

One of the perennial problems of owning gîtes is how to attract customers. It is possible to spend a small fortune on advertising and it’s usually too late to do anything about it if the advert fails to bring in the clients.

There are many different media you can use to advertise on, Local press, national press, internet agents, ppc, or your own website. They all have their drawbacks, few have any ability to change in mid stream and they are all expensive. In recent years large internet companies have evolved, who you pay to place your adverts on their site. They in turn advertise on the internet pumping thousands of pounds into search engine optimisation (SEO) trying to out rank their competitors. As usual the problem is which one do you choose? You can search for the most popular search terms and go with the company that came up most regularly on the front page. There are two problems here, firstly the better they do on the search results the more expensive they are, secondly you will find that these sites are like mini Googles, in that you can find yourself on one of 15 or 20 pages. Though they rotate the adverts, the majority of the time you are not on the first one or two pages, and as with most search engines nobody searches more than a couple of pages. Using PPC (pay per click) can work but unless you understand in depth how to use this you can land up paying out a fortune with no return.
Generally speaking having your own website can work and at least you have somewhere to send potential clients for more in depth information. The problem comes in getting it ranked especially with Google who have 80% + of the market. You have two choices, you can spend a fortune employing experts to optimise your site and there is no guarantee that it will work, or you can take the do it yourself option taking courses and reading up on how to achieve SEO. I am in the process of trying the DIY approach and to a point it seems to be working, but be under no illusions you will need to have the time to put into it.

I am currently trying a new approach, instead of doing it on my existing website I have decided to put up a new site and try out my theory there. Before I started the SEO my website was at 64 on Google for the search term gîtes vendee. After a couple of days of work on the site it had dropped off the radar, but now it seems to be climbing back up the rankings, so we will have to wait and see.

Keep reading the blog and I will keep you informed of the progress, and if it works I will use it on my other site.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Black Spot oh Argh

Swimming pools can be a problem, sometimes things occur with them and you just don’t have the answer. I’ve worked with pools, both in their construction and maintenance for nearly twenty years and, without wishing to blow my own trumpet, I am rarely stuck for a solution no matter what the problem is. I in fact regularly receive telephone calls from other gîte owners or their agents to discuss various pool problems and I am seldom stumped for an answer. All that changed though when my friend Tate phoned me up and said that he had black spots on the bottom of his pool, which were getting worse by the day, and refused to be brushed off.

As I wasn't sure what he meant I took a ride over to his place and lo and behold there they were, and true to his account no amount of scrubbing would remove them. Being at a loss to explain the problem let alone suggest a cure, I took my leave of Tate and headed back to where I knew I would find the answer. I thought it was algae, but I had no idea what algae, and what should be done about it escaped me. I decided to take the advice that one of my English neighbours had once given me. Besides running several gîtes in different areas of France, he also sells young willow plants for ornamental hedge building in his spare time. I can say that, from my horticultural days, I do know a bit about willows and knowing my neighbour Pete I knew that he almost certainly didn’t, so I asked him what he did when customers asked him for information about things concerning willows. His simple answer was I Google-it, this is a bit of information that has stuck with me and so I got straight on to the computer and Googled "black mould on swimming pools.

There were as expected hundreds of websites offering information and cures, but what I discovered was somewhat surprising. Firstly Black Spot Algae is not algae, it’s a bacteria, and secondly, and not so surprising, it is tremendously difficult to get rid of. Before I go any further I must point out that Tate’s pool is tiled and in general Black Spot Algae is only a problem for tiled pools as the bacteria cannot get a grip on liners and fibreglass. After searching many sites and even more pages it became clear that this was certainly a problem that was going to be difficult to solve. Invariably the websites said that the only way to remove the bacteria was a lot of hand scrubbing, as the bacteria gets its roots into the grouting between the tiles and then forms a hard crust on the top which is resistant to chemicals and all but the most vigorous scrubbing. I don’t know about you but on a pool that is 2 meters deep I cant envisage doing this without sub-aqua equipment and a strong back, neither of which I process.

My initial solution was to test out one of my theories, which at least stood some chance of working, as it would have been the method that I would have employed had the pool been empty. It was to use a pressure washer. Easy enough in the shallow end, but the deep end presents an altogether different scenario. Undaunted I attached the pressure gun, with duct tape, to the end of the telescopic pole that is used to brush the pool, taped the trigger in the “on” position and used the on-off button on the machine to control the operation. It worked a treat with the one exception, which was that it quickly covered the top of the water in the pool with the hard black caps of the bacteria making it difficult to see what I was doing. This meant that I had to stop once or twice to allow the skimmers to clear the caps away; it wasn’t that bad really, it was a hot sunny day, and lying by the pool in the sun chatting to Tate was, as always, a pleasure. Having finished and then cleaned the pool the filtration system needed to be thoroughly back washed and then the pool shocked with high doses of chlorine and anti bactericide.

I must emphasise that this is a quick and temporary fix, during the winter the pool will either need to be emptied to cleaned more thoroughly, which as it is a saltwater pool I’m reluctant to suggest, or it will need a stronger chemical treatment. I do have an idea what chemical to use, but if it doesn’t work I will have wasted another year and I’ll have to go through the same cleaning process during the summer. This bacterium truly is one of the most persistent and if you get it all I can say is good luck, but watch this space.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Fleas and other things

I have previously talked about the security perimeter that my cats have posted around my gîte complex. It doesn’t matter whether you like cats or not, if you live in rural France, living without them can cause all manner of problems. Besides the obvious advantage of keeping the rodent population, except lerots, under control they also keep other less obvious pests away. My friends and even my farmer neighbour are amazed at my vegetable patch, they all wonder why I have no damage from rabbits, hares which this year did severe damage to the local sunflower crop, and birds. I explained it’s quite simple “I have Cats” not only that but they are” feral cats” which means they are never allowed in the house or Gîtes and I only give them sufficient food to keep them loyal, working on the maxim ”keep them lean and mean”. My theory is that there is a mutual respect between the larger mammals and the cats, and in any event why have your baby rabbits and hares close to a gang of cats when there are much safer locations. This applies to larger species like foxes which are quite common in the area but not around me.

Cats are quite protective of their territory and of course their young. In one instance a very large hunting dog had got detached from the rest of the pack and hearing voices on the patio came around to investigate. At the end of the patio near the bushes a couple of young kittens were playing, the dog suddenly caught sight of the kittens and started to advance quite rapidly. The mother cat who was out of sight behind the dog saw the danger, she took off at lightning speed in a large arc around the dog and behind her kittens, she then flew at the dog stopping only a foot or so away standing on her hind legs with her front paws, claws out, waving furiously at the dog her mouth was open showing her teeth and she was hissing loudly. The dog didn’t wait to check out the situation it obviously felt that discretion was the better part of valour, turned tail and ran off into the distance never to be seen again. Neither my guest nor I had ever witnessed any thing like this before, but I’m sure it’s proof of why there are so few pests around.

You may well be asking what any of this has to do with fleas; the answer is that cats can have a down side. There are guests that don’t like cats or are allergic to them, this is one of the reasons why they are not allowed in the house and being feral cats they are a lot more timid, though if offered food this can quickly change. The other problem is fleas, it is true that feral cats do seem to be less susceptible than domestic cats to fleas, they seem to have an immune system which kills them off, I regularly check my cats and there are rarely any fleas to be found, kittens however are an exception, as they do not seem to get this immune system for several weeks, which in its self is not usually a problem. However mother cats like to have their kittens in quiet dark areas and the back corner of a shed or barn is ideal. After a couple of weeks they move the kittens to a new home, and this is the nub of the problem. The young kittens will have attracted fleas and when they are moved most of the fleas are left behind. With lack of a host the fleas often lie dormant or even multiply, only to come back to life weeks later. Now this is the time that they can become a serious problem, with no cats about they will spread out looking for a new host. They can quickly be picked up on clothing and transported into the house, once inside the house however they run riot trying to feed on anything (and that generally means anyone) that they can find. It is no consolation to know that once they’ve bitten you they drop off and die but it is good to know that inside they are reasonably easy to control. With all the windows and doors closed a simple “Flea Bomb”, which can be purchased from any Pharmacy and even some supermarkets, can be let off. The bomb takes 4 hours to work properly it is supposed to last for 6 months and you need a bomb for every 50 m³. You can also use Flea Smokes but you need to leave the building closed for 24 hours.

Out doors the problem is however more difficult to solve as they can spread themselves around. The most effective treatment I have found is to spray the ground with a strong solution of bleach. Another theory that I have is that Fleas are attracted to cats so if I put the food bowl where the out door infestation is, the fleas will attach themselves to the cats and the cats’ immune systems will do the rest, though I’ve yet to put this theory to the test.

Fleas are never a pleasant subject but I hope one of these remedies will help you if you have the problem.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

A moles tale

Anyone who has owned a rural property in France whether it be a small cottage, a farm, a gîte or a château and has read the literally mutterings of Peter Mayle in his "A Year in Provence" will probably have recognised that many of his stories are less than accurate. Possibly he collected odd stories that he had heard while sat in bars or restaurants, and dusted them with a sprinkle of poetic licence. There are two stories in particular that always raise a chuckle when I read them especially as I’m fairly sure that I know the truth behind them.

The story of the old farmer who was frequently disturbed in the night with rats running above his ceiling, in an attempt to stop them the farmer regularly fired his shotgun up into the ceiling at them. My suspicion is that far from being rats the scurryings were much more likely to have been made by Lerots, which according to the dictionary are dormice. These pretty little creatures look like small bush babies with large bushy tails and black and white markings around their eyes.

They are rarely found near the ground preferring to stay up high out of the way of predators, and they are the only rodents that can penetrate the defences of my cats, They like to nest for the winter in the insulation of my roof and wall space, and their scratching last thing at night and first thing in the morning can indeed be very annoying. I have often banged the ceiling or wall with a brush but have so far resisted the urge to get out the gun. In 17 years I have only found them inside the house on two occasions, once when a larot entered the house through the wiring conduit only to meet a quick and shocking end. And I only found that out because I needed electric and he had unfortunately tripped the circuit. The second time was when I opened the door one evening to find one traversing the wall, he came inward with the door trying several times to get back around the corner and up to safety. For some considerable time he refused to come down, although eventually out of sheer necessity he did make an attempt, which failed miserably and saw him falling to the ground, gathering himself together he was straight back up the wall to safety clever little bugger. I have often sat on the terrace on a September evening with friends and watched them scurry along under the eves until they find an entrance into the roof space, so Mr Mayle come clean on the rat story.

The second story which beggars belief is his tale of eradicating the moles. To ask us to believe that diesel was poured down a hole and lit catching the neighbours’ garden, which was on a much lower level, alight, is to ask us to spread the bounds of credulity far too thin. It is obvious that he’s got the wrong end of the tale, for a start diesel is almost impossible to light without using a lighted cloth or paper, it would never run down hill without being absorbed into the ground and if you light it at the top it will burn slowly from the top, so the story seems very unlikely to me.

There is however some truth hidden in this tale. It is for instance possible to smoke out moles by lighting a diesel rag and letting it smoulder in the hole. On one occasion I had mole problems and my fumigation system did in fact include diesel, however it was the smoky engine on my lawn tractor that did the trick. I connected an old hose from a vacuum cleaner to the exhaust pushed it down the nearest hole and waited expecting to see hoards of choking moles come up for fresh air. In fact all I got were dozens of smoking chimneys all over the lawn. I hurriedly rushed round heeling them in, and after about an hour it seemed like the whole two acres of lawn were alight. The fortunate outcome was however that the moles disappeared. Whether that was because they died under ground, which I seriously doubt, or whether they simply didn’t like the smell of diesel and so packed their bags and headed for cleaner pastures, I will never know. They did not return again until the following spring, but by then I had a new weapon altogether.

The subsequent spring one of my regular customers arrived and said I have brought something with me to eradicate your moles. He produced a beautiful antique 9mm shotgun and explained that he had had a large collection of guns but because the law was getting very difficult for gun owners, he had asked the police to take them all away and destroy them, all but one, the one that he gave to me. Oh! What a joy, from then on until a couple of years ago moles just weren’t a problem. I would simply wait until the moles started working, luckily they are punctual little critters feeding in the early morning and again at about 4.00 in the afternoon. All I had to do was spot were they were digging and then creep up quietly stand over the hole with the shotgun and when the soil started to move pull the trigger. It was about a 90% kill rate, I would then dig them up just to make absolutely sure they were dead.

I have stopped using the gun of late, as with the expansion of La Grange I no longer have anywhere handy to keep the gun in safety. So now the gun is stored away safely so that visitors won’t find it and I keep the cartridges in a different location. The only problem with that is that if I remember where the gun is I forget where I’ve hidden the cartridges, or vice versa. So it looks like I may have to revert to Smokey Joe.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

souris in my pool

A Problem at the Pool, I need Agatha Christy

You know what they say " a friend in need is a pain in the bum" well that’s not always the case, my friend Tate has a small handicap which means his mobility is a little impaired and a few years ago he (actually it was his mother the late and much lamented June who I "nicknamed drippy" as she was always asking me to fix her leaks) who asked if I would construct a pool for him. I explained that I was no professional and only helped friends build their own pools. Well Tate was in no shape to pick up a shovel or push a wheelbarrow so with a little help from my friends we duly build a 10m x 5m pool with a special entrance which Tate and I designed specifically for him. It had a nice Seahorse emblem at the bottom. and was a concrete construction with a tiled finish. It turned out very well and a very grateful Tate now uses it every day that weather permits.

This year Tate called me to discuss a problem with the pool. I wasn’t doing much so I said I’d visit and see the problem first hand. On arriving he explained that he had a problem with Souris (mice). The problem was that they kept getting into the pool, whether they were using it for leisure or just to have their equivalent of a pint who can say, unfortunately once in the pool they couldn’t get out and they would swim around and around until they died. The skimmers would then suck the mice up and they would go into the filter nets. Tate couldn’t get down to the skimmers to remove them so they would accumulate until the pool cleaners or a mate turned up, whichever was the sooner. Now on a good day Tate’s a reasonably nice chap, considering he’s from the Devon, and he didn’t like the thought of all these rodents dieing so he was seeking a serious answer to a serious problem.

After a short deliberation I explained that as I saw it there was a choice of three simple solutions. The choices were: 1. Get some cats and hope they remove the problem at source (it would take an awful lot of cats and who would look after them in the winter). 2. Build a mouse proof barrier around the pool (not very practical) 3. Put a ramp in so that the mice could escape the watery death once they’d had their drink and freshened up.
Yer" he said in his Devonshire accent, “Ow bis I gwaina doun?" which roughly translated means How am I going to do that? I explained that it would be easy; all that was required was to attach a polystyrene float to a short piece of wood and attach the other end to the pool entry ladder. "Is’n gwain a wurk?" (Will it work?) I was confident that it would. The next time he had some friends over they built the aforementioned Souris ramp and believe it or not it works a treat. Since the beginning of May not one mouse has met with a watery end, there have however been 2 frogs who have not managed to fathom out how to use the ladder, but then we all know how dumb frogs can be.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Gites with pools

Today if you have a gîte, and if you wish to get enough bookings to show a return on your investment, it is almost obligatory to have a pool. This wasn’t always the case, when I first started renting gîtes some 17 years ago a pool was rarity, and anywhere that did have a pool was more likely to be referred to as a Villa, for that more upmarket appeal. Today the trend is towards heated pools and all that it entails. On my complex I have the luxury to have both the original unheated outdoor pool and an indoor heated pool, though I can assure you this was not by design. When I bought La Grange the huge barn was not included in the price, as the farmer Charlie and his brother Dominique wanted to keep it for their farming needs, and nothing I said or did could change their mind.

Nearly thirteen years on and the barn was looking decidedly sad, the roof was missing from one of the side wings and everything else needed attention. Then one day Charlie visited me and we spent some time engaging in pleasantries and discussing life's problems. As Charlie was making a move to leave, he turned to me and said " I've decided to sell the barn" I looked at him quizzically and he went on to say that he had advertised the barn and had an offer from some English people who wanted to turn it into gîtes. I was, for once, lost for words and before I could get my head around the situation he announced here's the price if you want it, it’s yours. To be honest all my money was tied up in the two large farmhouses that make up La Grange so there was nothing left to pay for the barn, their wasn’t even anything to use as a down payment for a mortgage. I knew nothing about mortgages I had never had one, but the situation was desperate. I could not allow someone else to sit within 30 meters of my site and run another gîte complex. With the help of my accountant I somehow managed to secure a 100% mortgage, a situation apparently never heard of before in France or so the Bank claimed, and the barn was mine.

This however was far from the solution, now that I had bought the barn the next problem was what to do with it. Here was this cavernous building that was costing me a fortune in mortgage repayments needing major repairs, and I hadn’t a clue what to use it for. After much soul searching I decided that a bold new venture was required, I would change the barn into a sports and entertainment centre and increase the rents on the gîtes to cover the extra expenditure.

I set about the task with gusto. The first thing that I had to do was to add a new first floor as the barn is 9m high in the central section. Once the main beams were in place it was possible to start construction of the indoor pool that would be the focal point of the entertainment complex. Unfortunately at this point I had a serious accident which lead to several weeks in hospital and a big operation on the double disc hernias that I had suffered. Oops! To be continued....

Sunday, July 27, 2008

As with the last post made were I answered one of those frequently asked questions ,Why gites? I'm now going to aswer another of those questions, Why The Vendee?
The answer is a little more streight forward because from the out set I had a strong feeling of where I wanted to be. I love the sun and light and open air, infact one of the other reason for giving up sailing was a back and neck injury which ment i lost a lot of the use of my hands, to such an extent that I would be talking to people and I hear a glass drop and break and look around to find who was the culprit, only to find it was me, though I could swear it was still in my hand. Another residual problem is i suffer from SAD, sun addiction dificency or what ever its called so i get depressed without good light.
With those factor in mind i wanted somewhere where there was a lot of sun yet not to far away from England and my family, also I wanted it far enough away so that friends would have to put a little effort into visiting and not just crossing the channel on the hop as to say, turning up unexpectingly.
A close look at a weather map of Europe and it becomes very clear that the Micro-Climate of the Vendee/Charente-Maritme area fulfilled all my needs, with sunshine hours to equal the best of the south of france. I didnt want to go into the Dordogne as this was, so i was told almost all English with signs like "French spoken here" and besides it was getting to far away from the ferries. Likewise i didnt want to go too far up into the vendee as the micro climate slips a little as you head north. In the end i choose the first house on the first day, it was on the edge of the Lucon-Fontenay le Comte praire as far inland as the micro climate extents in the south of the Vendee. In those day (17 years ago) it was like England in the 50's, slow pace of life, friendly neighbours who spoke to you, polite children and no traffic, infact we used to joke that in Fontenay if there were two cars together you were in a car park.
Oh how things have changed, though to be truthful there are still no parking meters or traffic cops and even in places like La Rochelle where you have to pay to park near the harbour it will not cost you a fortune and in typically french fashion they allow you 2 hours free for lunch (How civilised).
There are other reasons for choosing the Vendee but i will leave that to my friend Tate who writes:
If you are looking for a holiday in France why visit the Vendée? After all it’s just a strip of coastline with a flat plain behind it, isn’t it? Well actually no it isn’t. The Vendée is without doubt one of the jewels in the French holidaying crown. Who says so? Well actually the French, but they say it quietly because in typical Gallic style they like to keep the best for themselves.
For years the French have visited the Vendée for their holidays, to enjoy the exceptional climate, the miles and miles of exquisite sandy beaches and the sleepy rural communities. In fact the French liked it so much they chose to build their holiday homes, not in Provence, or on the Côte D’Azur but on the Vendéen coast. Now the secret is out and the Vendée is fast becoming a popular destination for holidaymaker and émigré alike, READ MORE>>>

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Why Gites

Why Gites?

Through the years one of the questions I am most often asked is “why gîtes?” With a background in horticulture, boat building and luxury yacht chartering, why spend the last 17 years running a gîte complex? The answer is simple I didn't choose it, it chose me.
In the mid-1980's when the world was plunged into the deepening gloom of the last real recession I was building and chartering luxury, ocean going catamarans. Now as I’m sure you’re aware, luxury and recession do not make good bedfellows, and I decided it was time to make a quick exit from the business and try my hand at something else. I sold my last two charter boats in America and returned to the UK to plan my next move. There was however a slight hitch, having spent the previous 15 years or so sailing, sometimes in stormy waters, sometimes becalmed, but always at a tempo I could handle, I found the pace of life in England too hectic. I had no idea what I wanted to do next, and England wasn’t helping me decide. My life had been extremely varied; I’d been through my Fred Wedlock and Adge Cutler phases and had carried on through my days of fishy tales and sea shanties. I had accumulated a wealth of stories, anecdotes, songs, sea shanties and comic verse and I thought it might be a good plan to buy a house in France where, the pace of life was notoriously slow, and write my memoirs lest these gems should be lost to humanity. Consequently in order to contemplate my next move, I decided on the spur of the moment to investigate potential properties in France and I asked my friend Tim if he fancied a holiday in on the other side of the Channel.
With Tim's and his 4 year old daughter in tow I set off. It was the second week in August, not the best time to take an impromptu trip to France, and all we could find with only a weeks notice was a campsite near Royan in the Charente-Maritime. I didn’t know much about where I wanted to be but I thought that this was as far South as I wanted to go. We had been told by everyone that everywhere would be closed as it was “The French Holiday”, of course true to form it was.

I had managed, through John Evans an estate agent in Bournemouth who specialised in French property, to get three appointments with French Estate Agents, and he assured me that they were interrupting their holidays especially to see me. True to their word they did interrupt their holidays, not only that but their attitude was totally different to my experience of English Estate Agents. The refreshing thing was that unlike their English counterparts who only ever seem to be interested in rushing you through the viewings and selling you anything as long as they sell you something. These Estate Agents took the whole day, not to sell me a property, but to sell me their part of France. Henry Prouteau the agent whom I eventually bought from explained to me that it really didn't matter if I didn't buy from him, as long as I bought in the area. The reason was, he explained, that all of the other agents in the area operated in the same way, so he might not sell to me loosing out to a competitor, but on another occasions he would pick up buyers from other agent’s sales pitches. To be honest in the Fontenay le Comte area there were only two agents and they were both part time, how things have changed. Today in Fontenay le Comte there are thirteen Estate Agents.
There was in those days such a huge selection I could have picked several houses in the three areas that I looked, but having spent three days looking at houses, I eventually bought La Grange, the first house that I had seen on the first day of looking.

It was my intention to renovate the house while I waited for idea that would make the change of direction that my life needed, and I thought that I would be able to live off the interest from the sale of my boats. My immediate priority was to build a swimming pool as this part of France can get mighty hot in the summer and having spent so long on and in the water I couldn’t leave it behind altogether. I was also renovating the house with a view to having family and friends over to visit and, if necessary, doing a little bit of B&B to supplement my income. Circumstances however have a way of laying waste to the best laid plans and changing the way we live, and this time was no exception. The bottom fell out of the money market with the crash of the ERM and I was no longer able to survive on the interest generated by my savings. It was a case of either use up my capital or procure gainful employment. I hadn’t worked for anyone for longer than I could remember and I wasn’t really keen on starting now. Looking at the property I had bought and the work I had started the answer to my dilemma was clear, convert La Grange and start renting out gîtes. In consequence I drew up plans for the conversion of the two farmhouses at La Grange into 6 gîtes, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Restaurant review Auberge de la Foret

My Freind Tate recently wrote a review on his favourite restaurant the Auberge de la Foret, an attractive cosy little restaurant which nestles in the Mervent forest just east of Fontenay le Comte in the south of the Vendee. he writes:

This year (2008), two good friends from England came out for a week’s holiday and to spend my birthday with me. The three of us and Trevor could have eaten anywhere in the local area but as it was my birthday I chose the Auberge de la Forêt. It is unreservedly my favourite restaurant in the area and Monique the proprietor is without doubt a lovely lady and I’m sure she won’t mind me saying that she’s no spring chicken. She is often the chef, the waitress, and the sommelier. She takes the money, chats to the clientele and I don’t doubt does the washing up as well. If that’s not enough she also runs the accommodation and the bar, and looks after her husband. She is from a breed the like of which no longer exists, and is in my opinion simply the best. She is the wonder woman of Vendéen hospitality.

The restaurant is as its name would suggest, set in the forest of Mervent, a beautiful forested National Park where the steep valley of the river Vendée has been dammed to create lakes from which water is drained, treated and pumped to the local area. The lakes are also used for yachting, canoeing, swimming and fishing, and the forest is a walker’s dream. All in all the National Park itself is worthy of a visit, it has a zoo with a wide range of animals, which includes a petting zoo and a play area for children.

Drawing up outside the Auberge one is immediately struck by the quiet situation in the midst of mature trees. There are some tables outside purely for having a drink, but going inside is a treat not to be missed. The bar leads to a dining room split by a large fireplace with a huge Stag’s head mounted above it. During November the Auberge plays host to the hunters and the festival of horns, where the hunters gather and give a recital of music on their hunting horns. I had the misfortune to just miss this event having misunderstood Monique when booking a meal at the Auberge. I arrived when the festivities had just ended, but did however see some of the hunters with their hunting dogs and I can tell you that the dogs were more the size of Dartmoor ponies than dogs. The fact that it is an Auberge means that there are generally, though not always, other diners in the evenings, this coupled with the fascinating décor gives the Auberge a great ambience.

I almost always have the house pâte, which is homemade I prefer it to any other coarse pork pâte I have ever eaten. I normally follow the pâte with the pave de bœuf (similar to rump steak) in a shallot sauce. Monique’s sauces are legendary, her tarragon cream sauce which I ate with Sandre, a river fish similar to Zander, is stunning. I can honestly say that every sauce of Monique’s that I’ve ever eaten has been fabulous and I’d be pushed to remember a sauce that I’ve eaten anywhere that I’ve thought better than any of them.

The cheeseboard is always copious and varied and Monique always leaves it on the table so that you can help yourself to seconds if you have the room or the inclination. To finish there is normally something sweet and home made to delight the pallet, I first had oeufs au lait here and when I asked Monique what it was she told me that it was like crème caramel without the caramel. When I went to pay for the meal Monique’s combine harvester driving husband (a big guy and the only reason I don’t ask her to run away with me), asked if I had enjoyed the crème caramel without caramel and then he and his crew roared with laughter at the description.

The wine list is good enough (the cellar is probably better) it includes a Georges Duboeuf Cotes de Rhône and a Georges Dubeouf Morgon. When I first ate at the Auberge the Cotes de Rhone was half the price of most of the wines, and was fantastic value for money. Unfortunately being more gourmand than gourmet, I have continued to drink and recommend the Cotes de Rhône and as a result Monique has had to re-stock and subsequently the price has risen, but it is in my opinion an excellent wine and still represents great value.

I make no bones about it, I think the food is fantastic, it is not ostentatious, and it isn’t arranged on your plate like a work of art it is well presented and looks like food. It is fresh, home made, well cooked and full of flavour. There are no white coated waiters or sommeliers, but the service is friendly and as efficient as time constraints permit. The least expensive menu of lardon (bacon) salad, pave de bœuf, cheese and a sweet is 15 euros, I negotiate and get the pâte (which is from the 17 euro menu) included for 15 euros, but then Monique does like me. The décor is not grandiose but is in my opinion perfectly in keeping with the type of hostelry that this is. In summary the ambience is excellent and the food is better, Monique’s service is fantastic and in terms of value for money it is undoubtedly hard to beat. My English friends both agreed with my take on the restaurant, and Trevor’s only criticism was that there wasn’t a chocolate sweet with his coffee. It is simply my favourite restaurant in the area and I highly recommend it. – Tate
He is happy writing these reviews as it fulfills two of his passions, namely; writing and eating out.
I will publish more of his rantings in the weeks to come.
You can see the review with the pictures of the restaurant and Tate here

Monday, July 21, 2008

Restaurants in Fontenay le comte

One of the questions most frequently asked of me is “what is the best local restaurant” and to be honest this is not the easiest of questions to answer. Of course I have my favourites, but they differ depending on whether I'm with a close friend or in a group, and obviously what I like to eat isn’t everyone’s Idea of culinary heaven. It is therefore true that when recommending a restaurant to a new visitor to my gîtes I can get somewhat bogged down. Do they want a Restaurant with the best ambience or do they want the cheapest meal. Does the Restaurant need to be child friendly and if so how many children do they have and what age are they. Then there’s the biggest question of all which is what type of food do they like? So the simple “what is the best local restaurant” is not always that easy or straightforward to answer.

To that end, on my website, I am now in the process of compiling a guide to restaurants in the area. I am encouraging customers to review the restaurants online, plus my friend Tate writes an exclusive in depth article on all of the restaurants he tries. When possible we add menus and photos to the articles to give as comprehensive a service as possible.

I have nearly completed the page on restaurants in Fontenay le Comte in the south Vendee, and have started on the pages for the Mervent Forest area, the Lucon area and the Marais Poitevin or green venice area. Eventually I hope to cover the whole of the Vendee.

Customers and restaurant owners are encouraged not only to post reviews on the website but also to add restaurants that I have inadvertently failed to include.