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Renting an old house in the French countryside; it takes advance planning, persistence.

Renting an old house in the French countryside

It takes advance planning, persistence

For a week or longer, you can set up house on a French farm or in a village. It's a chance to get acquainted with a small corner of France the way few tourists do--living like a local in the countryside, eating breakfast around the baker's schedule, sitting at the bistro without feeling like a stranger.

You'll be living in a completely furnished, rustic house called a gite (pronounced jeet) that rents for a modest average of $150 a week during summer's high season. If you're interested, start booking now. When you write directly to France, expect to wait up to a month for gite officials to answer. And if you're trying for July or August, you're competing with an entire nation on vacation.

Gites Ruraux de France was founded about 30 years ago, when the government became concerned by the exodus from rural areas. It advanced small sums to owners of old structures for renovation to meet basic standards of comfort--hot water, indoor toilets, electricity--without destroying the charm. The nation preserved old buildings, property owners received needed income, and city dwellers got affordable, fresh-air vacation places.

Gites are listed in over 90 of France's departements (similar to states) and in such tricolor outposts as Martinique and Guadelupe in the Caribbean.

New this year is a company in the United States that is the sole booking agent for a limited number of gites in some of the most popular regions of France. For its service, it adds 25 percent to the rental price. For information, write or call The French Experience, 390 Fifth Ave., New York 10018; (212) 868-3350.

To book a gite on your own, first decide what departement you'd like to live in. Then write for the Tourisme Vert, a complete list of the gites in that departement. Enclose an international money order for $5 per list. Write to La Maison du Tourisme Vert, Federation Nationale des Gites Ruraux de France, 35 Rue Godot-de-Mauroy, 75009 Paris, France.

You'll get a brief description (in French) of each gite and perhaps a photograph, plus mention of nearby attractions. You'll also find listings for bed and breakfast, camping, and children's farm holidays. Choose at least five gites, stating preferred dates (Saturday to Saturday) and alternates. Minimum stay is one week; midsummer, it may be two weeks.

Next, you'll receive a detailed sheet on each gite available--with floor plan, access map, even details such as how many burners are on the range and distance to nearby tennis courts. Within 10 days, you must return your reservation, sending along an international money order for 30 percent of the rent (the rest is due on arrival). You might decide that a 6 A.M. trans-Atlantic call would expedite things.

Each departement claims to have one staff member who speaks English, though the gite owner may not. Last summer a monolingual Sunset reporter managed to rent linen, to comprehend that there was a telephone call for him in the owners' house, and to conclude that his car was blocking the return of sheep to a barn.

Living in a gite gives you the chance to shop in local food markets and do your own cooking. But don't expect a dishwasher, disposal, or much counter space. Information on public transportation is included on the gite's prospectus, but if you want to explore the surrounding rural area, renting a car is advisable.

For thumbnail sketches and photographs of some 1,300 gites, look for the French Farm and Village Holiday Guide--1985, by J.H. McCartney (Farm Holiday Guides, Paisley, Scotland; $12.95). Many of the gites listed are booked early.

Photo: Dining room in this 17th-century cottage has beamed ceiling, brick floor, fresh roses from the garden

Photo: Tracteur creeps past old house to cross bridge in farm village in Aveyron departement. Residence is one of 30,000 such lodgings-- called gites-- you can rent in rural France

Photo: Broad steps lead to guest wing that sleeps six, rents for $125 a week; owner's residence is at left

Photo: Grocer's truck rolls into hamlet of Ambias once a week. San Francisco visitor queues up behind local housewife

Photo: Tossing boules is evening ritual on farm. Patient Mathieu, on right, taught rules to his non-French-speaking opponent
COPYRIGHT 1985 Sunset Publishing Corp.
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Copyright 1985 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Jan 1, 1985
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