Sweet, sweeeeeeeeeeeet vacation! It’s a time to kick back, relax and de-stress. But when your France vacation rental becomes the source of your stress, you start wondering why you didn’t just book a hotel in the first place. For a truly French experience, renting a house or apartment is an excellent option. It’s often cheaper than a hotel. But if you’ve ever rented a house or apartment in France for a short-term trip, you might have been surprised by a few things that were different from vacation rentals back home.
What do you need to know about vacation rentals in France?
Vacation rentals in France
Depending on if you go through a full-service vacation rental agency or book directly with the owner through a vacation rental site, you’re going to find different types of rentals at all price points all over France. Some that cater to foreigners from across the Atlantic will provide a luxury experience like a home away from home and take care of many of the things listed below, while others will expect you to be on the up and up about how things work in France.
All you have to do is browse French vacation rental forums to see what types of surprises eager vacationers had to deal with upon arrival. Don’t be caught off-guard the next time you visit France (especially if you book through a service that’s not used to renting to foreigners).
Please note that my tips are things to be aware of are especially relevant if you book on a website in French aimed at French travelers. Sites that cater to foreigners might not have any extra charges or many surprises at all, but you often pay a premium for rentals where everything is included. To best prepare yourself, always read your contract in full and ask questions before booking.
Here’s a quick rundown of a few popular sites:
Airbnb: With a variety of accommodations all over the world, Airbnb is hugely popular for a reason. All of the properties are rented out and managed by the owners directly. Choose from spare rooms in someone’s home to fully private accommodations where you’ll have the place to yourself. There’s something for every budget and many unique rentals you won’t find anywhere else.
HomeAway: This site is a major player in the vacation rental market with properties in 145 countries with many listings in France, making it a solid booking option for your vacation rentals in France. All properties are private so you’ll have the place to yourself. Like Airbnb above, you can look at past travelers’ reviews to see if a property was a hit or miss.
Abritel: A sister site of HomeAway, Abritel has over 1 million listings in 190 countries. The site has properties that suit all budgets and needs.
LeBonCoin: LeBonCoin.fr is France’s version of Craigslist and there’s a whole section of the site for France vacation rentals nationwide. Sometimes you can find a great deal as well as find properties that aren’t listed on the major vacation rental sites. The only caveat is that you’ll have to speak French in most cases. Do your homework, though, and make sure a property is legitimate (do they have a rental website off of Leboncoin? Is the listing full of typos? Call the owner — do they seem honest?). I’ve had great luck with rentals through LeBonCoin and haven’t encountered any scams but it’s better to be vigilant.
Here’s what you need to know about France vacation rentals before you go:
1. Expect to pay extra for electricity (mainly heat) in the winter.
This can be significant especially if the house is large and poorly insulated. Or has a jacuzzi or heated pool. Read the fine print of your contract to see what is included. The house we rented in Brittany over the holidays last year did not require cash upon departure for electricity but the property manager didn’t review our contract at first (Tom did) and calculated our energy fee at over 300 euros (good thing Tom read the contract!). On the other hand, the little cottage we rented in Brittany recently in January did. It wasn’t a huge amount but since we knew we were paying, we were very aware of lights being left on and often opted for a blanket instead of cranking the heater up.
2. You’re expected to bring your own sheets and towels.
Just about all the vacation rentals we’ve booked directly with the owners have required that we bring our own sheets and towels. This wasn’t an issue because we were driving and had the space to pack a bag of linens, but for those coming via plane, it’s not super convenient. Most rentals offer the option to use their linens for a reasonable fee. Or you can bring some easy-to-pack travel towels like these. Again, full-service luxury sites aren’t going to expect travelers to bring their own linens, but do make sure you read the fine print so you’re aware of what’s included. If you book on French language sites that are geared toward French travelers, it’s quite common to have to bring your own linens or pay a fee for them instead.
3. Cleaning the apartment before you leave is normal.
In most cases, to avoid a cleaning fee, you’re expected to clean before you leave. That includes making sure all dishes are cleaned and put away, emptying the trash cans, vacuuming and other light cleaning to make sure the rental is left how you found it. If you don’t want to clean the apartment before you leave, it’s quite common to pay a cleaning fee. Many of us don’t want to have to think about cleaning on vacation and happily pay the fee, but others love to clean and would rather keep that money in their wallet.
4. Deposits to reserve the property are commonly wired.
When I think of wiring money via bank transfer, I think of Nigerian scammers swindling old ladies out of cash on the internet. But have no fear, in Europe, a simple bank transfer is no big deal and quite common. The owner or property manager will give you their banking info and you wire the money online or directly at your bank. Easy. I still prefer to pay by check and that’s usually an option as well. The amount varies on the price of the rental and length of the stay, but it’s usually between 10-30% of the total stay. In most cases, you have to send a deposit to reserve the property. This is generally easier (and cheaper) when you pay from a European account.
5. Most rentals are Saturday through Saturday.
Many vacation rentals in France (especially at peak times) are only rented by the week and run from Saturday to Saturday. If you’re arriving mid-week, you may need to stay in a hotel before your rental starts, so be sure to discuss the rental terms before you book. During the summer, Saturday through Saturday will be the norm, but keep in mind it’s not a hard rule.
6. Prices are going to be higher during les vacances scolaires.
French schoolchildren get a ton of vacation and have two weeks off at Christmas, in February and again in April. Not all kids in France have the same two weeks off, as the country is divided into districts. Naturally French families vacation during the time kids are off from school and not only will your locale be more crowded but prices will be higher as well. Check here for the dates and try to NOT vacation in France during school breaks.
7. Don’t expect air conditioning in the summer.
Air conditioning isn’t the norm in France and while public spaces and most hotels have a/c, private homes usually do not. If you can’t stand the heat and need to have air conditioning, make sure the property you’re interested in has air conditioning before you book. Along with that, windows will not have screens. Sure the windows look beautiful in their screenless glory, but when the bugs start making their way inside, you might think twice about leaving the windows open for air during the night.
8. Expect to pay a security deposit upon arrival.
This depends on the rental but in many cases, property owners want to make sure they’re covered upfront in case of damages and will ask for a security deposit. This usually takes the form of a check made out to the owner that they won’t cash unless you damage their property. There’s no hard-and-fast rule but expect to hand over the same amount you’re paying for the week. Some property owners are more lenient and some will ask for more. If you don’t have a European bank account, sometimes they’ll accept cash (that will be returned to you upon departure) or put a hold on your credit card (that will be released at the end of your stay). Check to see what is required before you go and remember, it’s only cashed if you damage their property.
9. You’ll need to get your own toilet paper.
Many houses have all the basics you’ll need for the week including cooking utensils and dishes, but you’ll have to stock up on food and other necessities like toilet paper beyond the free roll already set out for you.
10. Always ask upfront about anything that’s unclear and don’t assume.
When it comes to vacation rentals in France, there’s no such thing as a dumb question. Ask if you’ll be required to pay if you do not bring your own linens or opt out of cleaning the rental at the end of your stay. If there are hidden fees you didn’t expect, a budget-friendly weekend getaway could turn into a an expensive lesson. It’s better to know than to guess, so ask away!
Don’t forget to enjoy the experience! Things in France won’t be the same as what you’re used to at home, but isn’t that part of the fun?
How have your vacation rentals in France been? Any surprises?