Tag Archives: vacations

Gîtes: A Friendly Twist to Your French Vacation

You have to admit:  you always have a better experience travelling when you get to interact with the locals.  How to do that in France where people value their privacy?  Pass on the hotel and make reservations at a gîte.   A what?  Gîtes are typically found in rural areas and smaller towns:  they can be bed and breakfasts, holiday homes, or even working farms, accommodating 2 to 10 guests.  You may sit down to breakfast with other families or even share dinner with your hosts.    What’s more, even if your French isn’t the greatest, for the most part, gîte owners want their guests to enjoy and value their region, its special sights and treasures, as much as they do, and in my experience, they’ll go the extra mile when it comes to communication.   There’s a gîte for everyone whether your tastes are rustic or deluxe.

To get started, go to the English language reservation site.  I’d recommend clicking on the button that reads “Criteria” that will allow you to be specific about your needs (number of rooms, distance to recreational activities, dinner with your hosts.)   All accommodations are rated according to ears of corn (as opposed to stars) with 5 ears being the highest quality, often in manor houses or chateaux with all kinds of fancy amenities.   Be aware that if you are renting a complete dwelling in the fall and winter months, you will be asked to pay heating charges in addition to the regular rental.  Also most expect payment in cash so be sure to stop by the ATM before you leave Paris.

School Vacations: A Snapshot of the French School Year

Elementary and secondary schools are run by the French national government with the calendar set centrally each year.  To minimize traffic jams (both on the roads and on the ski slopes), the country is split into three zones to somewhat stagger school vacations.  Paris lies in zone C,  along with two other administrative sections of Ile de France (Créteil and Versailles) and  Bordeaux.   Most of the international schools in Paris roughly follow the French calendar although often shortening the vacations at Toussaint and in February.

The schedule typically goes as follows:

Start of school (known as la rentrée):  first week in September although not necessarily a Monday

Toussaint:  a break of 10 days at the end of October always encompassing November 1st which is All Saints Day

November 11:  Remembrance Day

Christmas: Two weeks at the end of December encompassing both Christmas and New Year’s Day

February:  Kids in Paris typically have no school the last week in February and the first week in March.  It’s a good time to go skiing although only if you make reservations well in advance.  The ski stations in the Alps (such as Chamonix,  Megève, Les Arcs and Portes de Soleil) fill up quickly; those in the Pyrenees less so.

Spring:   Spring vacation is almost always the last two weeks of April regardless of when Easter occurs.    Easter Monday is a public holiday.

May:  The month of May is riddled with public holidays including  May Day (the 1st), Victory Day (May 8),  Ascension (40 days after Easter), and the Monday after Pentecost (50 days after Easter).   

Take note!  National holidays are always celebrated on their proper date, regardless of which day of the week they fall on.  For example, if May 1st happens to land on a Sunday, there is no school holiday.  On the other hand, if one of these holidays falls on a Thursday,  people often faire le pont, taking off both Thursday and Friday.   Or if the holiday falls on a Thursday, the French schools may hold school exceptionally on Wednesdays (usually a day off  in a normal week) and then take off both Thursday and Friday.

End of the school year:  Sometime around the first of July although the exact date varies from year to year.

The French take their summer vacations in July (with the largest numbers after Bastille Day on July 14) and August.    The last weekend in July/first weekend in August is considered the worst day of the year to travel since it’s the one time when all of the country is en route, either going to or coming home from vacation.    August is quiet in Paris.  While chain stores stay open all summer, smaller businesses often close their doors for the entire month.  Pharmacies and bakeries coordinate their vacations to ensure that neighborhoods remain served throughout the summer months.

For the latest info on the school calendar, go to http://www.education.gouv.fr/pid184/le-calendrier-scolaire.html?zone=15&dept=&annee=5&cp=