More British holidaymakers head for France each year than any other country. Even Spain, destination of so many package tours, has to play second fiddle to our nearest neighbour.
Surprised? Well, to be fair the French figures are inflated by millions of bargain-hunting day-trippers. But even so you only have to stand in Calais on a summer’s day and see the thousands upon thousands of family-laden cars trundling off the ferries and Le Shuttle to see how popular it is, especially for self-catering holidays by car.
Where France scores is not just in its closeness but also in the sheer variety it has to offer. Want a traditional bucket and spade holiday? Brittany is like Cornwall but with better weather and fewer traffic jams. Want a restful rural retreat with excellent food, lovely countryside and balmy weather? Take your pick from the Dordogne, the Cévennes, the Ardèche, Charente, Gascony… Fancy some serious mountains to stretch your leg muscles? Try the Alps, the Pyrenees, the Alpes Maritimes… Want to bake in the sun, or strut your stuff in fashionable resorts? Head for the Côte d’Azur, or Biarritz.
You get the picture: France has something for everyone. And what all these areas have in common, along with the rest of France, is a good supply of houses and villas available for holiday lets. Most tend to be in popular holiday areas, of course, but there are few corners of France that don’t have their quota of run-down rural properties bought up and lovingly restored by Brits or others who’ve fallen in love with the area. As a result, most of the holiday homes you’ll find on offer are individual properties in the countryside. There are modern developments along the south and west coasts, but they tend to be bought by the French, who can’t understand why these mad foreigners are so keen on old-fashioned rural hideaways.
Flying is becoming a sensible option with the growth of cheap flights to around 30 local airports, but many British visitors still drive to their holiday destinations. If you haven’t done it before, don’t worry. France is such a big place compared with Britain that its roads are generally much less crowded, although it won’t seem that way if you choose to travel on a peak Saturday in August, when the whole of Europe seems to be trying to get from one end of the country to the other.
A holiday in France need not be expensive. Of course, a beautiful mas or farmhouse in Provence, with a swimming pool, or a magnificent château in the Dordogne, won’t come cheap, but with 250,000 British-owned houses in the country, there are plenty of properties to suit every pocket and taste. France is divided into almost 100 départements, almost every one of which is worth visiting (we’d better not list the exceptions!). If you take one villa holiday a year in each, that should keep you going for a while.