Ready to sign on?Typically, you'll be required to pay in full, plus a security deposit, eight weeks prior to departure. Be warned that refunds are hard to come by. For the best protection, use a company that accepts credit cards (most don't), and take out trip-cancellation insurance.
Three Top Rental Agencies
RENTVILLAS.COM This group, which also specializes in Italy, handles about 600 houses in France, the majority of them in Provence. Customer service is a priority; a "travel adviser" rather than an agent will assist you. Rentvillas.com rates its properties on a scale of one to five stars, based on quality of the view, garden, rooms, and noise level. Clients' comments are posted uncensored on the Web site. Special tours, baby-sitters, maid service, and chefs are available at many properties, for a price. And, yes, credit cards are accepted. 800/726-6702 or 805/641-1650; www.rentvillas.com; cottages for four from $550 a week in low season, $750 in high; villa for seven (with pool) in high season from $3,200.
VILLE ET VILLAGE With some 850 properties all over France and the able guidance of its owner, Carolyn Grote, this agency based in Berkeley, California, is ideal if you're not sure which region is for you. Grote knows them all. She even has houses on Île de Ré, where it's notoriously hard for outsiders to get a foot in the door. A catalogue of all the rentals is available. One drawback: no credit cards. 510/559-8080; www.villeetvillage.com; cottages for four from $600 a week in low season, $1,000 in high; villa for six (with pool) in high season from $3,500.
HOMES AWAY In need of coddling and willing to pay for it (with a credit card)?This Toronto-based firm represents 42 top-of-the-line French villas, some with chefs and all with housekeepers—and the services of an English-speaking host-concierge, three half-days per week. The latter, on request, will not only stock the fridge and lay out a welcome buffet, but also organize bike trips, hot-air balloon rides, even fireworks displays. You can also expect swimming pools, terraces, and superb views. 800/374-6637 or 416/920-1873; www.homesaway.com; three-bedroom houses from $6,000 a week in low season, $6,500 in high.
GOOD VALUE WHERE THE FRENCH FIND THEIR RENTALS A French government agency, Gîtes de France, oversees a nationwide system of rural house and cottage rentals. Gîte means shelter in French, and these dwellings span the range of comfort levels, from single rooms in farmhouses to well-appointed estates. They're rated accordingly on a scale of one to five épis (ears of corn). The good news: you can snag a great place for $600 per week in summer, and for considerably less if you're open to undiscovered locales. To find a place, explore the agency's Web site, www.gites-de-france.com, by region. Or request a catalogue for a particular region (call the Paris office at 33-1/49-70-75-75). Alternatively, the British company Brittany Ferries (44-8705/143-537; www.brittany-ferries.com) produces a free compendium of Gîtes de France properties with descriptions in English. Also consider gîtes that don't belong to the official network. Find them on www.gite.com or by going to a search engine, such as Google, and typing in a town or region, plus "gîtes." An unofficial gîte to check out: Aux Deux Soeurs, near St.-Rémy-de-Provence (www.auxdeuxsoeurs-provence.com), on the grounds of a 19th-century bastide, with a pool, baby-sitters, and helpful English owners.
LEASING DIRECTLY FROM RAOUL To hook up with individuals trying to rent out houses, do a Web search by region, or try a global rental site such as choice1.com, cyberrentals.com, or vrbo.com, all of which allow you to specify where you're looking and what you're after. Tread cautiously: Request pictures in addition to those posted, ask for room measurements (photos can be deceiving), probe for hidden costs, and try to pay with a credit card.