WARNING! Renting with Gites de France Normandy?

 
This little website is for anyone who is thinking of renting a gite in Normandy with Gites de France.
 
If that's you, then please THINK AGAIN!
 
I've just returned from a 'holiday' near Flers with my parents. My dad is 84 and my mum 79 and the idea was that this would be their last trip to France after many happy holidays there. We took a lot of trouble researching gites because we wanted to find the right place. In the end we found one in Normandy (Orne region) which looked nice from the photos.
 
We were looking forward to a comfortable, welcoming place, but on arrival - oh WOW! The place looked nothing like the photos on the website, so that we thought we must have come to the wrong gite:
 
  • The main room was dark and gloomy and there was only one feeble light at one end; we couldn't read there even during the day
  • The furniture was shabby and dirty: the only armchair was broken so that it collapsed when you sat on it
  • We couldn't open the fridge door because it too was broken
  • When we tried to light the fire (it was cold inside in August!) the room promptly filled with smoke so that we could hardly see one another across the room
  • The shower was just a plastic DIY cabin that had been put up in the bathroom
  • And to cap it all the place was down right dirty and there were rats!
 
By the end of day two we were seriously thinking of packing up the car and coming home. In the end, we stayed and tried to make the best of it because what a sad last holiday it would have been to have to go home again after 48 hours.
 
When we got back I wrote to Gites de France, explaining the problems, asking how it was that the place was so different from the website description and photos, and asking for some form of compensation.
 
Gites de France HQ in Paris didn't want to know and said that we'd have to deal with the regional office for the Normandy area who sent back an email within the hour (I mean, how much investigation had they given to my complaints???) completely denying everything we'd experienced.
 
According to them the place was "quaint, rural and typically French." They had made an inspection in the last year and found everything to be just as it was in the photos. The main room wasn't gloomy, it was bright and well-lit; the fire didn't belch out smoke, it worked perfectly; the furniture wasn't broken; the place wasn't dirty, it was spotless. I couldn't believe it. No, "We're so sorry about your holiday and to reassure about our commitment to providing a quality service we're going to thoroughly investigate your complaints ..." 
 
As for compensation, not a chance. According to the contract we'd signed, if you're not happy you have to let them know within 48 hours otherwise you're stuffed. 48 hours???! You're there in a foreign country hardly speaking the language so what are you supposed to do once you've made your complaint? Pack up the car again and go home?  
 
So I write to them again. This time no response. So I write to HQ in Paris again at which point they reply to say "The case is closed and we're not continuing the correspondence."
 
Why am I putting this on a website? Sure, in part because I'm frustrated but mainly to let other people who may be thinking of booking with Gites de France in Normandy the kind of service you can expect. If you want to go to Normandy, these days there are other companies offering rental gites. What's more, if you book with Gites de France, you're being ripped off: many of the gites offered by other companies are the same as those offered by Gites de France but a lot cheaper (see for example http://www.holidaylettings.co.uk/orne/ and http://www.holiday-rentals.co.uk/orne/s/247/fa/find.squery).
 
Hope the above is helpful.