House-sitting in France
PUBLISHED: 09:40 06 March 2015
Claire Morris Photography
Join the growing number of Francophiles who are taking the opportunity of living life like the locals by house-sitting in empty homes. Lamia Walker shows how to do it best
We have often toyed with the idea of buying a property in France, and in preparation for stumbling across our ideal villa nestled in a traditional village, we regularly treat ourselves to tours of various regions and affordable city breaks to explore all the Gallic charms. While we work up to finding the perfect haven we often house-sit for friends to experience different cities and rural hotspots.
After a recent spot of house-sitting in Paris we realised just how dramatically prices in the capital have risen in recent years, and yet our trip was still very affordable because we saved money by not paying for accommodation.
We have house-sat in the northern outskirts of the city a number of times for friends in Neuilly-sur-Seine, where we are well positioned to travel around using the Métro giving easy access to the city.
While they live in a safe part of the capital, Paris is not immune from the worries of urban crime, and there have been increasing numbers of burglaries especially in August when more of the native population is away on holiday. These days fewer and fewer apartment blocks have gardiens (caretakers) to take care of the premises, and more and more people are using sitters whether for their home or pets.
As house-sitters, we become caretakers of the property for the period of the owners’ absence and people often ask us to do basic chores such as manage their plants and pets, ensure the property is secure at all times, and stay in the home each night to make sure it is occupied.
During the day, however, we are free to explore the city. Each time I go I find it hard to last for more than a few hours touring the centre of Paris without at least a café crème and a morsel of something, so I generally alight anywhere near Rue de Rivoli and make a beeline for Angelina’s. Here the pâtisserie are named and displayed like rare edible Fabergé confections. The place is always busy these days, but it is still quite a feast for the eyes!
While many house-sitters in the city are needed for security reasons, there are plenty of opportunties to do the same in the countryside as well. Alecia Caine, founder of Find Your Self in France, told me about how she was able to experience her dream of living on a farmhouse in the French countryside.
“I always loved the idea of living close to nature in the slow-paced back country of France – far from traffic, noise and pollution but still enjoying the joie de vivre and simple pleasures of good bread, good cheese and good wine. I wanted to live in a place where the only sounds you can hear are the chickens clucking, the church bells ringing and an occasional tractor.
“Such was my experience house-sitting for Susan in her small farmhouse about an hour’s drive from Paris, taking care of some lovely dogs and a dozen chickens. I took on the assignment when a friend mentioned this alternative way of lodging and I immediately started searching for listings of homeowners who wanted to find reliable animal-loving people to look after their homes and pets while they travelled.
“Some gigs were a few days, others a few months and, luckily, Susan, a British lady living in France, needed me for the exact dates I was looking for a place to stay. She posted pictures of her lovely cottage, two border collies and the chickens that needed tending to while she visited family. It was a perfect match for both of us. I instantly fell in love with it all.
“When I arrived at Susan’s petite fermette, the dogs, Duke and Flea, gave me a warm, wet welcome and we instantly became best friends. They made me feel protected and secure and, since I travel alone, this is important to me. The chickens left me daily gifts of fresh free-range eggs, which I used to make delicious omelettes and practise baking techniques.
“The neighbours were very friendly and welcomed me into their homes; it was truly an experience I could never have had staying in tourist areas. I explored the medieval towns, shopped at farmers’ markets and took the train to Paris. It was a great way to see France. I enjoyed visiting the cities, but coming back home to my peaceful country retreat was the best.”
Having never gone down the route of leaving the farm with a house-sitter before, Susan initially had doubts about the process. “After mulling over the problem once again of who was going to look after my dogs and the chickens in France while I needed to be in England I hit on, by chance, a blog written by an English lady living in France.
“With only three weeks to go to find a solution, and with many concerns about taking the leap, I decided to post my requirements on Lamia’s website and after enjoying a wonderful worry-free fornight in England, I am convinced.”
As many people are discovering, house-sitting is a win/win for both parties, the homeowners gaining security and maintenance at home, and the house-sitter getting an affordable holiday.
While we continue to house-sit to enjoy new locations and experience living like locals, we also have a house-sitter at our home keeping things just as we like them for our return. It gives us real peace of mind.
One of the big challenges for my husband and I during a house-sit is preparing to go home, but we always promise ourselves we’ll be back... and maybe next time for good.
Lamia Walker is the founder of HouseSitMatch.com, a social network for house-sitters and homeowners
Tel: 07772 142 742