It’s long been an ambition of mine to find the right housesitting opportunity and lose myself in the French countryside. This September I escaped home obligations for a short while and tried housesitting Ile de France. This peaceful rich agricultural landscape is in the heart of the Brie and Champagne region of North Central France. A housesitting assignment came up with one of our longest standing home and pet owners, and I simply couldn’t resist. I approached her suggesting that I, the housesitting platform owner, might want to care for her home and pets to discover her part of the world and live the housesitting life for a short while. And despite my not having experience in caring for hens (she has 12) she took me on! Here’s a snapshot and some top tips gleaned from this wonderful experience.
Rediscovering France – housesitting Ile de France
Before I was aware of the term housesitting, I had been looking after friends’ and neighbours’ pets and gardens since I was a teenager. They would go on holiday and I would step in to feed, water, manage, walk, sort through post, collect parcels etc. I can’t remember how it started, perhaps my mother volunteered me to help a friend for pocket money. Anyway, it seemed a neighbourly thing to do. Then at University I found I was asked to help a professor while she took time out to visit family abroad, I was an overseas student and not going home for the holidays so I was free to help feed her cat and water the plants and keep her home secure. Now, some decades later I find myself in the heart of a stunning landscape housesitting in Ile de France doing pretty much the same thing caring for pets and property while they owner takes a short trip to the seaside at Cancale in Brittany.
Housesitting – The primary responsibility
The first responsibility as with most of our housesits is the care and well being of the 16 pets! There are indeed 12 chickens and the four dogs, all rescued.
One of the pleasures of this trip was discovering the distinct and rather fabulous personalities of the dogs. Each dog was unique with their own character and peccadilloes. Duke, the large Border Collie is the eldest and the first dog to be rescued by the owner Susan, he’s the elder statesman of the gang keeping the rest in line. Flea is the next to be adopted, she is a cross between two working breeds a Border Collie and a Pyreneen Shepherd. Then there is the long haired and tiny Chihuahua with perhaps the biggest personality, Barry. In that tiny frame beats the heart of a canine Napoleon. Then most recently adopted is Perle, a very nervous dog, still learning to live with her new family. It is hard to determine her mix of breeds and yet she has a distinct look about her that may well steal my heart!
Daily routines for this assignment – Housesitting Ile de France
1. Housesitting – Learning the Daily Routines
- Documentation – In preparation for this housesitting assignment Susan the homeowner had prepared a list of duties, daily and weekly routines, and key telephone numbers of friends and neighbours, the vet’s surgery (including and English speaking vet based locally).
- HouseSitMatch Helpful Document Templates – She had previously used one of our helpful documents, the EASY SIT GUIDELINES document for homeowners from the RESOURCES – MEMBERS AREA pages of the website – both of these pages become available to you as a homeowner once you are logged in. We also offer a HOUSESITTING AGREEMENT to help formalise the housesitting assignment details between members who have not worked together, it can help in making sure everyone understands the responsibilities on both sides.
- HOMEOWNER TOP TIP – Edit the template to suit your needs. Use it as a guide. Believe it or not, even though I had prepared the templates myself when we first started HouseSitMatch I really found Susan’s own particular version useful because it related totally to her own home and particular housesitting needs.
- HOUSESITTER TOP TIP – Don’t be afraid to ask the simplest questions, even what might seem the most obvious points – I had to! Make sure you understand e.g. how to turn on the hob (cooking is useful while the homeowner is away!) Or where to wheel the rubbish bins before collection day. It may seem obvious to some, but it wasn’t to me.
2. Petsitting – Learning the habits and characters of the pets
- Spending time with the owner and pets – before the housesit begins it can be helpful to spend a little time (a day and night) with the owner before you are left alone. In just 24 hours experiencing the routines of the house, property and pets can be enlightening and can mean you are better briefed. For example, one of the hens needed to be coaxed off her nesting corner to remove the eggs on a daily basis. No more chicks were desired at this stage, and naturally the fresh eggs are valuable. Seeing how Susan coaxed her off the nest and handled her outside was very helpful. A situation of potentially ruffled feathers and a bitten and flustered housesitter was avoided. One of the dogs is a very nervous recent rescue. Perle the dog needed coaxing to come in the house for nighttime. Seeing just how Susan managed this each evening was extremely useful preparation.
- HOMEOWNER TOP TIP – Plan to have the housesitter an extra day before the start of the housesit if you can, it can prepare you both for what is required and how to handle difficult situations. You will know the sitter a little better also.
- HOUSESITTER TOP TIP – Be open about your experience, or lack of experience. Make sure you have what you need at your fingertips and ask to have a go while the owner is present. It can prepare you, especially if the owner is there to advise.
3. Security – for the home and pets
For some homeowners maintaining the well being of their pets is key and housesitting is the solution because care for their pets at home is the ideal, ensuring their pets are in the same routine in their own environment. Security for pets and the home are also important factors for many homeowners, especially in a rural situation. This underlines the importance of maintaining security routines, and especially respecting lock up and alarm requirements when leaving the property.
HOMEOWNER TOP TIP – Write down the critical exit routine from the house for the housesitter both with and without pets. It will help the sitter.
HOUSESITTER TOP TIP – Organise yourself and practice the exit routine from the property before leaving for the first time, both with and without pets. The last thing you want is to be negotiating an electric gate, with the dogs loose about the property, or running around trying to remember where you put the keys and forgetting to shut a vital door!
And the joys of housesitting Ile de France ..?
The homeowner and housesitter – making friends
I was very fortunate in my housesit experience to find a homeowner who is experienced at having a sitter in her home. She is understanding and appreciative of anything done to help her with her home and pet responsibilities. In return she helped me discover this exquisite region of France where she lives. From the delectable ‘produits de la terroir‘ the famous Brie cheeses (of which there are many many varieties I have discovered), the pâtés, the wines and Champagnes and the simple ‘eggs-quisite’ taste of freshly laid eggs.
Discovering regional attractions while housesitting Ile de France –
The owner encouraged me to discover the Chateau Fontainbleau which in all my years of coming to France for work and pleasure I had not seen. What a treat! It is easy to find and not very busy even on a Sunday. Make a point of taking the ‘tour d’ histoire‘ which was only Eur 16 per person and lasted 2 hours – excellent value in my opinion! It is well worth a visit, if only to see Napoleon’s imprint on this marvelous estate, the furnishings and colours apparently chosen by him to present an Imperial presence and acknowledge the Royal past.
Housesitting is the perfect way to travel well and save money in the process – an economical way to travel –
Apart from the cost of my Eurotunnel ticket (£145/ Eur 170 return) , petrol to drive (approx. £70/ Eur 82), motorway tolls (£45/ Eur 52) and food and wine while I was living in Susan’s home (£49 / Eur 57) my expenditure was minimal, save for the lovely ‘produits de terroir‘ and family gifts I simply had to buy to take home. We went to a Brocante (open market / jumble sale) on a Sunday morning where I picked up a couple of souvenirs for a couple of Euros each and we shopped at local markets for food and authentic produce, and she introduced me to the local discount stores with remarkably low prices.
My experience of housesitting Ile de France has refreshed my perspective on the incredible benefits housesitting can offer travelers; staying like a local in France by housesitting Ile de France, living comfortably because of a low cost of living doing the things I love most, traveling and caring for animals.
If you would like to try house-sitting register with HouseSitMatch and we can help you find either a housesitter to help you, or a housesit to start your journey! This opportunity for housesitting Ile de France will be available again at Christmas. Contact us if you are interested.