Finding the “Real” France, Online

Country guesthouse in France

“How did you find this place? This is the real France.”

A fellow lodger at a guest house in the French countryside north of Cognac seemed surprised to find us at the breakfast table. His tone was curious, with a shade of condescension, as he asked how we had possibly found this charming family farmhouse in a tiny village that had no obvious tourist enticements.

He was there by happenstance. An Englishman on a solo walking trek to Spain, he had injured himself the day before and decided to find lodging in the area and recoup for the evening.

We were there by design. I wasn’t sure how to break it to him, but the out-of-the-way farmhouse in the real France is listed on

It’s not a surprise, really. The internet is disrupting so many old notions about how the world works. Travel is certainly not immune, even if conventional wisdom hasn’t quite caught up with the times. The idea that the best, or even only, way to discover “hidden gems” is to talk to locals or find them by chance misses the fact that locals use the internet too. Message boards, blogs, Facebook, Pinterest, review sites and all the rest are nothing more than modern versions of old-fashioned word of mouth communication, only far more comprehensive and with photographs.

Angie is the real France

Angie is the real France

And that’s how I ended up in the “real” France. While searching for a reasonably priced place to stay within driving distance of the city of Cognac, I saw a listing for La Ferme d’Octave. I was drawn in by the photos of a sprawling stone house accented with climbing roses, a wild courtyard garden, and cheerful, comfy-looking bedrooms. After staying in cities from Barcelona to Bordeaux, a more low-key stopover seemed like a refreshing change of pace.

Leaving Cognac, we drove north, heading deeper and deeper into the countryside. We arrived in the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it village of Saint-Hilaire-de-Villefranche and found our way to a wooden, forest green-colored gate. The bell was answered by our innkeeper, Georges, who welcomed us with a quietly hearty “bonjour.”

Another guest enjoying the garden

Another guest enjoying the garden

We followed him through a cluttered storage area where a cat lounged on a table and into a spacious yard where a chicken strutted and pecked. A dog came bounding across the grass, giving a few short barks before coming to a stop, fixing us with her soft eyes and welcoming us with a gently wagging tail.

Soon the rest of the family emerged from the house to greet us as well. They were just about to sit down for a bite to eat, they said, and we were welcome to join them if we’d like. Naturally we accepted. What, after all, could be more French than breaking bread with a host of newfound friends?


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3 Comments on “Finding the “Real” France, Online”

  1. digger666 September 8, 2014 at 6:20 pm #

    Reblogged this on digger666 and commented:
    This conjures fond memories of similar experiences pre internet.


  2. Jason September 10, 2014 at 3:17 am #

    Could these small, out of the way slices of paradise be viable if they solely relied on actual word of mouth and walk in traffic? I don’t think so.
    Bet you enjoyed there pets, being the animal lovers that you both are.


    • Brian September 11, 2014 at 4:44 pm #

      Hi Jason,
      I wonder if some of these places were ever run to be viable standalone businesses or if they just rented out the odd room for extra cash. Certainly they have a lot more opportunities to make a buck and fill their rooms today than ever before.

      We did enjoy having the animals around. And Angie is probably the sweetest dog we’ve ever met. The photo captures her personality perfectly, I think.


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