Even without knowing a word of French, you can book a gite yourself; all you need are a spirit of adventure and a list of potential vacation sites.
For help with the list, look for "The Gite Guide: French Farm & Village Holiday Guide," ($16.95, Hunter Publishing Inc.).This book, published in Great Britain, is compiled in cooperation with the French government and lists a selection of more than 1,200 gites throughout the country.
Listings are in English. Each includes a description of the property, amenities in the area, a tiny photo of the gite and the price in francs.
A second, more comprehensive source of gite listings is the Maison des Gites de France, the French government agency that coordinates the program. The Maison des Gites can provide individual booklets listing gites in any of the 95 departments of France.
To get these, write to the Maison des Gites de France, 35 rue Godot-de- Mauroy, 75009 Paris. (Telephone 16-1-47-42-25-43).
Once you select a gite (or gites) you like, you can probably do the booking yourself.
If your requested gite is available, the booking service or landlord will send you a rental agreement (generally in French only). Fill out and sign the form, keep one copy and return the others along with a deposit (typically 30 percent of a week's rent, payable in French francs) to hold the reservation.
If all this sounds like a bit much to handle, there are U.S. agencies that will make all the arrangements for you, from finding the gite to dealing with the paperwork. You'll pay about a 25 percent premium for their services, though, and you can expect a smaller selection of gites to choose from, generally from the upper tier in terms of quality and price.
Two such agencies are Chez Vous in Sausalito, Calif., 415-331-2535, and The French Experience, 370 Lexington Av., New York, NY 10017, 212 986-3800. - Liz and Steve McConnell