For many people seeking a holiday venue in France a swimming pool is a must. This is certainly true for families with children as nothing keeps the children amused more than a pool. More and more self catering holiday properties in France have a swimming pool these days, as a response to the increasing demand, particularly those in areas a little further from the coast. You will inevitably pay more for a holiday property with a pool, but you can get good value by choosing a cottage or gite with a pool that is shared between 2 or 3 properties as these are often better priced.
The criteria that you may need to consider in your choice are as follows:
It's worth noting that a swimming pool at a holiday cottage, villa or gite can not normally be heated over about 28°C. This is due to the limits imposed by the rigidity of the plastic pool lining and the possibility of uncontrollable bacterial growth, both of which become problematic from 30°. Swimming pool heating will generally be run on a thermostat (a device designed to maintain a constant or minimum temperature irrespective of the prevailing conditions) and in accordance with the above the setting will typically be between 26° to 28°C, allowing for a few degrees added by the sun.
This does sometimes lead to incomprehension by some guests, as in July and August they may wrongly believe that the pool heating is switched off, when in fact it's just that the pool is already warmed to the correct temperature by the sun and the heating then hardly ever comes on. With this in mind, for a holiday in the peak summer season you can often choose a holiday property in the Vendee region with an unheated pool and still benefit from comfortable water temperatures. Remember that the perceived warmth is entirely dependant on the outside temperature - it will feel totally different between a dull day at 20° and a scorching sunny day at 28°.
There are several approved child-safety systems for swimming pools in France and there is a legal requirement to have one of them installed with the aim of protecting children up to 5 years old. None of them can really replace your own vigilance. In reality, the majority of pool accidents involve older children in boisterous games or diving into shallow water.
1. A perimeter barrier with an approved child-proof gate. By far the most practical safety system and widely used at French holiday properties. It is possible to include a wall building in the perimeter as long as it meets the same requirements as an approved fence (no gaps or footholds and of sufficient height). However, to comply fully with the legislation, the gate must always be a specifically bought approved item which will include a child-proof latch and self-closing hinges.
2. A safety cover. Generally this will be a rigid roller-blind type, either electrically operated or manual. Once closed over the pool a small child could fall on it without any risk. There are also tarpaulin type covers which include reinforcement bars that lie across the pool. These are a little more difficult to put in place but are also effective.
3. An "immersion alarm". This is a device which is installed at the pool edge and senses the movements of the water whenever the pool is not being used. If the type of waves that result from something falling into the pool occur then the alarm sounds a siren. Recent studies on this type of equipment have indicated that it is not totally reliable in all circumstances. They are sometimes used as a legal back up for a well designed home made fence.
4. A perimeter alarm. These enclose the pool area with invisible infra-red beams when not in use. If a child (or adult...) passes through the beams the alarm sounds a siren.
5. Full pool enclosures (covered pools). In this case, the pool can be completely covered by a glazed structure, which in most cases can be opened completely in fine weather. Most of these are on rails and can be easily opened and closed by two people. Approved enclosures will have a child-proof latch to lock the enclosure in place and the access door will also be child-proof. These have the advantage of allowing bathing in all weathers (like a greenhouse) which is a bonus for holidays early or late in the season.
Make sure that you take note of the use of the pool in the holiday property description - it should clearly state whether it is sole us, shared by other guests, or shared with the owners and whether there are any opening hours.
Whilst some people a resolutely sure that they must have a private pool for their sole use, some families actually prefer a pool that is shared between several holiday cottages as there will probably be other children of the same age group as theirs, offering playmates and even more enjoyment for the children. With two or three cottages sharing, you will generally find that in practice not everyone is using the pool at the same time and you can easily find moments for a quiet swim if you wish.
Apart from possible cost savings on your holiday rental, a shared pool often goes with other shared facilities that an individual holiday home would not necessarily have - games room, table tennis, boules court, children's play area, etc..
You can usually see from the photos of a holiday home whether the pool is a traditional masonry structure in the ground or a prefabricated above-ground construction. Many holiday property owners will clearly state "above ground swimming pool" or "plunge pool" if this is the case.
Good quality above-ground pools (usually in wood), and of a reasonable size, are often sufficient for children to amuse themselves and for adults to cool off on hot days so they are certainly worth considering, especially as holiday lets with these pools are often lower priced. Just remember that the access is usually by ladder steps over the side and that the depth is more or less constant (designs vary from 0.90m to 1.50m), which may be a factor depending on the age of the children or any reduced mobility. Some of these pools are partly sunk into the ground so you then have almost a "real" swimming pool.
We have seen instances of holiday seekers being completely set against having a "salt water" pool. This probably due to a misunderstanding of exactly what salt water pools are. Leaving apart the odd rare pool right on the coast that might be filled with pumped sea water, there are two main pool water treatment systems that you will find at holiday homes.
Chlorine - either added periodically in liquid form or as slowly dissolving tablets. Basically this adds bleach to the water which releases chlorine compounds to kill the micro-organisms and keep the pool clean and hygienic. If it's well regulated and frequently monitored this system works fine. The disadvantages are that chlorine by-products (chrolamines) can build up over time, which can sting the eyes, occasionally cause minor skin rashes for those with sensitive skin and end up deteriorating your swimsuit. The unpleasant "chlorine smell" is in fact due to chloramines, not the chlorine itself which has hardly any smell. Contrary to popular belief, the best way to reduce this smell and any irritations is to overdose the pool with more chlorine. This destroys the chloramines and eliminates the problem.
You will occasionally come accross a pool with bromine water treatment. This operates in a similar way to chlorine, and can be more stable and trouble-free, although it can still need periodic "shock" treatment to remove irritants.
Salt water - This system uses ordinary salt in the water, together with a gadget in the pump circuit called an electrolyser. The amount of salt used is about 30 times less than you find in sea water so the water has just a vaguely salty taste and does not sting the eyes. In passing through the electrolyser during the filtration, the salt in the water is broken down to release a small quantity of free chlorine which acts as the disinfectant. Since this is pure free chlorine the actual level of chlorine required in the water is far less than in a conventional "chlorine" pool and in most cases you won't know it's there – no smell at all and there is much less risk of chloramine build up. This system has the advantage of being kind on the skin and eyes, easily tolerated by sensitive skin and harmless to bathing suits ! These pools are a real advantage so don’t hesitate to book a holiday property that boasts a "salt water" pool.
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