Renting a villa in Europe is a wonderful alternative to staying in a hotel. It’s the nearest most of us will get to a “Year In Provence” type of experience, it’s affordable, and provides the setting for a truly communal experience among groups of friends or relatives. But picking the right one requires some amount of research and, more importantly, full agreement on style and amenities. (One person’s ’rustic’ may be another’s hell-hole.)
Our band of villa devotés, The Dorking Dozen, has been renting overseas properties since 1998 when 12 of us piled into a house near Dorking, England. Over the years we have rented in Scotland, Italy’s Umbria region and two locations in France. The group keeps growing as more old friends sign on to our band of Dorks.
Our most recent stay was at Le Puits de l’Eouvé.The kitchen was fully equipped and as big as our downstairs in Toronto. It opened to a poolside dining table that easily accommodated our group of 16. The view was typical South of France: olive groves, gardens, forests and blue hills. And the price per person was well below the going rate for hotel rooms.
So, if you too want to live like a country squire on your next vacation, here are some pointers to keep in mind:
- Vet your group carefully. Ideally your party should consist of longtime friends or family members who tolerate each other’s flaws and foibles. Remember you will be living in close proximity for seven days. Our cohesive group is a mix of couples and singles who have known each other since the sixties. But tales abound of villa holidays that degenerate into bickering, sulking and animosity.
- Share a common dinner vision. Your villa will come with a kitchen, but if you plan to prepare your own meals, you’ll need willing grocery shoppers, meal planners, chefs, sous-chefs and cleaner-uppers. Many of the Dorks love cooking, but if cooking isn’t your group’s thing, look for a villa that comes with a local cook, for an extra fee of course. Or, you can eat out every night. But that means giving up one of the pleasures of having a home-away-from-home.
- Solicit everyone’s input. Before you start searching for a property, decide on the ground rules. Agree on a date, a location, an approximate price and a minimum comfort level. Are people willing to share bathrooms, or does everyone want an en suite? How important are such amenities as a pool, Internet access, air-conditioning or central heating? Do group members have special needs such as wheelchair access or baby cribs?
- Now start your search. If you book through an experienced travel agent or a reputable specialty company, you can expect the property to meet certain standards. For Britain, the Dorks have used Landmark Trust (www.landmarktrust.org.uk), a charity that preserves and rents out buildings of historical or architectural significance. On the Continent we have used Toronto-based Vacances Provençales (www.europeanhomerentals.com), an agency specializing in European villas. We found our most recent property (www.eouve.com) through a blind Google search. That could have been risky but turned out well. If you take that route, ask for references and send plenty of e-mail queries in advance.
Photo Credits: danbreckwoldt, Doug McArthur, Funwithfood, gaffera