Organizing a villa vacation is a challenge — and a lot of fun! Thorough pre-trip research can make the difference between a good trip and a truly great adventure. As you begin to think about villas, here are some points to consider.
Step 1: Budget
Do you want luxurious amenities, or are you looking for something simple? Consider how much time you’ll spend in your property each day. If you intend to make regular day trips, then basic accommodations may be sufficient. If, on the other hand, you plan to spend your days relaxing by the pool, selecting a property with additional amenities and comforts is important. Narrowing down your price range will also help.
Step 2: Season
July and August are high season in Europe, and they are the warmest months. In August, most of Europe is also on vacation! This means beaches and lakes are crowded and cities are full of tourists. Transportation, accommodations, and food are the most expensive. May, June, September and October are better months to enjoy the European countryside. The weather is generally good (not too hot), the locals are in town, and the crowds have thinned. Late fall, winter and early spring are great times to visit cities, as prices are at their lowest.
Step 3: Location
What type of location most perks your interest? Think about what activities you want to do on your vacation. Read by the pool? Visit museums and historical sites? Wander through local markets? Swim in the sea or a lake? Once you’ve targeted a location that offers opportunities for your desired activities, make sure the weather is going to cooperate. For example, you probably don’t want to golf in southern Spain during August (too hot!), just as you probably don’t want to sunbathe in April or early May (too cool!). If you need some help in this area, consider giving one of our travel advisors a call.
Step 4: Size
Do you need one bedroom or ten? If your group is large, would you like a freestanding house or independent apartments? Knowing the needs of your group will help you to select the best venue for your adventure together.
Step 5: Prioritize
Make a list of the attributes most important to you with regard to a property rental — window screens, beautiful views, privacy, proximity to local attractions, etc. Now go back and mark five items that are most important to you. This is what you want to focus on! Also put together a few questions you want to ask about each property. Is it accessible to main sightseeing locations? Is it close enough to a small town to allow me to get groceries without having to drive for 30 minutes?
Step 6: Get Help from Professionals!
Once you have an idea what you’re looking for, give us a ring at 1-800-726-6702. We’ll go to work doing what we do best — coming up with a list of properties that will “tickle your fancy!”
Have you decided to rent a villa? Congratulations!
Now comes the next step: choosing a villa rental agency. You have your choice of companies, as well the option to rent directly from a villa owner. Here are some points to keep in mind when embarking on the search for a villa.
Owner-Direct vs. Agency
Many property owners choose to work directly with the customer and you’ll find many personal web sites devoted to showcasing their homes. The upside to renting from the owner is that you, the customer, avoids agency fees and can communicate directly. The downside to owner-direct rentals is that often, a home’s shortcomings get overlooked since the owner has so much invested in his/her property. Agencies can be more objective and implement quality control measures. In addition, owner-direct transactions most likely occur via email only; due to language barriers and time zone differences, picking up the phone to speak to an owner about small details related to your rental is not a simple proposition.
Not all Agencies are Created Equal
When you select a rental company, consider the following points:
- How long has the company been in business?
- Do they have firsthand, personal knowledge of their properties?
- Are they readily accessible via phone and email?
- Do property descriptions include detailed info?
- Can you view property availability with an online calendar?
- Are there comments or reviews from previous renters?
What Makes RentVillas Different
- Rentvillas.com was one of the first villa rental companies in the US. We’ve been in business since 1984.
- Rentvillas.com offers a free Travel Advisor service. Call 1-800-726-6702 or 1-805-880-1228 during business hours (8:30 AM t0 5:30 PM PST) and you’ll be assigned a personal Travel Advisor who will assist you with all aspects of the trip planning process. Our world-traveled, multilingual staff members are an excellent resource for ideas about where to stay and what to do when you’re there.
- Our villas an apartments are all high quality, company-inspected properties. We write the descriptions and add the photos for each and every villa or apartment on our site. Many vacation rental sites allow owners (or anyone else) to post their properties online and then leave it up to you to find out the real truth. RentVillas.com is different. We want you to know the truth before you go!
- We publish our previous renters’ candid reviews so that you know what they liked most and least about their stays. We accept reviews only from our clients. You don’t have to worry about property owners posting their own “reviews.”
- Rentvillas.com offer a Best Price Guarantee: If you find one of our properties listed on another site for less, let us know and we’ll match the price and credit your 90 USD for your effort.
How Does it Work?
RentVillas.com features convenient real-time availability and booking for many properties. You can browse by country and instantly organize properties based on your dates and desired price with the Quick Filter. Once you’ve selected properties that meet your criteria, store your choices in your personal Suitcase. Via your Suitcase you can request a hold, confirm your booking, and make payments.
Don’t want to browse? One of our complimentary Travel Advisors would love to chat. She’ll ask a few questions and recommend properties based on your specific needs. Just give us a ring: 1-800-726-6702.
The economic slump has created a once-in-a-decade opportunity for travelers: fantastic deals on accommodations and airfare are everywhere.
But if you’re like me, that’s only half the challenge. The other half is all the money you’re going to spend when you get there! Food, shopping, transportation… it can add up quickly if you’re not careful. Here are some practical ways to keep your travel costs down.
1) Pack Well
In particular, make sure you have adequate footwear and layered clothing. Otherwise, you may be forced to purchase clothes (at a premium) during your trip. I am perpetually tempted to take my “nice” shoes rather than my “comfortable” shoes. I gave in to this temptation twice – once on a trip to Italy and a second time to Boston. I have a new pair of shoes to show for each trip – and yes, they are nice shoes, but I paid way too much… and frankly, I would have rather been seeing the sights than searching for a shoestore!
2) Pack Light
Many airlines are now charging hideous amounts of money for extra baggage. So make sure you know your airline’s requirements and streamline your packing process. Share toothpaste and soap with your companions. And remember to leave some room for the return journey!
3) Use Public Transportation
Booking a villa or apartment near some form of public transportation is a fantastic way to save on the costs of car rentals. Trains are everywhere in Europe, and most smaller towns have stops where you can catch a ride to any destination you like. Big cities usually have metros or excellent bus systems… use them! Honestly, it’s also more fun.
4) Photos – Not Souveniers
The best souveniers are your memories – and the best way to preserve those memories is to take lots and lots of photos. Buy yourself a compact digital camera with a nice big memory card and go for it. You could also add a fun twist – take a stuffed animal to photograph at every site, or photograph every meal you eat. The time you don’t spend shopping in tourist traps can be put to good use relaxing by the pool at your villa, exploring the countryside, or enjoying a nice picnic lunch.
5) Eat Local
Popular sightseeing attractions and transportation hubs are usually surrounded by restaurants catering to tourists. While these places may seem convenient when you’ve been hoofing it all day, they are neither cost-effective nor authentic. Instead, plan ahead. Assuming you’re not staying next door to a main attraction, keep an eye out for local markets, bakeries, and delis around your villa or apartment. Stock up on breakfast items and anything you can use for a picnic lunch.
6) Talk to Locals
Yes, that’s right – talk to people! I’ve rarely taken a bus in Europe without ending up in some interesting conversation with a complete stranger. Easy conversation starters are usually things like, “Excuse me, am I on the right bus?” or “Could you tell me what that sign says?” Be polite and courteous, but also make sure you step out of your comfort zone a little. After all, you’re here to experience the culture! Ask your keyholder or that guy in the bakery where he likes to eat dinner. Investigate whenever you see a “hole-in-the-wall” with a line of locals out the door. Explore! Not only will you find great deals, you’ll meet some wonderful people and make memories to last a lifetime.
If the reduced-price villas under the “specials” tab aren’t enough for you…
It’s easy to pull up the cheapest properties in any region on RentVillas.com (simply search by price). The villas in the Great Value category, however, offer the best of all worlds: great location, plenty of amenities, and fantastic price. No bare bones here.
Poggio Antico, for example, isn’t our absolute cheapest Tuscan villa for six – but it’s definitely one of the best values. Consistently rated 5 stars by our clients (there are 63 reviews) , it’s all the best of the Tuscan villa experience wrapped up in one ideal package! Furnished like a private home rather than a rental, Poggio Antico has a swimming pool, classic Tuscan views, olive groves, owners who speak fluent English… and a castle about 500 meters away.
There are 50 other villas listed along with Poggio Antico in “Great Values,” spanning all sizes and all locations. Check them out! We’ll be continually updating, too. So if nothing catches your eye today, check back later for more!
…At least, according to Josh Bernoff of Forrester Research! Just before Christmas, he posted an article on his blog entitled “Rentvillas.com shows how to be a human.” He writes:
“I am a Rentvillas customer. Traveling to another country where everything is different — the power outlets, the language, the time they eat lunch — is scary and intimidating, especially if you vacation with your children. In this frame of mind, I found Rentvillas four years ago, when planning a trip to France. I used them again for my trip to Italy this September. And I have to say, this is a company that acts like a human, and treats me like a human, in ways that surprised and pleased me.”
If you’d like a bit of an inside peek at how RentVillas.com operates “behind the scenes,” check out the article here.
Do you have a blog? Want a free copy of Living Like a Local in Italy?
Looking for a way to explore authentic Italy? Check out The Insider’s Guide to Living Like a Local in Italy on Amazon.com!
Written by RentVillas.com founder Suzanne Pidduck, this little guidebook brings together over two decades of experience renting and traveling in Italy. Learn how to prepare for your trip, where to find the restaurants locals patronize, how and when to drive Italian style, and much, much more. It’s an invaluable companion for any renter!
It’s $7.80 on Amazon.com… or free, if you rent an Italian villa through RentVillas.com!
If you’re traveling with kids or just want to expand your horizons beyond the typical tourist destinations, theme parks are a great way to add depth to your European experience. And I’m not just talking about “Euro Disney!” Think aquariums, botanical gardens, zoos, and water parks!
Most travelers might not think about going to, say, a local zoo, since the assumption is that you can visit the zoo when you’re at home. Parks are generally the same everywhere, right? Wrong! Well, sort of…
- In addition to having displays from around the world, most zoos, botanical parks, and aquariums have special exhibits and/or tanks to educate visitors about native species. You’ll get an in-depth look at local flora and fauna you couldn’t find at home. Your travel experience will be much richer when you know what trees you’re looking at, or what birds are in the branches!
- Parks are also a great place for practicing the local language. The familiar setting provides the context you need to feel comfortable, while also providing endless opportunities for learning new words. You can prepare and practice the most common questions ahead of time, and then add in new vocabulary as you learn! For example, at the zoo, you could learn all the names of the animals, plus lots of great adjectives like tall, short, brown, soft, scaly, etc.
- Theme parks are also just a great place to relax and slow down the pace. Remember you don’t need to see everything! Just relax and have fun. Water parks, in particular, are a fantastic way to escape the summer heat – and it’s a nice break for kids (or other family members!) who might be a little burnt out on museums!
For information on European parks, check out Infoparks.com!
If your mental image of Tuscany is all golden sunshine and vines heavy with overripe grapes… you’ve never seen Florence when it rains. Showers come quickly – once, standing in a sunny piazza, I turned to see a wall of rain sweeping from one end to the other. I had time to pull out an umbrella, and had a good laugh as less observant pedestrians cried out and ran for the nearest shelter.
I’m sure they weren’t disappointed; one of the most charming experiences in the world is joining the mad dash into the nearest church sanctuary. Dismayed chatter falls to a reverent hush; wet clothing is forgotten as everyone stops to admire vaulted ceilings aglow with flickering candlelight. And afterward, when the rain passes, the world is clean and fresh. The marbled pinks and greens of the duomo glow, and terracotta roof tiles turn rust-red.
This is Christmas in Tuscany.
And if you’ve come here wondering if its wise or wonderful to visit Tuscany at Christmastime – yes, it’s both. Crowds are fewer, prices are cheaper, and it’s a gorgeous time of year. Here are some a few special things to look for.
Christmas Markets: Called Mercatini di Natale in Italian, Christmas Markets are a tradition imported from Germany. Outdoor stalls spring up in various places, filled with goodies of all kinds. You’ll find handmade crafts (think leather), ornaments, and absolutely amazing food. In Florence, you should find the biggest area in the Piazza Santa Croce. If you want even more food, check out the Mercato Centrale (be aware most vendors open early and close around 2 p.m.).
Ice Skating in Florence: An outdoor rink can be found at the Parterre Piazza delle Liberta. It’s 20 meters by 30 meters and accommodates 200 people. I’ve been told on Christmas morning, only children are allowed onto the rink, where they can greet Santa Claus – or, as he is known in Italy, Babbo Natale!
Concerts and Exhibitions: Not surprisingly, music and art abound throughout Tuscany. You can find concerts all over the place no matter what time of year it is, but they’re especially atmospheric at Christmastime. For a current list of things happening in and around Florence, go to the official tourism website, www.firenzeturismo.it. Then scroll down to the middle of the page and click on the red magnifying glass icon labeled “Trova.” A little drop-down menu appears; click “eventi.” And… voila! You can now view all events during a particular time period. You can also select Florence or a number of outlying smaller cities and towns, such as Certaldo or Bagno a Ripoli. (Note: This website can be seriously annoying, so if you’re planning on renting through RentVillas.com give us a ring and one of our Travel Advisors will help you out.)
Nativity Scenes: In Italy, Christmas trees definitely play second fiddle to Nativity Scenes, or presepio. St. Francis of Assisi is supposed to have created the first one in the year 1223, and the tradition took off from there. Now you’ll find a scene in almost every church, some of them quite elaborate. Families put together their own nativity scenes, and in Florence there’s a public competition for the best one! Some churches will even organize a living nativity for a night or two. Small nativity scenes made of wood or plaster (often sold at Christmas markets) also make wonderful gifts for friends and family who weren’t able to join you on your trip!
As you can see, there’s no shortage of activities in Tuscany in the winter months. Yes, some museums will have sightly shorter hours, and some restaurants will be closed on holidays. Yes, it may rain – or even snow! Nevertheless, it’s a small price to pay for this much charm.
Nothing is so beautiful as Christmas in the City of Lights. If you’re contemplating a winter holiday in Paris, rest assured that it’s an unparalleled delight! There are a couple of extra challenges, but the special events and sights offered only during Christmastime more than compensate. So here’s your handy Paris Christmas guide!
Transportation: The metro and RER are both open during the holidays, even Christmas Day, so no worries there. Cabs will also be running, although you can assume a lesser number will be out-and-about. I suggest jotting down the number of a cab company “just in case.”
Closures: Most closures for major sights will be on Christmas Day, December 25th. You may also find some things closed on the 26th, which is likewise a holiday. Smaller restaurants are likely to shut down on these dates, but you’ll never have any problem finding food in the major tourist areas.
Christmas Markets: From the end of November to Christmas, outdoor markets pop up all over the city. Stalls feature handmade crafts, ornaments, and all sorts of delightful seasonal gifts. When it gets closer to the end of November you should be able to find a list of markets on the offical Paris Tourism website (just search “Christmas Markets”). Alternately, just ask around – they’re everywhere!
Outdoor Ice Skating: In the wintertime, the front of the Hotel de Ville (City Hall) is transformed into a giant outdoor skating rink. Très romantique!
Midnight Mass: Notre Dame and Sacre Coeur both have midnight masses. To clarify, that means the midnight that ends the 24th day and begins the 25th. Notre Dame also has other masses and events, notably a concert on Christmas Day. You can see the schedule for Christmas as well as any other day on the Notre Dame website. Although there is a English color-code for the type of event, the schedule itself is in French – so if you need help with anything specific let me know and I’ll check it out. Although less informative, Sacre Coeur also has a website.
Tea House: This isn’t specifically a Christmas event, but it comes highly recommended from one of our travel advisors. She says, “My favorite tea house, Angelina, is right across the street from the Louvre. Their hot chocolate (Chocolat Africains) is something you’ll never taste again in your life. It is a wonderful and very French experience!”
Address: 226 rue de Rivoli, 75001 Paris
Phone: 01 42 60 82 00
Directions: Near Jardin de Tuileries west of Louvre next to the Hôtel Meurice on the r. de Rivoli, around the corner from the r. de Castiglione.
Métro: Concorde or Tuileries
The Usual Suspects: Here are holiday-season days and times for a few of the major attractions.
The Louvre: Open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day except Tuesday and the following holidays: January 1st, May 1st, November 11 and December 25, 2008. The permanent collection and temporary exhibitions will close at 5 p.m. on December 24 and 31, 2008 (Wednesday). Louvre website.
Musee D’Orsay: Open from 9.30 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, except Mondays; late night on Thursdays until 9.45 p.m. Last tickets sold at 5 p.m. (9 p.m. Thursdays); museum cleared at 5.30 p.m. (9.15 p.m. Thursdays); closed on January 1, May 1 and December 25. Musee D’Orsay website.
Versailles: Closed on Christmas, and perhaps the day after. Open from 9:00 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Versailles website.
Tour Eiffel: Open every day! Hours are 9.30 a.m. to 11.45 p.m., and the last ascent starts at 10 p.m. Eiffel Tower website.
Of course, in addition to all of these things, Paris will also be filled with – what else? – lights. Christmas trees will be everywhere. Everyone will be in a festive mood, and the chilly weather will be perfect for a hearty winter meal, a stroll down the Champs-Élysées, or a cup of hot cocoa shared with your significant other.