June 14, 2007

A villa rental for every budget

Every so often I post a story that sparks more than the usual number of emails. Italian Idyll was one of those.

Some wrote to say they enjoyed the story or photograph, but others wrote to ask the name and location of the rental apartment in Moneglia, Italy, where the story took place.

Here’s my response to one reader:

"Our apartment in Moneglia was at the complex called "Le Residence Marine." We rented through Interhome,
an outfit we've dealt with a few times, with great success. (It's fun just to cruise their website and dream...). Be advised that it's a steep drive up a small road to get to the complex, and it's a steep walk down a cliff path to get to the sea, where there's no sand, but you can lounge around on rocks. The sandy beach is in the town proper -- a healthy downhill walk, or a car ride.

I searched for the property and found the complex listed, but not the exact apartment we rented. The current Interhome listing has photos of the building, but describes a smaller apartment than the one we had. (Ours was two floors, and was the front-most apartment on the right side of the right-most building, if you were standing behind the complex and facing toward the sea. We had a huge terrace.) I don't know whether that particular apartment is still rentable or not, but again, Interhome does list Le Residence Marine, but not the unit we rented.

I also found the complex -- again, with smaller apartments than the one we rented -- through the Danish villa rental site, Sol og strand (Sologstrand).

Other gorgeous areas to check out for villa rentals on the Italian coast in or near Liguria (the region Moneglia is in) are in the Cinque Terre region, Santa Margherita de Ligure, Rapallo, Portofino. The coast from the French border at Ventimiglia all the way down to, say, La Spezia, brims with gorgeous seaside towns.

I can highly recommend Interhome. Their prices are fair, and all our rentals have come off without a hitch.

You can also cruise Vacation Rentals By Owner (VRBO) at
www.vrbo.com . My sister just rented a place in France through them, and it works well. You deal directly with the property owner. Other reputable villa rental outfits I know of include www.RentVillas.com , www.RentaVilla.com , and www.Cuendet.com . "

A vacation rental is within most travelers’ reach, but I think the pricey-sounding word "villa" prevents many from considering the option.

Let’s banish the word "villa" to the precious pages of Conde Nast and similar publications. Instead, think apartment, cottage, flat, bungalow, rowhouse, townhouse, loft, cabin...

Renting and living for a week or so in a neighborhood lets you move to the rhythm of real life in that community. More than a tourist, you become a resident, albeit a temporary one. You see, feel, hear and experience things that hotel-stayers miss, and your journey takes place at a deeper, richer level. The place you live in for that while and the people you share it with become a forever part of you. Very few hotel stays have that kind of impact.

Cruise the websites and catalogs of vacation rental brokers. Perhaps you’ll find a studio apartment on a side canal in Venice where, for a few hundred dollars a week in the misty off-season, you can live and move to the ebb and flow of that special place.

Here are a few tips for getting a bigger bang for your vacation rental buck (I’m assuming Europe is your destination):

– Avoid July and August, the height of high season. If you must have warm weather, consider May, June, September and October. (Pull the kids out of school to do it? Heck, yeah!)

– Travel off-season. Places are still beautiful and interesting when it’s cool, cold, snowy or rainy. And they’re cheap – to get to and to stay in. Some of my most memorable trips have been in the height of low season: Scotland and Iceland in February; Ireland in the wet month of April, Germany in cold December, southern Portugal and Barcelona in January. Wondrous trips, all.

– Rent city apartments in neighborhoods that require a walk or bus or subway ride to the action of center city.

– If you’re in a sea or beach resort area, rent waterview instead of waterfront. Cheaper still, forego the view entirely and walk to the water to get your fix.

– Rent with others. We rented a three-bedroom, waterview apartment in Nerja, Spain with my parents. The October weekly rent was $1,000. As there were four of us and two of them, we took 2/3 of the bedrooms and paid 2/3 of the price – $675 for seven nights for two bedrooms, a kitchen, living room, dining room and magnificent patio. My parents paid $325 for their week in paradise. We spent the week drinking wine and laughing at and toasting our good fortune.

– Rent in the outskirts. Rome is great, but you can get to Rome by public transportation from countless nearby towns and villages whose rentals don’t carry Rome’s prices. Immerse yourself in the simple, quiet life of a place that’s near a big draw destination and make day trips to the big draw. You’ll save big bucks.

– Rent from the Brits. They’ve been the world’s most intrepid and indefatigable travelers for centuries, and they’re at home, literally, on foreign soil. Britons own and rent real estate all over Europe, and if you rent directly from them, you cut out the middleman fee. Typing words like "holiday flats," "holiday rentals," "vacation cottages," "vacation apartments to let," and the like into a search engine will likely yield a few UK sites where you deal directly with the property owners.

Happy hunting. There’s a house key out there with your name on it.