Condo and Villa Rentals Around the World

The perilous search for a vacation rental abroad or in the U.S.

Dazzled by the life of a British couple in the south of France, more than a million Americans bought Peter Mayle's charming book, "A Year in Provence," and thousands more have since followed his course, if not for a year, then at least for a summer month in a European home.

Like Mr. and Mrs. Mayle, though in a different land, many crave such a profound, shared experience and want to settle for a time in a foreign country, grow fluent in a foreign language, be greeted as regulars in the local shops, feel the softness and maturity of an ancient culture.

But setting all this in motion is harder than you might think.

The problem stems from the need to rent such a home sight unseen. Unless, several months in advance of your stay, you're willing to make a trans-Atlantic trip just to look over the available properties, your sole option is to rely on an illustrated, mail-order catalogue of rental homes--and hope for the best. At least a dozen "international real estate brokers" publish such listings, and will supply them to you either free or for a nominal $2 to $4 (refunded if you then rent through them.) Among such companies are: Home Base Abroad (781/545-5112); Vacanze in Italia (800/533-5405); Vacances en Campagne (800/771-4771); Ville et Village (510/559-8080); International Lodgings Corporation (212/228-5900); Interhome (800/882-6864); and more.

But is the method really satisfactory? Can a printed catalogue with one or two photos of each home, and a paragraph of description, really capture the qualities of each such dwelling? Though the great majority of people using the international brokers seem satisfied, other renters arrive at homes alongside a busy highway that doesn't appear in the photograph, or at homes reached by virtually-inaccessible dirt roads, or near industrial villages, or too closely alongside other homes.

There's a better, two-step approach. Simply phone for the catalogues and scan their photographs. Make a tentative choice of several in one compact region, and ask the broker to schedule visits to them. And then use an inexpensive, off-season, one-week, trans-Atlantic, air-and-hotel package (less than a thousand dollars per person, when other expenses are included) to scout the tentative choices.

Is this the course of a foolish spendthrift, a "rich American"? To begin with, you can assign a single member of your family to make that trip, thus limiting the expense to about $ 1,000 (possibly much less in low season). Even if you spend slightly more, the cost is only a fraction of what you will later pay for the one-month rental, and it's a prudent expense. Would you rather risk an unhappy month in a home that's not to your liking?

In addition to using the U.S.-based, international brokers to make a list of several potential properties, you can also ask the local tourist bureau, on arrival, for introductions to local brokers.

The Condo Alternative

The--"condo vacation"--living in a fully-equipped apartment or villa on the grounds of a resort hotel, or in a "condo community" is also an increasing popular method of enjoying a "restful, refreshing, relaxing vacation."Therefore we've included condo rentals in this "Holiday Home"section. Part of the appeal of a condo rental is the spaciousness and variety of the lodging itself; some vacationers feel cramped and deprived in the average-sized hotel room; they value the chance to raid the refrigerator at night, cook themselves some eggs, read in the living room while their spouse sleeps in the bedroom.

The other appeal is price. The advocates of condo vacations will heatedly argue that the condos cost far less than an equivalent hotel room; that by renting a condo for a week or two, one enjoys savings wholly apart from the ability to occasionally cook a meal and eat in. Obviously, the condo is a special value for traveling families or small groups, who enjoy considerable per person savings by staying in a multi-room condo rather than in several hotel rooms.

Finally, the condo advocates also argue that renting a condo is infinitely superior to buying a "time share" the other method of enjoying vacations in a multi-unit apartment or villa. A condo rental does not "tie you down" for years; it involves no initial large outlay or risk; it doesn't require that you later find a buyer, or engage in complex "exchange" transactions (living in someone else's time share) if some year you'd rather vacation somewhere else.

The "International Real Estate Brokers"

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.
 

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