Condo and Villa Rentals Around the World

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

By Arthur Frommer, Wednesday, Mar 30, 2005, 12:00 AM

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"

Although we've listed a number of the sources for overseas villa rentals in our discussion of "the Perilous Search for a Summer Home Abroad," above it seems important to supply a more comprehensive list, not simply for Europe, but for the Caribbean and other areas.

For the British Isles

Home Abroad (22 Railroad Street, Great Barrington, Massachusetts 01230, phone 800/533-5405 or 413/528-6610, homeabroad.com) rents the vast majority of its more than 2,000 properties in France and Italy, but it also has a few dozen apartments in London, a handful of castles in Scotland, and some unique country homes throughout England.

Interhome (1990 NE 163rd St., Ste. 110, North Miami Beach, FL 33162, phone 305/940 2299 or 800/882-6864, interhome.com

For apartments in London, a major, long-established company is The Barclay International Group, phone 800/845-6636 or 516/759-5100, barclayweb.com. Rentals start at the British equivalent of about $125 per night.  For English country cottages, London apartments, and hotel rates on a rental basis, contact British Travel Associates of Elkton, Virginia, phone 800/327-6097, or 540/298-2232, britishtravel.com.

Cottage & Villa Holidays offers short-term rentals of nearly 250 barns, cottages, manor houses and even castles in the UK and Ireland, from $800 a week. Phone 800/642-0577 or write to them at P.O. Box 16927,  Savannah, GA 31416, cottageholidays.com.

For London apartments, contact Home from Home, 75 Wilton Road, London SW1 1DE, 011-44-207-233-8111. Privately-owned London flats, apartments and houses for short-term rentals. Centrally located. Competitive prices. Phone 800/748-9783, homefromhome.co.uk London apartments rented directly from London, phone London Pied a Terre at its London number, 011-44-207-499-6692, londonpied-a-terre.co.uk. Apartments or flats in London at moderate rates, phone Holiday Flatlets, 38 Emperor's Gate, London SW7 4HJ, phone 011-44-207-370-1040. Rentals start at 180 pounds ($339) a week for a studio.

For the Caribbean

Jamaican Association of Villas and Apartments (800/VILLAS-6, villasinjamaica.com) supplies a free color brochure outlining its services in securing villa and apartment rentals in every major resort area--Montego Bay, Negril, Ocho Rios, Port Antonio, Runaway Bay and Discovery Bay.

For renting villas and apartments on the pricey island of St. Bart's, sometimes at surprisingly low rates, phone St. Barth Properties in Franklin, Massachusetts, 800/421-3396 or 508/528-7727, Web site: stbarth.com

St. Thomas Condos, U.S. Virgin Islands (800/524-2038 or 340/779-1540) offers properties ranging from air-conditioned studios to one-to-three bedroom bungalows and villas, some with spacious decks and maid service. Tennis, pools, and watersports are always nearby.

Private villas/homes rentals in St. Croix, are made through Island Villas (877/788-0361 or or 340/778-0361, Web site: vacationstcroix.com). Villas and Apartments Abroad (800/433-3020, or 212/213-6435, Web site: vaanyc.com) of New York, represents rental villas in Jamaica, Barbados, St. Martin, both the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, and Mustique. All About Vacation Rentals (800/321-3134) works with rental villas in the Caribbean and Mexico, as well as the U.S. and Europe.

For vacation and villa rentals in a variety of Caribbean destinations (Antigua, Barbuda, St. Barts, U.S. Virgin Islands, Turcs and Caicos, the British Virgin Islands, St. Martin, St. Thomas, the Bahamas, St. Lucia, Dominica and St. John), go to caribbean-on-line.com/villas. At Home Abroad of New York City managed by Claire Packman, represents a number of exclusive, upscale homes in the Caribbean, Europe, and other parts of the globe. The company's Web site (athomeabroadinc.com) lists a small sampling of properties it rents.  Call 212/421-9165 with inquiries.

For luxury condos, villas, estates, weekly, monthly, throughout the Caribbean and Bahamas, with a large number in Jamaica, phone Villa Website.com at 800/722-0452 or 954/783-6605 or visit villawebsite.com.

For Costa Rica

For homestays in and around San Jose, contact Bells' Home Hospitality (011-506-225-4752 or homestay.thebells.org with the mailing address of Dept. 1432, P.O. Box, 02516, Miami, FL, 33102.

For France

Home Abroad (22 Railroad Street, Great Barrington, Massachusetts 01230, phone 800/533-5405 or 413/528-6610, homeabroad.com) represents many carefully chosen properties in France. Send  $6 for a catalogue, refunded if you then make the rental through it. The greatest number of French cottages for rental are known as "gites" because they participate in a government-approved program for designating and rating "gites." There are many hundreds, perhaps thousands, of these throughout France, of widely varying categories and prices, but almost always pleasant, comfortable, and located in authentic French settings of great charm. The U.S. expert on "gites" is Provence West, Ltd. (P.O. Box 272884, Fort Collins, CO, 80527, phone 970/226-5444, Web site: provencewest.com). Provence West is an excellent source of information and bookings, and should be contacted by persons considering a vacation rental in France.  Rental prices start as low as $605/week.

"Ville et Village" (of Berkeley, California, phone 510/559-8080, villeetvillage.com) offers nearly 1000 holiday rentals of bungalows and cottages in every part of France, on either a weekly or monthly basis. "Experience la vraie France in your own chateau," they say. For apartments in Paris, contact Paris Sejours Reservation (312/587-7707, psrparis.com), which rents studios for as little as $75 per night.Rentals France offers apartments and villas starting at $300 and topping out at $5,000 for a property that sleeps 14. Go to rentalsfrance.com/accomodation for more details.

At Home Abroad of New York City managed by Claire Packman, represents a number of exclusive, upscale homes in France as well as other countries around the globe. The company's Web site (athomeabroadinc.com) lists a small sampling of properties it rents.  Call 212/421-9165 with inquiries. LaCure is even more upscale in its listings for France. Call 800-387-2726, visit lacure.com/english for information. Villas throughout France and Paris apartment rentals in all price ranges can be had from the Barclay International Group of New York, 800/845-6636 or 516/364-0064. Or visit barclayweb.com. Finally, check out the offerings of Chez Nous, a listing service of over 3,000 privately owned villas, chateaux, apartments and houses. Chez Nous, Spring Mill, Earby, Barnoldswick, BB94 0AA, U.K (phone 011-44-870-444-6600). Go to the Internet site at cheznous.com.

For Greece

For villas and condos on the mainland or in the Greek Islands, visit International Rentals at internationalrentals.com.

For Ireland

Cottage Net UK (cottage-net.ndirect.co.uk) promotes itself as the largest database of self-catering accommodation in Ireland and the United Kingdom. Direct phone numbers are listed for various apartment and home rentals.

British Travel International in Elkton, VA, also rents town-and-country cottages and villas in Ireland. Call 800/327-6097 or visit britishtravel.com

For Israel

For every sort of apartment in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, phone Hometours International (1108 Scottie Lane, Knoxville, TN 37919) at 866/367-4668 or 865/690-8484.

For Italy

Vacanze in Italia (22 Railroad Street, Great Barrington, Massachusetts 01230, phone 413/528-6610, fax 413/528-6222, Web site: homeabroad.com) is a leading source of Italian villa rentals in all price ranges, and is operated by Carl I. Stewart, whom we have known personally throughout the two decades he has been acting as an international rental broker; he is a consummate gentleman, with stunning knowledge of all aspects of Italian vacation homes. Vacanze in Italia is his main company (although he also operates firms that deal with France and England as well; see the discussion under the appropriate headings in this section of our Web site.) His weekly rentals range in the low end from about $700 a week, to a top of $25,000 a week in the deluxe area; but most of them--in fact, the great majority--fall into a "mid-range," namely a villa of three to four bedrooms, with two baths, renting for about $3,000 a week in high season, half that in low season.

Mr. Stewart, who represents over 500 properties, will send you literature, but also suggests a phone conversation/interview in which he ascertains your exact needs, and then suggests a property.

Another leader in finding both apartment and villa rentals in Italy--perhaps in a slightly higher price range--is Home Base Abroad of (29 Mary's Lane, Sciuate, MA 02066, phone 781/545-5112, fax 781/545-1808) We've heard a number of favorable comments on its services and it recently acquired International Services (another brokerage), doubling the number of properties it represents. Director of the company is Mara Solomon, who promises "charming, distinctive, personally-selected villas" serving "modern tastes and conveniences without sacrificing authenticity or style." Visit its Web site at: Interhome (305/940-2299 or 800/882-6864; interhome.com) in business for over 30 years and now under the direction of Tony Haeusler, is also active in Italian villa rentals, and might also be "shopped." They publish a comprehensive, illustrated catalogue, for which there may be a charge at the time of your call.

At Home Abroad of New York City managed by Claire Packman, represents a number of exclusive, upscale homes in the Caribbean, Europe, and other parts of the globe. The company's Web site (athomeabroad.com) lists a small sampling of properties it rents.  Call 212/421-9165.  Most of its rentals are upscale and therefore expensive.

Travel Italy (888/28-ITALY or 573/256-4105) lists 1,200 rental villas, farmhouses, castles, and apartments in nearly all parts of Italy. Visit its Web site at http://www.travel-italy.com/.

Villas and Apartments Abroad (212/213-6453, vaanyc.com) of New York lists various upscale villa and apartment rentals throughout Italy, though primarily in Tuscany, Umbria, and the Amalfi Coast.

Ville et Village represents over 2,000 individually owned farmhouses, cottages, mills, villas, manor houses and chateaux (about 600 of which are in Italy). Rentals in Italy are mainly in  Tuscany, Umbria and in the Amalfi Coast, and a few other select locations. Call 510/559-8080 or visit villeetvillage.com

For Mexico

All About Vacation Rentals (800/321-3134) works mainly with villa rentals in Mexico and the Caribbean, though it rents some properties in Europe and the U.S. also.

Casa Helga Villas (800/418-3322, fax 203/372-6222), in business for over two decades, represents vacation villas in and near Puerto Vallarta and other spots on the Pacific Coast of Mexico. See its Web site at casahelga.com

For Spain and Portugal

Villa Plus is a specialist villa tour operator and has been arranging villa holidays in the Algarve, Portugal and Costa Del Sol, Spain since 1986. Call 011-44-172-783-6686 or visit villaplus.co.uk.

International Lodging Corporation (300 First Avenue, Suite 7C, New York 10009, phone 212/228-5900 or 800/SPAIN-44, fax 212/677-1815, Web address: ilcweb.com) is a major source of vacation home rentals in Spain, supplying everything from one-bedroom apartments to six-bedroom deluxe villas in dozens of cities and locations--and they've done so since 1983. For golfers in particular, it represents several properties alongside the Mijas Golf Course on the Costa del Sol. For travelers seeking kitchenette apartments in Barcelona, it represents the Duques de Bergara in the heart of the shopping and business district.

Interhome (305/940-2299 or 800/882-6864, interhome.com) is a major source for Spain, publishing a large catalogue of four-color photographs of individual properties. We've used its services, and find them reliable.

For the United States

Interhome has 20,000 homes, condos, and apartments for rent in Florida and 14 European countries. Check out interhome.com or call either 305/940-2299 or 800/882-6864.

Villa Net, a big firm of Seattle, Washington (phone 800/964-1891) claims to represent rental homes in Western Europe, the Caribbean, Mexico and the United States. For information online, go to rentavilla.com.

For renting a condo on popular Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, the company to call is Resort Rentals of Hilton Head Island at 800/845-7017. With over 40 years of experience, it offers rentals of nearly 300 homes and villas in every part of Hilton Head. Visit its Web site at hhivacations.com. The Vacation Villa Referral Center offers rental vacation properties in several states, Hawaii, and the Caribbean. Visit ifb.com/vvrc/view.htm for details and pictures of the properties for rent. Alternately you can call  540/721-9915.

If you're looking for a listing of properties available all over the world (though primarily in the U.S. and the Caribbean), try one of the following Web-based companies: Reservations Direct (reservationsdirect.com or 727/738-1737) direct rentals from private owners worldwide); Condo Vacation World (condoworld.com or 888/391-6766; specializing in areas like Hawaii, Arizona, California, Florida, and Canada, but with additional global listings); and Condo Concepts (condoconcepts.com or 888/CONDO-53; global listing including a frequently updated "specials" page).

For almost everywhere

The "E-bay" of condo rental sites, Vacation Rental by Owner, better known as VRBO (vrbo.com) has perhaps the most extensive list of properties of any site out there. Looking for an apartment in Recife, Brazil or Cape Town, South Africa? You'll find it at this site, as you will homes in all 50 US States, throught the Caribbean, Asia, Australia, New Zealand and Europe. The downside? As the name states, these are all being rented by the owner, so there is no outside agency to inspect properties or guarantee quality or even price.

Mike Thiel's Hideaways International 767 Islington Street, Portsmouth, NH 03801 (800/843-4433 or 603/430-4433 or visit its Web site at hideaways.com ) is a fascinating and popular organization, in business for many years, representing rental villas, apartments, condos, throughout the world, ranging from Cape Cod to Upper Captiva in Florida, from the California Coast to Provence and Tuscany. Instead of acting as a "broker," Mike operates a referral service. He issues a twice-a-year catalogue containing color photographs of hundreds of homes for rental, but without listing their street addresses and phones. If you see something that interests you, and if you have become a member of Hideaways, you phone them and they provide you with the details. You then contact the owner of the home or condo directly, and make your arrangements without involving (or paying a fee to) Hideaways. Membership is $185 a year for two issues per year of the 150-page "Hideaways Guide." Paying the membership fee enables you to rent, say, a private home in the Bahamas for four people for $1200 a week, a big, multi-bedded condo on the Florida coast for $900 a week in winter. You save, according to Thiel, by renting direct.

1001 Villas promises beautiful holiday villas and vacation rentals booked directly from their owners. It rents properties in 28 countries. Go to 1001-villa-holidaylets.com for a complete listing.

For apartment rentals in several major European cities, visit europeapartments.com or call 800/327-6097.

Rent-a-Villa, a big firm of Seattle, Washington (phone 800/488-RENT) claims to represent rental homes in Western Europe, the Caribbean, Mexico and the United States. For information online, go to rentavilla.com.

For vacation rentals and non-hosted lodging throughout the U.S., Canada, Europe, Mexico, and the Caribbean, visit virtualcities.com. The company has an extensive selection of properties to rent.

The Vacation Villa Referral Center offers rental vacation properties in several states, Canada, Hawaii, and the Caribbean. Visit ifb.com/vvrc/view.htm for details and pictures of the properties for rent. Alternately you can call 540/721-9915.

Holiday-rentals.com advertises over 10,000 private vacation homes to rent worldwide, including several properties across the U.S. Costs are reduced because you book directly from the owners via the Internet. Reach Holiday-rentals.com at e-mail feedback@holiday-rentals.com, phone 011-44-20 8743-5577, fax: 4 (0)20 8740-3863, mailing address 1st Floor, Westpoint, 33/34 Warple Way, Acton, London W3 0RG, United Kingdom.

The absurdly studious-sounding Canadian Condominium Institute is actually an independent, non-profit organization formed in 1982. It's the only national association that serves as a clearinghouse on condominium issues and activities across Canada. Phone 416/491-6216, Fax: 416/491-1670 or cci.ca. Mailing address: 2175 Sheppard Avenue East, Ste. 310, Toronto, ON M2J 1W8.