Rent a Country Cottage in England

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For a pittance in March, April, and May, you can secure a cozy two-bedroom cottage or flat with all the conveniences of home and the charm of olde England

Oh to be in England now that April's there," wrote Robert Browning. Springtime is England at its best, when flowers bloom in every nook and cranny, tourists are scarce, and prices fall well below summer's levels. For less than $75 per person per day, two people can experience three weeks of the exquisite sweetness of the English springtime (or later fall). And that outlay brings them a charming self-catering (i.e., kitchen-equipped) cottage, a car with unlimited mileage, and all their food and meals. In March, April, and May, for $35 to $65 a day, you can call "home" an attractive stone cottage with a fireplace or woodstove (in addition to other heat), modern kitchen and bathroom, washing machine, and all the linen, supplies, and utensils you need (except maybe a washcloth!). Such places can be found in all the rural areas of England, from Cornwall to the Welsh Borders to the Yorkshire Dales.

There are wonderful advantages to staying a week in one area: It is more relaxing to be able to unpack and settle in; you can be on your own schedule for rising, eating, etcetera; and you get to know an area better and feel the pulse of its life. Every part of Britain offers more than enough interesting sights and activities to keep one busy for at least a week. Everywhere are stately homes, historic sights, cathedrals and village churches, gardens, and the ubiquitous footpaths for walking through lovely countryside. Local pubs are a fun way to observe the Brits, and almost every town or village has its weekly market day, when the high street is bustling with locals perusing the stalls, which offer all kinds of bounty.

How you find them The British Tourist Authority (800/462-2748, visitbritain.com) offers a small, free-of-charge "Guide to Self-Catering Holiday Homes," and the British Travel Book & Map Shop (866/338-6867, btb-books.com) sells various commercial guides to British rental cottages. Here is a partial listing of agencies offering rental properties: Welcome Cottage Holidays (011-44/1756-799-999, welcome.cottages.co.uk); Rural Retreats (011-44/1386-701-177, ruralretreats.co.uk); Helpful Holidays (for properties in southwest England; 011-44/1647-433-593, helpfulholidays.com); Holiday Cottages Yorkshire Limited (northern England; 011-44/1756-700-510, holidaycotts.co.uk); Classic Cottages (southwest England; 011-44/1326-555-555, classiccottages.co.uk); and The National Trust Holiday Cottages (011-44/1225-791-199, nationaltrust.org.uk/cottages).

Another source requires a bit more work on your part but can save you dollars: the local Tourist Information Centres (TICs). You first select the area you wish to visit, and then, using addresses found on the British Tourist Authority Web site, you write to the appropriate local TIC in England, requesting a list of their self-catering properties. From the information they send, you select five or six properties to write directly for detailed information, asking all the questions you consider important. Most owners are happy to send information, enabling you to make a wise decision. Renting a cottage directly from an individual owner is always the cheapest way. For a deposit you usually use your credit card or arrange for a bank transfer, but with private rentals it is sometimes possible to send an international money order in pounds through the U.S. Postal Service, or send a U.S. check and ask them to hold it until your arrival, when you will pay in pounds.

The next basic expense for this type of trip is a rental car, necessary in all rural areas. Rent the smallest car available, not only for its economy of cost (gas is expensive in England) but also for its practicality on the very narrow rural roads and parking in the towns.

Food? You can save half of what you'd otherwise spend by purchasing groceries and cooking at home. If you'd rather not, you'll find that the pubs offer good food for reasonable prices ($4 to $8 for lunch, $10 to $15 for dinner), tearooms offer inexpensive lunches (and delicious soups), and the Indian/Pakistani restaurants serve up tasty food for about the same price as pubs or less.

As for airfares to Britain, this coming spring they are at a historic low. By using any of the major airfare booking engines on the Internet, or the recommendations of airfare consolidators (discounters) found in Budget Travel, you'll come upon prices that make the entire vacation entirely reasonable. Two travelers can enjoy three weeks of the English spring for a total cost of less than $100 per person daily including airfare, or less than $75 per person daily not including airfare.

(Perhaps you prefer traveling in autumn? Prices are also reduced then, and you can put together a similar trip-but remember that the days are shorter, the lambs now adults, and the flowers not in blossom.)

April in England is one of the driest months, and though the weather in March and April can range from 75 degrees to the forties, just take clothes for both extremes. If it's chilly, enjoy the smell of coal smoke wafting out of the chimneys and the embracing warmth of a pub with a crackling fire.

Sit by your own fire in the evening with a glass of wine and watch the BBC news, which offers a different and valuable perspective for Americans. Get to know a few of the locals and invite them in for a meal. Relax, snuggle into your cozy sitting room, and soak in the bells, birdsong, blossoms, and baaing of the lambs. "Oh to be in England...."

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