How to Choose Your Perfect Holiday Home
Planning your next vacation? Are you considering renting a villa or an apartment, and finding it hard to choose between the extensive selection on offer? If you’re a group of friends or an extended family, a villa is the ideal solution, offering flexibility and lower costs than hotels. Why not stay as core guests and invite people to join you, sharing the costs? It’s an ideal way to get to know an area and enjoy the freedom to buy food at local markets and grocery shops, therefore keeping an eye on finances. A villa (or apartment) also gives you space, and plenty of room to lounge around in if the weather lets you down, not to mention your own pool, if you want it. The internet is full of sites for renting holiday homes, but here are some basics to consider before making your choice.
What Is the Set Up?
Are you renting a stand-alone villa with private pool, or are you renting an apartment within a villa, with a shared pool? If the pool is shared, by how many people? Do you have access to the poolside barbecue and kitchen? Can your children play in the garden, or are you limited to a terrace/balcony? Make sure you know what to expect in advance!
I manage the villa next door to me in the south of France. This hub is based on my own experiences and tips and comments from friends who rent out their properties. It is not just a shameless plug for my property, honest, even if there is a link to my website at the bottom…
Are the Owners/Managers Near By?
Where is the owner/manager? Will they be on hand to offer advice and local knowledge, or will you be left to your own devices by someone who’s managing several properties?
A little local knowledge can be invaluable, but you might find that, once you’ve been handed the key, that’s the last you see of you owner/manager until you’re returning it a week later. Ask if they’re near by, especially if you’re unsure of your language skills. If they are, don’t be afraid of asking about local shops, markets, restaurant recommendations, activities for children, etc. Most will be only too happy to help – not only do they want you to have a wonderful holiday experience, they also want you to come back next year AND tell all your friends!
How Many Rooms and Beds Do You Need?
If you have children and fancy a holiday with other friends, work out first how many rooms you need – are the children happy to share? How is the house/villa divided up? Take a good look at the bedrooms – if one is substantially bigger or more luxurious than the others this might cause problems. Likewise, think about the configuration of beds. If the children can share, are there enough twin-bedded rooms? Do the owners have spare beds, and if so, is there a room big enough to fit it comfortably, and do they charge for additional linen? Are all the rooms on the same floor, or on different levels? Some may even be in separate buildings – which is fine for adults, but not suitable for children. Also, if travelling with older companions, you might want to check that there’s a bedroom and bathroom on the ground floor.
How and Where Is the Pool?
In photos, the size of swimming pools can be deceptive. If the owner hasn’t given dimensions, the chances are the pool is on the small side. Which might be fine, unless you’re keen swimmers or have many children to keep entertained. Likewise, how close is the pool to the villa? Families with older kids might be delighted to find the pool right by the living room, but this creates obvious problems for families with very young children. Then again, some might grumble about a pool being considerably far away from necessities such as refrigerators and bathrooms!
How Remote Is the Villa?
The idea of a remote cottage miles away from anywhere might be romantic, but have a think about the practicalities. It makes a world of a difference having a food shop and a bakery within walking distance. Likewise, you don’t want to drink and drive, so restaurants close by also make life so much easier.
HOW ARE THE ROADS?
If you’re hiring a car, or taking your own, it doesn’t hurt to find out about the roads you’ll be driving on. A lovely village in the hills might entail hairpin bends and extremely narrow lanes – if you’re driving a huge people carrier this might prove stressful!
What About Outdoor Activities?
If you love the great outdoors and want to go swimming or hiking or cycling during your stay, how far are you from the nearest beach, or good cycle lanes, or hiking trails? Are they on your doorstep or are you going to have to get in a car first, which often rather defeats the object.
What Are the Facilities Like?
Don’t be seduced by the beautiful photos, but go through the details (often listed and ticked/checked on the website) to make sure of all the facilities. Is there a hairdryer? Is there a dishwasher? Do you have access to a washing machine and (especially in low season) a tumble dryer? Take a few minutes to think of what you might need – a microwave, for example, or a DVD player, or a docking station for your iPod – and then go through the facilities offered to check they’re on the list.
Is the Villa Too Posh?
This might sound strange, but if you’re a group and have children, you don’t want to spend your holiday fretting about breakages or spillages and losing your security deposit. You want the villa to be friendly and charming, not a museum. Study the photos carefully – does it look like something out of an interior design magazine, or does it look like somewhere where you and your children can be relaxed and happy?
Get Advance Info
Don’t be afraid to ask questions, both in advance of booking and arriving. If you want to hire bikes, for example, check with the owner/manager if bike hire nearby is available. Likewise, if you want a table at a famous and popular restaurant in high season, ask the owner/manager if they’d mind booking it on your behalf. It’s better to get these things sorted in advance rather than springing last minute panics on people!
Most villas have Saturdays as their changeover days, with departures by 10:00 and arrivals not welcome until 16:00 to allow for cleaning. If your plane is landing earlier than that, see if you can deposit your luggage and then perhaps head out to a nearby supermarket for provisions. If you’re arriving later than that – have a think about what you’ll need. Will there be a restaurant open? Can the owner/manager buy a few provisions on your behalf? (Many will offer a welcome pack as a matter of course.) How is the shopping situation on Sundays? In France, for example, many small shops are open on Sunday mornings (to catch the church-goers) but remain stubbornly closed all day Monday. Ask in advance where you can buy your necessities.
Beware Dodgy Electrics and Plumbing
We’ve all been there – you have a load of washing to do, the dishwasher’s full and the air-con or radiator is blasting away. Then you switch on the kettle and boom! – all your power goes. Where is the trip switch? It’s hard enough finding your way around in the dark in a property you know, but if you don’t even know what you’re looking for, this can be a nightmare. Make sure to ask on arrival where it is, and ask the owner/manager if there are any dangers in using too many appliances simultaneously. Likewise, sometimes even the fanciest-looking of bathrooms can let you down – missing plugs for example. It doesn’t hurt to pack a universal plug in your luggage to be on the safe side.
Beware of Hidden Costs
Everyone prices their villas differently. Some will come up with all-in fees, while others charge extra for bed linen and towels, cleaning, electricity, water and gas. Make sure you know exactly what you’re paying for when booking.
CONSIDER LOW SEASON
Some places, such as the South of France, are genuinely lovely over winter – quieter, with less traffic and fewer restaurant or museum-goers, but still sunny and warm by lunch time and early afternoon. The rates are lower and you can get a good deal – and there’s no harm in trying to get your rate down or negotiating a rental period that isn’t Saturday to Saturday. That said, there is no point in trying to do either in peak season – owners and managers know what their property is worth and that if you don’t take it, someone else will.
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A Final Word of Caution
If you’ve chosen somewhere in a very smart, well-known area, the chances are local burglars know only too well that the villa is rented and that Saturday is changeover day. They also know that visitors will invariably be tired and disoriented, and more inclined to leave valuables lying around within easy reach. If the villa has shutters, use them. Keep your valuables with you in the bedroom. Be on your guard – these people are opportunists, don’t give them any! Dare I say it’s a good argument for renting in lesser-known, more discrete towns or villages, from where you can drive to the ritzy spots.
Choose the right property, in the area suited to your needs, and I’m sure you’ll have a wonderful holiday. I hope this helps you to make the right choice for you and your loved ones. Enjoy!