Smart Traveler: Le Bon Rental

Outside magazine, March 1996

Smart Traveler: Le Bon Rental

How to save money the Euro way
By Everett Potter

If you're planning to hike in the English Lake District or bike in Provence or Tuscany, renting a farmhouse, cottage, or villa can reduce the cost of your trip by as much as 35 percent over staying in a hotel. It's how Europeans make their own vacations affordable. They know that most rentals come with at least two bedrooms, making it easy to travel with kids or split the rent with friends. Divide an $800 weekly rental among four people and it comes to $28 per person, per day, which is what some European hotels charge for breakfast.

The minimum rental period in Europe is one week. In dealing with rental agencies, be as specific as possible about what you want, ask a lot of questions, and demand to see photographs. Many Europeans book houses every summer, so if you're traveling to a prime spot like Tuscany, book in February for July. And note that prices in shoulder season (May- early June, and mid-September-October) can be 20 to 30 percent lower.

The British Isles. Let unsuspecting hikers converge upon Windermere's overpriced bed-and-breakfasts. You've sidestepped the mob in the English Lake District by renting a house from Country Cottages (800-674-8883), such as their nineteenth-century two-bedroom stone cottage in the village of Santon Bridge, which costs $868-$925 a week. From your door, it's a six-mile stretch of the legs to the Irish Sea and a three-mile warmup hike to the base of Scafell Pike, England's highest mountain at 3,210 feet. Be sure to pack a rod, because this cottage comes with fishing rights on 100 yards of a local trout stream. And if you want a seaside bungalow in Scotland, a thatched cottage in Ireland, or an old farm in Yorkshire, this company has thousands of properties to choose from. Or call Castles, Cottages & Flats (800-742-6030), which offers a similar range of properties, such as a rustic two-bedroom cottage in Berwickshire, on Scotland's east coast, for $578 a week.

France. If you like the idea of biking and hiking through the Luberon region of Provence, that rugged bit of southern France made famous by Peter Mayle, think about renting a gite, the holiday home of France. There are thousands across the country, and those who book early get the best ones. You may luck out with a charming gite of local stone, or you may end up in a new stucco box. But for putting up with modern French design, you get a two-bedroom home of your own for $300- $500 per week in shoulder season, $800 in summer. The French Experience (212-986-1115) acts as an American agent for French gites. Take one outside the Provenal town of Isle sur la Sorgue, rent a bike in the nearby city of Avignon, and visit medieval hilltop towns such as Les Beaux or climb 6,263-foot Mont Ventoux. Or try Interhome (800-882-6864), which has a huge catalog of homes and villas throughout France, such as a two-bedroom vacation house near the coast of Brittany starting at $600 per week in July.

Italy. The only way to improve Italy is to make it cheaper. You do that by renting a place of your own, where you can sip Chianti under an olive tree after burning up your thighs on the Tuscan hills. Since Tuscany is in high demand from vacationing Brits, you'll pay more here. At Home Abroad (212-421-9165) can set you up in a 200-year-old restored farmhouse outside Siena, with two bedrooms and two baths, for $1,500-$1,650 per week. (The company charges a $25 registration fee, which is applied to your rental.) Just bring your appetite and your racing shorts, rent a bike in Siena, and take day trips through fields of sunflowers to the abbey at Monte Oliveto Maggiore or the hill town of Asciano. At Home Abroad can also find you a villa with a pool in Umbria or a village house within driving distance of Florence. So can Villas International (800-221-2260), which offers one-bedroom Tuscan homes starting at $750 per week in high season.

Copyright 1996, Outside Magazine

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