Vacation Rentals: 10 Dreamy European Villas & Chateaux

Chateau Yvetot, a 17th-century estate in Normandy. Photo by Villas of Distinction
By Lisa Cheng

In notoriously expensive Europe, booking a vacation rental instead of a hotel is a big way to save. From a Tuscan farmhouse to an English country cottage, these homes make gloriously charming stays -- and are easy on the wallet.

Photo Caption: Chateau Yvetot, a 17th-century estate in Normandy
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Villa Bellavista, a vacation farmhouse in Cortona. Photo by HomeAway.com
Rental Tip: Though those attracted to classic Tuscany may want to head to the Chianti wine region, consider the authentic and unspoiled Val di Chiana area instead. This place is ideally situated for day-tripping in both Tuscany and Umbria (and still slightly off the radar to American tourists), says Walter Contue, regional supervisor of product and operations at Abercrombie & Kent Villas.
Our Pick: Near Cortona in Tuscany, Italy
Property: Large Luxury Villa with Private Pool
Rental Company: HomeAway (www.homeaway.com)
Minimum Night Stay: Seven nights
How Much: From $49 per person per night (or $6,146 total based on 18 people for seven nights)
Why We Love It: This rustic Tuscan farmhouse has enough bedrooms (nine) and bathrooms (nine and a half) to accommodate several generations of family. It also boasts a private pool and a prime location near the hillside town of Cortona.
Compare To: A popular hotel close to the villa costs $270 for two people
Other Companies to Consider: Homebaseabroad (www.homebaseabroad.com), IC Bellagia (www.icbellagio.com), Villas of Distinction (www.villasofdistinction.com), and Suzanne B. Cohen (www.villaeurope.com)

Photo Caption: Villa Bellavista, a vacation farmhouse in Cortona
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Guest room at Castello Bonaparte, a Medieval castle surrounded by a large loop of the Chiascio River, in Gubbio. Photo by Abercrombie & Kent Villas
Rental Tip: Rentals in Italy are the least expensive during its low seasons: January through May and October through December. However, vacationers during this period won't be able to take advantage of a villa's outdoor pool (a standard amenity), which is often heated at a temperature lower than what Americans are accustomed to.
Our Pick: Umbria, Italy
Property: Castello Bonaparte
Rental Company: Abercrombie & Kent Villas (www.akvillas.com)
Minimum Night Stay: Seven nights
How Much: $75 per person per night (or $14,771 total based on 28 people for seven nights)
Why We Love It: Everything about this medieval castle, located in a bend of Umbria's Chiasco River, will make you feel like royalty: the period antiques; the original, beamed ceilings; and the spiral staircase that leads up to a turreted tower. On-site bikes will take you through the parkland, home to "galavanting wildlife." A cottage houses a computer and a knock-out billiard room.
Compare To: A castle hotel in the area costs $187 for two people ($95 per person per night)
Other Companies to Consider: Homebaseabroad (www.homebaseabroad.com), IC Bellagia (www.icbellagio.com), Villas of Distinction (www.villasofdistinction.com), and Suzanne B. Cohen (www.villaeurope.com)

Photo Caption: Guest room at Castello Bonaparte, a medieval castle surrounded by a large loop of the Chiascio River, in Gubbio
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Guest room at Chateau Yvetot, a 17th-century estate in Normandy. Photo by Villas of Distinction
Rental Tips: Opt for the French countryside instead of the coast, recommends Annie Flogaus of Just France. "The region of Burgundy is quite affordable and enjoys some of the finest wines in France. The overall prices for food and entertainment here are far less than the Cóte d'Azur, Paris or even Provence," Flogaus says. "The Périgord (or Dordogne) region is another great find for its staggering history and picturesque beauty. In the past couple of years, new highways, train stations and airports have made this region more accessible."
Our Pick: Normandy, France
Property: Chateau Yvetot
Rental Company: Villas of Distinction (www.villasofdistinction.com)
Minimum Night Stay: None
How Much:
$112 per person per night (or $1,685 total based on 15 people for one night)
Why We Love It: A classified historical monument in Normandy, this 17th-century chateau sits on 17 acres of landscaped gardens surrounded by apple orchards and open fields. The interiors are graced with Rubelli fabrics, Murano chandeliers, and Carrara marble, with furnishings designed by the architect owner. Also on the premises: a heated pool and tennis courts.
Compare To: A castle hotel in the region costs $260 per person -- double the nightly rate at Chateau Yvetot
Other Companies to Consider: JustFrance.com, HostedVillas.com, Dominiquesvillas.co.uk, Abercrombie & Kent Villas (www.akvillas.com), Jetsetter.com, VillaEurope.com

Photo Caption: Guest room at Chateau Yvetot, a 17th-century estate in Normandy.
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Moulin de Boursac, a converted olive mill in Vence. Photo by Jetsetter.com
Rental Tips: Generally the farther away from the beach, the lower the cost, says Barbara Bennett, senior villa specialist at Villas of Distinction. For oceanfront rentals, head to the glamorous St.-Tropez (many of the houses in the Côte d'Azur have sea views but are not actually situated on the water). Farther inland, Provence has a variety of converted farmhouses and historic chateaux that cost 40% less than a seaside venue in the South of France.
Our Pick: Côte d'Azur, France
Property: Moulin de Boursac
Rental Company: Jetsetter (www.jetsetter.com)
Minimum Night Stay: Seven nights
How Much: From $92 per person per night (or $9,002 total based on 14 people for seven nights)
Why We Love It: This artfully converted olive oil mill now houses seven Provençal-furnished bedrooms, a kids' dorm room with bunk beds and toys, and a Morocco-inspired den filled with antiques and a grand fireplace. Terraces abound, and the beaches of Cannes and Antibes are a 30-minute drive away.
Compare To: A nearby hotel costs $441 for two people ($220 per person)
Other Companies to Consider: Villas of Distinction (www.villasofdistinction.com), Abercrombie & Kent Villas (www.akvillas.com), Ville et Village (www.villeetvillage.com), Hosted Villas (www.hostedvillas.com), and Just France (www.justfrance.com)

Photo Caption: Moulin de Boursac, a converted olive mill in Vence
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Six bedroom luxury villa & cottage in Burgau, in the Algarve region of Portugal. Photo by VRBO.com
Rental Tips: Book at least three months in advance for the months of July and August. The highlight of the Algarve region's Golden Triangle, Vale do Lobo (think white sand, red cliffs and pines) has surprisingly affordable self-catering options, despite it having a reputation as a luxury resort. A 6% VAT tax is typically included in the price.
Our Pick: The Algarve region, Portugal
Property: Six-bedroom Villa in the Algarve Region
Rental Company: VRBO (www.vrbo.com)
Minimum Night Stay: Seven nights
How Much: $61 per person per night (or $5,154 total based on 12 people for seven nights)
Why We Love It: This Mediterranean villa was built for alfresco living. The patio -- location for sunbathing, barbecues, and sipping wine -- has glass panels to shield against any strong gusts of wind. Nearby, there's a quaint fishing village, surfer beaches, hidden coves, and plenty of seafood restaurants serving fresh catches.
Compare To: A nearby hotel costs $194 for two people ($97 per person per night)
Other Companies to Consider: PortugueseLiving.com, HomeAway.com, Browns Apartments (http://brownsapartments.com), Lisbon Apartments (www.lisbonapartments.com), Go Lisbon (www.golisbon.com/apartments)

Photo Caption: A six-bedroom luxury villa & cottage in Burgau, in the Algarve region of Portugal
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Green Windmill, a converted windmill villa in Santorini. Photo by HomeAway.com
Rental Tips: Greece already comes with a bargain price tag, but it's even more budget-friendly in the spring. In April, while the water is still a little too chilly for swimming, you might want to choose an island best for history and archaeology (Rhodes, Corfu), or the slightly more southern Crete, which is closer to Africa than it is Athens.
Our Pick: Santorini, Greece
Property: The Green Windmill
Rental Company: HomeAway (www.homeaway.com)
Minimum Night Stay: Five days
How Much: $98 per person per night (or $3,437 total based on five people for seven nights in high season)
Why We Love It:
Quirky and quaint, this villa-windmill in Santorini has a swimming pool with Jacuzzi jet streams and pergola for alfresco dining. On a clear day, the views of the Aegean Sea stretch into the horizon, and you can see the nearby islands of Ios, Naxos, Amorgos and Anafi.
Compare To: A luxury hotel on the island can cost $500 and up for two people
Other Companies to Consider: Roomorama.com, James Villa Holidays (www.jamesvillas.co.uk), and White Key Villas (http://greece.whitekeyvillas.com)

Photo Caption: Green Windmill, a converted windmill villa in Santorini.
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Holiday Home La Rosiere in Villars, Switzerland. Photo by Interhome USA
Rental Tips: Renting in Switzerland lacks formality -- though no deposits are required at confirmation, you'll be expected to settle the bill on the day of your arrival. In the winter, chalets are generally available only from Saturday to Saturday.
Our Pick: Alpes Vaudoises near Lake Geneva, Switzerland
Property: La Rosière chalet
Rental Company: Interhome USA (www.interhomeusa.com)
Minimum Night Stay: Seven nights
How Much: From $75 per person per night (or $7,335 total based on 14 people for seven nights)
Why We Love It: This four-story chalet with sloping ceilings has a roaring slate fireplace, fur-covered chairs, and antler chandeliers. It's less than a half mile away from the lifts (accessed by a free shuttle), and provides ski storage and boot dryers as well as one of the best après-ski activities: a sauna.
Compare To: A hotel in the same resort costs $215 for two people
Other Companies to Consider: Reka (www.reka.ch>), Abercrombie & Kent Ski (www.akski.com), and Wyndham Rentals (www.wyndhamrentals.com). The Switerzland Tourist office also lists chalet rentals here.

Photo Caption: Holiday Home La Rosière in Villars, Switzerland
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Dining room inside The Balancing Barn by MVRDV. The house is in Thorington, Suffolk, and is part of the Living Architecture series of houses in the U.K. Photo by Living Architecture
Rental Tips: The UK takes great pride in historical preservation and architectural marvels; these wonders are completely accessible (the Living Barn is an example). Book at least a year ahead for the best selection.
Our Pick: Suffolk, England
Property: The Balancing Barn
Rental Company: Living Architecture (www.living-architecture.co.uk)
Minimum Night Stay: Four nights
How Much: From $37 per person per night (or $1,194 total based on eight people for four nights)
Why We Love It: A modernist architectural marvel that seemingly defies gravity, the Balancing Barn is a sight within itself. Custom-furnished by Dutch designer Jurgen Bey, the four-bedroom house also boasts oversize windows and glass panels on the floor that frame the Suffolk county landscape.
Compare To: A nearby hotel costs $159 for two people (or $79 per person)
Other Companies to Consider: Sheepskinlife.com, Uniquehomestays.com

Photo Caption: Dining room inside The Balancing Barn by MVRDV. The house is in Thorington, Suffolk, and is part of the Living Architecture series of houses in the UK.
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Nantwen, located within Pembrokeshire National Park. Photo by www.Sheepskinlife.com
Rental Tips: In the past year, holiday rental scams in the UK have made headlines. (In one case, fraudulent sites had been discovered using registered company names, businesses addresses, and property descriptions from legitimate agencies. As a general rule, be wary of too-good-to-be true prices, ask for (and contact) references, and run a check on any UK-based businesses on the Companies House government registry (www.companieshouse.gov.uk)
Our Pick: Pembrokeshire, UK
Property: Nantwen
Rental Company: Sheepskin Life (www.sheepskinlife.com)
Minimum Night Stay: Three nights
How Much: From $94 per person per night (or $188 total per night based on two people for three nights)
Why We Love It: At the end of a farm track bordering private woodlands in Wales, this mountain getaway (once a stable) is an epitome of rustic chic. Traditional craftsmen sourced materials locally to build rough-hewn furniture and the wood-burning fireplace. The house is also eco-efficient: it's powered by solar panels, and rainwater is harvested and filtered for use.
Compare To: A nearby hotel costs $281 per night for two people
Other Companies to Consider: Cottages4you.co.uk, www.nationaltrustcottages.co.uk, English-country-cottages.co.uk, Castlescottages-flats.com, Hoseasons.co.uk

Photo Caption: Nantwen is located within Pembrokeshire National Park.
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Land-Loft, a 200 year old converted wine press, overlooks the Alps. Photo by Roomorama
Rental Tips: If you're not booking with an official agency, make sure that your rental is registered with the local tourist office, which regularly monitors the offerings on its website. Lodging in the Austrian wine country will require renting a car. Be aware that Austria requires buying a toll sticker -- available at post offices, gas stations and convenience stores -- for any car driving the highways. Be prepared to pay cash if reserving a farmhouse, mountain hut, or other remote accommodation.
Our Pick: Styria, Austria
Property: Land-Loft in Wine Country
Rental Company: Roomorama (www.roomorama.com)
Minimum Night Stay: Two nights
How Much: From $65 per person per night (or $259 total based on two people for two nights)
Why We Love It: Located in southeastern Austria, this 200-year-old cellar house turned two-story loft space has panoramic views of Styrian wine country: rolling vineyards, flowering fruit trees, and the majestic Alps. It also has a design-forward bathroom with rain showers and local soaps, and a wine cellar with a vaulted ceiling.
Compare To: A Graz hotel costs $180 for two people (or $90 per person)
Other Companies to Consider: Interhomeusa.com, Tiscover.com, Huette-mietten.at, Untours.com, and Almliesl.com

Photo Caption: Land-Loft, a 200-year-old converted wine press, overlooks the Alps.
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