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For anyone who has opted for a vacation rental rather than staying at a hotel, I am preaching to the converted -- but novices should begin considering alternate accommodation when traveling to Europe this spring and summer. Why? Well often it can cost considerably less, especially if traveling in a group of more than two people or if you will be staying in a destination for an extended period. It also allows you to immerse yourself more authentically in a neighborhood or area rather than being restricted to a tourist zone in a city. You benefit from having more space than a regular hotel room and if traveling with kids for example, it can be the ideal way to balance sightseeing with relaxing in your temporary home, or just sitting out in the garden for an afternoon siesta. Privacy is definitely a plus and having kitchen facilities makes it possible to shop and cook using local produce, entertain new friends -- or just rustle up a quick breakfast if you are on a budget and don't feel like spending 20 Euro on a basic day starter.

Ultimately where you stay will be determined by what your requirements and budget are, but vacation rentals could be the way to go to make your next trip one to remember.

HomeAway (www.homeaway.com) is one such accommodation resource for travelers who prefer to stay in a vacation home rather than a conventional hotel. Featuring a large and diverse selection of homes around the world, the site boasts more than 75,000 properties in nearly 100 countries. The properties range from comfy condos to historic castles, expansive villas to basic bungalows and everything in between. It also features a section on more unique options like windmills, lighthouses, teepees, yachts and something called a yurt (which turns out to be a portable dwelling made of felt used by nomadic groups originally in Central Asia).

 

You can search the site by location, number of travelers, room number, suitability for children or pets etc. Rather than deal with a middle man or booking service, you correspond directly with the property owner to make your reservation. An initial search on the site uncovered a number of attractive options, although more for rural or beach accommodations than big cities -- perfect for a summer jaunt to locations like the Dalmatian Coast of Croatia, County Galway in Ireland or Piedmont Italy. There are also less conventional destinations like Montenegro, Albania, Bosnia, Slovakia, Andorra and Iceland. A few notable examples include:
  • Property # 58827 -- a luxurious modern three-bedroom, three-bathroom swanky apartment with a view in the French Riviera port town of Mandelieu, ten-minutes away from Cannes and 15 minutes from Antibes. The nearest beach is less than two miles away and the apartment complex has a private pool. This property is booked out this summer but will be available in September and beyond (or you could secure it for next spring/summer). Prices start as low as $780 per week during low season (November to March) but even in the height of high season (June to August), prices are reasonable at $1880 per week (divide that by six people and you're only paying a little over $300 per person for seven-nights luxury summer accommodation).
  • Property # 74939 -- a two-bedroom, one-bathroom penthouse apartment in central Rome, located in Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II, close to the Colosseum and the main train station. This property is priced from $806 per week and has availability throughout the summer. A minimum three-night stay is required.
  • Property #32 -- actually two two-bedroom apartments (sleeping four-people) situated around a central courtyard with terraces with a small outdoor swimming pool in historic Bruges, Belgium. Both apartments have some availability in July and August, 2007 and then again from September onwards. Low season prices per week are $705 and high season is $934. A minimum three-night stay is required in low season and a week in high season.

Coach House Rentals (www.rentals.chslondon.com and www.rentals.chsparis.com) specializes in vacation rentals in London and Paris (notoriously two of the most expensive accommodation cities in Europe and possibly the world). Having stayed multiple times in shoe-box size hotel rooms on the Left Bank or frightfully expensive central London hotels, I for one could certainly see the advantages of staying in a private Parisian apartment or a quaint London townhouse instead.

The houses and apartments available belong to residents who are away for an extended period or have an under-used pied-à-terre that they rent out for extra income. The city-specific websites feature photos and full descriptions of 70 options in London and 25 in Paris, together with useful suggestions of what to see and do. The company will arrange a car to meet you at the airport and take you to your vacation rental where a representative will meet, show you in, tell you about the local area and answer any questions you may have. They provide a starter pack of breakfast provisions to cover the first day or two of your stay and have an English speaking telephone help line to deal with any problems you may have. A few options for you to choose from include:

  • Milner Street -- a three bedroom five story house in London's fashionable Chelsea area. This house sleeps six people and is a five-minute walk from Harrods and Sloane Square. Priced from $583 per night (or les than $100 per person per day)
  • Brompton Square -- a one-bedroom elegant apartment in Knightsbridge, five minutes walk from Harrods -- priced at $207 per night
  • Rue Claude Bernard -- a three-bedroom, two-bathroom comfortable apartment that sleeps five people and is located in Paris' Latin Quarter, at the foot of the rue Mouffetard. Attractions like the Pantheon, Jardins de Luxembourg, St Michel and St Germain are all in close walking distance. This property is priced at $262 per night.
  • Passage Cottin -- a charming and romantic studio apartment located in the heart of old Montmatre at the bottom of the staircase leading directly to Sacré Coeur (Chateau Rouge Métro). It is priced from $155 per night.

Another option is VRBO -- Vacation Rentals By Owner (www.vrbo.com) which has property listings from around the world at various price points from low budget to sheer luxury. It features over 70,000 properties but a few randomly selected which I found appealing were:

  • Property #122478 -- a quintessential white-washed Greek townhouse located on the island of Mykonos in the village of Ornos (less than five-minutes walk from the beach). The townhouse is located in a small complex with a pool and features two-bedrooms (sleeping six people), three-bathrooms and a gorgeous terrace. Prices range from $1000 to $2000 per week depending on season and availability.
  • Property #83626 -- a two-bedroom, one-and-a-half bathroom apartment in a historic building in central Budapest, Hungary. It is located in the arts district, surrounded by cafes and restaurants overlooking Liszt Ferenc Square, a prime location just off Andrassey Utca. Rates depend on occupancy but start at $81 a night for two people.
  • Property #16671 -- an exotic three-bedroom, two-bathroom villa with two private beaches on the Aegean in Bodrum, Turkey. Featuring picture-perfect views of the sea from a bougainvillea covered terrace, this romantic getaway location is priced from $750 per week in low season (September 15 to June 15) and $850 a week in high season (June 16 to September 14).