Culture / Travel

It Takes A Villa

For many of us, summertime brings thoughts of vacation: a week at a lake house, a quick trip to a big city, or for the truly fortunate, a visit to Europe. And for those entertaining thoughts of a summer trip to Europe, ditch the thought of hotels and rent a villa.

Villas typically offer inviting terraces, pools and shady spots.

When I mention to friends or acquaintances that my family has rented villas in Spain or Italy, I sometimes get a funny look. Did you inherit some money, because I know you don’t make enough to rent a villa, they seem to imply. (Well, some have actually said that.)

Unfortunately, many of us view villa rentals as a luxury. (Maybe we’ve heard too many stories about a Saudi prince renting a Mediterranean villa for $35,000 a week.)

And then there are the other seeming obstacles to renting a villa. At first blush, it might seem daunting and fraught with potential headaches: What if the place isn’t clean? Will anyone speak our language? What happens if we break something? How will we find it? Who will do the cleaning?

For some trips and for some people, staying in a hotel with most—or even every—(legal) service imaginable, is essential. But for those willing to trade a few perks for dozens of advantages, renting a villa is the thing.

There are plenty of advantages. Most villas offer the opportunity to stay in the countryside or in a quaint village and to live like a local. Instead of walking or driving past attractive cottages or stately pastoral estates, you can call one home—for a week or two, anyway.

A villa stay enables a traveler to imagine himself as a native, to step outside the routine of typical days and to try on a different life. After all, isn’t that a huge reason we travel—to step into a different world, to try something new and to live a different life for a week or two?

Particularly for families with kids, villa rentals can allow parents to enjoy a bit of vacation—even if you still have to take care of and keep track of the kids. After all, if you’ve got to take care of children, why not do so in a stone farmhouse nestled in the rolling hills of Tuscany or in the walled garden of a small chateau in Provence?

Villas on Italy's Amalfi Coast are renowned for their views. Photo by Alan J. Shannon.

Villas on Italy’s Amalfi Coast are renowned for their views.

Another advantage: meltdowns might be a problem at a hotel, but villas offer privacy and the option of sending junior to his room.

There are some downsides, but even some of these can be positives. Sure, you need to perform some of the same chores as you would at home, but in an exotic and unfamiliar setting, you’ll likely feel energized and it won’t feel so much like work. And if picking up after yourself or doing dishes just isn’t your idea of a vacation, many villas offer cleaning service for an additional charge.

And there are all the other small advantages that combine to create a memorable and truly unique vacation. Several years ago, my family rented a Provencal farmhouse that featured a dreamy kitchen: casement windows overlooked an herb garden, lavender bushes and a walled garden, an enameled French stove stood against one wall, and an antique sink made dish-doing enjoyable.

There are all sorts of things you can enjoy by staying in a villa that hotels don’t offer. Breakfast on the terrace, or in the Old School, atmosphere-rich kitchen with sunbeams slanting through mullioned windows.

But most of all, you get to live like a local and borrow someone else’s beautiful home for a spell. And for me, that makes renting a villa the best option of all.

To rent villas in Europe, check out these recommended sites:

Some villas have interesting histories. This one, atop a mountain in Montecatini, Tuscany, hosted Verdi. Photo by Alan J. Shannon.

Some villas have interesting histories. This one, atop a mountain in Montecatini, Tuscany, hosted Verdi.

Amalfi Coast: http://www.summerinitaly.com

Italy: www.villeinitalia.com/

Spain: www.villarenters.com/rent-villas/spain/

Provence: http://www.purefrance.com

PHOTO CREDITS: ALAN J. SHANNON

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