Long-Term Rentals in Europe
Renting a vacation house enables travelers to experience everyday pleasures like shopping for fruit and vegetables in the Swiss mountain town of Saanen.
Slow travelers go to Europe, stay in apartments, cottages, or houses that they rent by the week. Staying in one place, even if just for a week or two, lets you experience a place more intensely because you get involved in the community. You shop for groceries and supplies in the local shops, stop at the same café every morning, see the people in your village or neighborhood each day. My husband and I used to stay in hotels when we traveled to Europe, but once we tried vacation rentals in Switzerland in 1988, we were hooked. Now this is the only way we travel.
Vacation Rentals in Europe
In most European countries, you can rent apartments in towns and on farms and houses in the countryside through agencies or directly from the local owner. The Italians call them “agriturismos”; the Brits call them “self catering apartments”; the French call them “gites”; the Swiss and Germans call them “ferienwohnungen.”
Vacation rentals come equipped with everything you need to live comfortably: sheets, towels, pots and pans, dishes, and cutlery. The house or apartment is cleaned before you arrive. Food is generally not provided, so you will need to shop for basic groceries when you arrive.
Rentals range from very simple apartments on working farms that rent for $500 or less per week to luxury villas that sleep 12 or more and rent for $5,000 or more per week.
Someone checks you in and out and is there for emergencies, but they expect you to be independent. This person may not speak English, so a basic knowledge of the language of the country you are visiting is necessary.
We plan our trips on a Saturday-afternoon to Saturday-morning schedule. From the U.S., we fly into a major city and spend a few days in a hotel, then pick up a rental car and drive to our first vacation rental. Typically we spend a week in southern Tuscany, a week in central Umbria, and a week in Rome, booking a different vacation rental for each week. If you have time, stay more than a week in one place.
Book Well Ahead
Europeans routinely book vacation rentals a year ahead, so some of the best places fill up quickly. Start planning six months to a year before your trip. Most places require a 50 percent deposit at the time of booking with final payment when you arrive or a month or two before.
Use the Web
Before the Internet age, I found ads for vacation rental agencies in travel magazines and then called the agencies to get their catalogs. Or I contacted the tourist office for the region I was interested in and booked through them. But the Internet has changed all this. Now I go to Google, search on “vacation rentals Tuscany” and get pages of listings for agencies representing many places or I can rent directly from the owner.
A Temporary Home
With your own home, you can spread out and settle in, take a day off and relax in your house, and do some cooking with local ingredients. Instead of long day trips to see the “highlights,” you get to know one area very well.
Slow travelers assume that there will be other trips, that they will return to Europe again and again.
The Slow Travel Way
Back when most vacation rental agencies still had catalogs, I created a website called “Slow Travel” (www.slowtrav.com) as a way to meet other people who traveled this way and to exchange information about good vacation rentals and destinations. Since the site started in 2000, it has grown into a real online community. We have over 700 vacation rental reviews for places throughout Europe, collect restaurant reviews, publish trip reports, and have a lively message board (www.slowtalk.com).
Before booking my trips I read the vacation rental reviews and book places that other people have liked. I go to the message board and post my planned itinerary to get other people’s advice. If I am going to a new area, I ask questions of the people who have already traveled there.
A Slow Travel Itinerary for Italy
• Leave midweek and fly into Florence, spend 3 nights in a hotel getting over your jetlag and seeing the city.
• On Saturday, pick up a rental car and drive to your first vacation rental for a one- week stay in southern Tuscany. Driving out of Florence is easy and you can be in southern Tuscany in about two hours. Spend your week visiting Siena, the hill towns, and wineries.
• On the following Saturday, drive to your second vacation rental for a one-week stay in central Umbria (an easy two-hour drive). Spend the week visiting the Umbrian art towns and touring the countryside.
• On the following Saturday, check out and drive to Chiusi, a town on the border of Umbria and Tuscany where the main train to Rome stops. Drop off your rental car here and take the train into Rome for a last few nights.
Slow Traveler's Favorite Websites for Tuscany
Colle Lungo (www.collelungo.com): apartments on an estate in Chianti.
In Tuscany (www.intuscany.net): agency based in Italy with listings for Tuscany.
Italian Vacation Villas (www.villasitalia.com): agency based in the U.S. with listings for Tuscany and the rest of Italy.
La Bella Toscana (www.labellatoscana.net): agency based in Italy with listings in the area around San Gimignano.
Parker Company (www.parkervillas.com): a large agency based in the U.S. with listings all over Italy.
TuscanHouse (www.tuscanhouse.com): agency based in Italy and the U.S. with listings in Tuscany.
Slow Traveler's Favorites Websites for Umbria
Brigolante Guest Apartments (www.brigolante.com): apartments on a farm near Assisi, central Umbria.
Summer's Leases (www.summersleases.com): agency based in Italy with listings in Tuscany and Umbria.
Umbria Rentals (www.umbria-rentals.com): apartments in Panicale, near the border of Tuscany and Umbria.
PAULINE KENNY and her husband Steve Cohen, a software developer, live in Santa Fe, NM. Pauline is a web designer and runs the popular website www.slowtrav.com.