Living the Villa Life - How to Rent the Villa of Your Dreams So you want the two-hour lunches and the butcher-shop commutes. Here are some tips on renting that killer villa.
Start Early Otherwise, says Wendy Wachtel of Overseas Connection (www.villasoftheworld.com), you'll get leftovers. Reserve at least six months in advance, especially for high-season rentals (typically July and August). You will find the best places and rates a year before, says Dawn Barclay of Barclay International Group. The shoulder months - September, May, June - are often 25 percent cheaper than summer, and rates dip by 35 percent October-April, excluding holidays.
Choosing Your Destination France and Italy are still the most popular villa destinations; Dordogne is less crowded - and cheaper - than the Riviera or Provence. In Italy, Tuscany has become pricey; try Veneto. Caribbean villas have been hopping for years - Anguilla and St. Bart's are hot these days - and recently Americans have moved in on Costa Rica.
Decide What You Want Is it a quaint country cottage or a grand estate? A villa near a city or out in the sticks? How many bedrooms? Bathrooms? Want a pool? Want a maid or chef? Be realistic. Most villas won't have air-conditioning and the staff may not speak English. Maybe the water pressure won't be like it is at home, says Barclay. Roll with the punches. You get a villa to soak up the atmosphere and live like the natives - not to have everything like home.
What You Should Spend A reasonable rental should be less than $100 per bedroom, per night - much cheaper than a hotel. Italianvillas.com, for example, offers a three-bedroom home outside Asolo, Italy, for $1,790 per week in summer - $42.60 a night for six persons. The more people you have, says Nancy Marcussi of Heaven on Earth rentals (800-466-5605), the cheaper it is. A two-bedroom Umbrian villa goes for $2,250 a week; a four-bedroom runs $3,100. Do the math.
As for whether it's better to invite only family and friends or a variety of people who may not know one another, that's a coin toss, says James Morgan, who wrote the accompanying story. New faces can bring new energy, though you can't predict exactly what energy that'll be. On the other hand, your family and friends are guaranteed to bring along all the neuroses that caused you to want to get away in the first place. (They'll say the same about you.) It is nice, though, at the end of the day, to share the joys of exploring new places with some of the people you love.
Use A Broker You can find one online - go to a search engine like Yahoo! and type in
Italian villas. If you prefer, ask for recommendations at the country's
U.S.-based tourism office (French - ask for Easy Reference Guide:
410-286-8310; Italian: 312-644-0996).
You'll often be asked to pay the full rental fee plus security deposit in advance. So grill your broker on the details. How child friendly is the place? Are linens provided? A phone? Is electricity included? Is there a heat surcharge? (Often there is.) Ask to talk to a previous renter. Don't just go by what you see in the brochure or on the website. Multiple photos of the place are a must, as is written confirmation before leaving, along with maps, directions, and the name and number of a local contact. If the hot-water heater breaks, you'll want Paolo's number down the road, not Ted's in LA.
If there are problems upon arrival, don't wait until you're home to address them - call the local rep immediately. A good company will try to move you, says Kathy Haase of Domani, Inc. If problems go unaddressed, take the broker to complain to the Better Business Bureau.
Finally, writer James Morgan's three rules on renting: One, settle down - you can't consume it all (wine, duomos, cute walled villages), so you may as well relax. Two, have your own car. Three, follow your own schedule. -S.D.