A soft light lingers over the Mediterranean, the scent of lavender fills the air and you’re sipping a glass of crisp rosé — who wouldn’t want to spend the summer in the South of France? Especially if it’s affordable. For a rental vacation on a reasonable budget here are some words of advice: Be flexible. Plan early. Book now.
How to rent a villa in France
This type of DIY holiday takes some serious preplanning, I learned last year after convincing my boyfriend that my dream of spending a month in France was his dream, too. The organization of a holiday rental can be bewildering, but the benefits are stellar; it can be cheaper than a hotel, kitchen facilities are included — another money saver — and you’ll get the chance to live like a local. Here’s how to start:
Narrow it down.
The South of France is a big place. Provence is popular for holiday rentals but my top choice was Vence, a hilly town on the Riviera where Matisse once had a studio. Mark wanted to stay just outside a town but was also tempted by something urban and chic. In short, we wanted it all and ended up dividing our stay, booking both a rural chateau and an apartment in the coastal city of Nice for a taste of two worlds.
Set a budget.
Who needs a $10,000 marble-floored villa? With a rental budget of around $1,000 a week we still found plenty of options.
How to rent a villa in France affordably
Booking ahead for a vacation rental often gets you an early-bird discount and, if you think only July or August equals summer, think again. Prices are lower in June, the weather can be warm and there are fewer crowds.
When renting a villa in France be flexible in your location
Since Vence didn’t have a lot of vacation rentals (though I did consider this one:www.colline-vence.com/uk-presentation-vence.htm) we expanded our search to include larger centres like Nice, Antibes and Cannes where apartment rentals are plentiful and — this is important — so are ice cream parlours.
Learn vacation rental vocabulary
The term “villa” may conjure dreamy visions of rose gardens and flagstone terraces but expanding your vocabulary to include gîtes (French holiday homes), vacation rentals, holiday flats and apartments widens the field.
Visit vacation rental sites on Web
If you want to rent a villa in France the Internet is your main resource. Tripadvisor.com’s Vacation Rental tab is handy. Other comprehensive sites include www.homeaway.com, www.holiday-rentals.co.uk andwww.gites-de-france.com.
Know your priorities
My main concern when I started looking at how to rent a villa in France was space. Studios are the cheapest option but a month is a long time for a night owl and a morning bird to share one room, so I insisted on at least a one bedroom. I also wanted air con and Mark wanted a pool.
Other things to consider: Location — if it’s in a city is it central, quiet, near a beach? If it’s not in a major centre do you need a car? Is there a balcony or terrace, laundry, towels, Internet?
Now that you’ve established your vacation rental priorities, ditch them
When Mark fell into cyber love with an elegant two-bedroom apartment in an Art Deco building in Nice, suddenly a pool or air con didn’t seem so vital. Instead we got plenty of space, fan-fuelled breezes, high ceilings and a peaceful location in the Musicians Quarter a few blocks from the beach and the famous Hotel Negresco.
Making the final choice – go with your gut
I was dead set on the Riviera — anywhere from Monaco down to Saint-Tropez — until Mark stumbled upon the site for Domaine de Bussas ( www.bussas.com), a 12th-century chateau in the Cévennes, a wild mountainous region about 2.5 hours north of Marseille. Divided into four apartments, this restored chateau was affordable and atmospheric, complete with tower, archways, outdoor pool and forest setting.
Looking for holiday apartment happiness? Consider the cons
By thinking about the possible downsides of our villa in France, we avoided disappointment once we got there. Our issues: located near Nîmes, this stunning vacation rental was definitely not the Riviera and we’d need to rent a car — an added expense. We booked it anyway. The drive proved heart-stopping, down a steep hill with a sharp turn onto a concrete bridge with no rails, but the romantic surroundings and chance to explore an unspoiled region was unbeatable.
How to pay for your vacation rental
One of the most important concerns when looking at how to rent a villa in France is how not to get ripped off. But you need to pay somehow. Every vacation rental has a preferred manner of payment and each takes a leap of faith. (In fact, my bank teller tried to talk me out of sending a hefty money order overseas, convinced it was some kind of scam. Happily, it wasn’t.)
Generally, you’ll need to send a deposit by PayPal, bank transfer or money order. With some properties, full payment is due on a specified date. Others (most) prefer cash on arrival, so be prepared to draw out Euros at the airport, and be aware that there is a daily limit to how much you can withdraw so you may need to get your Euros from the bank before you go. You may need to pay a security deposit.
Avoiding vacation rental scams
Ask friends for referrals, look for popular websites with traveller reviews and talk with the owners or managers by email or phone before you commit. Fortunately, the properties we chose were well-maintained, the owners gracious and we ended up with enough memories, adventures and photos to bore our friends for years.
Read more on the sexy South of France: Visit my travel blog post Things to do do in the South of France for ideas about where to go, what to see and what do once you’re there.