Spending a holiday in a villa rental with family or friends can be very special. But things can also go horribly wrong. Thankfully, after years of experience staying in holiday rentals we know how to avert disasters. Here are our tips to renting a holiday villa.
We shared many delicious alfresco meals around that table above at a Bali villa rental a couple of years ago. My mother visited us from Australia for a week of our stay and our villa cook joined us for a meal on our final day. It was lovely.
Terence enjoyed reading a book from the day bed you see on the deck, often in the company of the friendly villa dog Deena, and we both relished swims in the turquoise pool surrounded by tropical gardens that the deck overlooks. It was wonderful, but not all stays go well.
Our tips to renting a holiday villa to ensure you have a memorable stay
Appoint a decision-maker and trip-planner
If you’re travelling with family and regularly take holidays together, you’ve probably fallen into some sort of routine over the years and have already designated someone to do the research, share information and consult with the group, and make final decisions and plans.
If you’re travelling with a group of friends or another couple (or two or three) for the first time, then it’s important to do this at the very start to prevent squabbles and so things don’t get forgotten. It’s too late to ask who booked the hire cars again, when ten of you are standing around the baggage carousel.
Carefully select your destination
Some villas are so alluring that many travellers will see that aquamarine infinity pool overlooking a sparkling bay skirted by a white sandy beach in Phuket or Koh Samui and book the property on a whim, without considering the destination. Later they’ll find out that most of their friends don’t like spicy food, so Thailand was always going to be a bad choice.
For travellers who love food — and sharing long meals in the company of loved ones are a huge part of a holiday away with family or friends — yet are not very adventurous, then Italy, Spain, Greece, or Turkey might be better options than Asian countries.
If you’re travelling with a group, agree on the destination first and base your decision not only on what sort of villa rentals you discover there but also on factors like cuisine, culture and language, and the experiences and activities on offer.
Agree on the type of holiday you want
Do you want a relaxing holiday where you do very little at all, except enjoy each other’s company while you relax on a breezy veranda, swim in a pool, laze around with a good book, and in between meals plan the menu for the next? Or are you after a more active holiday, where you can go for walks and drives, get some exercise and play some sports, perhaps ride a horse or have a round of golf? Or do you want to mix things up?
Some of you fancy doing an Italian cooking class, others are eager to learn how to paint, while some are fairly content to go winery hopping each day? I have been witness to arguments and tension between family and friends over the years (generally in pubs and airports), because there wasn’t enough discussion about these things before they went away.
Consider the location next
Once you decide on the destination and the type of holiday you all want, consider the location next and agree in principle on the sort of area you want to stay in before starting to research villas.
It’s no use choosing a property in idyllic countryside, only to find that it’s in the middle of nowhere, you’ll need to hire a car to do anything, and yet nobody wants to drive in a country they’ve never been before. Do you want to be by the beach or in a rural area, on the top of a mountain or by a lake, in a small village or close to a big city?
To use Italy as an example again, you’re going to have a completely different experience if you rent, say, a traditional trullo set among olive groves in Alberobello or a hilltop villa overlooking the ocean on the Amalfi Coast compared to, say, a villa in rural Tuscany that’s a fifteen-minute drive from culturally rich Florence or on the edge of historical towns like Siena and Lucca, where you can easily visit galleries and museums or pop into town for dinner.
Research widely and consult multiple sources
It’s important to check a number of holiday rental or villa rental websites to compare the properties they have available and the prices. Some of you have your favourite sites that you’ll use again and again, but always check another couple of sites as well just to be sure you’re making the right decision.
You might be surprised to find that your favourite site doesn’t actually have that many properties in the destination you want to go this time or that the same property is listed for slightly less elsewhere. For instance, I’m currently researching a trip next year and considering staying in luxury villas in Italy from Luxury Retreats. I’m finding plenty of beautiful properties, but I’m still intending to compare their offerings with those of other sites. (Any you recommend?)
Scrutinize the lists of facilities, amenities and services
Once a stunning property catches your eye and it fulfils all your requirements, look closely at what facilities, amenities and services are offered, and study the photos and floor plans.
How many bedrooms are there and how many does it actually sleep? How many bathrooms are there and are they accessible from public spaces or only bedrooms? Are bedding, linen and bath towels provided?
Is the kitchen well equipped? How many does the dining table sit? What do they offer in terms of cooking appliances, gadgets and dinnerware? Are there laundry facilities? (Vital if there are kids.) Is there an air conditioner, heater or fireplace and fuel?
Are there plenty of nooks and crannies for people to retreat? Because no matter how much you enjoy each other’s company there will be times when you want to be alone with your book — or bottle of wine. Is there a pool? A barbecue? A picnic set? Are there family games, books and kids toys? Is there a cleaner or cook? Can you hire a babysitter when you want adult time?
If this sort of detail isn’t on the site, email or phone the owner or agent.
Do the math and read the fine print
Sometimes villas can look prohibitively expensive when you look at the price per night, but when you realise it has six or eight bedrooms and you divide the costs between the group you’ll probably find that no matter how expensive it is it will be better value than a resort or hotel.
Having said that, find out what that total figure includes. Is it all-inclusive or will utilities like electricity, gas, and water cost extra? And if so, ask what the total cost of these usually is during the season you’re travelling and for a group your size.
It’s best to agree as a group on how much you’re willing to spend — and even better to agree on a range, of lowest to most expensive price — before you start researching villas.
Communicate with the owner, manager or agent in advance
Never make a booking straight from a villa rental site, no matter how many times you’ve used it before and how professional and trustworthy the site is, without speaking to the owner or their representative.
Exchange emails and phone numbers, chat on the phone, ask for additional photos to ensure they match what’s on the site, ask for the street address and check Google Maps, ensure the location of their banking details matches their phone number and the information they gave you about themselves.
Carefully read the testimonials of other guests on the listing and read between the lines if there are comments about the owner or agent.
Ask for an inventory list and agreement in advance
In most cases, the first time that travellers see these documents is when they check in, but ask for them to be emailed before you book your villa rental. Seeing these in advance will ensure there are no surprises.
You can match the inventory list to amenities on the website to ensure they do offer what they’ve promised, and the rental agreement or contract should confirm anything you’ve already read on the site or discussed by email or phone.
Check what basics will be there when you arrive
I’ve said it a dozen times here on Grantourismo because it’s happened to us so many times, but there is nothing worse than arriving late at night at a holiday rental to find out there is no toilet paper or tea or coffee or even drinking water.
By their very nature, holiday villas and especially luxury villas, are far better equipped than apartments, but it’s still important to check what will be there, especially if you’re travelling with kids or elderly people or simply friends with low blood sugar levels.
Luxury villas usually provide welcome packs that include tea, coffee, milk, bread, butter, eggs, and perhaps some fruit, and often they’ll have basic condiments and sugar, salt, pepper, etc, in the cupboards. Some owners will surprise you with a bottle of wine or cold beer in the fridge.
They may also offer a grocery service, so you can order a basket of fruit and vegetables or packaged meals (say, a tray of meats for a barbecue) in advance. Many villas also come with a cook and other staff, which you can choose to use or not, while others might offer staff as added extras that cost.
Check these details in advance. But bring your own bottle of wine just in case!