Where to stay is a big issue to resolve whenever you travel. Hotels can be wonderful, especially for shorter stays, and books like Karen Brown Guides http://www.karenbrown.com/ can point you towards those hotels that are charming and original. I have used her recommendations often and never been disappointed.
For my money, if you are staying for a minimum of a week, for good value, authenticity and privacy, you can’t beat a vacation rental. I have rented apartments and houses all over Europe and am a huge fan of this option. With a good apartment in the right area, you have the best of all solutions. You can eat in or out, it’s up to you. Through shopping and the comings and goings of daily life you meet people and have experiences you just don’t have when you stay in a hotel. If you have children, it is almost always easier. Most vacation rentals today come equipped with internet access and the same cable TV options you find in a hotel. And if that weren’t enough, a luxury apartment for a week is usually cheaper than a mid-level hotel. A website that explains in detail the “ins and outs” of vacation rentals including useful trip reports and reviews can be found at www.slowtrav.com.
To find a good vacation rental in the right area, an agency can be a big help. From the internet, you can put together a short list of firms with good looking properties and attractive, well thought out websites.
I always look for the smaller agencies that are specialists in a particular area because, in most cases, they will have seen, inspected and approved all their apartment and offer a higher level of service. I also like websites that provide reviews from previous guests and lots of pictures of the actual apartment. More and more owners are marketing their own properties and dealing directly with an owner can also be rewarding.
Once you have identified your short list, you should pick up the telephone and talk to someone about what’s important to you. Things like amount of space, light, noise level, appropriateness for families, and proximity to public transport, sites, parks or restaurants are all relevant criteria. Good agents know their properties and neighbourhoods and can recommend the best apartments for your needs. If the entire process of choosing and booking is completely electronic, I always wonder who is going to actually help me if I am in the apartment and have a problem? It’s also good to know there will staff on location who speak you language if you don’t speak theirs.
Once you’ve found your apartment, most agencies will take a deposit to secure the booking. Of course, check the conditions carefully and pay attention to how long the firm has been in business. There always is a risk that something could happen to the property or the agency which has your money and where possible, I pay the deposit with a credit card so that I have some recourse via the credit card company. Nevertheless, I’ve paid plenty of deposits through wire transfers and checks and, knock on wood, never had a problem.
I would be interested in hearing from anyone who has had a good or bad vacation rental experiences and would love to know which resources you find useful. Vacation renters of the world unite.