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Planning the perfect cottage getaway

If you're planning on a cottage holiday this summer, you'd better get on it. The season is fast approaching, and many of the hot spots are already booked up, with renters staking their claim as early as last November and in a flurry of activity in March.

The cottage rental market in Canada is booming, however, and there are still plenty of prime locations available -- for now. If you're looking to rent a property, but don't know where to start, the first things you should consider are how far you're willing to drive, the number of people in your party, the features you're after, how long you want to rent and your budget.

The price of a good vacation
Unless you already have a line on a potential property, chances are you'll turn to the Internet. There's a plethora of listing, booking, cottage management and private websites featuring cottages that range from a few hundred to thousands per week.

"The cheapest weekly rental we do is $750; that's one up from rustic," says Phil Bayer of CottageLINK Rental Management in Havelock, Ont. A decent waterfront property in a prime location will likely cost $1,500 to $2,500 a week. Paula Lambert, of Paramount Vacations, deals exclusively in luxury properties that go for up to $7,000 a week or $50,000 for the entire summer.

"What people have to understand is they're going to get what they pay for," she says.

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In other words, if you find a place that sounds too good to be true for the price, you'll probably be disappointed. "Unless you are willing to spend a fortune to rent what obviously is a multi-million dollar cottage, you might well end up in a roach-infested shack that borders on swampland, not a nice big lake," says one jaded renter, who learned the hard way. "Unlike a resort, which typically has all sorts of photographs on their website, or a travel website like Expedia, with a cottage, it is generally a shot in the dark."

Who's on board?
One of the things to consider is who you're bringing along on your cottage vacation. If you have small children, a sandy beach area with a gradual grade into the water is usually preferable over a rocky terrain with step cliffs. For elderly renters, or those bringing the grandparents with them, ask about accessibility.

The owner or booking agent should be able to advise if a cottage is right for your demographic. In turn, be honest about the number of people in your party and mention if you'll have guests.

Entertaining and cottage life go hand-in-hand, but it's essential to respect guidelines about maximum occupancy. This isn't just about having enough beds, but ensuring the cottage systems are up to the job. Septic systems, pumps and other facilities can only stand so much wear and tear. An overburdened system will break down quickly and put a damperon, if not an end to, a cottage holiday.

What to bring?
Plenty of food, drink and a swimsuit usually make for a great cottage vacation, but there are a few other practicalities to consider. Ask about pillows, blankets and other linens and request a thorough list of the amenities on site. Most rental cottages have toilet paper, soap, dish detergent and paper towels on offer. Find out about kitchen basics, such as condiments, salt and pepper and the like. Many renters and rental companies help out by providing a list of things you'll need to bring.

One thing to consider is drinking water. Most cottages source their water right from the lake, which is fine for dishes and showering, but many people don't want to drink it (others do so without any trouble). Many cottagers bring bottled water, and you may want to do the same.

Leaving it all behind
Cottage life is usually about getting away for the trappings of everyday life, but for some people it's too painful to cut those ties. If you're addicted to your BlackBerry or can't live without television, you may be in for a shock. Many cottages have satellite television, DVD players, stereos and the like, but don't make any assumptions.

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-- Posted: May 14, 2008
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