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Travel 2006    

Places to stay

 

Whether a one-night stay or a royal resort, lodging's available at the right time, place and price.

Rent a villa and vacation like a jet-setter

Want a real taste of local flavor with a fully-equipped kitchen and plenty of room to spread out while you get away from it all? Try a villa.

Renting a private vacation home used to be the almost exclusive purview of celebrities, rock stars and the very rich. But that's not the case any more, says Jennifer V. Cole, associate research editor for Travel + Leisure magazine. Mainstream travelers are discovering that a staying in a home with a kitchen and multiple bedrooms can be cheaper and more comfortable than a hotel, especially for larger families.

Here's where to find them:

ResortQuest.com has more than 17,000 properties in resort areas throughout the U.S. and Canada, says Cole. Also, Rentvillas.com has almost 1,400 properties in Europe rated on a variety of criteria by former guests.

A few other choice ones include: VacationSpot.com, HomesAway.com and Wimco.com, says Cole, who adds that you may be able to line yourself up for a stay at Mick Jagger's beach house on Mustique through VillasoftheWorld.com. But be warned: The six-bedroom bungalow will set you back at least $13,000 per week. Another of the agency's many offerings is a six-bedroom home, decorated by Rudolf Nureyev, on a private island off Italy's Amalfi Coast. It rents for $80,000 to $100,000 per week.

With a private home, there are more variables, so shop carefully. And be prepared to ask a few extra questions so that the image you have is what you actually find when you arrive.

Cole's advice: With vacation homes, go through an established rental company rather than a private individual. Ask for references (guests who have either stayed at a particular property or rented from the company). And look for photos. "I would never book a place unless the site has photos," she says. "You may not see everything about it, but you get a sense of what you're looking at."

Find out about the payment and cancellation policies, because they can "vary pretty drastically," she says.

And it pays to speak the lingo. "When you read the listings, there are some buzz words -- real estate speak," Cole says. "'Beachfront' could mean literally on the water. Or it could mean right on the sand but separated from the water by a four-lane road."

For example, a vacation rental listing might say the property is:

  • A villa. "It could be as grandiose and elegant as the typical image of a villa, sitting on a hillside surrounded by sweeping gardens," says Cole. "Or it could just mean a small house in the country." And in some cases, she says, it could even be a city apartment.
  • A cottage. It could signify a quaint, little place or it might just be very small.
  • Comfortable. This could mean either it's warm and welcoming, or that it's old, well-worn and hasn't been updated recently.
  • Cozy. The translation on this one could be "intimate" or "tiny."
  • Waterfront. Right there on the beach or atop a cliff overlooking the water? Both are great; just make sure it's what you think it is.

"Then call and talk to someone," she says. If you don't want to rack up international charges, send an e-mail. But find a way to ask about the details that are important to you.

"You're buying something sight unseen," says Cole. "You have to read between the lines."

What are your summer travel plans? Take our reader poll and see what other Americans will be doing this summer.

-- Posted: May 15, 2006
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