How to rent a European villa (and not go broke)

For your European vacation, you may be able to rent a villa for little more than you would spend on a hotel.
For your European vacation, you may be able to rent a villa for little more than you would spend on a hotel. Abercrombie & Kent Villas

Why spend your European vacation in a small, pricey hotel room when you can rent a private villa?

If the words “because I can’t afford it” are about to roll off your tongue, allow me to interject. While “villa” tends to be synonymous with “exorbitant,” infinity pools, panoramic vistas and private paths to the beach aren’t as out of reach as you might think. You just have to know what to look for, and when. To that end, here are five tips.

▪ Nab a couples deal. Take, for instance, The Thinking Traveller, a villa rental company based in London. The company’s website has special offers on large villas available only to couples, or couples with a pre-school-age child. Just one of the villa’s bedrooms will be made up when you arrive (the bedroom considered to be the best), and while you must sleep in that particular room, you nonetheless get the entire villa and its grounds to yourself. The current couples offer on the Thinking Traveller is for villas in Sicily, Puglia and the Ionian Islands, available until late October, starting at about $2,140 a week, or $306 a night (a seven-night minimum stay is required).

On a tighter budget? Some villa rental companies have one- or two-bedroom properties that are perfect for couples. If, for example, you search on the James Villa Holidays website for properties that accommodate two travelers, you’ll turn up modest homes with swimming pools that cost less for a full week than some hotels cost per night — like a two-bedroom property with a pool in Mallorca, Spain, starting about $483 a week; and a three-bedroom home with a pool on Costa Blanca in Spain, also starting about $483 a week, or $69 a night.

You may be able to find modest homes with swimming pools that cost less for a full week than some hotels cost per night

▪ Venture farther afield. Reputable rental companies make it clear when a property is a bit remote. In addition to tranquillity, such homes generally come with lower prices. A three-bedroom stone farmhouse with a fireplace, pool and a dining loggia, described on Tuscany Now as “off the beaten track” in Umbria (near Cortona), starts at $1,514 a week, or around $216 a night.

On James Villa Holidays, a two-bedroom villa with a pool in Arbucies, part of the Costa Brava, was also referred to as “off the beaten track” with “views to the high mountain peaks of the Montseny Natural Park.” Prices during a recent search started about $1,172 a week, or $167 a night.

▪ Vacation offseason. Renting a villa in Provence is most expensive during high season in July and August. Prices tend to go down a bit in May, June and September, though the best deals to be had are during the low season, October through April. On the rental site Ville et Village, a three-bedroom villa with a pool and views of the Alpilles mountains near St.-Rémy-de-Provence was $4,485 a week (about $641 a night) in August. Yet in April, that same villa is offered for $2,588 a week, or about $370 a night.

▪ Go with family and friends. The simplest way to make luxury affordable is to split the bill. Take the four-bedroom villa with a pool and bucolic views on the Côte d’Azur starting at $3,414 a week on Abercrombie & Kent’s villa rental site, Share the cost with two other couples and suddenly it’s $1,138 a week, or about $163 a night, for each couple.


▪ Be flexible. Even rental companies with luxurious villas like Abercrombie & Kent and James Villa Holidays offer price breaks from time to time, especially at the tail end of high season. Villas of Distinction, which has properties that go for upward of $16,000 a night, has an “on special” filter on its website where you can find discounts. Some of these “on special” villas will still set you back several thousand dollars a night. But others are in the realm of possibility for certain travelers or a group of friends, like a three-bedroom villa in Croatia with a private indoor pool, sauna and sea views, part of a resort with a private beach, for about $679 a night.

Before you plunk down a deposit, however, a word of caution: As good as certain deals may be, some are too good to be true. Even established rental sites have had scammers.

One way to protect your money is to rent from a place that accepts credit cards rather than a wire transfer, because cards allow you to take action against fraud. There are notable exceptions to this, but it’s a good rule of thumb when, for instance, dealing directly with a property owner you don’t know.

If you’re considering renting from an owner or agency that doesn’t have an established reputation (as opposed to a company like Abercrombie & Kent, which inspects its villas), you’ll need to be especially cautious. Read traveler reviews to help determine if the listing is legitimate. Airbnb users should know, for example, that you can filter only for villas belonging to what the site refers to as “superhosts,” owners whose properties have great reviews (at least 80 percent must be five stars), and a steady flow of guests each year. Superhosts also have to respond quickly to guest questions and honor confirmed reservations.

Travelers who use HomeAway can buy trip cancellation protection and damage protection, as well as a “carefree rental guarantee,” which “guarantees your payment if the vacation rental is not as advertised or you are unable to gain access,” through a link on the site.

Wherever possible, call and speak with the agency or owner about the property and the terms of the rental. If you want housekeeping or groceries, ask in advance. You may be able to afford the villa, but stocking the fridge, even heating the pool, can cost extra. Such are the travails of villa life.