3 Steps to Finding a Vacation Home in Provence
When we travel, we usually shun hotels. Sure, there’s a lot to be said about room service and having someone make your bed every day, but with the advent of Airbnb, HomeAway, and other vacation rental websites, we’ve opened our eyes to a new way to live like locals.
Why Vacation Homes Rock
A lot of the time, the homes you can rent are inhabited, at least part of the year, by their owners. So you get personal touches that make it feel less formal than a hotel: the kids’ artwork on the wall, more kitchen utensils than a generic condo would have, and the interesting variety of books on the shelves.
My favourite thing about renting a home is being in a neighbourhood. Instead of being surrounded by overpriced, crappy restaurants that cater to tourists, we’re in a community. We shop for groceries at the marché with the other town inhabitants, and we eat where they eat. People see our faces a few times, and they become more friendly with recognition.
You’ve also got the bonus of having a kitchen to cook in, cutting down on costs, and having room enough for the entire family.
Step 1: Start with Where You Want to Stay
On our recent 5-week trip to Provence, we didn’t even know where we wanted to stay. We zeroed into the area within an hour of Marseille and Nice and then started browsing the listings.
You’ll quickly see that the accommodations in bigger cities and/or on the ocean are smaller (usually apartments) and more costly. Because we had several family members visiting, we wanted something a bit bigger than a 1-bedroom apartment.
Quite honestly, it didn’t matter which town we chose. The house and its amenities were more important.
Step 2: Pick What You Want vs. What You Need
We knew we could get away with just three bedrooms, though more would be ideal. Being able to walk to a boulangerie and epicerie was equally important. After all, we were in France, and we wanted to stroll the brick-lined streets, munching on our baguette of the day!
We ended up with a major score: we rented this four-bedroom house (part of which was built in the 1400s) that had not one but two kitchens (one was outside, and we never used it). The rate of $169 a night is a good deal, but we were able to negotiate even lower because we were staying for five weeks.
Don’t be afraid to dicker. People would rather rent longer term and make less money than to have to turn around their home every few days.
Step 3: Read the Fine Print
Renting a vacation home is a major event for me. I spend a ton of time looking at all the pictures and reading the descriptions and reviews. Reviews are a big part of my decision; I might see in the reviews that people had trouble finding parking or said they really couldn’t walk to stores.
It’s also a good idea to check the cancellation policy, especially if there’s a chance you might change plans on a long trip. We decided to end our trip with a week in a different town, but since the cancellation policy said we couldn’t get a refund, we lost a few hundred dollars (I did ask, but the owner refused to budge).
If you want a unique experience on your stay in Provence, I highly recommend renting a vacation home. You’ll feel more immersed in the local culture and might even spend less than you would with a hotel.
American sites like HomeAway and Airbnb are great places to start, but once we got there, we found out that you can also search sites like Gîtes de France (a gîte, from what I gathered, is a vacation home). And because France is still a bit behind from North America in their Internet presence, you can also find a place when you get there, if you dig that whole seat-of-your-pants flying thing. When we arrived in Saorge, we saw many signs in windows for rentals that I never found online.