Experience a Country Like a Local

A Villa Vacation in Europe

written by | Posted on October 9th, 2012

CV Travel’s 5-bedroom Villa Mare e Monte in Corsica

Jill Gergel of Frontiers Travels says that her clients’ top destination picks in France are Provence, Burgundy and Normandy, as well as the French Riviera for more glitzy rentals. “France offers a wide range of prices for villas and a wide range of villa choices for groups large and small, plus excellent options for the single family who wants to be off the tourist trail to enjoy a learning experience for the whole family unit together.”

Villas of Distinction’s 2 – bedroom Villa Nefeli in Santorini

Everyone should have an Italian affair. Or a French affair. Twenty years ago, mine took place in Italy where my husband and I spent two weeks on a second honeymoon. We rented a villa in Baschi, a dot on the map in the neighborhood of the hill-town of Orvieto in the bucolic region of Umbria. Owned by a chef and a friend of a friend, the lovely stone farmhouse opened to vineyards behind, and a path led down a hillside of flowers to the pool. For friends joining us from Rome during the second week, we had only one request: please buy and bring four fans, for the temperature had yet to go below 100 degrees. Although the locals said it was an unusually hot June, of course air conditioning is one of several details we failed to ask about before booking.

Hosted Villas’ 7-bedroom La Senese in Tuscany

Indeed, there are many things to keep in mind when planning to rent a villa overseas, although according to Jill Gergel of Frontiers Travel in Wexford, PA, a specialist in both villa vacations and canal barging vacations in France, the key to selling villa vacations has one thing in common with all leisure travel planning: “Listen carefully to client expectations and interests.”

And with a seemingly mind-boggling universe of rural and urban villas, there is great value in working with one of many companies whose specialty is arranging villa vacations—especially for clients requesting celebratory “foreign affairs” such as family reunions, landmark birthdays, anniversaries, and of course, honeymoons. These companies, too, can help in arranging sightseeing around the chosen villa as they offer customized pre-trip planning as well as local hosts who can offer advice on the best places to see and what to do.

hosted villas
In fact, says Gergel, “I get rave notices from my clients about the local hosts for Hosted Villas vacations. I don’t know how they vet their hosts, but they are amazing,” she says.

Award-winning Hosted Villas, established in 1990, was the first company to offer high-end, fully hosted, luxury villa experiences designed specifically for North American travelers. According to spokeswoman Jessica Barker, the company presently works with 100+ properties centered in France, Italy and Spain (mostly the Catalonia region), but has recently branched out to Croatia, “where there has been high interest and where our team is presently scouting additional villas.”

According to Barker, interest continues to be highest in Italy for Tuscany, although the neighboring Umbria region is increasingly popular. In France, Provence draws the most villa guests, but more and more requests come now for the Dordogne area and Burgundy, and in Spain, villas are concentrated in Catalonia. She notes that, “Much of our clientele is families and increasingly groups of couples vacationing together.”

Hosted Villas prides itself on offering luxurious, comfortable, charming private homes, located within the most sought-after regions and ranging from two to 10 bedrooms.

In addition to customized pre-trip planning—which can focus on food and wine, cycling or health and wellness—the Hosted Villas experience includes the services of a local host, who greets guests with a cold glass of prosecco or a Kir Royale, along with a feast of local comfort foods, and then serves as guide, concierge, translator, and trouble-shooter for the balance of the stay.

Sample villa & sightseeing: The five-star perennial favorite, the 5-bedroom Aire de Beaumes, set on four acres in Provence, and offering a sun room, library/TV room, dining room, fully equipped kitchen, stocked wine cellar, new fitness room, infinity pool with panoramic views, outdoor dining, and pool house with kitchen, as well as daily housekeeping (except Sunday).

The villa is within walking distance of the local village; the area is particularly fine for hiking and biking; and nearby are Cote de Rhone wine villages, the market town of Carpentras, antiques in Avignon and Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, tennis and golf. Cost per week during the high-season, just ended, is $14,000 or $400 per bedroom per night; during the low season, until Dec. 20, it’s $10,700.

a&k villas
Abercrombie & Kent
, meanwhile, is an old hand at arranging villa vacations, and Adam Coats, head of sales and operations for A&K Villas, reports that “families—one alone, several traveling together, multi-generational gatherings—represent the mainstay of our villa reservations, and it is in this market that villas really come into their own. [Without doubt] the best way to travel as a family is to rent a private villa that offers lots of living spaces, lovely grounds, private pool, and provides guests with flexibility in leisure and active pursuits in a relaxing environment, as well as the opportunity to spend quality time together.”

Coats adds that A&K Villas can support guests through its Hosted service option, providing a local host to advise on the best sights or the most appealing restaurants, to take care of special arrangements, to act in an offsite concierge capacity.

According to Coats, the U.S. market has grown consistently for A&K over the last five years, and is now its second strongest after the UK: sales for 2013 are already 50 percent ahead of the same time last year.

“U.S. clients have a strong love affair with Italy, and while Tuscany is our most popular region with North American villa renters, Umbria is gaining in popularity, and in response to growing demand, we have now launched villa portfolios in Sardinia and along the Amalfi Coast.”

Outside of Italy, Coats says, “Our U.S. guests favor Provence and its sleepy Luberon region, and there is a growing interest in renting villas in Spain, with Andalucia and the Balearic Islands the most popular choices.”

And priding itself as a company for all seasons, come winter, A&K Villas offers many choice chalets in the choicest of French Alpine terrains: Chamonix, Courchevel, Megeve, Meribel and Val d’Isere, as well as in Switzerland and Austria.

Sample villa & sightseeing: A&K Villas has more than a few options in Europe, but the 6-bedroom L’Olivo in Umbria is idyllic. Located 10 miles from Perugia and situated on a hill with gardens, olive groves, and breathtaking views over the Apennines, the villa features a living area with fireplace; TV room with access to the porch; professionally equipped kitchen; dining room with view to the pergola; spa with sauna and whirlpool; guest bathroom with shower (disabled friendly); computer room; a tennis court; a pool and the top floor bedrooms offer a private rooftop terrace. Villa guests can easily walk to the historic town of Villa Pitignano or take excursions further afield to shop in Perugia; head for windsurfing on Lake Trasimeno, or kayaking and mountain biking in Sibilllini National Park; visit wine cellars near Assisi; go sightseeing and stay for lunch in Perugia and Orvieto. Cost per week during low season, from October to January, is $8,450.

villas of distinction
Representing several thousand villas in more than 50 destinations in France, Italy, Spain, Greece and other European countries, as well as the U.S., Caribbean and Tahiti, Villas of Distinction has been matching travelers to luxury villa rentals since 1989. Villas, ranging in size from one to 20 bedrooms, can fit every occasion: from romantic getaways and weddings to family outings and corporate reunions, and for special requests and assistance on location, villas come with onsite concierges. Additionally, the leisure company has a special place in its marketing heart for travel agent partnerships.

“We believe that agents who learn about villa rentals will love selling villa rentals,” says Maggie Pristera, marketing manager for Villas of Distinction. Also, she points out, “There are many reasons that agents profit from the villa vacation market. For example, villas are often rented by a larger number of guests (couples or families), which can mean higher commissions than hotel bookings; villa guests have a high repeat villa rental rate; and unique accommodations are appealing to clients revisiting a destination and looking for something different.”

According to Pristera, Villas of Distinction clients going to France primarily head for Provence and the Cote d’Azur, where the most frequent bookings are around St. Tropez and the Var region. In Italy, the most popular villa vacation choices are Tuscany, the Amalfi Coast and the Lake District in and around Lake Como.

The company keeps agents and consumers informed about these and all its destinations via a monthly newsletter, product feature e-mails, and travel agent-only e-mails focused on special offers and incentives, such as commissions above the usual 10 percent paid on all sales. Further, the company offers a free service called villa-info.net, a generic website (no branding or phone numbers) that provides a virtual catalog of villas to add to a travel agency website as a resource in selling and booking villa vacations.

Sample villa & sightseeing: In Paris, yes, in Paris, for villa rental companies in Europe often include apartments in leading capital cities. Consider a 2-bedroom (really good for one family) villa on Rue de Turenne, close to the Place des Vosges at the heart of the Marais. Furnished in an eclectic, slightly Bohemian style by its interior designer owner, accommodations comprise a large living room, atrium views from two bedrooms with baths and open-plan kitchen (with dishwasher), air conditioning, WiFi, stereo, and flat-screen TV. Access is by secure entrance with code and up one flight of stairs. Included are a wine and cheese welcome pack and weekly maid service. The neighborhood itself is a traveler’s dream full of trendy boutiques, galleries, cafes and restaurants, with the Musee Carnavalet just around the corner; it’s a short walk to the Musee Picasso and a great outdoor food market. Priced Saturday to Saturday, the cost through Dec. 31 is $465 per night.

cv travel
Its stunning villas are sprinkled throughout the Greek Islands, Italy, France, Spain, the Balearics, Portugal, Britain and a host of other destinations throughout the world, but CV Travel’s Tristan Symondson, product manager-Greek Islands, says, “Corfu, Greece is our largest and most popular area followed by Tuscany, Italy.”

Its collection of villas, the company says, are all hand-picked for their “style, individuality, comfort and diversity, most with pools, many with private cooks, all chosen for a ‘wow’ factor, be it an exceptional view, a stunning garden, a quirky design or a breathtaking infinity pool.”

Your clients will find that CV Travel has an array of styles to choose from, whether it be a trulli in Italy, a Mallorcan-style finca, or farmhouse, in Spain, an 18th century stone barn in Great Britain or a hilltop manor in France. All idyllic, says Symondson, for the company’s main demographics, “Family, including many multi-generational, though we do also cater to lots of couples.”

And because the company has been doing this for 40 years, they have all the details, such as car hire, transfers and extra services, down to a science. For example, in the Greek Islands CV Travel can book small boats, speedboats, private charters a private yacht or motor cruiser with an experienced skipper so your clients can sail in the Ionian Sea. Or, if it’s golf lessons in the Algarve your clients want, they can arrange that as well. In fact, those extras can include everything from having an onsite fully qualified chef or local cook to arranging a spa treatment or tennis lessons, scuba diving excursions or even making sure everything is in place for the children in the family, including babysitting services.

Sample villa & sightseeing: Villa Mare e Monte in the south of Corsica, France, sleeps up to 10 guests in five en-suite bedrooms, each equipped with plasma TVs, DVD player and iPod docking stations. The villa also has a cinema, magnificent terrace, fully equipped gym, cellar and separate staff bedroom. Additionally, there’s a 77-ft. yacht available upon request. The “wow” factor here, the company says, is the large outdoor pool with stunning views. As the villa’s name suggests, it sits on a quiet hillside and offers a view of the sea. In fact, a short stroll away, clients can reach one of the Europe’s most secluded beaches, Palombaggia. The beach is also the jump-off point by boat for exploring the nature reserves of the Lavezzi and Cerbicales islands, and within a 5-minute drive, clients will be in Porto Vecchio, a bustling harbor town home to marina-side restaurants, and the old town next to the Place de la Republique.

A&K Villas’ 6-bedroom L’Olivio in Umbria

matching clients to villa
Besides the obvious questions, such as dates of travel, number of travelers, location and any special requirements such as young children and elderly or handicapped, determine from clients:

■ Special dietary needs

■ Extra villa staff: personal chef; butler; babysitter

■ Additional services: Guided sightseeing; special events tickets; car rental

■ Daily or weekly price range: note that in Europe, rentals are most often by the week, usually Saturday to Saturday in high season

Take note: Seasons vary by house and region; in general, high-season is mid-June to September, plus Easter, Christmas, New Year’s week; mid-season is mid-April to late-October; and low-season is November to mid-April. You need to book clients far ahead for holiday and prime-time seasons.

The Venice Simlon-Orient Express offers a new route from Venice to Stockholm

trip of a lifetime
In Virtuoso Life’s recent “Travel Dreams Survey” readers mentioned that one of their “trips of a lifetime” was renting a European villa, so you’ve got plenty to choose from on that end, but one of their other trips of a lifetime was riding the Orient-Express. Of course, it’s not just about being aboard the Orient-Express train that’s the allure. It’s these mesmerizing destinations these iconic trains—Northern Belle, British Pullman, The Royal Scotsman, and the Venice Simplon-Orient Express (VSOE)—pull into that is the icing on the cake.  And now this legendary hospitality company has added a new route from Venice to Stockholm aboard the Venice Simplon-Orient Express. Scandinavia offers spectacular landscapes of craggy fjords and verdant lowlands, and what better way to see them than aboard an ultra-luxe Orient-Express train.

Starting in April 2013, the route will glide along the rails through Italy, Austria, Switzerland and Germany before making its way to Denmark and Sweden. The 5-night rail trip from Venice to Stockholm includes two nights prior to boarding at Hotel Cipriani, two nights aboard the VSOE and one night at the Copenhagen Marriott mid-journey. Reverse itinerary is also available. Price is $5,900 pp.  Guests opting for a shorter journey may opt to travel on either of the two legs of this tour: 3-night Venice to Copenhagen ($4,400 pp) or 1-night Copenhagen to Stockholm ($2,000 pp). For more information, call (800) 524-2420 or visit orient-express.com.

Archived related articles (available on recommend.com):
Fairy Tale Honeymoons in Europe (June 2012)

contact information
A&K Villas: (888) 611-4711; akvillas.com
CV Travel: cvtravel.co.uk
Hosted Villas: (800) 374-6637; hostedvillas.com
Villas of Distinction: (800) 289-0900; villasofdistinction.com