20 July 2010

Home comforts

Renting a house or a flat for a holiday can be a leap in the dark. What can you reasonably expect to find in your home away from home? How much are you expected to lug from your own house if you're flying with a stingy baggage allowance? I've had a few experiences in recent years that have either restored my faith in humanity or made me want to bash some heads together. I have a lot of admiration for the two young travel writers involved in the Gran Tourismo project (grantourismotravels.com), in which they're spending a whole year staying in self-catering accommodation. While it's a fun and glamorous thing to do, you do end up missing the strangest things.

Little touches make all the differences. Last summer I rented a studio flat in Antibes that was only seconds away from the beach. The English owners, Louise and Paul, thoughtfully leave beach towels, a beach bag and even a sun parasol for their guests. And, unlike some owners, they're very happy for people to leave food behind for the next guest. (What does happen do all those half-drunk bottles of milk and partially used tubs of margarine?) Louise and Paul also provide fresh flowers and keep the store cupboard stocked with cooking essentials such as olive oil. That's one of those things you can't take for granted. (Their property is at www.holiday-rentals.co.uk/83543. I recommend it heartily.)

The little flat I rented in Dubrovnik this past spring (see earlier post below) was remarkably well equipped for such a small place. There was even a kettle, which, as most British travellers will know, is a rare as hen's teeth in the self-catering world. What I liked especially was the bottle of Croatian brandy left on the sideboard. I kept to the unspoken agreement to have just one tot and leave the rest for the next tenants. (That wasn't too difficult, as the brandy wasn't a patch on my uncle's homemade firewater. But you get my point.)

Sometimes you have to think creatively. A flat I rented in Corsica had fantastic views of the sea and the mountains from the balcony, but no table. That made eating out there a bit awkward. Luckily someone had dumped a load of small dusty café tables just around the corner, with no obvious owner in sight. Surely they wouldn't mind if I borrowed a table for the week. I returned the table at the end of my stay, but I did make a point of telling the tour operator that the owner really should provide one himself.

There are times, though, when luck isn't on your side. A couple of winters ago I was in Italy staying in a hotel's new self-catering annex, which was considerably larger than a standard hotel room. In exchange for the space I got a completely empty kitchen. Not a cup, nor a spoon – just empty cupboards. I had my travel kettle and mini espresso pot (well, I was in Italy) but I pleaded with the manager to lend me some cups and cutlery from the restaurant. Nothing doing. I bought cups and nicked some teaspoons from a nearby café. (That's two admissions of theft in one blog.) I left with a bitter feeling and was furious that the manager didn't think anything was wrong about not letting guests know about the state of the accommodation. "That's what happens in Italy," he told me. "Everyone brings their own things." That's utter rubbish and completely at odds with my own experiences of self-catering in Italy. A word of advice: don't rely on the hotel's website to tell you what's in the kitchen. Ask beforehand.


  1. Renting is a good option but there's something better than that. By the way, if you think it's time to have your own place in Nottingham, why not try this great option of rent to own homes. Good luck in everything!

  2. Thank you for sharing. I identify with some of these things.

    ps. I always travel with my own pillow, towel and once, certain there would only be a mug (I hate mugs) my own china cup and saucer.

    Lo - there was a cup and saucer in the room!

  3. There are few trips I'll take nowadays without my little travel kettle. Sounds a bit sad but true.

  4. I take my own teabags and a scented candle. If travelling by car I take my own pillow - doesn't anyone who rents holiday homes ever read in bed?
    It makes me feel like a cross between a xenophobic Brit and Gwyneth Paltrow, but what the hell.

  5. Hi Mary

    Great post. Thanks for mentioning us. What interesting experiences - and aren't you resourceful?!

    We've had the full scope of experiences so far on the project this year, from properties which have been fitted out with every conceivable thing you could imagine to a property that was clearly little more than an investment place with the very basic of amenities, although surprisingly he had a nice TV.

    You are so right, the little things do make a difference. You might be interested in this post if you missed it: http://grantourismotravels.com/2010/05/19/with-holiday-rentals-the-little-things-make-a-difference/

    And also this one on how we selected our properties:

    Next week we're going to do a post reflecting on our 6 months in holiday rentals with loads of tips based on our experience, so I'll link back to this piece of yours then.

    P.S. Wish we were still 'young' and the job was 'glamorous'. Nice thoughts.

  6. Oh, I should add:

    We don't take kettles, towels, pillows or the like with us (this is our 5th year on the road and our bags already weigh enough as it is with all the technology).

    But like Victoria we always have a stash of tea-bags and we carry incense instead of scented candles. I carry a bottle opener and cocktail maker. Seriously. And my husband Terence, the cook in our family, has his own kitchen kit: a good knife, a knife sharpener, a non-stick spatula and pastry brush, and a few other bits and pieces.

  7. Thanks for your comments, Lara. I can't believe you're already halfway through your Gran Tourismo travels. I imagine that if you've already spent six months away from home, you're more used to living without certain things than someone who leaves their home for a week or so at a time – though I definitely relate to Terence's mini kitchen kit. Very sensible.