Last summer we traveled to France with our 3 kids. When you have a party of 5 it gets very expensive to stay in hotels. You might need 2 or 3 rooms and France is not cheap. Renting a place is a great idea to save money. We were lucky enough to rent two great places in France, one in Aix-en-Provence and the other in Biarritz. I will describe my experiences with apartments. One was rented from Airbnb and the other from Home Away.
Because we traveling in the south of France in August, the inventory of available places was low. I searched both Airbnb and Home Away to look for places where we were going and I chose based on availability, price and ratings. Both sites allow previous users to give a review which was very helpful. I found that both owners were very attentive and contacted me on several occasions to make sure we knew what was going on. The disadvantage is that neither host spoke very good English but I could communicate with them with my broken French and when we needed more I got my son involved. We were visiting France because he had served his 2 year LDS mission there.
Another disadvantage of dealing with hosts is that you agree on a time to get the keys and you must be there at that time. It is not like a hotel that you can come at any time. I felt horrible that we were late for the first one but she sent her daughter who graciously waited for us. The traffic had been horrible getting to Aix. The other disadvantage is that you usually do not have parking available so you have to find a space or a parking garage. It was not a problem in Aix but it was very hard in Biarritz.
For both sites you have the option of paying using their online portal (recommended) or paying the owner directly. I had reserved an apartment through Home Away that the owners required me to give them €1000 in cash as a deposit. I did not feel comfortable with that so I cancelled it. The owners took a long time refunding my payment, which took a bit of a threat on my part to make them do it immediately. That is one important thing about renting from these sites, you must read the terms for each landlord. Some allow you to cancel within 48 hours, while others required 14 days. Some charge for cleaning, while others require you to clean the apartment. Some offer sheets and towels, while others may not. Read carefully what you are getting and what is expected from you.
I found that both places had all the things they had advertised in their listings, towels, sheets, pillows, kitchen stuff. They even had soap and shampoo and one had everything else too. One thing to note is that in Europe many people rent out their houses when they go on vacation so you get everything a house has. That is what happened to us in the apartment in Aix, she was going out of town and let us stay so she could help pay for her trip. Smart.
Our apartment in Aix was fabulous. It was what you think of when you think of France. It was on the top floor of a 17th century building so we had to climb spiral staircases. While it seems difficult I have to admit it was romantic. (That is another thing to consider when renting!!) The building was in a lively square but it was so quiet. We had a huge living room with a dining table, a kitchen with a table, washer and dryer, 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, 1 WC (very French that they are separate) and all the amenities of a house. It didn’t have air conditioning but we had fans in the rooms and the open windows let in a nice breeze. While we could hear the people downstairs in the evening, when it was time to sleep it was quiet and all the rooms faced the back, which had a view of the other tile roofed buildings. This apartment cost us about what 1 hotel room would have cost. It was the best decision we made and it was such a good experience that my kids did not want to leave. I enjoyed every morning going down the spiral staircase to buy some fresh baguettes, I enjoyed seeing the restaurants set up their tables, I even enjoyed having a set time to take out the garbage. It was a cultural experience. I allowed me to be French for a few days and I loved it.
I rented it from Aibnb and I have to say this was an excellent experience. The apartment was as described, the owner was so lovely and great to work with and the price was excellent.
Here is a video walk thru of the apartment.
Our second apartment rental in France was in the resort town of Biarritz. We were very lucky to find anything there in August.
At first it was a bit confusing finding this place. It is a basement apartment so the entrance is around the corner from the main address. Once again you have to be at the apartment at the agreed time and we were early so we had to wait.
This is strictly a rental apartment so it did not have all the extras the other apartment had but it had all the things you needed. They provided us with 4 towels and sheets for our beds. We had to buy a beach towel. But previous guests must have left some things behind which we were able to enjoy, such as sun screen. This apartment was about 1/2 mile from the famous Plage de la Cote Basque. There were restaurants about a block away, as well as a lovely boulangerie. We were able to park in front of the garage of the building since the apartment owner used it for storage, otherwise parking would have been a nightmare.
Overall it would say this was an excellent choice for a resort town. We got a good price, good location and all the basic amenities for a beach apartment. The only thing I would say that could be improved would be parking but that is really beyond the control of the owner.
We are going to Paris next week and New Zealand in May. I looked for places to rent but found that sometimes renting an apartment for two can be almost as expensive as staying in a hotel if you can find a good deal in a bundle. So I didn’t have any luck. I was going to rent a place in Auckland but decided that I wanted to get into a place as soon as I got into town rather than wait for it to be available. You have to decide what is best for your situation. I know I will look for rental opportunities when I travel with my family because it is the best way to save money. I will also look for Airbnb rooms if I need to stay in a place for a short period of time as they are often cheaper than hotels.
My son has had great luck renting rooms on Airbnb. He has stayed in Madrid, London and Lisbon. All times the owners were friendly and provided what they advertised. The lady in Madrid even drove him to a store so he could buy a shirt because he had forgotten his in France.
I have found that all the places our family has used have been impeccably clean and the owners great to work with. The only problem I had was getting a refund from the Home Away owner and I didn’t get any assistance from the site. But I was able to get my refund after all. I believe if they hadn’t refunded me the site would cover it as they have guarantees.
Give airbnb a try. Give Home Away a try. There are other sites that also provide vacation rentals.