Monday, 29 August 2011

Villa Rental, The Do’s And Don’ts of booking a villa

Villa rental as opposed to hotel is a question that usually starts to be discussed as soon as the embers of Christmas and the effects festivities over indulgence are coming to an end.  But once you have decided on villa rental, what should be your criteria to find what you want?

The first thing to consider is whether to drive of fly.  If you fly then of course you are much more restricted in what you can take with you, whereas if you take the car there is any amount of extra stuff you can take with you, whether you need it or not.

First, if you are going somewhere exotic, although that is unlikely when you are driving, you need to check if any inoculations are required.  Booking the ferry or tunnel is also important to do reasonably soon after you have booked the property, as prices are lower in the winter even if booking for a peak week.

Once you have researched and booked the villa rental you want, the first thing to check is how to get there.  Satellite navigation is a boon, but some of the more obscure parts of Europe may not yet been on tom-tom or google maps, so ensure you have a decent paper map with you.

So all the preparation is done, and you are on your way. You need to check what time you can get in to the villa you have rented.  This is normally 4pm but can vary.  It is as well to ask if there is a welcome pack provided, or whether you need to schedule a stop at the nearest supermarket.  Checking where this is and opening times is also worthwhile, many a holiday maker has underestimated the time needed to get to somewhere on a Saturday afternoon, and then discover that all the shops are shut on a Sunday.

Once there, and settled, it is too late to decide that there are not enough bedrooms, or that granny has to go up three flights of stairs, so be sure of the configuration of the villa before you set out and that it conforms to the size of your family! Good Villa Rental Agencies generally have lots of photographs of each villa on their web site with details of each room of the villa you are renting. If they don’t, ask yourself why?

Research into the local area before departure is always worthwhile.   Knowing where the best beaches are, restaurants, places of interest and for the kids, the nearest amusement parks are all tasks that can be undertaken ahead of departure.

 Once in the villa, you need to know where the electricity switch is and read about the facilities provided.  Many don't bother and then when a fuse trips in the night are unable to fix the problem.

 Leave some time to clean up.  Most villa rental companies ask you to leave the property in the state that you found it. Normally a deposit will be taken to be held against damages and breakages that might occur, so don't mistreat the place and if you do break something expect to pay to replace it although most companies will not charge for the odd glass or plate.

This all comes down to choosing the right villa, which in most cases is down to talking directly to the owner or the agency looking after the house.  Most agencies know the houses that they are renting and can usually alert you to facts that you had not considered, such as wheelchair access or Granny upstairs as I have mentioned.  But discovering in advance what is around the house, is it on a main road for instance, and where are the nearest local shops and restaurants,  is all vital knowledge and the villa rental agency are usually only too happy to point out the pitfalls and suggest possible entertainments that you had not considered.

Overall then, it is best book a villa through an agent that speaks your language, better still if you are English, find an agent that is English, then nothing can get lost in translation.  But most of all enjoy your selves!

Monday, 28 March 2011

Valbonne - The best street market in France.

Valbonne has the most fantastic Provencal market which takes place on a Friday morning and is a focal point for the villages and its inhabitants. Then on the first Sunday of each month there is an antiques market which is well worth a visit.

The Friday market takes place right through this picturesque village. 12th century un spoilt facades are the feature of this bustling lively village. There is a large parking area to the west of the village with a short walk across a new square, which also has some parking but it is often difficult to find a place. Even before you get to the end of the new square (going past the best fruit and vegetable shop I have ever seen, but they know how to charge!), the stalls begin before you go down the stairs past Cafe Latin, and before reaching the old village proper.

A fruit market in the new part of Valbonne village.
Once across the road into the ancient centre, you will find stalls littering the main drag and many of the tiny cobbled side streets which crisscross this old village. The main drag opens up into the central square, which is surrounded by half a dozen restaurants and cafe's which are busy at all times of the year but especially the Friday market days.

One can find a wide range of jewellery, much local produce with many seasonal items, ranging in fruit and vegetable terms from peaches, figs, grapes, walnuts, carrots, fennel, pate, bread, mirabelle plums, strawberries raspberries and mushrooms of many types depending on the season I have even seen truffles for sale in season.

Much local produce is available, one often finds a wine producer and a purveyor of cheeses alongside ceramics and local glassware and some other locally crafted items. The normal market offerings of clothing, footwear and sunglasses are inevitably well covered, but there is also a knife maker, lines and tablecloths for sale plus hand carved wooden items.

The village is a perfect way to set up your day. A wander around the market can take over an hour to do properly, and then, with a thirst on board you can get a coffee, or something stronger such as a pastis or a glass of rose and sit and watch the market life go on whilst you people watch or read a paper. There are several news agents in the village, all stocking a good range of English speaking newspapers.

Lunch is of course eminently possible, indeed some would say necessary. A visitor to this region will almost inevitably be aware of the Provencal, indeed French reverence for lunch. Peter Maile, author of "A Year In Provence" when asked to describe Provence on one word said "lunch"

On the first Sunday of each month, a very different market takes place, the Antiques market. It ids a colourful affair with hundreds of stands, with an incredible array of items offered for sale, ranging from coins and old jewelry through ceramics, glassware, furniture, in fact very little of interest an antique hound will not be found here. This market, unlike the Friday weekly markets, continues throughout the day and is slightly less frenetic than its weekly counterpart.

There is a hotel in the centre of the village which is quite quirky but can be very noisy in the evenings, especially in the summer so many people opt to stay in a private villa. These can be rented very easily and Valbonne is a brilliant springboard to visit other villages in the area or take a trip down to the beaches of Cannes or in winter to drive up the mountain for a days skiing.

Easily reached from Junction 42 or 44 of the A8 motorway and 20 minutes drive to Nice airport, this is a wonderful base to enjoy a visit to the area.

Friday, 18 March 2011

Luxurious holiday villas and other tourist attractions in Eze

The Provencal village of Eze is a stunning location clinging to a hill on the coast just to the east of Nice in the Cote d'Azur in the south of France. It is the most beautiful place, with tiny alleyways and cobbled streets from the 12th century and even earlier combined with stunning views, great restaurants and loads of local craft stores, this is a visitors delight and I mention restaurants, and there are several but they know how to charge, perhaps not surprising given the astonishing situation, thousands feel up above an almost sheer drop into the Mediterranean. Recently I popped into the Chevre d'Or in Eze an excellent restaurant apparently, but I stopped only for a beer and a glass of champagne for the wife, for which I was charged the princely sum of 48 Euros, a bit steep for a couple of drinks, despite the position!

Eze seems full of flowers, fountains, archways and tiny nooks and crannies, all very well preserved (like some of its inhabitants, the bandU2 all have houses in the area and co-own a restaurant in the village). There are also leafy squares and cafe's to while away an hour drinking a glass of the local rose or a glass of pastis, or to relax over lunch, but beware the prices wherever there is a view!

Below the village there is the beach of Eze, but it takes about 45 minutes to walk down the very steep path to the beach, The path is called the Frederick Nietzsche path because he wrote the final part of his "Thus Spoke Zarathustra" whilst in Eze. The path is not conducive to anyone except the very fit, especially if you are considering walking up again which will take you considerably longer than it takes to walk down, in fact you should treat Eze beach as an entirely different location to Eze village as it is 400 metres above sea level!.

There are fantastic gardens open to the public, with a lot of local species and a number of tropical species such as bananas, carob trees, oranges date palms and lemon trees all growing wild, which is a testament to the mild winter climate herewith small paths running around the plot, and all in sight of the wonderful blue sea.

Above the village is a huge nature reserve called the "maison de La Nature" literally the house of nature through which you can walk and again admire the stunning scenery.

Eze village has a railway station that can take you into Nice or on to Cannes to the west or through to Monte Carlo and Italy, as Eze is only about a dozen miles from both Monaco and the Italian border, so a short hop on the train will enable you to collect those smelly Italian cheeses or that special olive oil.

Villa Syroc

Straying in Exe is possible, but in the big hotels can be a very expensive proposition. Many nowadays look to rent a private villa in the area, because you are almost guaranteed great views and some have swimming pools. These are more prevalent than you might think, and many are available all year around. Talk to one of the several agencies in the area which specialise in rental accommodation as they will be certain to find you something that you like which suits your budget.

Getting to Eze is simple. Nice airport is just 15 minutes drive away and flights go to many destinations. You can reach just about any capital city in Europe or at least eight airports in Britain including all 4 London airports. A car would be useful, but not entirely necessary, as you can get a taxi from the airport and the train can take the strain!