Vacation Houses in Europe
Europeans live daily life differently than we do in North America and their vacation houses reflect that. The major differences that I have noticed are outlined here.
Experience Daily Life in a Historic Building
Vacation rentals in Europe are often in historic buildings. A vacation rental may be an old stone outbuilding on a farm, an apartment in the wing of an Italian villa or English manor house, a row house in a village or an historic apartment in the center of Paris, Rome or London. These are wonderful living experiences but there are downsides.
- Where is the elevator? When renting an apartment in a town or city do not assume there will be an elevator. Many of these buildings were built before elevators were common and cannot be retrofitted. If you have rented a house you may have to climb stairs to reach the house from the nearest street.
We once rented a ground floor apartment in a house in Locarno, Switzerland. The house was on a steep hillside above the town and there were over 200 stairs to climb to get to the house (not mentioned in the description). We were in good shape by the end of that week.
- More stairs? If you have mobility issues ask about stairs within the vacation rental. Many European houses have steep, narrow staircases between floors.
- Second is first? Now is a good time to mention that Europeans count floors in a building differently than we do in North America. They start with the ground floor (zero). The next floor up is the first floor (Americans would call this the second floor) and so on.
- Odd Room Layouts. It is not easy to renovate these old buildings and some areas have strict codes that do not allow owners to make many changes to the inside or the outside, so you can end up with illogical house designs. The kitchen may be tucked in under a staircase. You may have to walk through one bedroom to get to the other one (not ideal for two couples sharing but fine for families).
We once stayed in a vacation rental where the bathtub was tucked into a corner under a staircase. You could not stand up in the bathtub and had to bend down and sort of roll into the tub.
- Low doorways and ceilings. People were shorter 200 years ago so doorways and ceilings were lower. Either that or the buildings have settled over the years. Whatever, you may have to duck to get into the house.
- Not Enough Bathrooms. Forget about an en suite bathroom for every bedroom unless you are renting a luxury villa.
- Why do I have to park in such a tiny spot? Europeans typically drive smaller cars than we do in North America and many towns and villages were built before cars existed, so there may not be a parking space or it may be small.
For me half of the fun of vacations in Europe is staying in historic buildings so I try to be forgiving about small rooms, low ceilings and odd layouts. We have stayed in cottages where I could touch the ceiling and had to duck to get through a doorway, or where the bedroom was just a bit larger than the double bed in it. We enjoyed these cottages but it is good to know what to expect before you arrive.
Maybe Not All the Mod Cons
Read the vacation rental descriptions carefully to see what mod cons (modern conveniences) they have or ask the agency/owner.
- Air conditioning. Most European vacation rentals do not have air conditioning; however homes are designed to stay cool without it. The great thing about old stone houses is that the thick walls act as a natural coolant. Many houses are positioned on hills to catch breezes and often you will have a covered patio or shady spot where you can dine outside. Shutters block the sun during the hottest part of the day. If you are going to southern Europe in the summer, staying in a place with a swimming pool gives you a way of cooling off in the hottest part of the day.
- Window screens. Many homes in Europe, particularly in Italy, lack window screens. This means the lovely view is unimpeded but also allows critters to fly and crawl on in.
Some people like to burn mosquito coils in the house at night but I do not use them or bug sprays because of the chemicals in them.
- My clothes are washed, now where is that dryer? Many vacation rentals in Europe have a washing machine but only occasionally will you find a dryer. (Dryers are more common in the United Kingdom). There will always be somewhere to hang clothes, either on an outside line or indoors on a drying rack.
- Kitchen appliances. Don't assume there will be a dishwasher or a microwave. They are not as popular in Europe as in North America. The refrigerator may be much smaller than you are used to at home and there may not be ice cube trays, let alone an ice maker. Many people in Europe shop daily so do not need a large fridge. Ice is not as commonly used in drinks as it is in the US. Many vacation rentals do not have an oven. Some may have small kitchens with only a two-burner stovetop.
- Kitchen gadgets. Kitchens are equipped differently in each country, according to their cuisine. In England you will always find a toaster and a tea kettle but you won't find these in Italy. However in Italy you will have a nice espresso pot. You get the kitchen basics but don't expect a micro plane grater or santoku knife.
I travel with a couple of good knives and wooden spoons because the ones in vacation rentals may not be adequate.
- What is that low-down sink like thing in the bathroom? It is a bidet and you will find them in most European bathrooms but not usually in the United Kingdom. It is for washing your butt. :)
- This bed is small! Most vacation rentals have a double bed or two singles. You may get lucky and find a Queen-size bed, which they call a King, but you will hardly ever find an American King unless it is just two singles pushed together. Read more about the sizes of beds below.
- Entertainment. Don't assume that the television gets English-language stations. There is usually a stereo but it may be small.
- Is there a phone? Because of the cost of land lines and the rise in cell phone usage it is rare to find a vacation rental equipped with a telephone. You can easily buy or rent a cell phone.
- Expect the unexpected. Every home has a quirk or two. Light bulbs may blow, the radiator may click, some of the furniture may not be perfect. It is easier to find something not working in a house than in a small hotel room because there are more things to maintain. Hunt around - there is probably a stash of light bulbs somewhere. Report any serious problems to the local contact.
Beds (Why a King is Really a Queen)
Most vacation rentals in Europe have "double" or "single" beds. Some may have a King bed, but their King is nearly the same size as our Queen. You rarely find a US King sized bed. The chart below shows the sizing and name differences (sizes in inches, width by length).
39 x 75 in
36 x 75 in (90x190cm)
36 x 78 in (90x200cm)
54 x 75 in
54 x 75 in (135x190cm)
55 x 78 in (140x200cm)
60 x 80 in
King (5 foot bed)
60 x 78 in (150x200cm)
63 x 78 in (160x200cm)
76 x 80 in
72 x 78 in (180x200cm)
Read more: What, No Queen? (Slow Travels)
Internet Access (Broadband)
Some vacation rentals offer high speed Internet access (broadband) but most do not. If you travel with a computer and need to go online these are the options:
- Find a vacation rental with Internet access.
- Find a vacation rental that gets cell phone reception and use your cell phone as a modem (you need a data plan to do this).
- Find a vacation rental with a phone that you can use to go online via dial up (slow but works fine for email). There are free dial up ISPs in Europe.
- Go online at an Internet Cafe (or try the public library).
Bringing North American Electronics to Europe
Household electricity (voltage) is different in North America and Europe (US/Canada is 120V, Europe is 220-230V and UK is 230-240V).
- Most notebook computers, digital cameras and cell phones work in both North American and Europe (check the item - it should say "Input 100V-240V AC 50/60Hz").
- Most North American hair dryers, electric razors, etc. will not work in Europe. You can bring a voltage adapter, purchase travel versions which will work in Europe or just leave them at home.
Because plugs are a different shape in the United Kingdom and in Europe you need a plug adapter to make our North American plug fit into the European socket.
Note that North American DVDs will not play in European DVD players unless they are set up for both regions.
Differences by Country
Some countries have more differences (e.g. you will never find a clothes dryer in Italy) and those country-specific things are described in each country section.
- Read more about vacation rentals in Italy
- Read more about vacation rentals in France
- Read more about vacation rentals in England
NEXT: Agency or Rent-by-Owner?