“Where are we going this time?” “We” is my sister and her husband, and me and my husband. “We” all agreed we had made such a great foursome on our first venture together that henceforth it was all for one and one for all. I spoke up and offered an item from my bucket list: in big, black, bold letters at the top – Villa in Southern France.
Southern France – land of breathtaking views, fast cars on the Grand Corniche, palm trees lining the Promenade des Anglais, mediaeval villages atop rocky outcrops, and seaside resort towns backed by the grandeur of the Pyrenees; steeped in Van Gogh and Cezanne, rich with Roman ruins, a patisserie or boulangerie on every corner and free-flowing, palatable French wines. We agreed on southern France. Now to find a villa.
My sister and I hit the ground running, fingers skimming the keyboard, surfing for our villa in the sun. Time for one of our planning meetings – delightful get-togethers brimming with travel talk of far-away places, of things to do, places to see, sites not to miss. Renting an apartment or house is termed ‘self-catering” and there is a plethora of holiday rental sites on the internet offering palatial and expensive for the rich and famous down to quaint and cozy for the less affluent and unknown. We have used holiday-rentals.co.uk, which is now HomeAway.co.uk, and holidaylettings.co.uk. One of us, I’m not sure which, got distracted by enchanting descriptions of rentals, not in Provence but in Tuscany, and came to the planning meeting ready to sneak in a location or two and stir the pot. Provence or Tuscany? Tuscany or Provence? Then a voice piped up, “We could do both.” And so we did.
Our plan began to take shape: two weeks in France followed by two weeks in Italy. We decided on October, for a few reasons. Our 2002 trip through the Mediterranean in October had yielded temperatures in the 20’sC, sun and little rain; October was off-season meaning lower rates; and October meant fewer tourists, smaller crowds, and shorter line-ups. I was responsible for finding French accommodation, while Sister surfed for lodgings in Italy. Reviewing the prices at the time, eight years ago, we determined it should be possible to find accommodations for four adults in the $450 to $600 range, per week. But not in Provence; Provence was a little too rich for us. I relocated our search a few miles westward, to the Languedoc-Roussillon area. Our target became $500; this would work out to $35 per couple per night. Yes. Really.
For our second planning meeting Nancy and I were armed with copious notes and descriptions of villas, old stone houses, city apartments, converted barns, and rural abodes. We quickly realized we needed to set some parameters to help us prioritize our selections. We decided on two bedrooms, linens to be provided (which is not always the case), an equipped kitchen, a terrace, and washer and dryer. We gradually zeroed in and met our target of $500 in both locations.
The next decision was whether or not to rent a car – for a day or two here and there, for the duration, or not at all and rely on local transport. This is the huge benefit of travelling with another couple – splitting joint costs down the middle is equal to 50% off – 50% off our vehicle rental, our gas, and our accommodations.
Both of our selected locations were in small towns – tiny in the case of Tuscany – and local transport was either spotty or non-existent so we opted to rent a car for the duration. An excellent decision for the freedom it provided to come and go as we pleased, to hit the roads less travelled, to pull off for a boot lunch, to veer off down shaded lanes, and narrow passages just to see where they went – so many opportunities for happy happenstance.
For smaller expenditures, including the gas and groceries, we pooled our money in a kitty. By each putting in an equal amount we saved ourselves the daily hassles of determining who owed whom for what and how much. When the kitty was empty, we added more.
So, 50% off major expenditures! But there could be a downside. A friend of mine told me she didn’t know anyone, family or friend, with whom she would consider spending a whole month. While it’s not necessary to spend every waking moment together a number of decisions need to be made as a foursome – where and when to go, sites and activities of interest, quality and location of accommodations, on down to who gets which bedroom and what to serve for supper. What you don’t want to do is ruin a friendship. To give a break the car could be shared – one couple exploring locally while the other takes the car little farther a field. We are fortunate that the four of us get along very well and we didn’t feel a need to separate our activities. We pretty much lived in each other’s pockets for a month – we ate together, we drove together, we toured together, we shopped together.
A side benefit for which there is no price tag is the ability to talk about our vacation, to reminisce, rehash, repeat stories over and over, drag out photographs and not bore our listeners. We are each others audience in perpetuity. We have relived our favourite moments over and over, never tiring of the memories and the laughter.
I went on-line today to see what the prices are like now and I found a number of rentals still within that price range for that time of year. In fact I found one that is so good …. I’m in trouble now.