by Jane Canaway
Published in The Senior Traveller,
As soon as the boys discovered the apple loft they knew it had to be their room: they were already embarked on a game of pirates before the adults had finished carrying a week’s worth of groceries into the enormous, flag-stoned kitchen (with even larger scullery).
That left young Aurelie with the stunning bay-windowed room – and a four-poster bed – all to herself. For a six-year-old with an overactive imagination, it was a week of bliss as we played at being Lord of The Manor.
For many Australians, a visit to Europe involves catching up with family. If you have a large, spread-out mob and limited time, then renting a large house to share is a good option.
Britain has a generous supply of such homes for rent, many in splendid locations where you will never be short of things to do, places to go and things to see.
If you want something truly secluded, there are whole islands you can rent, including a fort built during the Napoeonic wars to defend Portsmouth. That costs more than $50,000 a week, but it does offer a unique base for sailors visiting for Cowes Week.
Alternatively, for the cost of a fairly average 2-3 bedroom beach house in Australia, 12 of you can enjoy a week in a mediaeval tower near Kilkenny, Ireland.
There are plenty of options elsewhere, too: Swedish Lapland, Madeira, Poland, Hungary, Czech republic, Turkey, Morocco, Cyprus, Phuket, South Africa, British Virgin Islands, USA, Vanuatu – as well as yurt holidays, ski chalets, eco-friendly homes and tree houses.
Where to start
Location and size will narrow your search quite quickly, and budget will kick in soon afterwards. After that it’s just fine-tuning and availability.
Holiday Lettings (http://www.holidaylettings.co.uk/rentals/richmond/62565) is part of the TripAdvisor network so feedback is available from previous guests. Within the UK, some areas naturally attract premium rates; even the cheapest rate for one of the Cotswold homes listed was more than the peak-season rate for a similar property close to three stunning National Parks in the Yorkshire Dales.
The Beautiful House Co. specializes in luxury rentals and includes on its books the stunning Aldourie Castle beside Loch Ness. With its award-winning renovation, it offers top-end elegance with all the trimmings: 15 individually styled bedrooms (nine with en suites) and use of the 500-acre estate from about $45,000 a week. Four more cottages, catering, activities and full house staff are optional extras.
For more affordable grandeur, Plas Glansevin, a Georgian Grade 2 listed building on 10 acres in Wales can accommodate up to 62 guests. It includes wood-fired sauna, outdoor plunge pool, and has wheelchair access. Weekly rates range from $5800 to $8650.
One of the largest properties on the books at Big Holiday House is Park Hall, a Grade 2 listed Queen Anne home on a 132 acres that can sleep 45 in the main house plus 90 in annexes and cottages. For those planning a large wedding, it has a dining capacity of 160.
By the time you’ve searched through a few websites, you’ll be thinking a mediaeval tower is fairly commonplace.
From luxury to activity
Apart from the size, style and price variation of the many homes on offer – everything from grand Scottish Castles, through converted barns to modern luxury homes – you can also create a short-list of accommodation by searching for features or activities.
Think Hay on Wye for literary types, the Isle of Skye for sea kayaking, Yorkshire and other moors for walking, biking and white-water rafting, Aintree for the Grand National, Newquay for surfing, Lyme Regis for fossil hunting and South Wales for cliff jumping.
Some of the grander homes offer huntin’, shootin’ and fishin’ among their country pursuits. BYO green wellies.
For less energetic types, extras include spa treatments, full catering, a dedicated chef, chauffeur or a maid. At least one eco-farm provides its own organic produce and vegetarian catering.
The YHA also owns a series of large houses, most fitted with commercial-sized kitchen and many offering access to outdoor activities.
Holiday Castle Rentals includes the 13th century, moated Consall Castle in its list of properties with disabled facilities, while on a number of ‘quirky’ lists is the Elizabethan Stonnwall Manor in Somerset, which boasts a themed underground bomb shelter (presumably added post-1604).
However, there are some limits, too.
? Only some accept pets
? Many are booked out nine months ahead
? School holidays can mean double rates
? Some refuse bookings for stag and hen parties
? Not all websites provide details of disabled facilities
? Shops are sometimes half an hour or more away
? Nearly ALL will ask for a good housekeeping deposit to cover any breakages or damage; the bigger the home and list of antiques, the bigger the deposit.
With so many interesting places to stay, it’s worth making up with long-lost family (or friends) to make the most of our good exchange rate and try some.
Other websites include: