Tag Archives: villa rentals

Grace Bay, Turks and Caicos

What Not to Do in the Caribbean

Making the most of your Caribbean vacation means knowing where to find the hidden gems. It also means knowing what to skip and why. So we asked the Caribbean travel specialists on Wendy’s WOW List to share their tips for avoiding mistakes—what’s overrated, overpriced, or just not a smart move—in the Caribbean.

Hitting the beach? Don’t choose the wrong islands.

If beach bliss is your No. 1 goal, steer clear of Dominica, Saba, and Montserrat. They have plenty of charms, but are not known for their beaches.

Instead: While you can find inviting stretches of sand just about anywhere, the islands most famous for their beaches are what some call the coral islands: the Turks and Caicos, the Bahamas (Eleuthera, Harbour Island, and the Exumas are among the favorites), and Anguilla. These are all basically flat and scrubby with the quintessential powdery white sand and crystal-clear water that the Caribbean is famed for.

Read our Insider’s Guide to the Finding the Perfect Caribbean Island Resort, and reach out to Wendy to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

Planning to scuba dive? Don’t get stuck with the cruise crowds.

Cozumel and Grand Cayman can get overrun with passengers from the giant cruise ships that call there. The only way to avoid the cruise crowds is to dive at off-peak times or to go with a dive operator who knows the secret spots.

Instead: In Cozumel, Palancar Reef is about an hour’s boat ride from town, each way. If you stay at the Iberostar Cozumel you will be able to sleep in, then have a cup of coffee while others are “commuting,” saving you two hours per two tank! — Meg Austin, Wendy’s Trusted Travel Expert for Scuba Diving in the Caribbean

Read our Insider’s Guide to Scuba Diving in the Caribbean and the Bahamas, and reach out to Wendy to find the right travel planner for your next trip.

Renting on St. Barts? Don’t book a cook.

St. Barts has some of the best rental villas in the Caribbean, as well as some of the best restaurants. So don’t spend your money on a private chef the way you might if you’re renting on, say, Jamaica or Barbados.

Instead: Splurge on an in-villa massage. A number of villas have rooms or nooks designated specifically for spa treatments. In the late afternoon, getting a rubdown in a shady poolside cabana is the ultimate indulgence. —Peg Walsh, Wendy’s Trusted Travel Expert for St. Barts Villas

Read Peg’s Insider’s Guide to St. Barts Villa Vacations, and reach out to her through our site to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

Shopping in Bermuda? Don’t waste time in Hamilton’s generic shops.

Shopping in Hamilton, once a highlight, is no more. Although the storefronts nicely reflect the architecture of Bermuda, their merchandise decidedly does not; most is what you’ll find in the United States.

Instead: One exception is the Island Shop, with its colorfully hand-painted housewares. Owner Barbara Finsness has even brought back the “Bermuda bag”—a small purse with wooden handles that’s a relic of the past.

Read our Insider’s Guide to Bermuda, and reach out to Wendy to find the right travel planner for your next trip.

Looking to experience the best of the Riviera Maya? Skip the famous Xel-Ha.

Xel-Ha bills itself as a “natural aquarium” for ecotourists to swim and snorkel in, but it has nothing to do with the appreciation of nature. All of the coral in the lagoon is dead, and there are virtually no fish; it’s basically now a giant swimming pool stuffed with tourists and surrounded by tacky gift shops, restaurants, and bars.

Instead: Take the ferry to Cozumel on a day when no cruise ships are in port (have your concierge call the “Capitania de Puerto” to check: 52-987-872-2409). The boat trip—about $15 for adults, $10 for kids—gives you incredible views of the coast, the Caribbean, and the reefs around Cozumel. Once ashore, head to Pescadería San Carlos for some tasty ceviche. —Zach Rabinor, Wendy’s Trusted Travel Expert for Mexico

Read Zach’s Insider’s Guide to the Riviera Maya, and reach out to him through our site to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

Planning to do activities on a Sunday? Don’t be surprised when things are closed.

Many Caribbean islands are deeply rooted in the Christian faith, which means Sunday sees closures of attractions, shops, and even restaurants.

Instead: Pack your own pool float (because while some resorts might have a couple of floats for the pool, most don’t supply them for the ocean) and hit the beach. Depending on the island, consider venturing from your resort to a public beach to hang with the locals: On St. Barts, for instance, the public beaches (especially Gouverneur and Saline Beach) are postcard-perfect.

Read our Insider’s Guide to the Best and Worst of the Caribbean, and reach out to Wendy to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

Don’t forget to take your passport—and check it

Check the expiration date on your passport—it gets risky when you get to the six-month mark. Most countries now require you to have a passport that will be valid for at least three to six months from the time you travel or they won’t admit you—not a nice surprise at the check-in counter!

What are some of your own Caribbean travel don’ts? Leave your suggestions in the comments below.

Be a smarter traveler: Use Wendy’s WOW List to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

Dining Pergola Ca di Pesa Italy villa

Rent A Villa In Italy For the Whole Family

Poolside and deck view.
Poolside and deck view. Photo: Homebase Abroad
countryside view
Countryside view. Photo: Homebase Abroad
outdoor side view
Outdoor side view. Photo: Homebase Abroad
dining room
Dining room. Photo: Homebase Abroad
Master suite sitting area
Master suite sitting area. Photo: Homebase Abroad
outdoor cooking
outdoor dining
Outdoor dining. Photo: Homebase Abroad
Dining Pergola
Dining pergola. Photo: Homebase Abroad
Cantina detail
Cantina detail. Photo: Homebase Abroad
Cinema night
Cinema night. Photo: Homebase Abroad
cinema seating
Cinema seating. Photo: Homebase Abroad
Bellavista suite detail
Bellavista suite detail. Photo: Homebase Abroad
Brunello suite sitting room
Brunello suite sitting room. Photo: Homebase Abroad
Brunello suite sitting room
Brunello suite sitting room. Photo: Homebase Abroad
Living room view
Living room view. Photo: Homebase Abroad
interior view Ca di Pesa Italy villa
Interior view. Photo: Homebase Abroad
breakfast nook Ca di Pesa Italy villa
Breakfast nook. Photo: Homebase Abroad
children's TV room Ca di Pesa Italy villa
Children's TV room. Photo: Homebase Abroad
Italy villa ca di pesa jungle room
Jungle room. Photo: Homebase Abroad
countryside view
Countryside view. Photo: Homebase Abroad


Hi Wendy,

I’m looking for a really special villa in Tuscany for a family reunion for my mom and dad’s 40th wedding anniversary. There will be 18 of us, ranging in age from three years old to 82. We want a great setting with fabulous views, and also a good base for making day trips to the hill towns. Can you suggest a village or villa for us—or a good resource for securing a rental?
Thanks for any help you can offer,



You’ve got a challenge, Margaret: The dreamiest villas in Tuscany tend to be restored farmhouses or castles filled with things that can be treacherous to toddlers or grandmas or both: slippery centuries-old stone steps, open-hearth fireplaces, wobbly antique furniture, spiky medieval-style door latches, etc. I know this from personal experience, having rented an ancient Italian farmhouse with my own mom and kids. I went to sleep every night worried my two-year-old was going to trip over an antique, go flying into a door latch, catapult down the stairs, and end up in the fireplace.

But I do, in fact, have a place in mind for you. Several years ago, when I was in Tuscany I was shown a rambling property called Ca di Pesa that is actually an historic borgo (medieval village). I’ve remembered it since because it struck that unusual note of being sophisticated enough for adults (it’s got a wine cellar where you can dine by candelight, for instance, not to mention a cinema and a bocce court), while also kid-friendly enough for tots (it’s got plenty of flat lawn and a freshwater pool with a child-friendly gate). It’s in an ideal central location amid the vineyards and olive groves of Chianti, near the charming town of Panzano, halfway between Florence and Siena. And it fits 18.

Two caveats: First, a lot of people who rent homes in Tuscany like to be able to walk into town, and while it’s only a five-minute drive to town, it’s a 3.6-mile walk—and not on a charming country path but just on the regular road. Second, the price tag is high, so it helps if you can fill the house. (Maybe you can scrounge up two more family members to make your group 20?) The price in May is $22,500 for the week—which sounds exorbitant until you do the math and realize it translates to $161 per person per night and includes a concierge and a welcome dinner.

So it’s a splurge, for sure, but then again, you did ask for “really special.” And, to this day, whenever I fantasize about the Tuscan villa vacation I desperately need, I think back to Ca di Pesa and look through the photos above. My favorite touch in the house? The jungle fresco in one of the bedrooms.



Fireworks over London's Tower Bridge on New Year's Eve

The Rewards of Spending the Winter Holidays in London

London is magical during the holiday season. There’s a festive atmosphere everywhere you go, and the city is lively and vibrant with seasonal events, cultural goings-on and, of course, world-class shopping.

And, when you’ve got family in tow, there’s no better way to experience the holidays in London than by renting the right apartment. You can simultaneously feel at home and on vacation. You get more space for your dollar (remember that most London hotel rooms are tiny), a communal living area for family gatherings, and even a kitchen for preparing your own holiday feast.

To help you pull together a London winter getaway, here are ideas for things to do and where to stay, whether you’re bringing the whole family or just escaping for a romantic weekend alone.

What to Do

• Take a twirl around the Natural History Museum’s ice rink and then warm up with a hot cocoa. There are ice rinks across London, but this one is popular, as it’s only a short stroll from South Kensington.

• Check off a few people on your holiday shopping list with a visit to the beautiful Victoria & Albert Museum gift shop. They have an excellent Christmas display for a bit of artistic gift-giving inspiration.

• Join the crowds for holiday shopping on Oxford Street and Regent Street. The hustle and bustle combined with the glittering Christmas lights makes this a classic London experience during the holidays. Covent Garden and Carnaby Street are also extremely festive for shopping leading up to Christmas.

• Don’t forget the department stores! Get into the holiday spirit by visiting the holiday displays at Fortnum & Mason, Selfridges, Liberty and Harrods.

• November through the end of December, take a stroll along the Thames at the Southbank Winter Market. Get a glass of mulled wine and explore the wooden chalets selling gifts, sweets, and festive food and drinks.

Where to Stay

South Kensington is a top choice during the winter holidays, thanks to central location, excellent transport options, and great sights and dining. Walk to the ice rink at the Natural History Museum and spend a day visiting the sights along Museum Row. Shopping and the West End are just a hop, skip and jump away on the Tube or a bus. It’s a wonderful area for feeling like a local and enjoying cozy evenings in a comfortable home setting.

To find the right travel specialist for London apartments, reach out to Ask Wendy.

Be a smarter traveler: Follow Wendy Perrin on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

Villa di Torno, Lake Como

Yes, It’s Possible: A Villa Vacation That Keeps Every Member of the Family Happy

You already know the benefits of choosing a rental villa over a hotel for your family vacation: More space, more privacy, more local flavor, and—if your group is large enough to fill every room in the house—significant savings. What you might not know though, is just how much the property itself—its layout, location, amenities—will affect the group dynamic. So will decisions ranging from which activities you pre-plan to which type of car you rent to whether the fridge is already stocked when you arrive on a Sunday and the grocery stores are closed. As someone who has rented homes for multiple generations of my own family in locales from Tuscany to Jamaica, I am here to tell you that renting through an expert who will level with you about the pros and cons of the neighborhoods and homes at your destination is a priceless advantage.

Mara Solomon, my Trusted Travel Expert for large Italian villas (read her Insider’s Guide to Italian Villa Vacations) does even more than that. Part magician, part psychologist, she can predict potential conflicts within your group…and make them disappear via smart planning. Mara, who specializes in properties that have four or more bedrooms, has compiled 11 tips for a successful villa vacation, and they’re a must-read as you start to plan your summer villa trip:

1. Manage everyone’s expectations. Travel might be the ultimate test of relationships (besides politics according to my mother). We all do it differently and spend time and money according to our own priorities. Manage everyone’s expectations for time together and time apart, for planned activities versus kicking back, very early on. Use Skype or a similar tool to bring the relevant decision-makers together, hash out the basic structure of the holiday and get everyone on the same playing field. A well-structured villa vacation ensures an elder is not over-taxed, a sporting parent gets the exercise they seek, and the kids are well engaged.

2. Divvy up the work and establish authority. Group travel—whether an extended family or group of long-standing friends (with or without children)—does take planning and it is essential for each group to decide who is making the decisions. Then make sure everyone gets behind them and sticks to the agreed upon plan. It’s also important to decide how the planning work is being shared. One person, maybe two if they work well together, is best for spearheading the choice of villa, but there are other tasks. The wine enthusiast can be put in charge of provisioning wine for the house and selecting wineries to visit, for instance.

3. Determine what really matters to your group. If your first conversations are less focused and people are less than candid, that is ok. Listen closely and you will have the keys to success. One person may need nothing so much as a fabulous bathroom. Be sure you have a plan for mornings out walking or taking coffee up to your own balcony or terrace if you need alone time. Maybe your nuclear family runs at a different speed and needs an excursion without the entourage of in-laws and cousins. Americans are used to enjoying their freedom. Be sure to rent enough cars so someone can make a quick get-away if tension mounts.

4. Make the most of the intelligence and insight of the people who have seen the house and know the area. Villa travel is, by definition, different from any other form of travel. The point is to have space as well as time and experiences together. The house matters greatly, even if you are a get-up-and-go group. Sooner or later your paths will return you home. Get this figured out in the early stages. How? Talk to the person or people who have been there and know the house. The accumulated wisdom of their experience can mean you avoid any nasty surprises. We greatly appreciate a chance to share our knowledge and our talents with our clients. This is what we are paid to do and besides the villas themselves, it is what our clients most appreciate.

5. Build into the structure of your holiday as much service as you can afford. You may think you don’t want a full-time cook but we can say from 20 years travel experience cooking services in the house are the amenity our guests appreciate the most and derive the most value. Inevitably people cancel restaurant meals and stay home because the food is so good. And enjoying it all in the privacy of your own Villa in black tie or pajamas (as you prefer) is a priceless gift to share with people you love. Meal organizing, shopping, preparation and clean up is an every-day responsibility for most of us. It becomes a true vacation when you can be at home without the everyday responsibilities.

6. Plan organized group-wide events or activities. Creating joy-filled moments elevates a get-together to the status of life-long shared memory. An excursion of interest to everyone, a special meal with a well-chosen menu or some fun and easy activity local to your destination generates enthusiasm and excitement. But don’t overdo the planning. In Italy, as with so many destinations, the most transcendent moments are often unplanned, so you want to leave room for those as well.

7. Consider seriously the layout and amenities of the property you are selecting. Quality time for relaxing and playing together in various combinations is essential for successful villa travel. The point is to come together in different times and different ways. Where will you gather for apperitivi before dinner? Are there enough chairs? A friendly bocce competition makes great fun all week long and you can end with a tournament complete with prizes.

8. Staying in one place longer makes for a richer, more rewarding experience. One week is most always not quite enough. Ten days is much better but two weeks is really recommended. I know, you may be thinking people will be bored, but I encourage you to give it consideration. A two-week stay means you sink in and get to know the place, find yourself unwinding in ways you may have forgotten. Your group of teenage boys will be transforming a mound of potatoes into that night’s gnocchi. Maybe you find yourself deep in a long conversation that is years overdue. You will have more flexibility in group configuration and size, as not everyone has to be together the whole time. And a well-located villa will have more to do than you think. We hear this quite often when our guests return: “I wish I pushed for that second week in the villa…”

9. It is Your Vacation too. We do not believe in ‘musts’ and ‘shoulds’. A visit to the Leaning Tower of Pisa could be a highlight or the worst day of the holiday. It depends. It depends both on things you control and those you don’t. Make sure you work with people who are listening closely to what matters to you and are facilitating that experience for you. If you are working with someone who really understands your group, the necessary insights, contacts and arrangements can be deployed in a way that meets your needs. And, that travel consultant will have you prepared for the variables beyond your control that are an essential part of the villa experience. Yes, the Blue Grotto is special, but we think having your own boat and exploring the other relatively deserted grottos around Capri is much more rewarding. And if you want to skip Capri altogether, that is fine too.

10. Success is in the details. Location, location, location counts when planning villa travel. With villa travel you might not know what questions to ask, so we suggest you work with people who know the house, setting and local area well enough to tell you what you need to consider. The Amalfi Coast is not well suited to those who cannot manage steps. Do you need running room for rambunctious children with soccer balls? Do you have shoppers or fitness buffs or serious scholars? What about food allergies? Can the staff find gluten-free pasta and almond milk easily if needed?

11. Plan on enjoying yourselves and having fun together. We invite our guests to plan on enjoying themselves and doing things differently. Use your phone or tablet for photos, not for email with the office. Eat gelato at least once every day. Have fun getting lost –you will be rewarded with at least a great story to share over apperitivi back at the house. You are sure to encounter an awe-inspiring moment, great memento or new friend for life. Remember what it is to have a day to fill as you like, without an agenda. This is what we strive for at Homebase Abroad–a well-structured trip whose cadence best matches the needs and preferences of your family and friends. We promise you will be rewarded with an exceptional experience. Maybe even the best vacation of your life.

Thanks, Mara, for letting me share your tips with WendyPerrin.com travelers!


Be a smarter traveler: Follow Wendy Perrin on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

The view at Villa Miguel, Cabo, Mexico

How to Find the Perfect Vacation Rental: Tips for Your First Time, or any Time

I’m a villa rental convert.

I wanted to do something special for my most recent birthday. But with a three-year-old at home, a weekend jaunt to Paris was not in the cards: Long flights are exhausting, and hotel stays can be tough, forcing us all onto a toddler’s sleep schedule. Plus, I wanted some time with my girlfriends. How to make it work? I hatched a plan to rent a house so that we could all spend a few days together, somewhere a bit exotic but with all the comforts and conveniences of home. We ended up with wonderful memories from our trip to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico (which took place before Hurricane Odile hit the region in September; though the damage was significant, most hotels and villas have already reopened, including the place we stayed). Moreover, I came away with several valuable tips for first-time villa renters like myself:

Villa Miguel, Cabo, Mexico

My birthday dinner sunset at Villa Miguel

Know your destination’s neighborhoods—or find someone who does.
Cabo was a natural fit for our California-based group—a sunny respite for my friends mired in San Francisco’s summer fog—but I knew nothing about the area. So when I logged onto VRBO.com—a popular vacation-rental website—to start searching for a rental property, I was flummoxed by the options: VRBO’s 1,200 Cabo-area rentals are divided among Cabo San Lucas and the Los Cabos Corridor, then grouped by headings such as Costa Brava and Sirena Del Mar—all of which meant nothing to me. (I’d later discover that most of these are the names of neighborhoods or gated communities.) If I hadn’t finally thrown up my hands in defeat and called Julie Byrd, one of Wendy’s WOW List experts for villa vacations—Julie is the Cabo vacation-rental expert whom Wendy has been recommending to travelers for years—I might have booked a house in noisy, party-central Pedregal instead of in the family-friendly Cabo del Sol gated community.

Interestingly, many travelers who contact Julie Byrd with a particular villa in mind end up booking a different one based on her advice, most often because the location of the original house doesn’t fit their needs. If you plan to book a place without help from an expert like Julie—popular websites for this include VRBO, HomeAway, Craigslist, FlipKey, and TripAdvisor—make sure to familiarize yourself with the destination’s neighborhoods first. Sure, this is good advice for any trip, but it’s particularly important when renting a villa that may have been built originally as a private home without considering convenience for travelers.

Glean intel from online reviews.
These are full of essential information, especially if you read between the lines. You can figure out not just whether a villa is shabby or well-kept, but what kinds of travelers stay there and whether that beach you see in the photos is an easy stroll from the house or requires scrambling over a rocky path. (See these tips from an expert TripAdvisor reviewer on how to extract useful information from all those user reviews.)

Pool at Villa Cielito, Cabo, Mexico

The pool at Villa Cielito

Consider which hotel amenities are essential to your happiness.
Daily maid service? Wi-Fi? A full hot breakfast? Don’t skimp on what makes you happiest at a hotel. If making your bed and cooking your own breakfast each day doesn’t sound like vacation, know that there are staffed villas with every level of service—and corresponding price points. A different house we visited, Villa Cielito, had an indoor-outdoor living area with blockbuster ocean views that sparked destination-wedding fantasies among my girlfriends, but the bedrooms were generic and motel-like, without the knickknacks and local art that gave our own Villa Miguel a charming, homey atmosphere.

Dining and living room area at Villa Miguel, Cabo, Mexico

The dining and living room areas at Villa Miguel

Do some menu planning in advance.
I was initially attracted to the thought of cooking my own meals—until I realized the waste of time and ingredients involved for a trip as short as ours. Instead, I carried some granola and coffee from home, bought milk at a nearby grocery store, and spent the money we saved with our quick-and-easy breakfasts on a few splurge meals. Best of all was a catered dinner at our villa on the night of my birthday; my son never would have sat through a five-course meal at a restaurant, but here he was free to wander around with his toys while we dined at a relaxed pace.

Entry at Villa Miguel, Cabo, Mexico

Villa Miguel entryway

Stay a week.
I’d hesitate before renting a villa again for less than a week. Villas have a higher start-up cost than a hotel room but greater efficiency in the long run. It would have been more cost-effective to cook for ourselves if we could have bought and used a week’s worth of groceries. And the quirks that can make a private home so appealing—perusing the owner’s book collection, say—can take a while to discover. Similarly, don’t overextend yourself with activities. Julie Byrd advises clients to pre-book activities only in the extreme high season; travelers often discover that they want to spend most of their time relaxing at their villa, not snorkeling or mountain biking. And if you have a large group, it can take longer than you expect to get out the door, so don’t count on fitting in more than one event per day.

Choose your companions wisely…
Traveling with extended family or friends can make renting a villa cheaper than an equivalent hotel—especially if people are willing to share bedrooms, as we did—but make sure you’ll all travel well together, as there’s little privacy in a shared house. (If you’re doing the math, it’s only fair to compare a villa rental to a hotel suite because a standard room doesn’t offer space that you can share only with your fellow travelers, away from the hotel’s other guests.)

Beach entry pool at Villa Miguel, Cabo, Mexico

The beach-entry pool at Villa Miguel

…And cater to kids.
If our son’s not happy, we’re not happy; there’s nothing relaxing about a grumpy kid. An expert villa-rental agent (Wendy knows the best, so if you need a recommendation, ask her) will know which properties are best for little ones. If you’re going it alone, ask the villa owner not just whether the house is kid-friendly but what ages of kids have successfully stayed there; a two-year-old has much different needs than an eight-year-old. A property like ours, Villa Miguel, which was perfect for a toddler, would have been a death trap just a year ago (think wrought-iron railings and slippery stone staircases). Julie Byrd chose it for our group in part because of the beach-entry pool—which my son loved—and the easy access to restaurants at the two hotels in the same development.

Rent a car.
Except for city apartment rentals, in most cases you’ll need a car to explore the region around your villa. It’s a lot harder to call a taxi from your villa than it is to walk down to a hotel’s concierge and hire one. Make sure you’re comfortable driving in a foreign country.

Balcony at Villa Miguel, Cabo, Mexico

Balcony at Villa Miguel

Get a thorough walk-through of the property upon arrival.
I later regretted rushing our house manager through his 45-minute introductory tour. At the time, it felt like a waste on a 72-hour trip. Instead, we shivered through our late-night hangout sessions, not knowing how to adjust the living room air conditioner, and one of my friends was heartbroken to discover on our last morning that the glass doors to her balcony slid all the way back into the walls, opening up an entire corner of the room; had she known earlier, she would have slept with them open every night. Hotel rooms are built so that a new guest every night can intuitively find the light switch; private homes are not.


Disclosure: CaboVillas.com was kind enough to provide the writer’s three-night villa stay free of charge. In keeping with WendyPerrin.com standard practice, there was no request for or expectation of coverage on CaboVillas’ part, nor was anything promised on ours. You can read the signed agreement between WendyPerrin.com and CaboVillas here.