I am often asked for insider tips on places to stay in three popular European destinations: the British and Irish countrysides, Tuscany and Provence. My favorite answer? Private villas. Renting a villa lets you play at being a native, with all the comforts, self-sufficiency and freedom of home. What's more, even the priciest palaces work out to more reasonable rates than hotels of comparable standards--plus, you typically get a kitchen, so you can cook your own meals if you're so inclined.
To avoid pitfalls, make sure to rent from an experienced, reputable company. Otherwise, the problems can be legion, from ugly decor to funny plumbing, and mistakes aren't easily rectified from a Provençal hilltop. The staff should inspect the properties frequently and personally; there really is no shortcut.
Below are some of the most trusted purveyors of Euro fantasies. Among the offerings, you'll find a range of architectural styles, settings, amenities and prices. All rates are per house, for one week in high season.