A cottage to call your own

How to rent an English cottage, French gîte, or vacation home in Europe for anywhere from a few days to a week or two

Cottages to rent in France are called gites, and there are loads, like this picturesque spot on a side-street in Giverny.Cottages to rent in France are called gites, and there are loads, like this picturesque spot on a side-street in Giverny.

Whenever I hear the word "cottage" I picture a little daub-and-wattle four-room house in a dell somewhere (not quite sure what a "dell" is, but it's the sort of place where one expects to find a cottage).

This archetypal cottage in my mind has a charmingly overgrown kitchen garden and a peaked roof made of thatch, and it is inhabited by either a kindly lady of indeterminate years and a rosy smile and/or a wicked witch. Sort of half Beatrix Potter, half Brothers Grimm.

Of course, self-catering cottages in Europe come in all shapes and sizes, from modern semi-detached homes in the 'burbs to veritable mansions in the country—and yes, plenty of modest little farmhouses in dells. Wicked witches are optional.

Cottages are almost always self-catering, a fancy way of saying no one comes by to change the sheets each day and make you breakfast as would happen in a hotel—though some cottages do come with regular (usually weekly) maid service.

Most cottages and vacation homes are rented by the week, some by the month, but plenty are also available in smaller increments down to about a three-night minimum.

In any event, cottages afford a great way to get out and live the local life for a spell and adapt to the rhythms of rural life in Europe. You can use your temporary home as a base for bombing around country lanes seeing the local sights, getting to know the local shopkeeps and becoming a regular at the village pub, or simply to sit around, relaxing with your view of the kitchen garden crawling with gnomes and fat little German children searching for gingerbread architecture (sorry, just can't shake that fairy tale imagery).

A Home by Any Other Word

The difference between a cottage and a villa is largely one of semantics and location. If one is speaking of the British Isles or France, it's cottages. If it's Italy, Spain, or some other Mediterranean country, one dreams of renting a villa. Elsewhere: holiday home or self-catering rental.

Many agencies represent properties in every country, regardless of the terms used locally. So in addition to the resources listed below, you'll find tens of thousands more rental properties via the resources on the Villa Rentals page.

Cottage Rental Resources

Boy, there are a lot of these. Here are some that can help you track down the perfect hoilday cottage rental for you.


Rentalo (www.rentalo.com) - One of the biggest and most respected networks of rental properties, with more than 100,000 vacation rental properties around the world.


Cottage Net UK (www.cottage-net.ndirect.co.uk) - A whopping 20,000 self-catering cottages and apartments throughout England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland (both halves). The catalog is direct-for-owner, so you can find and call the one you’d like, or pay the service a £30 fee and they’ll find and put a hold on five potentials based on your criteria, then let you pick which you like best and book it.
English Country Cottages (www.english-country-cottages.co.uk) - Premier organization with more than 3,000 temporary homes on tap in England (think: Lake District or Cotswolds), Scotland, and Wales.
National Trust Cottages (www.nationaltrustcottages.co.uk) - Some 330 properties throughout England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, almost all of them of historic or architectural import or in terribly scenic areas that the National Trust is helping preserve. This is the very highest quality stuff, folks, but you do pay for such selectivity. Still, there are some great deals (recently, the Murlough Gate Lodge, which sleeps four and was built for a Marquis in the 1870s on the edge of a National Nature Reserve in Co. Down of Northern Irealnd, was selling for $400 per week in low season, $990 in the highest of high seasons—that's only $14–$35 per person per night).
Scottish Country Cottages (www.scottish-country-cottages.co.uk) - Sister site to the "English Country Cottages " above, whether you want a house on the outskirts of Edinburgh or a cottage lost in the Highlands


Irish Country Cottages (www.irish-country-cottages.co.uk) - Some 420 cottages and homes in the Republic of Ireland.
Northern Ireland Self-Catering Holidays Association (www.nischa.com) - Yep. Same stuff, north of the border, about 130 of them.
Resireland (www.resireland.com) - This is a straight reservations service with more than 9,000 properties (you have to give it at least dates--Saturday to Saturday minimum--before you get catalog listings). A random search on some favorite areas show that, for €300 a week in high season, I could rent either a three-bedroom cottage in Ballyvaughan (the heart of the Burren in County Clare), or an apartment sleeping the in Killarney, gateway to the Ring of Kerry.


Gites de France (www.gites-de-france.fr) - Self-catering country cottages (and some farmstays) all across la belle France. This is one of the biggest and most reputable of all the cottage rental programs in Europe.
French Country Cottages (www.french-country-cottages.co.uk) - Some 900 properties throughout France.


This article was last updated in January 2008 . All information was accurate at the time.

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