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European vacations with a difference

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European vacations with a difference
Villa Barocca – one of HomesAway’s properties – dominates the bay looking down on the Italian town of Positano, with its gravity-defying houses clinging to the steep hillsides above the turquoise sea.

Why bother with 5-star hotels when you can stay in a luxury villa, get shown around by locals and enjoy the authentic flavour of the country?
xquisite historic properties in some of the most culturally-rich, quiet corners of the globe – that might be reason enough to book your next vacation with villa travel pioneers HomesAway. However, their reputation as industry leaders from

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the likes of the New York Times, Forbes, CNN and many more, has been earned for much more than great bricks and mortar. This Toronto-based firm knows Europe’s most beautiful back roads like no one else and that translates into an extraordinary

local insider experience for every HomesAway guest. The people at HomesAway call it “smart luxury” – luxury, yes, but with a focus on authenticity, value and helping guests step effortlessly into the gentle rhythms of local life.

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WHATEVER MAGAZINE | SUMMER 2009

It starts with their Trip Advisors. Dubbed “Top Villa Agents” by Condé Nast Traveler magazine for the past four years, these seasoned world travellers have visited each property personally and take great pains to match travellers to the right digs, considering everything from location and amenities to décor. They individualize each stay to the unique needs and interests of a client, and then obsess about the details of bringing it all together. The company’s handbooks document this in-depth regional knowledge for guests to take along en route. Customized to each house and region, these handbooks are a rich resource of current information about each home, nearby villages, services and must-see sights and sites – details not found in any off-the-shelf travel guide. Most of all, however, it’s HomesAway's signature Local Host concept that truly sets them apart. This is no mere concierge service. The folks at HomesAway know no amount of research can replace the insights and connections of someone who actually lives there – a personal entrée to those subtle experiences that locals know truly define their region. Guests say it’s the next best thing to visiting a dear friend living in the region. So how does all this translate into actual life at a HomesAway villa? Recent guests of HomesAway stayed at the stylish Les Trois Fontaines in the heart of the Lubéron in Provence. They were asked to describe their perfect day in Provence. Put together with the insights and connections of their veteran Local Host Janine Guignard, it went something like this: 9:30 a.m. Café et croissants at La Cafe de France This quintessential Provençal café in Isle sur la Sorgue (Europe’s Mecca for antiques) sits opposite the only church in town, Notre Dame des Anges – a perfect representation of Baroque art and architecture. We lingered over our coffee, surveying the awakening village life and reading the titles of the daily press. In time, we set off for a wander through the narrow streets to gaze into quaint shop windows… and practiced our French along the way. 11:00 a.m. Rendezvous with renowned Chocolatier, Florian A good friend of Janine, Florian is a genuine chocolate-making virtuoso. Florian

Villa Senese in Tuscany offers country-house splendour just minutes from Siena.

invited us behind the scenes of his beautiful chocolate boutique to share his life’s passion. We watched him artfully coat the lovely confections, all by hand. With black chocolate up to his elbows, he then invited us to try… We did and, of course, sampled generously the decadent results! 12:30 p.m. Lunch with the locals riverside Leaving Florian, we headed down towards the Guingette, as Janine suggested, to dine with locals under the shade of the plane trees. Near our café on the banks of the Sorgue, children swung from ropes attached to the trees and cast themselves squealing into the clear cool river. We looked on in amusement while lunching on sumptuous trout, caught from the same waters earlier that day… an absolutely idyllic spot and something we’d never have found on our own. 2:00 p.m. Navigating the Sorgue As the day grew warmer, we drove to La Fontaine de Vaucluse and jumped into a kayak for a paddle down river, splashing and laughing all the way. The first to arrive got the beers, as agreed. A bit of playful exercise in these meandering cool waters – a perfect tip for our après lunch activity. 5:00 p.m. The pool, petanque and pastis Back to the villa and after a lazy swim in the pool, we met 6:30ish on the lower terrace for a petanque tournament. Janine’s suggestion of a cool glass of pastis and olives from the market for nibbles was perfect to keep us going while the local chef 'Laurent' bustled about the kitchen preparing our Provençal feast. Kudos to our Trip Advisor Lauren for finding him!

7:00 p.m. Savouring local flavours al fresco We won’t soon forget the menu that night: salade musclun au petit chevre, cavier d'aubergine, tomate confit with lavender honey roasted lamb, a selection of fine local cheeses, charlotte aux fraise for dessert and of course ample rations of excellent wine to complement all those authentic local flavours. Recounting the day’s adventures, we soaked in the dance of the sunset’s brilliant colours across the Lubéron stretching out before us in all its glory for our al fresco dinner that night. Soon the stars began to sparkle above, and in the afterglow of the great food, great wine and great times, we began pondering possibilities for tomorrow. Smart luxury travellers are in luck these days. HomesAway president Evan Wood says travelers who want this sort of smart luxury are in luck these days. “So many of our properties are being offered at unprecedented discounts which can make them half the price per person of a comparable hotel, but with far superior amenities, privacy and service,” he said. “And with the insights and connections of our Local Hosts, you don’t have to spend a fortune to really experience a region like a local insider. However, if you want a private performance by a renowned opera singer in your villa, well, we can do that sort of thing too.”
I Current HomesAway deals can be seen at: www.homesaway.com/promotions. For more info, visit HomesAway.com or call 419 920-1873; toll-free 1-800 364-6637 or email stay@homesaway.com.

WHATEVER MAGAZINE | SUMMER 2009

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