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Finding value in vacation home rentals

At Poggio Etrusco (photo courtesy Ciao Bambino)One of the many family-friendly companies that I’ve found online since I started blogging is Ciao Bambino.

I first read about them in Budget Travel — can’t remember if it was the print magazine or their blog, but both are stuffed with good info that I tuck away for future reference.

(Disclosure: I’m writing this because I like the Ciao Bambino site and my interactions with the site’s staff have been very positive. No one is paying me or offering me anything to write this post.)

Since I’m always looking for cheaper accommodations that can also handle a bunch of kids, I checked around on the Ciao Bambino site, and was particularly impressed by their diverse offerings in Europe. Many of the villas, homes and apartments, however, seemed a little pricey.

After an email exchange with Kristi Marcelle, one of the company’s staff, I’m pleased to report that they are NOT all about high thread count linens and big bucks.

Kristi wrote, “….because I am not on the ‘fatter wallet’ side either, I search quite a bit for the great finds….We definitely have some more value-oriented options and as a priority have been working on getting more.”

(Update/clarification from Ciao Bambino owner Amie O’Shaughnessy:  many of the listed properties are a mix of “condo resorts” – i.e. apartments with shared onsite amenities, and hotels, rather than independent vacation home rentals.)

Here are some examples from the Ciao Bambino database, along with Kristi’s comments:

“1. Canada Mystic Springs, Canmore, Banff – Located 15-minutes outside of Banff, so families can still access Banff activities without the higher in-park price points. A fun pool that is continually filled with kids.

2. MexicoNa Balam, Yucatan Peninsula – We’ve heard from a few users about this property in Mexico. Although it can only accommodate families of 4, it is simple and laid back, away from the tourist bustle.

3. FranceHotel Mas des Carassins, Provence, France – Rave reviews from the user that stayed here, and St. Remy de Provence is a perfect homebase for exploring this area.

4. SpainRoom Mate Laura, Madrid – Definitely a good value for Madrid. Rooms are simple and very modern – but they are comfortable with fun decor in an excellent location.

5. Italy – our destination with the most inventory right now has quite a few value-oriented options.  Favorites are:

  • Al Gelso Bianco, Tuscany – Ideal location for exploring Tuscany. A wonderful young Florentine runs the property and provides amazing service.
  • Poggio Etrusco, Tuscany – We’ve had a few clients come back with just rave reviews about the owner and her warm and friendly service.”

As a bonus, Kristi had a personal tip about condos in Hawaii (Maui) that are not in the Ciao Bambino directory. She describes the Hale Kai:

“For Maui prices, it was a great find and right next door to a park which was great with the kids and right on the beach. Perfect for toddlers and lots of family reunions. I would highly recommend [it] for a budget accommodation – we stayed there a week. They are also very close to a great take-out restaurant that has since changed hands, but the owner used to be the chef at Mama’s Fish House so the food is very good and across the street from a small farmer’s market.”

Another excellent place to look for guidance on these sorts of rentals is with Wendy Perrin, the Condé Nast Traveler Consumer Travel Editor. Take a look at her always-comprehensive annual “Worldwide Guide to Affordable Villa Vacations.” This past year she toted her kids along to research a place in Europe, and she learned some valuable lessons.

Readers, break out that secret list you might have stashed away – any good recommendations for family-friendly vacation home rentals? Please tell us your experiences down in the comments.