3 Secret Code Words You Need to Know Before Renting a House in Europe

rental house secrets europeThinking about renting a house in Europe but don’t know where to begin? Tired of looking around on Google and only finding rental houses that cost anywhere from $900 – $4,000 per week? Me too, but while doing my own online searching I found that there’s a few key words and phrases you need to know before trying to stay for two weeks in Tuscany, Provence, or any other place in Europe.

Renting a House Beats Hotels Any Day

Let’s face it – flying across the pond isn’t a small proposition. Even the smallest jaunt possible – like New York to London – is still a long flight, and none too cheap either. If you’re going to take a vacation to Europe, you might as well stay for more than a few days.

But with the US Dollar still in the dumps, it isn’t cheap to stay in Europe. Many people are now turning to renting houses, rather than staying in hotels, to help alleviate some of the high costs. But here’s where many hit a stumbling block:

How do you search for rental houses in Europe?

Staying in a country home in Italy or the South of France conjures up plenty of romantic images, but at what price? If you just do a quick Google search for “rental house Italy”, you’d think the only way to get a cheap rental home is if you have 21 people all get together and split the cost.

Sure, a luxury villa would be sweet, but it’s not the kind of thing many people are looking for. So why do they come up first in the results? Simple:

You’re searching in American, and they think spending thousands of dollars is what American’s want.

You can definitely rent a place for less than $1,500/week, you just have to know how to ask.

Speaking “European-ish” to the Search Engines

Some general tips to remember is that we’re trying to stay away from overly Americanized websites. Some signs that you’re in the right place are:

  • If the website contains a .co.uk in the address, or a designation of the place you’re searching (i.e., searching for a rental in Italy and you find a website that ends in .it)

  • If you have to go to the “English translation” of the site in order to be able to understand it

  • If you contact the owner directly to set up the rental

  • If they use the word “holiday” instead of “vacation”

Europe house rental search

A few helpful tips when searching for a rental home.

A Brief Explanation as to Why This Works…

Here’s the deal: people from English-speaking countries outside of the US (like the UK, Australia, and New Zealand) travel much more than we do, and often stay away much longer. Because of this, the market is much larger for the terms they like to use when searching.

On the other hand, if you use the terms we Americans like to use, you’ll get results for what they think we Americans want and how we view travel – as an ultra-luxury that we can only afford to do once in our lifetimes.

Personally, I don’t see travel that way – I see it as something to do again and again, so I search using the terms of other people that see it that way. Make sense?

These are exactly the terms Becki and I used to book our incredibly sweet rental home through Sykes Cottages, outside of Galway on the West Coast of Ireland. Big, beautiful house, surrounded by rolling fields and walking distance to the sea, nothing but cows waking you up in the morning, and it only cost us $375 for the week. And it was big enough that we could’ve easily had one or two more couples with us, lowering the cost even further.

Becki and Podge in front of our sweet rental home, Oyster Lodge just outside Kinvara

Becki and Podge in front of our sweet rental home, Oyster Lodge, just outside Kinvara. (Note: pronounced “Oi-sta” for more fun ;)

Okay, in addition to those rules-of-thumb listed above, here’s three terms to help you find a reasonably priced, totally quaint and charming but not overly lavish and expensive home away from home.

To Rent a Home in France

Gîte: Gîtes are the French word for old stone homes and farmhouses out in the country, that have been renovated and updated a bit, and are now rented out to travelers. A simple Google search for “gites in france” turns up tons of great results, with charming old stone homes and apartments at reasonable prices. Reasonable prices, in this case, meaning $400/week for a home that sleeps six.

When Becki and I were planning on going to Brittany, we found an old stone coach-house for rent. It had 4 total bedrooms, and only cost $350/week. When we contacted the owner, she let us know that both houses were rented for when we’d be there, but that she had an extra room in her house and we could stay there.

Believe it or not, she said she’d add in breakfast for our inconvenience, and offered it to us for only $225/week. That’s only $32/night for bed and breakfast in the French countryside during the high-season. Two people can’t stay in a hostel that cheaply! Sweet deal, no? We thought so too.

To Rent a Home in Italy

Agriturismo: Essentially, these are the same as the Gîtes  mentioned above – it’s just the Italian word for it. Still typically old farmhouses and out-buildings that have been converted to accommodations for weary travelers.

The level of accommodation changes wildly from one agriturismo to another, because they’re all setup by individuals like you and I. Some will allow pets, some won’t. Some of heat and AC, others don’t. Some offer bed & breakfast style accommodations, some have restaurants on site, some have full kitchens to use, and others will have none of this. Always thoroughly check what is offered.

To Rent a Home Anywhere Else in Europe (and the World)

Now that we’ve covered a couple terms specific to a couple of countries, here’s something you can use to find a better deal, no matter where you’re going:

Self Catering: This is a term, used by people from every English-speaking country outside of the USA, that can really help you out. What it means, is that you have to do your own cooking, take out the trash, do your own laundry, etc. So what you can infer from this is that you’re looking to stay in a house or apartment – anything with all the amenities of home.

Using this term, you might even find places to stay that you never thought of. For example, I just Googled it while writing this article, and found that there’s a lot of beautiful places for rent in Bulgaria – many on the Black Sea, and in the mountains – for amazing prices.  I don’t even know where Bulgaria is, but it’s making me think I might want to visit soon.

And A Couple of Bonus Terms (Just Cause I Like You ;)

Why not a couple of extra things to search for, right? The more research you can do before a big trip like this, the better.

Holiday Letting: This one is just like “self catering” in that it’s a term used by all English speaking people outside of America. Looking through the search results, it’s a little more full of big, expensive places (like searching for “rental house”) but it’s still not bad. FYI, “letting” means the same as renting, i.e., in a British newspaper you’d see a section of “flats for let” instead of “apartments for rent”.

And What if You Need a Car While You’re There?

Ahh, I’m glad you asked! There’s a couple of terms I like to use – you can always try both, but as you’ll see there are times when one works better than the other.

Car Lease: That’s right, you can do a short-term lease in many countries in Europe (and countries outside of Europe are catching on to it too), that allows you to own a car temporarily. Just search for “car lease italy” or “car lease france” or wherever you’re going.

There’s pros and cons of going this route – for a great write-up of the specifics, click here – but basically, if you’re going to be in a place for three weeks or longer, it’s a good option to look into. There’s plenty of reputable businesses that handle short-term leases, and both Peugeot and Renault have short-term lease programs themselves – you get a new car right from the dealership, with new-car smell and everything!

Car hire: This, again, is just the term people outside of the US like to use. While we use “car rental”, they use “car hire”, and it means exactly the same thing. If you search for “car rental <destination> you’ll see all the big players you’re used to, such as Hertz, Dollar, Budget, etc., no matter where you’re going.

However, if you search for “car hire” instead, you’ll still probably see some of the big players, but you’ll also see many more local rental companies, which sometimes are drastically cheaper.

For example, searching “car hire namibia” before going on my Namibian odyssey is how I found a local company that rented me a Toyota Corolla (considered a Midsize car by most big-name car companies) for $275 for the week, including 100% insurance coverage (which is mandatory in case an elephant sits on your car…). This is probably the search term where you’ll see the smallest difference because many of the big-name companies have caught on to it, but it still gets you more options. Just compare them with the big names and see what makes the most sense for you.

Booking Your Next Stay

A little caveat about the prices I mention above though… prices can change hugely depending on where you want to stay, and what time of the year. For example, when you search for an agriturismo in Italy, remember that Tuscany has become a buzz-word with people, and so prices are much higher there than compared to neighboring Umbria, which is just as beautiful and full of good food and wine.

The time of year makes a huge difference as well. Most places will spell it out for you that there are different prices for different parts of the year, and as with anywhere, the high-season is going to be a good deal more expensive.

Well, there you have it. If you already knew about all these different search terms, great! If not, then I hope this helps open you up to the possibility of more traveling, and helps you see that it doesn’t have to be an extravagant affair only possible for the super-rich.

Do you know any special search terms when booking your travel? Share them with us!


  1. This is great info! I wouldn’t have thought of renting a house abroad, or thought that it could be so affordable. I’ll definitely look into that for my next trip.


  2. Thanks Ryan – I think it’s especially a good option for couples, since it can often be as cheap as staying in a hostel but much more comfortable and private.

  3. Really useful tips, guys! I much prefer renting my own place over staying at a hotel. Hotels get boring very quickly! I will definitely put my newly expanded vocabulary to use.

    • Thanks Steph! It for sure helped us with rented the house in Ireland, and when we were about to rent a house in France. It is so much more relaxed and at home feeling rather than a hotel for a week or so.

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