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If checking out hotel prices in Europe recently has left you gasping for breath--especially after doing the euro-to-dollar conversion--then we can suggest a pleasant alternative for seeing Europe in style, for less. Renting a private vacation home--whether it's a spacious villa in the countryside or a city apartment in one of Europe's capitals--is an easy, safe, and extremely economical way to immerse yourself in the local lifestyle.
That said, there are some occasional quirky things to be aware of when vacationing in a private villa. The first might be finding the place to begin with. Time and again we hear that signage--especially on the meandering countryside roads of Italy--is practically non-existent, and that directions can be fuzzy at best (case in point, see the Lairds' letter, below). Our advice is to invest in a detailed map or atlas before traveling. For example, Touring Club Italiano, the Italian version of AAA, publishes a series of detailed maps that we've been told are worth their weight in gold. You can order them online at www.globecorner.com (priced from $12.95 and up, plus S&H).