All About Vacation Rentals in England
Vacation rentals, called "holiday cottages" or "self catering" in England, are houses or apartments that you rent by the night or week. They are fully furnished and equipped, giving you a "home away from home". Staying in vacation rentals lets you do "Slow Travel" - settle into a place, shop in the local shops, prepare some of your own meals.
There are thousands of vacation rentals all over England, Scotland and Wales. The biggest group of travelers in England are the English, heading out to the countryside for bank holiday weekends and summer vacations.
Vacation rentals in England are usually of a good standard. They are all registered with the English Tourist Council and assigned ratings depending on amenities offered.
The Differences Between a Vacation Rental and a Hotel
Hotels and vacation rentals are both places that you stay in when traveling. After that, the similarities end. When staying in a vacation rental you are living in a house or apartment, probably in a residential area or out in the countryside, instead of in the tourist center of the town. You are "living like a local", getting groceries in the local shops, frequenting the local tea room, having a drink in your local pub.
It is not easy to cancel a booking. When you book a vacation rental, you pay a 25% to 50% deposit that is not refundable. The final payment is usually required 30 to 60 days before arrival. If you have to cancel or leave early, you will not receive a refund. Purchase travel insurance to protect you for cancellations. This is the major disadvantage to vacation rentals over hotels, but more small hotels and B&Bs are requiring deposits and not allowing last minute cancellations. You must be committed to your vacation plans before you book your vacation rental.
There is no concierge. Vacation rentals are for independent travelers. You will probably find lots of good local information in the vacation rental, but don't count on your host to plan your days or make reservations for you.
No daily maid service. No one comes in each day to make your bed and clean the house. The upside is the privacy - take that afternoon nap knowing that no maid will be knocking on the door.
Vacation Rentals, Self Catering, Holiday Cottages
In North America we call them "vacation rentals", but in England they are called "self catering" or "holiday cottages". We use the term "vacation", Brits call it a "holiday". These differences are important when Googling for vacation rentals.
Rent by the Week or Weekend
Most rentals rent are by the week, starting Friday or Saturday, but you will find places that offer "short breaks", rentals for the weekend. Many places offer rentals for short breaks year round, but some only do this in the off season.
When Does the Week Start?
The day a rental starts is called the "changeover day". Most weekly rentals start on Friday or Saturday, but you will find other changeover days. Some agencies let you start your week on any day.
The changeover day is important for your trip planning. In most European countries this is always Saturday, but you cannot depend on that in England, so book your vacation rental(s) first, then book the rest of your trip.
Finding a Vacation Rental
There are many ways to find good vacation rentals. We have provided shortlists of resources on Cotswolder.
- Use a vacation rental agency that has many listings, helps you make your decision and handles the booking. Agencies come in many flavors from the small agency who represents a few choice places in one location to the mega-agency representing a database of thousands of places worldwide.
- Stay on a farm in the countryside that offers several apartments or cottages. You can book these through vacation rental agencies or directly with the owners.
- Rent directly from the owner, by-passing the middle man. Some owners have their own websites. Most are listed on one or more of the vacation rental directory sites.
The advantage of using a good agency is that they can help you make your choice from a number of properties. The advantage of booking with the owner is that you may pay a lower price. But you will find good, well-priced cottages either way - from an agency or on the rent from owner sites.
Hints for finding vacation rentals in the Cotswolds
When searching larger websites by country, remember that England has many names: England, Great Britain, Britain or United Kingdom. When searching by county in England, if there is no listing for "Cotswolds", look for the counties of "Gloucestershire" or "Oxfordshire" (these two counties have large sections in the Cotswolds). "Heart of England" sometimes includes the Cotswolds.
If you are traveling in high season, start looking for your vacation rental six months to a year ahead. The good places book up early. If you don't have that much lead time, you will still have a good selection of rentals.
A deposit is usually required upon booking - 25% - 50% of the rental price. This is not refundable.
ETC Star Ratings
The English Tourist Council officially rates vacation rentals on a 1 to 5 star rating (not all vacation rentals in England are registered with the Tourist Council). These ratings are a good indicator of quality and amenities, but they do not rate location. Recently we booked a 4 star vacation rental that was located over a parking lot! The master bedroom looked out on a bicycle repair yard and their toilet. Obvioiusly the ETC did not consider location when giving it a 4 star rating.
The English Tourist Council website has a detailed description of their ratings.
Luxury Rentals and Extra Services
Some vacation rental agencies or farms/estates are much higher priced because they offer five star luxury places and extra services, like daily maid service, welcome baskets, even doing grocery shopping for you before you arrive.
Reading the Vacation Rental Description
Read the vacation rental description carefully to see if it is an independent cottage or an apartment in a house. Check the number of bedrooms and bathrooms. Is there an outdoor area that you can use?
Number of People: Most listing show the number of people you can sleep in bedrooms, with a number in brackets if they can sleep on a foldout couch. For example, "Sleeps 3 (+1)" means beds for three people (usually one bedroom with a double bed for two and a single bedroom) plus one more person on a foldout couch or cot.
Kitchen: What we call a stovetop in North America is called a "hob" in England.
Cell Phone Reception: We call them "cell phones" but in England they are "mobiles". The Cotswolds is notoriously bad for cell phone coverage, so a listing may indicate that a cottage gets mobile reception.
What to Expect in an English Vacation Rental
The quality of vacation rentals in England is usually very good. In our years of renting in England, we had "bad" rentals a couple of times. Towels and bedding are provided. Kitchens are fully equipped with all the pots and pans, dishes, cutlery, etc. that you need for cooking meals.
Supplies (toilet paper, dish soap, etc.)
In most English vacation rentals you find enough supplies to get you started but they expect you to purchase refills yourself (toilet paper, soap, paper towel, dish soap, etc.). Some rentals provide welcome basket with local food products, but this is the exception rather than the rule. Plan on checking in to your rental, seeing what is provided, then making a trip to the supermarket. (This is typical of most European vacation rentals.)
Face Clothes (towels)
Bath and hand towels are provided, but face cloths are not always left for you. These are considered a personal item and it is sometimes expected that you bring your own.
The vacation rental will be cleaned before you arrive. Expect a clean vacation rental, beds made with fresh linens and fresh towels out for you. If you stay longer than a week, you may not get a weekly cleaning. Ask about this when booking. You do not have to clean the rental before you leave, but it is good practice to do any dishes, straighten things up, put out the garbage, leave dirty towels in the tub and strip the beds, leaving dirty sheets folded on the bed.
Electric power in England is at 230 - 240 volts, higher than in North America (120V). The plug is different than in North America or the rest of Europe (it is a rectangular blade plug). Outlets can be switched off at the wall (if something is not working, make sure the outlet is turned on).
If you are bringing electronic equipment from North America, check to see if it works up to 240V. Most notebook computers, digital camera, cell phone chargers will work at that voltage and only need a plug adapter so that their plug will fit into the UK format.
Check the listing to see what appliances are in the vacation rental. Don't assume there will be a microwaver, dishwasher or washer/dryer.
Refrigerators in the UK tend to a smaller size and some vacation rentals may have under-the-counter fridges, with no freezer. There may be a clothes washer, but no dryer. If that is the case, there will be racks to hang clothes on. Sometimes the washer/dryer is one unit that only does a small amount of clothes at a time.
You will always find a good tea kettle, usually an electric one. I don't know if it is their refined kettle technology or the higher power current in the UK that does it, but the kettles seems to come to the boil in 30 secons. You will always find a toaster (which you don't always find in other European countries).
Many vacation rentals in England do not have telephones. If there is a phone, it may be a coin box phone. Many parts of the Cotswolds do not get good cell phone coverage, so do not assume you will be able to use your cell phone.
Broadband (Internet Access)
I see vacation rentals now that offer Broadband (high speed Internet access), but many still do not. If you travel with a computer and need to go online, these are the options:
- Find a cottage with Broadband.
- Find a cottage that gets cell phone reception and use your cell phone as a modem (you need a data plan to do this).
- Find a cottage with a phone that you can use to go online via dialup (slow but works fine for email). Coin box phones do not let you attach your computer to the phone line.
- Go online at an Internet Cafe or the public library.
Many vacation rentals allow dogs. We even found one that allowed cats.