Please allow us to introduce ourselves
What we do for you?
First of all we choose the best houses for our online catalogue. We offer carefully selected & highly recommended villas all within an hour or so of Barcelona city center. After that, we offer guarantees that all will go smoothly throughout the entire booking process leading up to the actual rental itself. The website is designed to be very informative, the descriptions of houses detailed and honest and reliable. We'll help you choose the right villa for your needs & budget, and safely help you through the booking process, with reliable methods for paying the 25% deposit to secure the booking. We then provide you with detailed directions to the house and Google Earth photos that make is impossible to get lost. Our Insider's Guides tell you all you need to know about the area, from restaurants, shopping, entertainment & historic sites, and describe in detail 10 different routes for day trips throughout the region.
Since 1997, I (Charlie) have visited well over 300 properties and we currently have what I consider an excellent catalogue of rental houses . Through the years, we have narrowed down our catalogue to 45 properties of different sizes and price ranges.I have stayed overnight at least once in every single house we offer, but very often these are houses that I go to often with friends and family. I think this is very important as you don´t really know a house until you have stayed there and used all the facilities. I have taken many of the photos and movies you see in website. Needless to say, we are very choosy about the properties we work with and we work hard with the owners to maintain high-standards and keep up with the times, like adding internet ADSL and WIFI to most houses. We want problem-free houses that feel like real homes. We don't want any complaints from guests. Our reputation is on the line with each rental, and guests have our phone numbers where we can be reached 24/7. We don´t want to be disturbed with complaints, so working with a problem house or problem owner is out of the question.
Again, the properties we work with are the best we can find in their category & price, and in most cases, we have been working with the house for well over 10 years now, so they are time-tested and true. Every so often we add a new house, usually at below-normal rates in order to get started and get in some of those all important (and genuine!) testimonial emails from past guests. Our Comment's Pages are undoctored emails, sometimes quite long and detailed, sent in from past guests. I think the Comment's Pages are an excellent peer to peer supplement to my info on each property, and I thank those who have taken the time and effort to write in!
What else do we do for you?
Our Insider's Guidebooks to the area. Throughout the years, I (Charlie) have been collecting travel info on the where-to-gos and what-to-dos in each region, including shopping, restaurants, entertainment, recommended beaches & historical sites of interest. The guidebook I have been working on since 1997 for Girona and the Costa Brava is already 90 pages long (of A-4 size paper and no illustrations - all text!). This is without a doubt the most substantial guidebook to the Costa Brava anywhere and a loan-copy of this guidebook is provided at each rental property, or I can email this to you as a .PDF file so you can read it before your rental. Parts of this guidebook are offered in the house listing under the heading Travel Info on this Area.
We coordinate your arrival and meeting with the owners of the house. If you are arriving late, after shops are closed, we can do a shopping for you so that you have dinner and breakfast waiting for you upon arrival. Many houses offer cooks and cleaning help whose services you can arrange through me, or directly with the owners on an ad hoc basis while you are here. Fees are about 10 to 12 Euros per hour, minimum 3 hours, including transport to the house. I also have a line on several caterers for special meals for larger groups. I've also handled weddings and larger gatherings, only in the off-season, and I have a line on catering, decorators, photographers, dj's, etc..
Who are we?
Ours is a small cottage industry (sorry!) - just my wife Maria and me, and a little help from our webmaster friends in Oslo. Back in the early 90´s we discovered "turismo rural" or rural tourism - the renting of rural farmhouse properties for weekend and holiday gettaways. Back then there weren´t many places to choose from, but we fell in love with a few houses, and more importantly, we got to know what parts of Catalonia we liked and didn´t like. We were very much taken with the Costa Brava and the Pyrenees. On the other hand, we didn't like the Costa Dorada to the south and inland from Barcelona. Too hot and dry in summer, the beaches too built up Miami beach-style, and the train tracks run parallel to the coast, an unsightly barrier with smelly underpasses to the beaches.
In 1997, Charlie (a US ex-pat, 40 years overseas, 22 years in Barcelona as of 2010) and María (from Galicia, northwest Spain, but raised in Germany) decided to try presenting a handful of houses in what was then a new medium called internet. We reckoned that local owners needed English-speaking representatives to present the houses, and you, the househunter, needed someone you could trust locally to tell you which properties are worthy of your interest, and then explain how to go about securing the booking in a trustworthy manner. Slowly, by the year 2000 or so, the bookings started coming in quite regularly and María and I both quit our jobs to dedicate ourselves to this.
How to proceed?
After looking at our house listings, email or call us to let us know which property or properties are of interest to you. If you can´t decide, let's talk it over and we can narrow down the choices according to you requirements. I am always very frank and honest about the houses. Once we have found the right place, we´ll put the house on hold, and send you all the booking info so that you can pay the 25% deposit most properties require to hold the booking. All deposits are sent to the owners directly, except VISA or MasterCard charges which I take care of for the owners. In all cases, the balance due is either payable well ahead of your arrival date, or in cash upon arrival, when the owners hand over the keys. Yes, all properties are in hands of private owners or caretakers - not rental agencies. This is an important distinction. Agencies couldn't care less about their guests or the houses they offer. House owners usually care about both, and part of my job as far as the owners are concerned is finding the right sort of guests for their particular properties.
When to book?
As always, the early bird gets the worm, and some of our most popular villas are fully booked for peak dates as early as 12 to 18 months before the rental. Certainly by Christmas, most of the villas are rented for most of the following high-season. If you see a house that is of interest to you, I suggest you ask me to put a hold on it, then check with your family and friends, consider the options, and then get back to me when you are sure of your choice. Last minute bookings in the off-season are most welcome.
What is included in rental rates?
All prices quoted in the website property listings are 100% all-inclusive, and there are no hidden or extra charges of any kind whatsoever. Prices include taxes and all utilities, cleaning before and after your stay (and a free cleaning & linen change after each week for two or three week rentals), clean high-quality 100% cotton bed linen and bath towels and kitchen towels, a full range of kitchen utensils, and most often some start-up foodstuffs in the kitchen. If there are any extras, such as the electricity for air conditioning, or tokens for a sauna or jacuzzi, I make this very clear in the presentation and in my booking texts. All houses are fully prepared for immediate occupancy, and there shouldn´t be anything (within reason) that is lacking to diminish your comfort. Washing machines, for example, are standard issue, but most houses nowadays also have dishwashers, internet, satelite or digital TV in English, a gamesroom, and lots of little extras, like hairdryers in the bathrooms. The written description of each property makes it clear exactly what is on offer in each house.
What do we look for in a property?
In two words we are looking for comfort and charm. In almost all cases, the properties we offer are traditional Catalan farmhouses, called masias, some well over a thousand years old, which have been lovingly restored and offer amenities ranging from standard to luxurious. However, keep in mind that our "standard" is very high, on a par with what others call luxurious. (Luxury is a word and a concept I personally have problems with. I don't believe in it!) If there is something slightly quirky or odd about a property, I will make that clear in my description.
The masias usually have thick stone walls (keeping the house cool in summer and warm in winter), elegant wooden ceiling beams, stone arches, terra cotta floors, antique furnishings, fireplaces, fairly modern & practical kitchens, and most houses are situated on large private properties with private pool and gardens with an outdoor bbq dining area. Some of these properties are huge. I will send you Google Earth photos with GPS information so that you can see them from space and visit the area for yourself - always a good thing to do before choosing a rental. I've seen too many houses listed in other websites that I have rejected due to proximity to a highway or, on one memorable occasion, I visited a "luxury villa" right next to an active sawmill!
Aside from the quality of the property itself, there are minimum requirements that all our properties must fulfill. For example, I insist on quality 100% cotton sheets on new mattresses, and no sagging old beds! Continental bed sizes are traditionally quite small (135x180cm the double) but I am having owners replace these with a much larger 150x190cm size mattresses. Each bedside must have reading lamps: one lamp for a single bed, two lamps for a double. In the write-ups I will give you bed sizes for each room. All houses must have large common and sitting rooms with fireplaces, television, internet, CD/radio/cassette players, and the kitchens must be fully equipped, including washing machines, dishwasher, oven and hob and microwave and smoke extractor. All houses must have outdoor BBQs and seating and dining areas, with electric lighting for nighttime al fresco meals. All pools have plenty of lounge chairs and usually a shower and a WC, so that you don't have to go indoors to go. All houses are especially well suited for children, although not all pools are fenced for child safety. My kids are young but I still prefer an unfenced pool.
We want to take the guesswork and the hit & miss out of choosing a rental villa near Barcelona. As go-betweens (between owners and renters) we are very pleased with the way things are going, both with guests and owners. The rate of repeat or return guests is very good. I often get emails saying "Last summer was great. What do you recommend for this summer?" We are also very satisfied with our current catalogue of rental properties. Some properties have come and gone (let´s face it, there is an attrition rate in this business, and some owner's eventually "burn-out", not being willing or able to keep up with guest -and our- requirements). But the future looks bright, and like I said, María and I have pretty much given up all other professional activities and we are dedicated to doing this until our kids are grown up and we retire. That's an incentive to get it right!
Again, be sure to read the Comment´s Page for each property. Some guests send in some very thoughtful and helpful emails, and most of the feedback is positive. Your holidays may be "our job", but receiving a nice letter at the end of a rental is very rewarding. There are hundreds of these in the website. I hope you will be writing in one day yourselves to acknowledge a job well done and a house well worth recommending!
All the best from Barcelona,
Charlie (last updated: October 2010)
Why farmhouse and villa rental?
not only is it simply nicer to stay in restored old farmhouse, but also ...
- rural-tourism helps preserve traditional ways of life
- agro or eco-tourism revitalizes depopulated villages
- sustainable tourism minimizes the environmental impact
- package tour operators leave little to nothing in local economy
- mass tourism is an abomination - just look so much of our coasts!