France and Italy remain at the top of the list for those looking for a European rental. In France, the affordable alternatives to Provence are the Dordogne and Loire Valleys. In Italy, the bargains are Sicily and the southern Adriatic Coast. More and more companies are also looking to destinations such as Portugal, Spain, and Greece. Bear in mind that summer months are by far the most popular, which means houses are harder to come by. In May and late September, the crowds thin out, the weather is still great, there are more options to choose from, and you can save up to 40 percent off peak-season rates.
The Regional Players
HomesAway, a Toronto-based company, has an inventory of 65 properties (many of them are not available through other North American agencies) in France, Italy, and Spain. The company's employees regularly visit all of its rentals.
Just France, Custom Italy, and the Italian-focused Homebase Abroad specialize in single destinations, offering farmhouses, luxury villas, and city apartments. All three are renowned for their high standard of service and close relationships with local homeowners.
Abercrombie & Kent's rental agency has a roster of 19 lavish properties in France and Italy with hotel-style service—full staff, daily housekeeping, a groundskeeper—plus access to thousands of other houses around the world.
London-based Carpe Diem Luxury Travel and Five Star Greece are experts in high-end private luxury rentals, most of which aren't found on the open market. The former has properties from Corsica to Austria, the latter on many lesser-known islands.
Also worth a look Fontelunga Villas, LaCure, Rentvillas, Unique Properties & Events, Villas & Apartments Abroad, Villas of Distinction, and Wimco Villas
Under $5,000 a week
Villa Galletto, Tuscany Breezy one-bedroom cottage with split-level living room on a quiet estate; comes with private garden, shared pool, and housekeeping. Fontelunga Villas; $2,300 a week.
Infinity, Mykonos, Greece Whitewashed art- and antiques-filled house with five bedrooms, hardwood floors, dining terrace, outdoor grill, and horizon-edged pool; cook and housekeeping included. Villas & Apartments Abroad; $13,300 a week.
Les Trois Fontaines, Provence Four-bedroom country house with annex, fireplace, pool, and tennis court; surrounded by vineyards and lavender fields; 30 minutes from Avignon. HomesAway; $16,900 a week.
St. Clerans, County Galway, Ireland Ornate 18th-century manor house with 12 bedrooms, crystal chandeliers, grand piano, 40-person dining room, and guest cottage, on 45 acres east of Galway; comes with full staff, including Japanese chef Hisashi Kumagai. LaCure; $41,225 a week.
Sky's the Limit
Villa Amata, Cote D'Azur, France Belle Époque beachfront house with 17 bedrooms and direct sea access, on 17 acres between Nice and Monaco; includes pool, expansive gardens, outdoor shower, billiard room, gym, Jacuzzi, and full staff. Unique Properties & Events; $90,560 a week.