I am interested in hearing of experiences staying in Europe in rented homes for a week or two weeks rather than hotels. What to look out for and any horror stories?
The best source on renting houses is Slowtrav.com.
We used gites-de-france.com to book homes in France. We booked a home for a week in Provence and another for a week in the Dordogne. Both experiences were excellent and exactly as described on the website.
I've had good success with homelidays.com, mainly because there are tons of reviews from people who've actually stayed in the accommodations listed.
Venere and VRBO also have homes and apartments. We have had good results w both
Agree slowtrav is an excellent resource. We always stay in houses or apartments in preference to a hotel for all sorts of reasons.
Personally I think there are more horror stories with hotels. Of course you can be unlucky but if the website is professional and dealings with the owner or agent equally so, you would not normally have problems.
Probably one thing to be aware of - in large European cities - Rome in particular from my reading - it is very common for one apartment to be listed with multiple agents for sometimes very different prices and there are a few stories about people being bumped to another, far less suitable apartment at the last minute - or worse, having no accommodation at all.
It is also common to have to pay (cash) on arrival - again this is nothing to be concerned about.
Within Europe we have stayed at rented apartments in Malta, Spain and Greece. We rarely use hotels for a stay more than four days in duration. We've never used a booking agency but instead we have picked up great apartments directly off the internet. We only use the ones that give you a virtual tour of the apartment. We have never been disapointed in any way whatsoever. In all cases it has been a cash transaction. In each case we have ensured that the owner lived nearby. By following the simple rules of taking an initial virtual tour, asking that the owner is on hand, when you arrive, to show you around and explain how appliances work and not exchanging payment unless we were satisfied ( which we always were without exception ) we have had great experiences.
We use VRBO.com to rent an apt in Bruges, BE, and vacationinparis.com to rent in Paris last year. Good experiences with both. Renting in Paris this year through a different group just because of choosing a different apt in a different location.
It's less stressful if you can get the key and directions to the property before you arrive, although with the heavy security keys used, sometimes it takes a demonstration to get it right.
Make sure you know if there is an elevator, washer/dryer, what size bed -- whatever is most important to you. Find out if utilities are included in the rental price. If you choose the right apt/house in the right location, it is so much better than a hotel! Have a great trip.