We had a fantastic holiday in Spain that was better and cheaper than a package holiday. Here's some tips on how we did it.
Normally we're in a tent during the British 'summer', but now and then we travel a bit further. This was far from being a tent...
Most summer holidays are spent camping, hiking, canoeing, cycling, going to the beach, doing activities and visiting attractions around the UK.
As much as we love the UK, we do like to travel further afield, but it may take us a few years to afford to do so.
We're a family of 5 with kids getting older (airlines count kids as adults from 12!), so all the regular 'package' types of holidays were rather pricey.
What was a surprise was that by shopping around we could hire a villa - with a private pool - to accommodate us all at a better price than those 'package' holidays.
one of the best family holidays we've had abroad
The result: one of the best family holidays we've had abroad.
So if you're a larger family looking to get away and have not hired a villa in Spain before, here's our experience...
Booking a Villa
This was a DIY holiday. No travel agents were involved.
Of course, it means you have to do a little more work, but it is a little. And you save yourself money in the process.
We rented the viall through Holiday Lettings.
Holiday Lettings isn't a travel agent but where private villa owners display their villa's details and availability. As this is a private hire arrangement, you can get a lot more for your money than most tour packages.
Finding the right villa can take time. The website has search facilities, so you can narrow the list of villas to those that are 'Child Friendly' and have a 'Private Pool'.
Villas in popular holiday locations and this right next to the beach are more expensive. Look further out, and you can get a fantastic luxury villa at a better price. You'll hire a car anyway, so being a little further out shouldn't be an issue.
Sometimes villas may have a gap in their bookings, and the owner may offer a reduced rate so the villa isn't unoccupied. Look out for these deals. You can grab yourself a bargain - as we did 😉
The booking process was painless, with a few e-mails to the owner to confirm, and then doing a bank transfer for the deposit and then the final amount. Get yourself some holiday insurance that covers the cost of your holiday in case you need to cancel.
- Search for villas that are 'Child Friendly'
- We recommend looking for a villa with a 'Private Pool' but make sure it is gated if you have young kids.
- Look for villas away from the beach or tourist spots. They're a lot cheaper.
- Find a villa that has a gap in its bookings and is offering a reduced rate to fill that gap. You can get a bargain.
Booking the Transport
Booking flights was easily done online with budget airlines, and hiring a car online was straightforward.
BTW, we flew from John Lennon airport in Liverpool. This is a great little airport if you are in the North West.
We flew into Alicante airport in Spain.
Collecting the hire car
At Alicante Airport, there's a multi-storey car park full of car hire vehicles. Find the company you hired from and collect the keys.
escorting them to a cash point to pay a large fine
While loading our bags into our car, another Brit advised us to remove the car hire sticker from the rear windscreen. He told us that police were pulling over cars with car hire stickers and escorting them to a cash point to pay a large fine.
I don't know if that was a rumour, but it's a good idea not to advertise yourself using car hire, especially if you park up somewhere and have your luggage in the boot. The rear sticker in our hire care had been removed so many times before that it was barely stuck to the window anyway.
Driving in Spain
In many ways, driving in Spain is similar to driving in France.
Motorways and the open roads were fine. However, some road junctions are unusual in towns and villages, and I can only think that the road planners never quite understood what a roundabout is.
We found several instances where there would be a large roundabout but with a road going through the middle of it, and some approach roads not quite joining the roundabout but bypassing it. And they don't appear to standardise on give-way rules, so each quirky roundabout had to be handled differently.
I didn't enjoy driving in Spain on some days
The SatNav had no idea what to do at these funny roundabouts either.
After doing some of these several times, they became easier, but I confess I didn't enjoy driving in Spain on some days. Lots of U-Turns.
Our villa was up in the hills in an area called La Nucia, and it was fantastic.
The owner wasn't there to meet us when we arrived, but there was another ex-pat to give us the keys and show us around. There was also an ex-pat pool cleaner and gardener that visited a few times whilst we were there. Both provided great info on where to visit.
We booked a villa with a private pool. After all, if we were going to live it up, we had to do this in style 😉
The pool was fantastic for the kids. If you are considering hiring a villa, getting one with a pool is well worth it.
The pool was fenced off with gates that adults could lock. If you have young kids, this is essential.
The villa had air-conditioning, two kitchens (including an outside one), a couple of bathrooms, several sun terraces and sun traps, and a rooftop terrace where you could view the mountains and overlook the Mediterranean Sea.
The picture at the top of this page was taken one evening from the roof terrace of our villa.
we felt like royalty living it up in Spain
The outside kitchen was a great addition. It included a fridge freezer so you could stock it with ice creams and cold drinks to enjoy by the pool.
Perhaps we were particularly lucky with this villa. We felt like royalty living it up in Spain.
Food and Shopping
Suppose you've been on a self-catering holiday in a popular Spanish tourist spot. In that case, you will undoubtedly have experienced expensive supermarkets (usually a 'Spa') that don't have many choices.
When you choose a villa away from the normal tourist spots, you can find supermarkets that the locals use. There are large modern supermarkets, like Tesco, Asda, or Sainsbury's, and they are much cheaper than tourist supermarkets.
Do some online research before you go to where the supermarkets are. You'll probably also find the villa owner very helpful with where their best place to shop is.
Beaches and Attractions
The beaches and attractions will depend on where you hire your villa, but as you have a car, getting to different places is a lot easier and doesn't require a 'tour rep' meeting to organise.
We were close to the mountains, the beaches, and even the attractions at Benidorm.
Some of our favourites were Guadalest in the mountains, swimming in the mountain waterfalls (Las Fuentes Del Algar), snorkelling in Benidorm (surprisingly the clearest waters with the most fish that we had found along the coast), and Mundo Mar.
If you are planning on taking your family abroad to somewhere like Spain, we'd advise hiring a villa as an option.
We still went camping that summer too (of course!), but we sandwiched it with our custom-made luxury break in Spain.