A glorious Saturday morning in autumn found me on Sheep Street in one of the most beautiful towns in the Cotswold hills of England, Chipping Campden. Around the comer was an array of old-fashioned shops: the butcher, the baker, the greengrocer, even a French charcuterie. Carrying the shopping bag I had packed for just that purpose, I totally enjoyed wandering into the shops and choosing special foods. Cheeses, French bread and chocolate croissants, a nice bottle of wine, apples and olives all went into my bag. Home again, I set them out on the small patio surrounded by high stone walls and awash in warm sunlight. That day George and I enjoyed a special lunch I won’t soon forget.
Vacation rental properties offer a number of advantages: they are usually less expensive than hotels, and for the lower price you may enjoy 3 or 4 rooms or more. They are more comfortable than a single hotel room and they are more private. They provide a kitchen enabling you to save quite a lot by cooking “at home” at least occasionally.
And kitchens have other advantages. With a kitchen you can discover the foods of Europe. Street markets are found in every European city and most small towns. Being able to buy and prepare foods from these markets is a delight to anyone who loves to cook – and to eat! Each country is unique. We loved the aisles packed with pasta in Italy, the cheeses and olives in France, the soups and sauces and teas of England.
Best of all were the outdoor markets. Market day provided fresh fruits and vegetables of the freshest, ripest, most beautiful kind. Vendors always sold olives and olive oil, and a delicious olive spread called tapenade. The spice merchants were there with bags full of colorful herbs and spices. Fresh bread. Goat cheese. Meat of every conceivable sort (including ostrich). Everything can be found in the markets. Bringing these wonderful things home to cook is a treat – and costs a fraction of the price of restaurant meals.
Our first cottage was in a tiny hamlet in Yorkshire, where we stayed in a place owned by a retired geologist and his wife. When they invited us in for a drink we were able to enjoy their lovely home for an hour or two. We heard about their careers, including many years spent in Africa. The following week we learned about the effects of Foot & Mouth Disease from Scottish farmers who rented us a very nice place they created in their old stone barn. In the third week we had coffee in the ancient manor house of our hosts, an upper class British couple who have converted old stables into wonderful apartments. Our hosts in Tuscany invited us to dinner the night we arrived, and we had a great time reciprocating with an American cookout for them before we left. We would never have had these experiences if we had stayed in hotels.
*In the UK the term for vacation rental cottages and apartments is “self-catering” (meaning an ability to cook your own meals). In France, country cottages are called “gites.”