Travel

Slow Travels Through Europe

by Sarah Raymond
Ecoles-Panorama-5View from the Ecoles apartment where Pauline stayed – Photo Barbara van Zanten. www.europaphotogenica.com

Pauline Kenny, founder & owner of www.sloweurope.com, can be difficult to track down.  After renting a 2 bedroom in the Latin Quarter through Haven in Paris, Pauline and her husband Steve embarked upon an extended trip through Europe, staying in a variety of vacation rentals along the way.  You might wonder how they manage the time and resources for such a long stay. Over the years, they have made travel a priority and have created for themselves a more flexible and independent working life in order to do so – in fact, they are often able to take trips such as this once or twice a year.

PaulineKennyPauline Kenny at home in Santa Fe

With such a wealth of knowledge and experience, we thought Pauline would be the perfect person to speak with about the vacation rentals industry. We were able to catch up with her while she and Steve were staying in a chalet apartment in Nendaz, Switzerland.

HiP: Are there any specific criteria or amenities that you look for in a vacation rental apartment or villa? What do you look for in a vacation rental agency?
PK: This is what I look for in a vacation rental:
Location.
I pick the area where I want to go on a trip and then look for rentals there. If I have been to an area before, I look for a rental in a different part from where I stayed before. For example, this year I stayed in the 5th in Paris and next time I would stay in a different part of the city even though I loved the 5th.

Historic Building. Vacation rentals in Europe give the traveler the unique opportunity to stay in wonderful old buildings. On this trip we stayed in a 17th century building in the center of Paris, a 17th century row house in a Cotswolds village and a renovated out building on an historic estate in the Cotswolds.
Good Kitchen.
Because we are vegetarians, we cook most of our own meals on a trip, so I look for a well equipped kitchen.
Outdoor Area. I like to have a nice outside area so we can have some meals outdoors or just a place to sit outside and relax.
Other Things.
A washing machine makes a big difference (sometimes you can even find a dryer, but don’t count on it). You can pack lighter and don’t have to hunt out local laundries. It is nice to have a parking spot so you are not fighting the locals for a spot on the
street. **Note from HiP – dryers come standard in almost all of our properties!

Pauline & StevePauline & Steve in the Cotswolds. Photo courtesy of Pauline Kenny

This is what I want from a vacation rental agency:
Great Properties. Hand-picked, good quality listings, so I know that whatever I choose from them will be good.
Detailed Descriptions. A complete and detailed description so I don’t have to ask endless questions. Photos of every room, the building from the street, the outdoor area. The exact location on a map, or if the company is not comfortable with that, at least a general location.
Advice. Someone to talk to help me make my decision.
Followup. When I arrive I want someone from the agency to contact me to be sure I am settled in and happy (not necessary if they have a local office or contact where I know I can reach them). When I leave I want them to ask me for my comments. This shows me that they care about my experience and hope that I will book with them again.

HiP: For you personally, what are the 3 biggest advantages of a rental over a hotel?
PK
:  A kitchen, more space, privacy.

HiP: What do you like to do in place of going to museums and other major tourist attractions?
PK
:  When we started our travels we loved visiting the museums, but after several trips this became less of a draw for us. If we are in a city we like to explore the neighborhoods, sit in the cafés, walk in the parks. In the countryside we do a lot of walking on public footpaths/trails. In Europe there is a very different attitude towards walking in the countryside than what we are used to in the US. There is a history of public access to private land and land owners have to allow trails across their property. For the walker this means you can go to almost any country in Europe and find easy countryside walks. England is the best for this with their “right to roam” legislation giving the public legal rights to walk in many countryside areas.

HiP: Any advice for vegetarians traveling in Europe, and Paris specifically? We know that the options can be much narrower than in North America!

Le Potager du MaraisQuinoa Burger, Potager du Marais resto, Paris
– courtesy of sloweurope.com

PK:  One of the reasons that we stay in vacation rentals is so that we can do most of our own cooking. The easiest places to find vegetarian restaurants are large cities like Paris or New York. In Paris we found many very good vegetarian restaurants. In smaller towns it is usually more difficult. In France the vegetarian traveler ends up eating a lot of salad, omelettes and cheese sandwiches. Italy is a good destination for vegetarians because of the way their menus are organized. You can usually find vegetarian appetizers (antipasto), pasta dishes (primo) and vegetable side dishes (contorni). Because there are many vegetarians in England you usually find one or two vegetarian options on any menu. **Note from HiP: Check out Pauline’s article on vegetarian restaurants in Paris.

HiP: For people who have limited vacation time, how long do you suggest trying to stay in a single location? How long do you like to spend in one place?
PK
:  I recommend staying for a week in at least one vacation rental on a trip. If you are moving around a lot for the rest of the vacation, this gives you a good week in one area to settle in and get to know it. If we are doing a shorter trip, or going to a new area that we are not sure we will like, we spend a week at a time in different locations. If we are doing a longer trip, I like two weeks in one place.

HiP: How do you think the current economic crisis has affected travelers? Any advice as to how people can continue to have quality travel experiences on smaller budgets?
PK: One of the reasons that I like travel as a hobby is that you can easily stop when you need to and start again when you have extra money for it. You can save money by staying in vacation rentals. They are less expensive per night than comparable hotels. You can avoid eating in restaurants every day by cooking some meals. Staying longer in one place gives you more time on your trip because you don’t have as many travel days.

DSCN3706_2View of the Musée de Cluny & Notre Dame from the Ecoles

HiP: What changes have you noticed in the vacation rental industry since the Internet has become widely available?
PK
:  The vacation rental industry has changed a lot in the last ten years because of the growth of the Internet. For the traveler it is easier to find and book rentals. As the popularity of vacation rental accommodation grows, more people are turning their second homes into vacation rentals – so there are more to choose from. We started staying in vacation rentals in Europe in 1988. At that time you either booked through one of the few US agencies (choosing properties from printed catalogs) or waited until you were in Europe and booked through the local tourist office. Ten years ago you could rent directly from an owner only by going through the local tourist office. This meant mailing a letter to the tourist office asking for their listings, then phoning owners in Europe to find availability. Much easier to click on a website and check the availability calendar!

HiP:  What made you decide to sell www.slowtrav.com and subsequently start www.sloweurope.com?
PK:  I started SlowTrav in 2000 as a labor of love and by 2004 it had grown into a full time job. When Internet Brands approached me in late 2006 I saw it as an opportunity to leave SlowTrav in very capable hands while I went in a different direction. I started www.sloweurope.com because traveling in Europe and staying in vacation rentals is still my passion. I am limiting the site to Europe travel, hand picking the vacation rental resources that we list (agencies, rent-by-owner websites, tourist office sites) and collecting reviews. I also run a small destination guide for the Cotswolds in England, our current travel obsession. www.cotswolder.com

HiP: And one last question for our clients – what would you say is your favorite thing to do in Paris?
PK
:  My favorite thing to do in Paris is to visit the wonderful gardens. Our apartment was near the Luxembourg Gardens which are lovely to stroll through or to sit in to do some serious people-watching.

boules jardin du luxembourgPeople-watching in the Luxembourg Gardens: boules players. Photo Sarah Raymond.

Pauline Kenny lives in Santa Fe, NM with her husband Steve Cohen and their cat Buddy. Together they run Slow Europe, a guide to finding vacation rentals in Europe. This summer Pauline and Steve are on a 10 week trip, staying in six different vacation rentals, in Paris, England and Switzerland. These questions were answered from a chalet apartment in Nendaz, Switzerland where they had the most amazing view of the Rhone Valley, medieval Sion and the overwhelming Valais mountains.

PaulinescatbuddyBuddy the cat
Written By

Sarah Raymond

Sarah is a native New Yorker and lifelong Francophile. After starting her career at Haven in Paris, Sarah went off to hone her business skills at Darden and BCG before racing back to startup land. These days she runs operations at Context Travel as their Global Program Director, where she's based out of NYC and spends as much time as possible traveling back to Paris, on the hunt for the best French cheeses! View Website

2 comments on “Slow Travels Through Europe

It is a very lucky traveller who will discover SlowEurope and use its resources.

What a lovely article, which offers valuable insights into how this experienced traveller chooses her destination, and her expectations in terms of the information she needs when selecting her home from home.

I was encouraged to read that Pauline rather welcomes the agency (or owner, I assume if booking direct) to follow up on her arrival to check that she is happy. We also value this contact on our vacation and like to offer the same level of care to our guests.

Now I understand why Pauline calls her business “Slow Europe”. Fabulous to visit museums and galleries when in an unfamiliar city but there’s much pleasure to be gained from soaking up the atmosphere and culture and exploring the local geography at a leisurely pace. To quote Henry Miller, “one’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.”

Great photo of Buddy …. next to a Michelin road atlas! Cool cat!

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