Let’s face it. Planning a group trip usually falls to one person and in my group of friends, that’s me. I am the one who suggests the dates, book the venue and plan the activities.
For 2022, I’ve been dreaming of getting a group of friends together for a big group vacation, something I’ve been craving since moving from London to Sicily as an expat. I love friends from home who come to visit me, but hosting means that I become a chef, driver, cleaner and tour guide. Renting a villa would make it a vacation for all of us.
I booked our property through Villatravellers, a Sicilian company that rents out villas all over the largest island in the Mediterranean. We stayed at Villa Respiro, a 5 bedroom property in the hills above Taormina, a historic city Sicilythe east coast.
The villa overlooked the sea and the panoramic view must be what inspired its name, which means ‘to breathe’ Italian. We all let out a long, satisfied sigh as we saw that view after our morning departure.
It marked the perfect start of a relaxing long weekend reconnecting with old friends. But it took careful planning and preparation to make sure everything worked out. I went through the steps I followed in planning, which began four months before check-in at Villa Respiro.
1. What is the perfect guest list for a villa vacation?
The first step in planning is deciding who to invite. If you are going with family or a group of close friends, it may be obvious who is coming. But if you plan to unite different social groups, for example friends and colleagues, it is worth thinking carefully about how the personalities will come together.
One way to tell if the group will bond is to ask everyone what kind of vacation they want. If half are bookworms and the other half can’t sit still, it could create some division. You don’t have to spend every minute at the villa together, but an agreement on how you will spend time together as a group will make it more enjoyable vacation.
Think about whether you want to invite kids or keep it kid-free. We opted for no kids so we didn’t have to think about car seats, nap time, early bedtimes and all things toddlers.
2. How much does a villa holiday cost?
It’s easy to get caught up in awkward situations over money and friends, and with the cost of living so high right now, everyone is watching out for money.
To avoid misunderstandings or surprises, my advice is to discuss money early and often. As soon as you start inviting people, give them an idea of how much the villa will cost per person. You can easily find approximate prices on booking sites. Also be upfront about additional costs that will be split among the group, such as food, alcohol and group activities.
Feedback from the group on proposed costs will give you a balance to work with when searching for your perfect villa.
Splitwise is a free and quick to use app for keeping track of who spent what and settling down at the end of the trip.
3. Where is it best to book a villa holiday?
Multigenerational journey is exploding right now like families come together after the pandemic. But if you will bring all dal newborn to grandma, make sure you find a villa that fits everyone’s needs.
It’s not just the number of bedrooms to think about. Need a step-free seat? It is reliable Wifi an absolute duty? Maybe you need toys for children of different ages? Writing a list of must-have and nice items will make it much easier to narrow it down using your search criteria.
The good news is that the options in Europe are endless and more properties become available every year. This is especially true right now as some travelers prefer private accommodation on hotels to stay safe from COVID. Expect villa holidays to become increasingly popular in the years to come.
When you know what type of vacation your group wants, it will be easier to narrow down the locations. If you want beach time and I swimchoose facing the sea. Whereas if time in nature is the priority, a property in the mountains or a forest it would be more suitable.
Don’t be afraid to lean on the company that you are booking with advice and local know-how. When booking with Villatravellers, I asked for a 10 bed villa, close to a airport and with A pool.
I hadn’t considered Villa Respiro at first as I wanted to be within walking distance of a town. But in the end, it was a very good recommendation from the company – we only left the villa gates once in the three days we were there.
4. What is the best means of transport for a villa holiday?
The villas tend to be off the large side city so you’ll need to plan your next trip in advance since airport or railway station.
If you’re going to do like us and hang out at the villa, public transport or private transfers are the best option. Rent a car because sitting in the driveway is just a waste of money. Private transfers are the easiest option, but taking public transport will be much cheaper and mean far fewer carbon emissions.
If you want transportation while at the villa, rental cars are the way to go. Remember, if you are a large group you will need more than one, unless you can hire a van or people carrier.
There are many online car rental comparison websites where you can easily get quotes. Don’t forget to account Baggage space in the calculation of the size and number of cars.
Decide who in the group will lead the cars. They will need to make sure their driving licenses are valid where you are travelling, especially for Brits in a post-Brexit world. When booking, drivers will also have to choose between automatic or manual cars.
5. What is there to do on a villa holiday?
The beauty of a villa is that it will be yours from home to home. That said, having a rough idea of what you’ll be doing at the villa will make for a more relaxing experience once you arrive.
The advantage of using a company like Villatravellers is that they know their properties very well, as well as their surroundings. The Villa Respiro website listing was indeed comprehensive, so I knew in advance that it had a swimming pool, heated jacuzzi, fully equipped kitchen, laundry, TV with Netflixand barbecue area.
On top of all this, Villatravellers can organize experiences in and around your villa. These include a jeep ride up the local volcano Mt. Etnaboat trips or a cook coming to cook for you.
Once the booking was made, a villa and experiences specialist got in touch to plan the rest of the trip. One thing our group had in common was a love of food and drink – perfect given that Sicily it is known for both.
Reluctantly we gave up on visiting a local vineyard if it rains in October, opting instead for an in-villa cooking class. Two wonderful local women brought all the ingredients and their vast know-how of Sicilian food and we spent an afternoon cooking with them.
We made a three course meal including macaroni from scratch. Get the skill to roll out the pasta it was harder than it looked, creating healthy competition within the group. But we made peace when it came time to sit back and feast on what we had created. Best of all, we didn’t have to wash the dishes.
I would recommend checking in advance how long any pre-booked activities will take. Our cooking class was very Sicilian in that nothing was rushed and everything was done with care and attention. But it ran longer than expected, so check the schedules in advance if you want to make evening plans.
6. What to bring on a villa holiday
Now is the time to package your suitcases, but don’t deplete precious packing space by taking the things the villa provides.
We were pleasantly surprised with how much was included at Villa Respiro. There was a welcome hamper that was more like a week’s worth of groceries – it contained cooking essentials like salt and oil plus everything for a beautiful Breakfast and some snacks too.
We also decided to have some groceries delivered to the villa. I expected to have to arrange this but just gave Villatravellers the shopping list and arranged for all to be delivered soon after we arrived. It was so nice to know that we didn’t need to venture out to find a local shop.
The welcome hamper was very generous but we were surprised that there was no shampoo or shower gel in the bathrooms. So it’s worth checking out what comes with the villa and what you need to bring your own. Be mindful of liquid limits if traveling with hand luggage on an airplane. One of the benefits of train journey is that you can pack any size of liquids.
Your rough plan for what you will do while there will be key when deciding Do you live and shoes to pack. Check ahead or ask the villa company for the weather forecast so you are not caught off guard.
My favorite evening in our villa was spent playing the games one of the couples had brought along. Cards and silly puns were the perfect after-dinner entertainment and far better for group bonding than drooling over a movie.
7. How to ensure your villa holiday is the perfect holiday
Once you’ve done all the planning and preparation, my last tip is to just let it all unfold and enjoy whatever happens.
You may have an itinerary for each day in advance, but the reality is that some things just won’t go to plan. That’s the beauty of travel: the unexpected twists are often the best parts.
Approach your vacation with an open mind. Leave behind preconceptions about your friends and family, or which parts you’ll like best. Remember that you are on vacation to relax, especially after all the planning.
Villa Respiro is available through Villatravellers starting at €3,400 per week.
Ruth Wright and friends were guests of Villatravellers.