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  • Writer's pictureAlex Subrizi

Va-va-Vrbo* (and villa rant)

Updated: Dec 21, 2023

A while back, I was making my way through Milan's ugly Malpensa airport when I saw a giant and very handsome billboard advertising Vrbo (stands for Vacation rental by owner). It must have been soon after the company, along with its parent HomeAway, had been acquired by Expedia, because the photography was top-notch and the copy spot-on. "Private, whole homes" overlaying an image of a family on holiday and underscoring Vrbo's key differentiator: you and your group would not have to share any part of a Vrbo rental with hosts or other guests.

I liked the campaign but dismissed Vrbo as a service that would list Poggiosole since we offer two separately rentable lodgings that share our inner olive grove, pool, table tennis, and parking area. But just the other day I did a rethink: why not list Poggiosole's entire fienile on Vrbo as a single "farmhouse" residence? It would be unwise to do this on either Airbnb or Booking, because we'd be denying the users of those platforms the chance to book just two or three bedrooms instead of five or none at all (the fienile as an undivided whole). And our other platform, the upwardly mobile Plum Guide, has chosen to list only our larger lodging Le Rose (renamed "A Midsummer Daydream" on their site).

This gives Vrbo an on-brand exclusive to promote Poggiosole's fienile as a large, single residence, made up of Le Rose and Begonia: two lodgings side-by-side accomodating up to 10 adults. The more I thought about it, the more "doubling up" our lodgings seemed a plus for larger groups (we do this on our own website, after all). Two kitchens, two living areas, two patios, two BBQs allow a portion of an eight- or ten-person group that wants to split off for an evening or sleep in the next morning to do so more easily. And for those times when everyone wants to eat or walk or splash together, Le Rose's long dining table will seat 10, our olive groves are vast, and our pool shouldn't feel crowded when everyone knows each other: "Only your people."

So I went for it: as of yesterday, Poggiosole is offered on Vrbo. I was even paid a reassuring compliment, via chat, by one of Vrbo's service reps: "I like your listing". We'll see how it plays.

*with apologies to Art Carney

Postscript, December 19: After taking a look at some of the other properties listed on Vrbo in our area I was reminded how often the term "villa" is used, by hosts and guests alike, to describe renovated farmhouses, stables, and haylofts or portions thereof. This includes some very fancy properties, like the crazy exclusive Villa Ardore, which, considering its exterior photos is not now nor ever was or ever will be a villa, but rather a farm or rural outpost with stables transformed into a luxury rental (nothing wrong with that, just don't call it a villa). Back in the day, Villa Ardore's buidlings probably housed peasants, farm animals and/or the small militia of a feudal lord or landowner, who would visit only if necessary, preferring to spend time in his actual villa, palazzo or castello. Here's another example in a different vein: a solid but unremarkable three-bedroom single family home billed as a "spacious villa". C'mon now, really?! Enough to set Andrea Palladio whirling at high rpm underground. How the term "villa" came to be used to refer to most any family vacation rental in Italy is beyond me, but, just to be clear, to Italian ears this is a bit like promoting any stand-alone residence in North America or the UK large enough to house half a dozen guests as a "mansion" or "manor house".

The Wikipedia entry for villa offers a helpful chronology. Apparently we have the British to blame for the term being used, from the 19th century, to refer to "compact houses in the country" with the Danes, Swedes and Norwegians also then using "villa" to mean "most forms of single-family detached homes, regardless of size and standard." Still, as of this writing, all the photos on that Wiki page are of homes of a very high standard indeed: large, grand, and opulent from inception, not stables or haylofts later rendered luxurious (as again Villa Ardore, or Poggiosole for that matter). For an example of an actual historic Tuscan villa (with formal garden), see this aptly named Vrbo listing. Beautifully and authentically furnished too.

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