Sharing a holiday villa with friends can drive otherwise perfectly sane people round the bend. Oliver Bennett outlines seven clever ways to avoid holiday strife
Something about sharing a villa with friends brings out the beast lurking beneath the thin skin of genteel civilisation. I know: I grew up summering in mouldy gîtes and villas.
As a teenager, I once invited some pals to a Tuscan pile without informing the adults, to catastrophic effect. On another occasion, my parents and another family shared a rental pile in the Dordogne, then argued ferociously about British politics until the relief of changeover day. One participant spent the last four days on aimless drives in his rented Citroën, just to be away from shared villa hell.
Now grown up – and possibly less mature – I’ve also been on villa holidays with friends and looked through the opposite end of the telescope. I’ve fumed at parents a little too keen to tell my kids off while ignoring the misbehaviour of their own; seen inexplicable tempers from friends who seemed rational at home; and experienced rushes of snarling ultra-competitiveness. On one occasion, a drunken argument became unsalvageable: the less said the better.
Still, the inexorable rise of self-catering means that villa holidays are more popular than ever, so the question is: how do we ameliorate the perils of small-group holiday hell? Here are the main issues to think about:
Laurence Hicks, director of holiday rental company CLC Leisure, has seen families who have been long-term friends become eternal enemies after sharing a holiday villa. “Relatively minor irritants which would normally be overlooked can quickly become magnified out of all proportion,” he says, advising particular caution over what might be called the Trivial Pursuit Effect.
“In my experience it’s best to try to avoid competitions of all sorts unless you are already used to playing each other.”
To avoid strife, plan ahead and make sure there’s enough to do at your destination. A spokesman for Abercrombie & Kent Villas says: “Provence is perfect for the whole family, as it has hiking, biking and horse riding for teenagers, with walking and culture for the adults.”
Get a pool if possible, and arrange activities in principle. “The secret is: keep everyone too busy to argue and choose a place with a wide range of things to do,” says Rob Pendleton, author of How to Find the Perfect Holiday and MD of luxury adventure company Adventure Temples. “This ensures you’ll have exciting things to talk about over dinner each night.”
Indeed, if you can stretch to it, such laid-on extras as tennis courts, pool tables and mountain bikes are invaluable, particularly if teenagers are involved, says Charles Stephenson, MD of villa and ski company Red Savannah.
Hanging around a house with little or no stimulation makes people irritable.” Don’t go OTT on the planning, but have outings up your sleeve: visits to the local market, hill climbs, canoeing.
Often, it’s people in our age group who will be arranging these hellish holidays. Lisa Leggate of villa company To Tuscany says that over-50s call the shots, usually with one couple at the helm. “We find that this couple [the helmsmen] likes privacy, so they book villas with some sort of separate annex for themselves.”
Easily accessed amenities – be it beach, bar, restaurant or shopping strip – are a boon. “This will avoid designated driver arguments,“ says Carl Davies of Villa Select, who reckons you should voice your needs before the break. “If going to a café every morning for a caffe con leche is your thing, let everyone know, so that they don’t think you’ve got the hump when you wander off on your own.”
Then there’s the rush for the best room: a perennial cause of resentment. Charles Stephenson, MD of villa and ski company Red Savannah, suggests looking for ‘democratic bedrooms‘: villas with similar-sized bedrooms and en-suite equality. “This avoids any disputes about the best room,” says Stephenson, who also recommends a cleaner.
Claus Sørensen of Spain Holiday believes that groups should look for properties together and share the details before booking. “That way, everyone is aware of where they’re going, there’s no surprises upon arrival, no conflicts caused – and no blame placed on any one member of the group.”
And my penn’orth? Perhaps devise a kitty system, and be aware that some may be richer than others. Let things that irritate you wash away – and whatever you do, try to avoid sharing drunken ‘home truths’. That way, lifelong feuds lie. And it’s supposed to be fun, right?