The problem with searching for a holiday villa on one of the ‘big websites’ is that it just takes the romance out of the process.

One property after the next stacked side by side looks pretty similar to the next.
These large websites work on numbers – the more owners they have, the more they get paid, the happier they are, they don’t have much commitment to display in the individuality of those special properties.

Similarly, booking agents can remove the sense of adventure for the traveller searching out that special piece of paradise (not to mention the commission that gets added on top).We are all different some people want to press the button and have a property/flight/transfer from the airport all organised for them at a stroke.
Personally, I like to assemble my vacation ‘piece by piece’ even if it means that I might pay a little more (although perhaps I’ll save money).When we go away (excluding our visits to El Monte Bajo and Al Ladino) we invariably start in the search engines with words like ‘rustic’, ‘private pool’ and ‘close to the sea’. After spending so much time in our own properties, we think we have a clear idea of what we’re looking for when we step outside.
We want to talk to the owners directly.
If I were booking a Melia hotel or a Spanish Parador, I would navigate through their websites and click to make the booking. There is something standardised about hotel reservations but with private villas there is no such thing. For that reason I find it curious that people are willing to take a chance and book online without sufficient inquiry.As a private traveller, I’m always weighing up the person that is doing the letting. Who are they? Why are they letting? What is their motivation and I ask am I confident they are looking after their property meticulously in a way that will lead me to have a trouble-free break? Or are they desperate for the money and not in the position to maintain their property sufficiently? Some of the best maintained and most charming private properties I have encountered have been owned by foreigners with a passion for their surroundings and a meticulous eye for authenticity and detail. It is fantastic to see the respect they show for their ‘local spanish environment’.
One of the bedrooms at Al Ladino, Nerja
One of the bedrooms at Al Ladino, Nerja
At the other end of the spectrum there are foreign owners who have bought properties in better times but cannot spend more than a couple of weeks in them. Such a scenario is a red flag to me, they may be unprepared owners without the support to look after guests. A property, especially in the countryside, uninhabited through the year will have likely developed some maintenance issues by the time spring and summer arrives. You do not want to be the visitor on whose visit the washing machine breaks down because it’s been unused through the winter. As travellers ourselves, we look for properties that are treated like homes, occupied probably every month of the year.   As we know during high season in July and August any half decent property will get fully booked up. On that basis some owners might be tempted to hike the price knowing that demand always outstrips supply. Prices should be higher in summer for this reason but it should be proportionate  (actually I like enjoying the same property off season for a fraction of the price but that’s another story).
We all have our preferences, foreign owners I can deal with  (provided they don’t live on the site) but when it comes to maintenance I do not want to encounter foreigners cleaning the pool, doing the gardening and offering the chambermaid service. It’s a personal preference but if I am in Spain I want to be surrounded by local people who have sympathy for the job in hand and are knowledgable on the climate and how to stop the mosquitos and this and that. I always ask ‘who maintains you property?’ and who maintains it through the low season weeks. I try not to sound like a private investigator or the journalist I once was!
view from the patio of Al Ladino, Nerja