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On a Budget

Renting a Cottage in Britain Is Not Too Dear

July 26, 1998|ARTHUR FROMMER

Late summer and fall is an absolutely lovely time to rent a cottage or villa in Europe, to unwind and savor life like a local for a week or a month. Problem is, vacation properties in France and Italy have soared in popularity--and villa rentals in those countries are often priced as high as $7,000 to $9,000 a month.

But there are still a handful of other European places where you can make the dream come true for a fraction of that cost.

On the southern English coast you'll find the glorious beaches, seaside towns, artists' colonies and holiday cottages of the Royal Duchy of Cornwall. On a peninsula jutting into the Atlantic, southwest Cornwall is hard to beat for extremely affordable culture and history, welcoming people, all-around atmosphere and low-priced villa rentals.

Cornish culture. There's plenty to do in a land crammed not only with bucolic landscapes but with quaint villages, cliff-top Celtic castles and medieval churches, Bronze Age stone circles and 6,000-year-old cairns, and museums including the "Wreck and Rescue Centre." There are free or inexpensive art galleries and museums in almost every village (don't miss St. Ives' world-class, cliff-top Tate Gallery). The performing arts are crowned by the glorious 750-seat open-air Minack Theatre, carved into cliffs overlooking pounding surf, which stages Shakespeare to Verdi to Rodgers and Hammerstein--for no more than about $10.

A number of local agencies offer rentals in towns, on farms and in the countryside. A fully furnished four-bedroom cottage housing up to eight people goes for as little as $500 a week from late summer onward, rising to $800 a week in peak season (mid-July to the beginning of September).

Smaller abodes are available starting at less than $200 weekly. Rooms in such "self-catering" cottages tend to be smallish and cozy. Many but not all have TVs and phones. Most agencies also supply 24-hour emergency phone assistance. In peak season, booking early is essential.

Eating locally is also inexpensive, and hearty. The famous Cornish "pasty" (filled with seasoned steak, onions and potatoes) can be gotten at almost any local eatery or pub for about $2.50. Or try the superb fresh-caught seafood for a song--at Ward's Brasserie in Penzance, for example, a generous Cornish fish casserole with cider and cream, served with seasonal local vegetables, will set you back just $12.

House hunting. Some of the many local rental agencies include Cornish Home Holidays (011-44-1736-368-575), with a variety of 135 picturesque, traditional abodes. Even those that are two centuries old are equipped with conveniences such as central heating, fridge-freezers, microwaves, washing machines and dryers. Another broker, Cornish Cottage Holidays (telephone 011-44-1326-573-808), offers a fine lineup of 240-plus properties.

Still another, Helpful Holidays (tel. 011-44-1647-433-593), also has some excellent homes-away-from-home in Cornwall.

Or try getting cottage rental information by fax from the Fax Back Service at Penwith District Council (tel. 011-44-1209-611- 112), which covers Penzance, St. Ives, Hayle and Land's End.

Air rates to London can be bought very affordably from consolidators (sometimes for less than $450 round trip in autumn).

Once in Britain, British Airways Express, (800) 247-9297, flies 28 times weekly between Gatwick Airport and Newquay (Cornwall's major airport) for about $164 round trip. Cheaper--as low as $51 per person--but lengthier at five hours and 15 minutes, is a Great Western train (tel. 011-44-345-000-125).

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