2013 was the summer of England and France. My husband, Brent, and I hit seven cities in three weeks, taking in a mix of city and country. This is part of a series of blog posts recounting our adventures over July of 2013.
I was ambitious when I booked our accommodation in Bradford on Avon. I had plans to visit Bath. I had plans to explore Lacock. I had the idea that we could get off the beaten track, driving around the countryside.
But then we drove to Chipping Campden. And we drove to Avebury. And we saw a “Caution: oncoming traffic in your lane” sign as we played chicken with other cars while driving uphill in Bradford.
Then, we parked. And we agreed to stay parked.
Now, this wasn’t the 60s, teenaged version of parking, but if we moved that car one foot further, any chance of that kind of parking would have packed its bags and left our trip altogether. For the sake of our sanity, our relationship, and (let’s be honest) our lives, we were staying put.
Bradford on Avon itself was going to be our vacation destination.
Sure, we took the train to Bath. We went on a walking tour, saw the famous circus, and let my history nerd hang-out with my literary geek, but the highlight of our time in this region? Our accommodation in Bradford.
Going “home” in Bradford actually felt like going, well, to a home. You see, we don’t stay in hotels. Since discovering that my list of bad foods is about as long as Santa’s list of bad kids, we’ve had to re-evaluate the way we travel. Traveling gluten-free and near vegan has its challenges, but having amazing, unique places to stay is one benefit of not being able to eat like most people. Instead of just booking a room with a bed – and possibly a breakfast – we stay in apartments, flats, cottages, studios – whatever strikes our fancy.
We’ve used Airbnb, Homeway, and Holiday Lettings to book eight separate accommodations in three countries, so we’ve had a pretty good taste of what’s out there. But our studio in Bradford? It was our best choice yet.
Traveling Europe with food sensitivities can get a little bit depressing when you can’t eat the local food (who would have thought that not being able to eat a sandwich in the UK would feel like such a big deal?) but having your own kitchen where you can prepare allergen free meals based on local dishes? It’s priceless.
Not every holiday rental kitchen is made equal, though. I’ve learned to look closely at the pictures when booking our stays. Does the flat have an actual cooktop (gas or electric), or does it have hot plates? Is there any counter space for chopping and prepping? Is there a drying rack for dishwashing? The Studio at Lynchett’s had all of this, plus a convection microwave oven, all the dishes we could need, and some useful staples. We didn’t feel like we were camping in this kitchen, and that’s huge.
Our studio in Bradford was also as cute as can be. It was comfortable and welcoming. It was updated and functional. It was priced in a way that reflected that, so was it the cheapest place we could have stayed? No. But you don’t want to cheap out when you’re renting apartments. Your accommodation isn’t just a place to sleep when you can’t eat at restaurants; it becomes a big part of your overall trip. You spend hours there prepping and eating meals – hours that you wouldn’t spend in a hotel. So, my advice? Take the money you would have spent on eating out and redirect it to your accommodation. It’s worth it.
The Studio at Lynchett’s also came equipped with a nice TV, DVD collection, a radio, some board games, a record player, and a private yard (or garden, I should say). These things ruled. It might sound odd to be excited about having things that are very un-vacation like, but entertainment is important. Remember, you have time to kill while you wait for your food to cook. And that garden? You don’t need to dine out in order to enjoy a terrace meal in Europe.
By staying in rental apartments, it also means that you get off the regular tourist tract, often staying in prime residential neighbourhoods without a hotel in sight. Instead of tourists, you get to see locals – people who actually know what’s going on in their town/city, or what has gone on in the years prior. Thanks to our wonderful host in Bradford, I learned about the town’s history during the Industrial Revolution – something that I would have missed altogether if we’d been staying in a hotel.
We’ve had some great experiences with booking self-catering accommodation, but I feel like I should make myself a trophy for choosing Bradford on Avon. So we didn’t go to Lacock. We didn’t randomly drive around the countryside. But we didn’t miss out. Instead, we explored the town of Bradford. We visited the volunteer run museum. We walked over the historic bridge. We wandered past a Saxon church. We poked into shops. And, when we were tired or hungry, we went home – and it welcomed us like no hotel room ever could.