Best features of your favourite holiday cottage
July 6, 2009 6:01 AM   Subscribe

Have you ever stayed in a holiday cottage? What were its best and worst features? Looking for tips, advice, anecdotes to help make our holiday cottage a memorable place for our paying guests.

We live on a large rural property in a natural environment about 10min off a major interstate highway. We have a guest cottage far away from the main house that we've decided to turn into a holiday cottage for paying guests (nightly, weekend, weekly).

It's a cottage for two (one queen bed) with a spa in a windowed alcove, separate bathroom, kitchenette, log fire, very large deck and views. We don't want to add any further beds/rooms (we have plans for another building) and the place itself is modern with power, but not tv/phone/internet reception. Our market are couples looking for a romantic/relaxing and private getaway.

Our prices are competitive and on the low end. We don't want to put in too many consumables as this would increase our overheads and thus the price for guests. However we don't mind investing in high quality assets for the place (nice linen, good kitchen equipment etc).

What items/features could we included or exclude that would make our place very memorable and well spoken of by our guests?
posted by Kerasia to Grab Bag (29 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: This may be odd, but I most vividly remember the fluffy pillows and comforters that were way nicer than anything I had at home.

For the US readers who haven't figured this out- these are called bed and breakfasts.
posted by emilyd22222 at 6:09 AM on July 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Make sure it smells good. Not like industrial cleaner, but a fresh clean scent like your own home. That industrial uber-bleachy smell of some of those places is off-putting when you're trying to relax.
posted by macadamiaranch at 6:16 AM on July 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: It's not really a B&B if there's a kitchenette in the cottage (and it sounds like you won't be providing meals - is that correct?). I'd consider it more of a serviced apartment.

We're staying in a serviced apartment right now and my biggest frustration is the lack of decent cooking equipment. One of the major reasons for staying in a place with a kitchen is the ability to cook and not eat out every day. But with one very small saucepan and one non-stick fry pan and a set of very awful knives, I've not had much luck. I requested more equipment but have so far received only one marginally larger pan. For someone staying only a weekend this wouldn't be a problem. But we're a family of four staying for multiple weeks. This is annoying.

Make sure the bed is super comfortable, and provide a variety of blankets/duvets for your guests. Another issue we're having is the duvet is much too warm for July so we've resorted to using just the cover. Extra linens would be nice, too, for layering.

A selection of board games might be nice, too, as well as some books/current magazines.
posted by cooker girl at 6:18 AM on July 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

Cooker girl- You're right. I missed the kitchenette part.
posted by emilyd22222 at 6:19 AM on July 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

The things that I have valued the most (in addition to those already mentioned) are

1. an ipod dock to play my favourite music (best if integrated with a radio to listen to local news and weather)

2. A mini dishwasher (last thing you want to do after a tiring day out in the country is to wash dishes)

3. Easy to figure out light and heating switches (best so far was a remote control for lights on the bed side table)
posted by london302 at 6:26 AM on July 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

I also appreciate decent kitchen equipment and things like a vegetable peeler. I think a sign of a thoughtful host is a small stock of kitchen essentials (salt, pepper, sugar, milk, coffee and tea, paper towels, etc). The stuff that you probably don't need a lot of if you're only staying a week, but you would have to buy if you wanted to do much cooking. I wouldn't consider it awkward to ask the guests to replace them if they use them all. A lot of times people will leave these on from guest to guest, but I don't know about tampering and liability issues. You can probably source these things in bulk.

On occasion you find a nice starter kit that includes breakfast fixings for the first day, so on arrival you don't have to run out and stock up.

I like the idea of an alarm clock or mini-stereo with an iPod jack.
posted by sagwalla at 6:31 AM on July 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I agree with a nice smell: paint, bleach, pine sol, and too much renuzit are not good for relaxation. (I have an ultra-sensitive sniffer so this is pretty important to me.)
Next is cleanliness; I don't want to have to worry about bugs. I also enjoy being cut off from civilization: no laptop, email, etc., but having a computer in the main house for emergencies would be a nice option. Though, I like having decent cable to watch at night before I go to sleep. Provide plenty of wood if there is a fireplace, and maybe yard-game equipment for croquet or badminton. Last thing, provide a coffeemaker. :)
posted by heather-b at 6:34 AM on July 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: It's really annoying when there's not enough toilet paper or dish detergent or t-towels or cooking equipment. Directions or pamphlets to nearby tourist attractions and food places are good. Short tips on how to work unusual equipment in neat small laminated signs (ie, to start the stove/fireplace/dishwasher, pull the thingy out and twist the doobylacky). Hotel size soaps and shampoos are a nice surprise but rarely provided (understandably).

There must be good tea and coffee bags near the electric kettle and some long life milk in the fridge so you can have a cuppa as soon as you get there.
posted by b33j at 6:34 AM on July 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The welcome materials are an important touch. Create a black and white guide to your area - things to do, maps, local restaurants, grocery stores, etc. Print a personalised copy for each booking with their names and dates and put it in the cabin under a vase of fresh greens or wildflowers. (In the winter you can use pine boughs or something - this needn't be any cost.)

Tea bags, ground coffee, sugar and a pint of fresh milk go a long way after a long drive.

Fluffy towels and two bathrobes that belong to the cabin are great.

And FWIW, I would love to stay somewhere like you describe, but my husband will not / cannot stay anywhere without internet access. At the very least, a small inexpensive flatscreen and a pile of house DVDs would be nice for rainy days.

A house DVD rental card and directions to the DVD rental store would be even nicer!
posted by DarlingBri at 6:37 AM on July 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

You're on the Atherton Tablelands? Air-con. Air-con. Air-con. In the absence of air-con, please warn your guests. I'm from Queensland and I've lived in Cairns and Port Douglas, so it's not that I'm not used to the heat. But I stayed in a couple of quite ritzy places in the Far North, including on the Tableland, that weren't air-conditioned and... it was terrible. Even more terrible was not finding this out until we were *in* the cabin. Not impressed. I know the Tableland isn't as hot and sticky as say, the Daintree, but even so, some sort of cooling is a must. If you don't run to air-con, invest in a good fan at least. And you can always frame it as ''eco friendly'' to put a positive spin on it!

My bitter personal experience with tropical swelter aside, you're in such a gorgeous place. Maybe some material to direct guests to local attractions / beauty spots? A guide to local restaurants? Map of the area? Or a hard-cover coffee-table photography book highlighting the splendour of the Far North? Some framed photography of really nice spots on the Tableland (curtain fig? various falls?) with perhaps an explanation in your welcome literature?

The other thing I hated was cheap, awful tea and coffee in guest cabins. There are great tea and coffee producers up that way - source fresh stuff from them. Nescafe and Liptons is not on.

Other stuff that's been super-nice when I've stayed in guest houses (and in FNQ again, actually) has been really nice shower and toiletry stuff from local organic places. And more practically, mosquito netting. Actually, that could be a lovely opportunity to do something a bit special and tropical with the bed? A big, white, old-fashioned mosquito net draped over a huge romantic.
posted by t0astie at 6:43 AM on July 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

A hair dryer. Extra umbrellas. Sunscreen and spray on insect repellent (if in a buggy area). These are things that I forget to pack, and would be thrilled to find. I agree with having a television and/or wifi. Sometimes people get derailed (rain, illness) and it's nice to have a bit of entertainment.
posted by kimdog at 6:44 AM on July 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I appreciate a collection of maps of the area, hiking/walking trails, biking trails and local features. A guestbook is nice, where your guests can leave a message to future guests. I've gotten ideas of things to do from guest books that were not in tourist guides, i.e., "You must try the pie a the little restaurant one town over."

Have a full bookshelf of paperbacks for guests to take and leave books.
posted by readery at 6:46 AM on July 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

nthing books. Pick up a selection of fiction and non-fiction at rummage sales.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 6:48 AM on July 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oops! I think I got your location wrong. Nonetheless, if it gets at all hot in summer, think about the air-con. Please! Think about the air-con. :)
posted by t0astie at 6:50 AM on July 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Just back from a trip, and in a couple of B&Bs, the temp would have been okay if the room had been ventilated, and the curtains closed against the sun. As it was, the room temp was really hot until at least midnight. Esp. in the countryside, I don't like a/c.

Coffee setup: small coffeemaker, decent coffee, tea, etc.

No knick-knacks - too breakable and fussy.

Minimalist decor without frou-frou. One B&B on my trip had beautiful bedspreads, nice wall color, plain pine furniture, and everything else was cream or white. It was very soothing.

Sufficient wall plugs for charging phone, laptop & camera.

The advice to provide info on local places of interest is very good. Including which local restaurants/pubs are good, and the number of places that deliver, if any.

Do you get mobile phone reception? If reception is poor, make a phone available to guests somewhere unintrusive and private.
posted by theora55 at 7:10 AM on July 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My partner's family owns a beach cottage in a tourist town which they rent out by the week, and which the family uses during the off-season. They supply:

- laminated instructions for using the heater and for turning on the hot water (which is only off during the little-used off-season). Though both are pretty simple, it's nice to have the instructions just in case.
- a shed full of wood for the fireplace, a trunk full of wood in the house, with a request to refill it from the woodshed, plenty of matches and newpapers. I added a fireplace kit: wax firestarters, fatwood kindling, prefolded paper, long matches, and some of the wax-treated pinecones that change color in the fire.
- big box fans

bedding and linens:
- plenty of towels in the bathroom
- large and brightly-coloered beach towels near the entryway
- sheets and pillowcases in each room, so a guest doesn't have to guess which sheets are for which size bed if they want to change the bed during their stay
- thick, cozy down comforters, and extra blankets in case it's cold
- nice pillows, and they should be fresh and clean
- washer and dryer, and supplies of laundry detergent
- kitchen towels hanging on a rack near the sink

toiletries and supplies:
- a sparkling clean bathroom
- basic soap, toothpaste, shampoo
- plenty of toilet paper (a few rolls in the bathroom, a large backstock stored in plain sight in the laundry room)

- a modest supply of books, mostly mass-market paperbacks but including some children's books as well as books outlining the area's history and points of interest
- this cottage does have cable during the rental season, and a decent-sized TV attached to VCR and DVD player. It's a great convenience, though I can understand you might not wish to offer that.
- a landline phone, which is a also convenient. (My cell doesn't work in that area, and I can't be the only one.) They post a polite note next to the phone alerting renters that they are responsible for all toll calls incurred during their stay.
- no computer, no internet access. I admit, I like that. I'd bring my laptop if I wanted to work; I come to the cottage for a getaway.
- a cupboard full of games and toys.

They keep a lot of kitchen gear, which is a great convenience:
- plenty of pots & pans, with lids for each size
- cookie sheets, casseroles, one large roasting pan
- one enormous lobster pot (in Maine, it's kinda a requirement!)
- cutting boards, colanders, strainers, graters, mixing bowls, all the basic tools
- full-size 4-burner stove with oven, oven mitts hanging nearby, microwave, coffepot, teakettle, a grill outside (with instructions and tools)
- a drawer full of utensils, so the guest doesn't have to wash the same wooden spoon three times to make dinner. I plan to add: a heat-resistant spatula/scraper, some sharp knives. Be sure you have a corkscrew, bottle opener, can opener.
- plenty of (matching) plates, cups, bowls, plenty of glasses including wineglasses.
- an obvious (but good-looking) trashcan, with trashbag in place. Instructions for trash disposal: pick up days, location of dump, recycling info and receptacle, info about returnable bottles. Extra trashbags.
- a supply of basic foods (salt, sugar, flour, baking soda and powder, tea, coffee, butter) and cupboards stocked with not-so-basic foods (crackers, a tin of cookies, popcorn). I'm going to gently disagree with previous posters and say that having the very basic of, for example, tea and coffee is fine. They're going to sit around and get stale anyhow; you are offering them for addicts who forgot their supply, not for the discriminating palate. (I bring my own coffee because I'm fussy, but when I arrive and discover I forgot to pack it, I'm certainly happy to drink a pot of the cabin's coffee before I go to the store!)
- full ice trays, and plenty of 'em! (Again, this is primarily a summertime rental --- ice, please!)

- a note from the owners welcoming you and thanking you for staying there, with contact info in case you need to reach them
- a collection of take-out menus for the area, a few flyers from area attractions, a handful of maps
- a listing of churches and service times, a listing of local hospitals and medical centers, local emergency numbers (911, police non-emergency, fire, etc.)
- directions to the nearest two or three beach access points, and a brief listing of beach rules (no dogs, etc.)
posted by Elsa at 7:43 AM on July 6, 2009 [3 favorites]

A visitor's book where guests have been encouraged to write about what they liked doing in the area is always a plus.

I stayed somewhere recently where the owners had thought to provide a full selection of spices - this was nice as they are exactly the sort of thing that one forgets to buy.

I have also been to a number of places where the owners put paintings and photos taken or made by previous guests on the wall. Alternatively you could ask a local artist to provide some paintings together with a discrete pointer to their gallery.
posted by rongorongo at 7:46 AM on July 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Please oh please make it not smell at all. No scented laundry detergent, no fabric softener, no plug-in air fresheners, no potpourri. Not only do people strongly disagree on what smells "nice," but many people are sensitive to all kinds of scented products.
posted by HotToddy at 7:49 AM on July 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Mosquito netting draped over the bed like a canopy. A collection of good books and DVDs. A puzzle. Deck of cards. Some crossword and Sudoku books. Binoculars (for birders). A small garden or patio outside with a comfortable chair and a table. Fresh flowers, even if they are plants instead of cuttings. No knick knacks, nothing kitschy or country (sorry, country lovers). High thread count sheets. Wine bottle opener. Lovely, soft rug by the bed. Fluffy towels. Coffeemaker. Ventilation (windows with screens, transoms, etc.) The ability to play music with a collection of CD's or a good radio. The iPod/Clock radio combo sounds nice. Good lighting that doesn't just rely on overhead lighting (sconces, table lamps, etc.) The ability to borrow an innkeeper's dog for a stroll or cat for cuddling (I'm serious. Best places I've ever stayed had this. One in Mexico, one in San Juan Islands in Pacific Northwest. It was awesome.) If you don't want have cat or dog, even a goldfish in a pretty bowl that I don't have to feed is nice. Ceiling fan. GOOD pillows and mattress. Outdoor grill. Hiking stick. A basket of warm muffins and a thermos of coffee dropped off on my doorstep on the morning of the last day with a thank you note (that was a beautiful surprise).

I'm a huge fan of B&Bs, pensions and country cottages. Have stayed in them all over the world. The ones with the thoughtful touches that I can describe easily to my friends ("Can you imagine? They had walking sticks by the door and maps of the trails for us! Plus a little pack for carrying the lunch we made! So cute.") get my repeat business and my referrals as well. (A friend sent us this and it looks lovely, very much like the places I enjoy. It may give you some ideas.)
posted by jeanmari at 7:50 AM on July 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Comfy places to sit! I've stayed at a couple of villas where there were almost no comfortable places to sit except on the bed. That's not terrible in a hotel where you're spending most of your time away from the lodging, but if you're renting a place to relax in for a week you'd like a couch or a soft chair to sit in and read or talk or nap.

A lovely touch from one place we stayed was a welcome tray of antipasti waiting for us in the fridge, so we didn't have to cook the first night we were there. There was fresh fruit, salumi, cheese, and some bread or crackers, I think. It was yummy and felt very personal and friendly.
posted by katemonster at 7:53 AM on July 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Oh, since you point out that you have a deck, think about:
- comfortable chairs, occasional tables, and possibly a lounging bed for the deck
- a sun umbrella? Luxurious, unnecessary, but awfully nice!
- acrylic or otherwise unbreakable glasses and dishes to take outside

And to follow up, here's a list of the least desirable features of a rental cottage I stayed in a while ago. Despite the charming owners and the gorgeous private beach, I will not return nor recommend it to friends:

- a troublesome toilet that clogged repeatedly. Vacationing guests don't want to deal with a tricky toilet; the owners should have it snaked, or otherwise resolve the problem.

- a landline phone number that the owners evidently give out as a secondary contact number, so it was ringing all week.

- a vast collection of fragile collectibles covering every flat surface, many of them antiques. The first thing I did upon walking in with my small nieces and nephews was exclaim, "Hey, Westerwald pottery! Oh, and Staffordshire! Oh... uh-oh." The second thing I did: carefully collect all the fragile knick-knacks and stow them in a high shelf, so the kids didn't have to walk on eggshells all week.

- an elaborate antique woodstove, with counter-intuitive functional and no instructions.

I think the important thing to remember about a rental cottage or cabin or apartment or house is that it's a comfortable space for your guests to unwind and expand. Owners who fill this space with inessentials (ceramic knick-knacks, for example) are missing the point of the space, and crowding their guests for the sake of making a personal decor statement.

Please oh please make it not smell at all.

Oh, goodness yes, this. The less scented the place is, the better. Heavily scented potpourri and such is just an olfactory version of the clutter I describe above: it's a way to impose the owner's (possibly unwelcome) tastes upon the guest.
posted by Elsa at 8:13 AM on July 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

My favorite things from various places...

Electric kettle - love when they are supplied in kitchens.

You mentioned upgraded linens! Yes yes yes. Please. Makes such a difference. And black-out curtains in the bedroom if you can.

One had the washroom stocked with the things you would have at home (cotton balls & swabs, new razor, etc.) much like a hotel would have. Sounds simple, but it seemed so thoughtful since it wasn't expected. But yes, consumable.

Regarding all the comments on food, I am not interested in finding cupboards filled with any pantry items. Frankly, I would always wonder how long it had been there and what might have crawled inside. Maybe a simple welcome hamper would cover both bases - bottled waters, teas and a few packaged snacks just to get guests started until they can make it to the store. One place even offered a "grocery bag" of items for additional purchase - it was maybe 10-20 very common items for a set price that would be in your room if you requested it in advance.

Not sure what type of cleaning schedule you are thinking about - but do leave a few basic cleaning supplies behind in case someone accidently makes a mess.

Docking radio/alarm clock was amazing (inspired me to buy my own) if you think it fits in the spirit of your place.

Luggage rack / bench - I'm sometimes surprised how many places are without

Internet. Not required by all, but I'm always happy to pay for my addiction.
posted by MuckWeh at 8:35 AM on July 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: We rent holiday places like this a couple of times a year. Folks have already mentioned kitchen stuff, and next to that the thing I've found most useful is:

* Clear, easy-to-follow written directions for
- the stereo
- the TV/DVD player
- how to log in to the internet (if it's offered) and the # for tech support if there are issues
- the fireplace (if there is one)
- washer/dryer, if available for use

Leave phone numbers for emergency services - plumbing, medical, etc - and the address/directions to the closest hospital or clinic. All of these things are usually left in a binder that's in a prominent place, like the kitchen counter or coffee table in the living room.

The places we rent also require us to do a basic cleanup when we check out: vacuum, clean bathroom and kitchen, wipe up anything that might have spilled in the fridge. We bring our own coffee, but do expect there to be the proper kind of filters for the coffeepot.
posted by rtha at 8:53 AM on July 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

A good mattress with nice sheets.

Nicely packaged soap + shampoo. Don't care about brand, just needs to look good.

Real glassware. No disposable cups.

The option to have a glass of wine. Extra reasonable charge is OK, or at least provide a corkscrew and glasses.

Good heavy curtains so I can sleep past dawn.

Wifi Internet plus a DVD player in the room with a few DVDs. Works against the "romantic getaway" concept, so not strictly necessary, but sometimes people need a getaway from the romance :-)
posted by Nelson at 8:55 AM on July 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

I agree on the welcome book/guide book. If there are restaurants or delivery options in the area, a page listing them (or the ones you recommend), their phone numbers, and opening hours. Same for the nearest supermarket, drug store, minimart, ATMs and larger stores for forgotten items of clothing or whatnot.

And if there are useful items not in plain view, and inventory of them and where they should be found and left (there is a hairdryer in the bathroom and an electric fan in the hall closet. Sorry, there is no iron. Extra blankets are in the bottom drawer, folding chairs outside under the stairs). The last place I stayed had several items like this hidden away in non-obvious places. Directions for any cleaning you expect to be done when people leave beyond the dishes and a general tidy-up (ie if there is a broom and vacuum cleaner in the closet, are you expecting people to give the floors a once-over before they go?). Note on exactly where to put out the trash. Location of the fuse box and emergency flashlight. Note on whether or not people need to be discreet with their wine if they take some for a picnic.

And seconding the nice linen, fluffy pillows, and black-out curtains.
posted by K.P. at 9:22 AM on July 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Fight mold like the plague! Mold has ruined so many vacations for me in these cool cottages here in Europe because the materials used to construct them couldn't handle the damp springs/autumns. I grew up in LA, a super-dry place compared to where I live now, and had no idea I would react to mold this way. You can't paddle a kayak if you're sneezing all the time.
posted by mdonley at 11:35 AM on July 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Nthing the comments about not smelling like anything and adding request for a 3 prong plug for my portable air cleaner as I'm super allergic to cleaners/perfumes/plug ins. Before buying the small air cleaner, I spent some nights outside or in the hotel lobby as I could not breathe in the room.

The best cabin we rented had large windows overlooking a lake with a long sofa facing them. Wonderful for the day it poured.
posted by x46 at 11:53 AM on July 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Many thanks! Your suggestions are going to make our cabin great. I can't mark any particular ones as a 'best answer' as every one of you has given me a good tip (all comments highlighted would make the page hard to read, no?) So you all get a favourite added to my list.

t0astie, yep, we are on the colder tableland in NSW, not the hotter one in Qld. But the summers can still get pretty warm here so many of your points still hold.

I am particularly glad that no-one said lots of frills! lots of knick-knacks! Personally, I loathe frilly-flowery cottages and B & Bs. I know I don't want to stay in my grandma's bedroom if I am planning a romantic weekend.

I am not going to pimp our place here, but if anyone is keen to know about the cottage, or offer some specific hints regarding our set-up, feel free to memail me and I'll send you a link to our website.

Thanks again!
posted by Kerasia at 5:32 PM on July 6, 2009

Best answer: A good collection of mix and greatest hit CDs. Fireplace already laid and ready to go. Good quality coffee and either a machine or plunger for it - I loathe it when the provided coffee is instant and I have forgotten to bring my own. Nice quality toiletries.

posted by AnnaRat at 6:06 PM on July 6, 2009

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