Airbnb: for great deals on renting rooms in apartments, and whole apartments or houses for WAY less than hotels. You are renting from real people, not agencies so prices are the best out there, and locations are the most unique and ‘local’. Want a 10 bedroom chateau in France? An apartment overlooking a beautiful piazza in Italy? A small stone cottage out in rural Portugal or Spain? Airbnb has got a ton of options for a every budget.
Homestays.com: a lovely site, that is much less commonly used than sites like Airbnb, but is fast becoming one of my favorites when I want to stay with a local, while traveling solo. The prices, in my experience so far, are lower than Airbnb, and the hosts are less jaded (and more eager to be the perfect hosts) as they haven’t been doing it very long, and they get less traffic than properties on Airbnb.
Flipkey: for a better selection of unique lodging in areas that you can’t find great options for, in other places. For instance, when I was looking for unique lodging (not hotels) in Fussen, Germany and Galicia region of Spain, I found way better options on Flipkey than I did on Airbnb. There were slim to no options on Airbnb in the exact areas I wanted to stay, while on Flipkey I found listings for a good number of homes, cottages, and B&B type lodgings. The prices were great as well. These are individuals listing their homes on here, and in less touristy areas this means you can still get an awesome place for a steal. I didn’t find the same concentration of good lodging options in off-beaten path areas anywhere else (without going to many many different sites and spending many hours translating other language sites)
Roomorama: this site is a lot like Airbnb. And now that Airbnb has purchased them (likely because they were competition) they even look like Airbnb branding wise, but you’ll see different stuff on both sites, so if you can’t find a place on one it’s a good idea to check out the other.
Country Specific/Region Specific Sites (that connect you with unique options):
Toprural.com: I use this site in Portugal and Spain to find casa rurales (ruraly located B&B’s run by the owners). This is such a cool way to find places you’d never see on sites like hotels.com or Airbnb, and due to that fact, you must accept some conditions you might not be used to. Among them is the fact that you may need to transfer a % of your stay’s cost to the owner’s bank account to hold the reservation, and pay cash upon arrival. That’s right. There are still people who don’t have their own websites, have no way to charge you online and who don’t own credit card machines. While this may make some people uncomfortable, old-school travelers will tell you this used to be the norm! You will get far more back in exchange for these little inconveniences such as: great prices, fewer foreign tourists, and the experience of putting money directly into the pockets of locals and helping sustain this way of doing business.
Monasterystays.com yep that’s right. There is actually a website that will help you find a monastery or convent to stay in in Italy. And this site is not just for fancy hotels that used to be monasteries. It’s for actual working monasteries and convents who take guests. Pick a region of Italy, and then choose by price or amenities. There are rooms for anywhere between 25 euros a night (simple room with small bed and private bathroom) to much more luxurious options. As many of the monks and nuns don’t speak English and aren’t super technically savvy, this website acts as the go-between between the guest and the monastery, communicating with them in Italian about incoming guests (what time you are showing up, how many people, any questions you might have, your contact info, etc).
If you fancy waking up to tolling church bells and the sound of voices singing hymns floating through the air, and staying in incredibly beautiful and historic buildings, this is a great experience.
Staying in an agriturismo in Italy is a rewarding experience. Get away from big cities and crowds (except in Tuscany-where you’ll still find crowds on every road that’s near a tourist destination from April to October) and relax in a rural countryside B&B/guest house (many places don’t serve breakfast). Most agriturismos produce their own olive oil, wine, or other agricultural products and you will get to either see them being made (depending on the season) or taste them/buy them while there. There is an intimacy and authenticity that comes with staying somewhere like an agriturismo versus a traditional hotel. You’ll feel closer to the region, the land and its’ people.
Cars are usually needed to get to this type of accommodation, so make it a road trip and get out into the Italian countryside and explore the tiny villages and hidden secrets along the way.