In 1929, a young Canadian author and his wife went to Paris for a long holiday. For nine months, they absorbed the culture, drank absinthe, smoked Gauloises and met in cafés with friends for intellectually vigorous conversation. More than three decades later, the author would publish a book about his experiences.
That author was Morley Callaghan, his friends were Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ford Madox Ford and James Joyce, and the book was That Summer In Paris. Callaghan's sojourn in Paris was a seminal experience that changed his perception of the world. And although few of us will write books about our travels, in these troubled times, the long-term stay -- whether it's three weeks or three months -- is an increasingly attractive response to the pace and stress many of us face in our jobs. The extended visit, however, demands planning, creativity and determination to extricate ourselves from the bustle of our days and to cobble together the weeks or months needed for a serious escape.
Many of us are using those blocks of time to pursue our personal dreams. Mine was to improve my painting technique and to do so in Tuscany, while absorbing food, wine, culture and the Italian way of life. To that end, my husband and I arranged through a Toronto agency, Kompas Express, to share a rented villa in Italy with some old and dear friends from England.
Within a half-hour of picking up the keys, we were driving along a winding gravel road, and feeling our trepidation increase as the route wound higher and grew narrower. When we came to a pair of old gates set in a crumbling stone wall, despair set it.
It wasn't looking good. Once we were inside the gates, however, we discovered a beautifully restored example of traditional Tuscan architecture called Villa Camporsevoli. The keeper of the keys even greeted us with two bottles of the estate's wine, one red, one white.
It got better. After unpacking, we walked up a pathway lined with cypress and emerged at the top. As far as the eye could see, the soft round hills of Tuscany lay below us, misty and eternal. It was a painter's paradise.
But what if things hadn't turned out that way? Since we were dealing with an established agency that had a local office, we could have simply voiced our disappointment and they would have found us something else. But according to Robert Zuzek at Kompas, they've never had to do that, since they personally inspect and monitor their properties. (Make sure the agency you use maintains similar close contact with the properties it rents. And if you use the Internet to arrange a long-term rental, make sure you ask for, and check, references from people who have stayed there.)
If you're planning an extended sojourn in Italy, the organization One Step Closer arranges special insiders' tours. They'll connect you with specialists in art history, landscape design and wine, as well as arrange access to private palaces and collections, cooking and art lessons, and bicycling and trekking tours. It's like having a well-connected Italian relative at your disposal.
Another destination that seems tailor-made for a long-term stay is Barbados. With its easy pace and peaceful beauty, the island is the ideal location to fulfill that vow to finish reading War and Peace or to write the novel everyone is supposed to have in them.
Or to do what Scott Ames did. He originally came for six weeks to hone his skills on a surfboard. Five years later, he is still there. On the day we met, he was up at dawn to surf before reporting for work behind the stove at Olives restaurant.
Bathsheba, home of the world famous "soup bowl," is the most popular spot for surfers, but there are good waves all around the island. Several places on the island lend themselves especially well to a long-term stay. A good place to start your search is Intimate Hotels of Barbados, which markets smaller and more personal accommodations. The Rostrevor is one of them. Located in the newly rejuvenated St. Lawrence Gap area, the Rostrevor Apartment Hotel has the feel of home. Twenty-eight of the units are brand new, and they're well designed, immaculately clean and equipped with efficient kitchenettes. Best of all are the double French doors that open onto a spacious balcony and a fine view of the beach and ocean.
The Rostrevor's owner, Yvonne, is more like a den mother. Because so many of her visitors are there for long periods of time, and because they tend to come back for return visits, she gets to know her clientele on a very personal level. She helps them navigate the medical system when health problems arise, she listens to their stories, and she solves their problems.
The Casuarina Beach Club is another hotel that invites lingering visits, with rooms that face either the ocean or the property's wonderful gardens. Another small, personal apartment hotel, the Pirate's Inn, is located a block from the beach.
Perhaps the country where more Canadians tend to settle in for a long-term stay is Mexico. San Miguel de Allende, for instance, is an idyllic colonial town that has become an important artists' colony and a Spanish-language learning centre. It was here that I took a big risk: I rented a villa from a person I had located on the Internet. Should I have done it? Probably not, but I felt from the messages we exchanged that this woman was legitimate. Gut feelings count for something, after all. Besides, the photographs of the house showed every room in detail, and there were several references on the Web site that enabled us to contact other people who had rented the property.
The Casa de los Suenos lived up to its name: house of dreams. The rooftop patio proved to be the perfect place in which to paint, and nearby were art and language schools, house and garden tours, literary readings, and the homes of other long-timers, who hosted many social evenings. Our long-term stay seemed incredibly short.
Portugal is another favoured long-term destination for Canadians. Not only is the weather mild and the culture rich, the price is right. When most North Americans are looking for some Portuguese sun, it's low season there. JM Vacations manages 30 properties in Portugal, some villa-style and some in apartment complexes. It is a destination for those seeking a quiet, laid-back atmosphere. Walking, golf, excellent food and fine scenery are all part of the country's charm. For the traveller who wants to use the Algarve as a base, Lisbon is a three-hour drive on the newly completed double-lane highway. Seville, Gibraltar and Morocco are also well within driving distance.
On the other hand, a long-term rental is perfect as a base for conducting a genealogical quest, and Ireland is so full of history that you are bound to uncover something of your Gaelic roots in an extended stay. Perhaps a small cottage in rural France could give you the opportunity to become a Cordon Bleu level cook. The pursuits are limitless, but the best ones definitely require a serious investment of time.
And if the circumstances are right, perhaps, like Morley Callaghan, you'll be so inspired by your long-term stay, you'll discover a book gestating inside of you.
If you go
Kompas Express Travel: 741 Bloor St. W., Toronto; phone: (416) 534-8891; or visit the Web site at
One Step Closer: Via Piana 3, Florence, Italy; phone: 39 (055) 233 5283; Web: .
Intimate Hotels of Barbados: phone: (246) 436-2053; or visit
Rostrevor Apartment Hotel: phone: (246) 428-9298; or send an e-mail to .
Casuarina Beach Club: phone: (246) 428 3600; or visit the Web site at .
The Pirate's Inn: phone: (246) 426-6273; or send an e-mail to
JM Vacations: 2 Carlton St., unit 1503, Toronto; phone: (416) 979-1100 or (800) 268-8974; Web: .