Family reunions abroad differ from most of those convened at home. Often they are “sponsored” by grandparents who have the time to devote to the planning (and perhaps the supplemental funds to make it possible). Because of the exotic nature of the surroundings, external stimulation usually replaces, but may add to, the more familial atmosphere that exists at gatherings on home turf. Think of foreign reunions as enhanced get-togethers. If this difference has appeal, the next step is to accept the fact that they require much more planning and the answers to some important questions:
Can everyone survive a week or two without TV while in some remote castle? Can Rollerbladers in the family do without a stretch of asphalt? How about teenage mall-wanderers, and little children who may miss their friends and playground? Once questions like these are answered, the principal issues to consider are the location and the place itself. First in this hierarchy is the international decision: What country should be chosen? (Season will play an important part in this; the earlier in summer you go, the better your choices will be.) The usual tourism factors will apply here, but you may also want to reunite in the “old country” where your family emigrated from.
Try to find an uncommon abode in some distinctive area that best suits the needs of a diverse group. Whether it’s a farmhouse or a palace, match the location with the family’s primary interests, including a desire to find the family roots. It’s essential that the surroundings, both immediate and far-flung, be key to the choices. What area, or central town or city should the rental be near? Venice? London? Siena? Dublin? Is proximity to the sea important? The mountains? Walks through dales and moors suggest Yorkshire, Devon and Cornwall; golf suggests Scotland. Food and old towns may suggest France’s Aquitaine, while interest in castles might lead you to Wales or Ireland, and cathedrals and sculpture to England, France or Italy. Prepare a list of personal preferences, then confer with all the family. It will be worth the effort.
Space is essential—private getaway space for each of the families and, ideally, a communal area in which to gather: a common eating place, a terrace under the arbor, a library or living room.
Those of each older generation must think of the younger. The educational value of wandering through cathedrals, museums, markets and ecclesiastic ruins must give way occasionally to parks, playgrounds, beaches and cafes where lemonades and ices are served, as well as ales, vino and espresso.
If you’re unfamiliar with the country or area, consult companies that serve as agents for vacation rentals and tell them what your needs and interests are. Reputable agents know the territory and can give good personal advice, especially on finding properties that are appropriate to larger gatherings.
Michael and Laura Murphy are the authors of Vacation Rentals in Europe (Interlink Books, $19.95), The Natural Waterways of Great Britain: A Traveler’s Guide to Rental Boating (Interlink Books, $15) and its companion, The Natural Waterways of Ireland (Interlink Books, $15).