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A barn conversion in the Roman hills with resident donkey made the perfect house swap holiday

About 15 years ago I tried a house swap and it proved to be one of the most memorable holidays I’ve ever experienced.

Now, when I say I tried a house swap, it was more that I was a beneficiary of a house swap, as it was my sister who had to clean her house, lend out her car and have the worry of what was happening back home whilst we were away. Me? I just turned up at the airport.

The swap was arranged with her son’s, friend’s auntie – so effectively a stranger, she is a brave woman, my sister. All we knew was that we were going to stay in a detached house 30 minutes outside Rome.

A friend of our absent host met us at the train station and whisked us off to our home for the next two weeks – a barn conversion in the middle of nowhere and a rather dodgy looking Volvo estate.

Thank God we had persuaded her to stop off at a supermarket on the way because my driving skills in foreign lands are shaky at best and my sister’s non-existent. I drove the Volvo once and that was enough. Luckily, we had plenty of drivers coming to our aid.

You could bump into The Beckhams in Holland Park

We hadn’t just swapped a house and car, however, but we appeared to have swapped lifestyles and friends too. Oh, and the care of one donkey, one horse, one hyper sheepdog called Gyp and three feral cats. We fell in love with them all.

But what made this holiday so special was being scooped up by our host’s German and Italian friends. On day one we received a call telling us ‘he’ was on his way to meet us. Giddy with excitement at the thought of meeting a latter-day Marcello Mastrionni, and although he was more Norris Cole, his kindness was bountiful leaving us four bottles of wine on our doorstep every day. It gave a whole new meaning to ‘putting out the empties’ each night.

Cornwall is the ideal location for a house swap

He acted as our tour guide, taking us to some beautiful places off the beaten track and hosted us for lunch – a six-course feast all cooked by his wife who duly ignored us in favour of ‘Murder, She Wrote’.

We were also adopted by our host’s close friends with whom we shared many hours of food and laughter. One lasting memory was of our Professor (of Baroque Music), standing over us with a sunshade to protect us from the Italian sun. He was a wonderful combination of high drama and dry humour delivered in a mangled Scouse accent from his doctorate years at Liverpool University.

The perfect host during our trip to the Roman hills

Our penultimate night was high in the Italian hills eating pizza in the village square and dancing with the locals. Like a mini version of the United Nations. None of this would have happened on a ‘normal’ holiday.

All those wonderful memories flooded back when I came across this house swap website. The houses are breathtaking, and it appears no matter what type of home you have, you can swap with anyone if they agree to it.

It is a membership model and ranges from £8-£12 per month. Members can choose from a classic, simultaneous swap, where they exchange houses with someone else, either at the same time or on different dates, or a non-simultaneous points swap, allowing them to travel without having to match their plans with another member.

You could bump into Kate Moss during a house swap in The Cotswolds

Members earn points for hosting, which they redeem when they decide to travel – they simply pay a small service fee based on the length of trip. Home swapping is a simple, cost-effective way for members to travel at a fraction of the traditional price, while staying in the comfort and safety of a home.

With the continued interest in Staycations there are some stunning properties in the UK and when travel is safe again, the world is your oyster.

Main Pic: @mexicanastudio

Jacqueline Hughes-Lundy
Employing her business skills, experience and love of writing all in one place.

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