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Vacation rentals vs. Cheap Hotels

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Hi, we want to go back to Tuscany in the next few months... still trying to decide when. We are looking for last minute offers, etc. We were also thinking of going over Christmas and New Year's Eve, but I suppose it is more expensive then.
We went a couple of years ago and rented Casina di Rosa, a vacation rental in Tuscany between Siena and Grosseto. They have a website and I will be glad to give it to you if you are interested, but I think I might not be allowed to post it here. Not sure about that... guidelines are long and in a very small font!!!

Anyway, we had a fantastic time and we did not spend much. The apartment was very clean, well equipped and perfectly located. And very reasonably priced: we spent 350 euros for 7 nights, and there were 3 of us, so less than 17 euros per person per night We saw that they have last minute offers out which are quite interesting (less than 20 euros per person if you travel in a party of 3 at the end of August, not bad, eh?!) but we were looking for somewhere different rather than going back to the same area, even if we loved it.

But, Gosh! Anything else seems to be much more expensive! How is it possible?!? We generally rent self-catering accommodation because it allows us to travel really cheap, as we can cook at home in the evening and prepare picnic food before leaving in the morning. This helps us cut on restaurant expenses, etc. enormously.

The lower prices seem to be available only in hotels, though... so I was wondering whether you could tell me how comparable staying in a cheap hotel and staying in a vacation rental like then one we rented in 2004 are. Is it expensive to eat out all the time? Can you recommend anything cheap which would allow us to have a few meals in? We also have car rental expenses, which however cannot be avoided because we love to travel off the beaten path. Thank you for your help!

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