Try a Vacation Center

Vacation centers, also known as holiday and vacation villages, offer good value for travelers to Europe willing to be based away from major cities.

These complexes are in Scandinavia, West Germany, France, Holland, England and other countries in Western Europe. American travelers are discovering these centers, but they are still primarily used by Europeans.

The centers are usually self-contained resort complexes including apartments, chalets or bungalows. Some are virtual year-round villages with high-rise apartments, marinas, indoor and outdoor pools, a variety of restaurants and sports facilities. Playgrounds and counselors may be available for children.

Other centers are small, with only a snack bar, and only open during summer.

One major vacation village is Rhein Lahn, about 1 hours’ drive from Frankfurt in West Germany. With 400 units ranging from studios to three-bedroom apartments, it provides indoor and outdoor pools, jogging and bicycle trails, two restaurants and gymnastic facilities. Rates start at about $25 a night per room.

Prices for an apartment, covering centers throughout Europe, average around $40-$50 a night regardless of the number of occupants. Apartments may include bedroom, living room, full bath and kitchen.

Whereas European families might bring their own linens and towels, Americans face extra charges of around $5 per person a week for such items. A clean-up fee may also be levied. Some accommodations include cooking utensils, tableware and linen. Heating, electricity and gas may be incorporated in the rates or charged according to consumption.

Restaurants offer meals at around $8-$12 for lunch and dinner. Some provide stores and take-out cafeterias.

Rooms are generally rented for a week or longer, but shorter stays are possible. A rental car, in most cases, would be useful.

One tour operator specializing in holiday villages--Vacation Centers, 1101 Richmond Ave., Port Pleasant Beach, N.J. 08742, phone (201) 899-8833--offers packages to 25 centers that include accommodations and a car. Rates average around $65 a night for four people. You pick up your car at gateway airports such as Frankfurt and Stockholm.

Check with the foreign government’s tourist office for additional information.