18 Jaw-Dropping Private Villas You Can Rent Around the World
Let's call this story what it is: Villa Madness. After all, it's the ultimate travel fantasy: to call home, if only for a week, a to-die-for house in a legendary place. Fully staffed, of course. Here are some suggestions:
LIVE LIKE A MEDICI IN ITALY
Wake up with Masterpieces in Amalfi
Arise in the master suite at Villa Astor (pictured above) and you will see, through three double doors, Mount Vesuvius, Sorrento, and the island of Ischia—surely how William Waldorf Astor used to start his day. He bought the clifftop estate from an Italian noble-man in 1905, when he was the American ambassador in Rome, and he filled it with classical and Renaissance objets. When today’s owners, Russian émigrés who are art collectors themselves, acquired the mansion in 2012, they restored-every marble wall and Neapolitan fresco to its original splendor. So though it is now a rentable villa, it’s really a six-bedroom private museum, with a chef from Don Alfonso’s, the legendary local restaurant. Check your e-mail in the villa’s Libreria—if you can ignore the collection of priceless ancient artifacts. You’ll find more bits-and-pieces of Magna Graecia—columns, statues, fountains, urns, pottery shards, fragments of sarcophagi—in the enclosed Roman gardens. And your plunge pool is a seafront grotto consecrated to the nymphs in ancient times. Scroll down for booking information.
Sleep in Jewelry in Rome
Bent on preserving Italy’s artistic legacy, the owners of the villas Astor and Balbiano have just completed refurbishing another faded landmark: Villa Clara, an abandoned four-bedroom mansion near Rome’s Villa Borghese.
Interior designer Jacques Garcia has reimagined it in sumptuous Art Deco style, and it is dazzling. Its 9,500 square feet of marble and semiprecious stone surfaces, including amethyst on the walls and yellow marble around the indoor pool, hold antique columns and statues and an art collection that includes a Klimt. It is available to rent for the first time this month. Scroll down for booking information.
Read the Great Books on Lake Como
Ideally, a villa here should come with one of those beautiful Venetian water taxis for exploring the lakeside villages. You can get one at Villa Balbiano, plus a footpath for quick walks into town. Fair warning: You may find it hard to leave the six-bedroom villa, filled as it is with artworks and precious 18th- and 19th-century books. Cardinal Durini, a man of arts and letters who lived here in the late 1700s, embellished it with an art collection and a library, and hosted literary salons and concerts. You may be tempted to do the same: The villa has a Steinway concert grand.
How to Book: Italy
Contact Mara Solomon of Homebase Abroad, which specializes in fine houses in Italy ([email protected], 781-639-4040, homebaseabroad.com). For a pre- or post-villa hotel stay in Rome, the Eden is in an excellent location, a short stroll from the Spanish Steps and the Villa Borghese.
LIVE LIKE ONASSIS IN GREECE
Go Undercover in the Ionians
The precise location of the property known as Peninsular Estate is a closely guarded secret. But we love it, and here’s what we do know: It’s owned by a shipping family and was built in 1960. Jackie and Aristotle Onassis were guests, and three generations of the same family have run it. This means the staff will ensure that you find the classic Greek island life the house was designed for: breakfast under ancient olive trees, and sailing on a yacht, a classic 40-foot wooden schooner with a captain who will guide it into hidden coves for swimming and water sports.
The staff might go snorkeling for sea urchins to use in the “picnic” they whip up in the galley, then deposit you in a village where you’ll find coffee and ice cream—with no tourists—before getting you back to the villa for siesta. Cocktails are at 8 on one of the terraces, dinner is by candlelight, and the staff goes home at 10, leaving the house all yours: family portraits, shipping insignia, old photos of ships, bookshelves with tomes in five languages, Dufys and Dubuffets on the walls, and a guestbook filled with the names of CEOs and international celebrities. Scroll down for booking information.
Greet the Dawn on Mykonos
This glamorous 10-bedroom villa, Aleomandra, was designed by Lebanese architect Patrick Helou, and it stands out even on an island full of fabulous villas. Its terraces and pools, jacuzzis and daybeds, cover 9,000 square feet, and the pools are strikingly lit at night—just the thing to inspire a pre-sunrise dip if you’ve been dancing on tables in Mykonos’s clubs all night. The kicker for us is the sea and sunset views from everywhere. Scroll down for booking information.
Villa Olympia, high above the water but just a minute’s walk from it, was built for a prominent Greek politician, so it was meant for entertaining, with a palatial reception area, vast terraces, and a helicopter pad (naturally). The new owner added a gym, a thalassotherapy spa, a hammam, and a jacuzzi big enough for 14. Scroll down for booking information.
Play the Aristo in the Peloponnese
Porto Heli is the Hamptons of Greece, where Athenians have their weekend homes. The sprawling compound called Porto Heli CF sleeps up to 18 and is located on a private headland with its own harbor, beach, marina, and waterfront pavilion for shade. The sea is calm, so you can swim or paddleboard from the house or take your speedboat out for waterskiing. For nightlife, the chic island of Spetses is just a hop away on the boat.
How to Book: Greece
Contact Ileana von Hirsch of Five Star Greece, which specializes in Greek villa vacations ([email protected], fivestargreece.com). For a pre- or post-villa hotel stay in Athens, we love the Grande Bretagne, the classic on Syntagma Square.
LIVE ROYALLY IN THE BRITISH ISLES
Dine Like the Duke in Ireland
Luckily, for those of us without-noble pedigrees, Lismore Castle, the Duke of Devonshire’s home near Waterford, is available for rent. It dates from 1170 (both King John and Sir Walter Raleigh owned it at some point), and the duke’s family has had it since 1753.
Your Irish breakfast is served in the same dining room where JFK (whose sister Kathleen married the heir to the 10th duke), Fred Astaire (whose sister Adele married the son of the ninth duke), Cecil Beaton, Lucian Freud, and Dominic West have eaten. The staff has been here for decades, and their knowledge will enhance your stay. The head butler will set you up with archery, falconry, riding, hikes on the moors, golf, or salmon fishing (for which Lismore is legendary). And, yes, you can make a party of it—the castle sleeps 27. Scroll down for booking information.
Enjoy Sweet Slumber in Scotland
Borthwick Castle, near Edinburgh, is a true 15th-century fortress, with holes from cannonballs fired by Oliver Cromwell to prove it; Mary Queen of Scots took refuge here during another battle. While it may be the medieval castle of romantic imagination—giant stone fireplaces, lofty ceilings, and steep stone spiral staircases—Borthwick, which sleeps 24, is also thoroughly state-of-the-art, with modern appliances hidden within the solid oak Renaissance furniture. Scroll down for booking information.
For the ultimate modern take on a Scottish castle, there’s Corrour Lodge, which has pyramidal glass towers built in 2003 that look out at 57,000 acres of remote Highlands wilderness (the closest airport is Inverness, a two-hour drive). Designed by Moshe Safdie, it’s a rare example of world-class 21st-century architecture in Scotland. It features a sauna overlooking a loch and a rooftop hot tub. It sleeps 14 adults, and 14 children in a “bunk room.” Scroll down for booking information.
Channel Jane Austen in England
When a castle seems a bit much for your holiday—and a mere manor will do—look to England. Cowdray House, built in 1874 and owned by the eponymous viscount, is set on 110 acres of parkland in West Sussex; it has its own polo and cricket fields, a bowling alley, and indoor and outdoor pools. It sleeps up to 44. Scroll down for booking information.
Cornwell Manor, a 17th—century estate in the Cotswolds—with an entire private village, a croquet lawn, 12 bedrooms, and a ballroom that holds 70—is the childhood home of the actress and director Rachel Ward (granddaughter of the third Earl of Dudley). It’s straight out of a Jane Austen novel—if you ignore the heated outdoor pool. Scroll down for booking information.
How to Book: British Isles
Contact Andrew Loyd of Loyd & Townsend Rose, which specializes in castle vacations in the UK and Ireland ([email protected], ltrcastles.com, 011-44-1835-824642). For a pre- or post-castle stay, try the Goring, steps from Buckingham Palace, or Dukes, for its traditional top-notch service and famous bar.
LIVE LIKE AN ESCOFFIER IN FRANCE
Go Truffle Mad in the Perigord
Once you experience the food markets of this part of the Dordogne, you may never get to its cultural sights (the prehistoric caves, the Roman ruins). Especially if you put yourself in the hands of Angèle, the cook at the Château de la Bourlie.
The truffle market alone is a religious experience. As is the 13th-century, six-suite château, the property of Cyril de Commarque, a sculptor, and Ortensia Visconti, a writer and cinematographer. It has both a farm and an artist-in-residence program and, naturally, countless poetic spots to eat. Breakfast? The rose tree garden, because of how the early sun lights it. Dinner? The candlelit courtyard, where tapers adorn even the lime trees—as beautiful as Angèle’s lime flower–blossom ice cream. Scroll down for booking information.
Become an Olive Oil Baron in the Luberon
The Château des Anges, a 10-bedroom estate built in the 17th century among the idyllic villages of the Luberon, produces its own superb wine and olive oil, and you’re welcome to get your hands dirty, if that sort of thing (or the intense flavor of the first-press oil) moves you. If not, Chef Lorenzo can take you shopping, and your butler, Thierry, will make sure each meal is set against dreamy table decor—different plate patterns, napkins, flowers—whether you’re dining in the lavender field, by the 18th-century pool pavilion, or on the small island in the lake filled with swans. Scroll down for booking information.
Learn to Cook Macrobiotic in Provence
The Domaine de Soulias, a recently renovated 13,000-square-foot farmhouse on an island in the Rhône, will be available in 2020 for groups who want to eat off the land and learn to prepare macrobiotic organic cuisine in the huge professional kitchen. No worries if you get other cravings: There are three two-Michelin-star restaurants (and 16 one-stars) within an hour’s drive of the house.
How to Book: France
Contact Cédric Reversade and Paul-Maxime Koskas of Unique Properties and Events, which specializes in luxury villa vacations in Europe (email@example.com, 44-20-7788-7815, uniquepropertiesandevents.com). For a pre- or post-villa night in Paris, we love Le Bristol: the food! The service!
LIVE LIKE A BAREFOOT BILLIONAIRE IN BRAZIL
Play Local Fisherman in Trancoso
Five hundred miles from Rio, Trancoso is Brazil’s hottest seashore town, a laid-back fishing village with unspoiled white sand beaches, art galleries, and rustic-chic restaurants where multimillionaires go to pretend they’re fishermen. Sure, international celebrities come for the New Year’s parties, but otherwise, everyone goes barefoot and dines in their swimwear.
It’s the ideal place to experience Brazil’s beach life, and the best way to do it is in your own villa. You could rent Anderson Cooper’s, in the town’s historic center, but Trancoso Villa 17 (five bedrooms, staff of eight) has it all, including a larger-than-life owner, Flávio Marelim, a former restaurateur and bon vivant who designs beach houses for Brazil’s rich and famous and can connect you with everyone who’s anyone in town.
The villa’s 24/7 concierge can double as a babysitter, and as you stroll to a party he’ll treat your offspring to make-your-own pizza in the outdoor oven and a nightclub in the sand, featuring the villa’s state-of-the-art sound and lighting system. Scroll down for booking information.
Sleep in Nature in Angra dos Reis
A remote take on the billionaire boating life can be had in Angra dos Reis, a bay with more than 100 car-free islands about a half-hour by helicopter from Rio or São Paulo. You’ll find a virgin forest, hidden coves, and the weekend homes of Brazil’s top money managers. Villa 16, on an island with plenty of trails through primeval nature, is a unique over-water “bungalow” that sleeps 10 and has a staff of four. Its see-through floor is best admired with a caipirinha in hand.
Dream of Retirement in Buzios
The weekend destination of Rio’s elite, Búzios has white sand—beaches ideal for—water sports and winds perfect for sailing. It also has a 400,000-square-foot beachfront estate with a 12-bedroom horizontal-plan villa, RW, that has a pedigree unmatched by any rental home in Brazil.
Designed by two of the country’s top architects, Thiago Bernardes and Paulo Jacobsen, it is made entirely of eucalyptus from reforestation areas, it has ocean views from every room, and it’s filled with works by such famous Brazilian artists as Vik Muniz and Adriana Varejão. When you’re not in the -water, have lunch at the beach gazebo or hit the massage room and dream of retiring here someday—that was the plan of the Rio-based art collector who built the property.
How to Book: Brazil
Contact Martin Frankenberg of Matueté, which specializes in luxury villa vacations in Brazil ([email protected]; matuete.com; 011-55-11-3071-4515). For pre- and post-villa hotel stays, he recommends Hotel Fasano in Rio de Janeiro for its Ipanema Beach location and “the best service in Rio.”
This story appears in the October 2019 issue of Town & Country U.S.
*This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com
*Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors