“Travelers today have a strong desire to fully discover their destinations; to truly experience the destination,” says Barbara Le Pome, of European Escapes Villa Rentals. “The beauty of villa vacations is that travelers enjoy all the comforts of home abroad, while soaking up the rhythm of living like a local, or at least being part of local life.” European Escapes has been matching travelers to villas for every taste and budget since 1999 and now carries a portfolio of over 4,000 properties ranging from home rentals to luxury villas, cottages to castles, apartments to ski chalets, haciendas to private estates. Le Pome also points out that villa vacationers reap other benefits such as privacy, the cost-saving benefits of having more space for less money, and such amenities as fully equipped kitchens and private pools, cooks and babysitters if called for.
In the U.S. market, European Escapes lists destination popularity for its villa rentals in this order: Italy, France, Spain, Greece, Portugal, Switzerland and Austria; ski villas and chalets are also booking well in the U.S. market. Noting that the company has a particularly strong selection of properties in Spain, we asked for the staff favorites:
On Costa Brava, Spain’s “wild coast” in Catalonia province, is hilltop Villa Montana Mare, which sleeps eight guests in four bedrooms with three baths. Interior features are a living room with fireplace, dining room and fully equipped modern kitchen, while outside there’s an illuminated pool set in mature gardens and panoramic views embracing the Mediterranean, the mountains and the Costa Brava coastline. The 2,600-sq.-ft. villa is located 50 miles from Barcelona, two miles from sand beaches, three to six miles from world-class golf courses, and two miles from the historic and charming Catalonian town of Sant Feliu de Guixols with many good restaurants, markets and shops. Villa Montana Mare’s weekly low-season cost is $4,200; high-season, $5,750.
On the sun-drenched Costa del Sol, the pick is Villa San Roque, a large (8,000 sq. ft.) and lovely property set high above the sea with views embracing the ocean, Gibraltar, the coast of Africa and the Sierra Nevada. The villa sleeps 14 in eight bedrooms with baths, and features two large living rooms with fireplaces, a modern kitchen with Viking appliances, and a home cinema room in the basement. Other amenities are a covered patio for al fresco dining, central air conditioning, and a big pool set in a large garden. Included in the rate is five days per week of maid service and a cook. It’s a 10-minute drive to the town of San Roque for markets and restaurants; nearby are tennis courts and horseback riding, as well as beaches with beach clubs that have children’s activities; Seville and Granada are a 2-hour drive away; Tangier (Morocco), an hour by hovercraft.
Villa San Roque’s weekly rates are from $5,300 low-season to $9,760 high-season; 2-week minimum rental during July and August, other times discounts for two weeks or longer rentals.
Villas of Distinction has been matching travelers to luxury villa rentals since 1989, representing several thousand villas in more than 50 destinations in Europe and beyond, usefully presented to indicate which properties work best for which occasion: from romantic getaways and weddings to family outings and corporate reunions. For special requests and assistance on location, villas come with onsite concierges. Additionally, the company presents villa ideas for clients who want to vacation in wine regions or on historic estates; who request properties that are kid-friendly or eco-friendly or pet-friendly; or just plain want to do as celebrities do and stay where celebrities stay.
According to Maya Anderelli, product manager for Villas of Distinction, “Families—one alone, several traveling together,
multi-generational gatherings—are our biggest market, closely followed by groups of couples, and villa bookings to celebrate special occasions.”
Anderelli also finds that “villa vacations are already integrated into the travel vocabulary, now making them a choice for first-time travelers, not necessarily just those who have been everywhere and are now sampling the villa experience. The villa-stay appeal to everyone is the discovery of its value—you spend less and receive more—and its up-close and personal destination lifestyle.”
Steve Lassman, v.p. & general manager of Villas of Distinction, believes that agents who learn about villa rentals will love selling villa rentals. We asked him why. “There are many reasons why agents can profit from the villa vacations market,” he says. “Villas are often rented by groups (families or couples), which can mean higher commissions than on hotel bookings; villa guests have amazing experiences, generate repeat business and product referrals to friends; and agents get lots of assistance, from planning with them every step of the way to finding satisfactory solutions to problems clients may have during their stay.” Lassman notes that the company maintains the travel agents-only villa-info.net, a generic website (no branding or phone numbers) that provides a virtual catalog of villas to add to a travel agency website as a resource in selling and booking villa vacations.
Italy tops the list in the European villas popularity poll for the company, with the most sought-after regions being Tuscany, the Amalfi Coast, and the Lake Como district. “One of our expanding niches in Italy is hosting villa weddings,” says Anderelli, “and our expansion region is Sicily where we have lots of new product.” We asked her to recommend two, and she picked:
Casa Madrudaga, a beautifully restored house in Scicli, a baroque pearl of a town on the UNESCO World Heritage list (along with Ragusa Ibla and Modica) in the Val di Noto. The villa has a commanding hilltop view of the town, the sea and the surrounding hilly landscape. Facilities include six bedrooms with terraces, five bathrooms, pool with pool house and furnished loggia, and a vegetable garden with medicinal plants. This comfortable home is perfect for couples traveling together or a small family traveling with parents or nanny, as it is separated into three apartments (two of which interconnect). Prices start at $590 per night.
Villa Il Siciliano is a stunning renovated villa with a gorgeous architectural mix of modern and traditional. Set on 27 acres, surrounded by citrus groves and located in the area of Taormina, the villa sleeps 18 guests in nine bedrooms (some with sea views or views of Mt. Etna; some with garden settings) with nine baths. It is well suited for large families and groups, with living rooms and social areas to relax, dine and lounge. There’s also a professional grade kitchen for guest use and perfect for cooking demonstrations or wine tastings. Amenities include WiFi in the garden, air conditioning/heating, bicycles, swimming pool, and hotel-style service. Nearby is a world-class 18-hole golf course, and spell-binding Taormina is a half-hour away. Prices start at $810 per night.
Hosted Villas, offering high-end, fully hosted, luxury villa experiences for 20 years, is branching out to include Croatia where, says a company spokesperson, “there has been high interest.” Presently, the company offers four villa choices, three spread out among the Dalmatian Islands and a fourth in the exclusive Riviera neighborhood of the ancient town of Split. On the island of Brac, for instance, Hosted Villas offers Villa Playa, a waterfront luxury property with four bedrooms, designer bathrooms, grand views from terraces and balconies, a pool, a fitness room, a full kitchen (chef services available); close-by village with shops, restaurants and cafes, plus easy access to Split on the mainland. Accommodating eight persons, weekly rentals start at $15,100. In Split itself, the offering is the impressive waterfront Villa Splato, accommodating 10 persons in five bedrooms with baths, large entrance hall, library, kitchen, sitting room and dining room opening onto terrace overlooking the garden and pool, plus direct access to the beach. Activities range from exploring historic Split to boating to the islands and other beaches. Weekly rentals start at $16,900.
WHAT TRAVEL AGENTS ARE SAYING…
Every year since 2006, Wanda Radetti, owner of Tasteful Croatian Journeys in New York, has been the go-to expert cited by Conde Nast Traveler as a “Top Destination Specialist” for Croatia. We asked for her thoughts on villa vacations: “Croatia is a ‘hot’ country, and the luxury villa experience is going to be very important, both along the coast and offshore islands, but also in the interior,” she says. “However, [right now] the villa stay is a work in progress, [a product] whose quality of service we monitor and whose villa operations need to offer more enrichments such as cooking lessons or fishing outings or arts-focused options.” And the villa area that seems to warm her heart is the Istrian Peninsula, located across the Adriatic Sea from Venice. Its wealth of scenery and history—a pristine Mediterranean coast, picture-perfect fishing ports, well-preserved Roman ruins, and medieval hilltop towns set above vineyards and truffle-filled forests—have earned Istria its nickname: the “Croatian Tuscany.”
“Although bordering Italy, Istria is not up to the luxury five-star of Tuscany,” says Radetti. “But indeed, Istria is very Italian and there are choice villas that serve as perfect bases for excursions to grand historical attractions—the charming, walled town of Rovinj; Pula with its magnificent Roman amphitheater; the Byzantine church in Porec—while guests also have an experience laced with art, wine and truffles.”
She outlines what sounds like a perfect and tasteful Croatian journey, one beginning in the historic capital of Zagreb, and departing from the UNESCO World Heritage city of Dubrovnik, and in-between dividing time between a villa stay in Istria and a luxury gulet cruise along the Adriatic coast from Split to Dubrovnik, with calls en-route including such fabulous islands as Mljet, Hvar and Korcula. visitcroatia.com