villas - Unique Home Stays



villas - Unique Home Stays
It’s perfect if… you’re fussy about
design. Maltese hotels tend to
be un-incredible hulks, but this
ancient little house on a cobbled
sidestreet in the Medieval capital
is a carefully curated mix of
antique furniture, trompe l’oeil
wall decorations and exotic knickknacks. The bathroom, with its
steal-worthy Italian toiletries and
rain shower, puts most boutiquehotel bathrooms to shame, too.
The downside is… you’ll need
earplugs, otherwise you won’t
doze off until the antics of the bar
next door stop at around 3am.
You’ll also be woken early by
church bells (there’s a church for
every day of the year in this town).
From £74 per night, booking direct
(00 356 7948 8047, www.valletta Air Malta (0906 103
0012, flies from
Gatwick, from £200 return.
3. Dream Blue & Island
Blue, Santorini, Greece
It’s perfect if… you want to get in
touch with your inner caveman.
In the sugar-cube village of Oia,
these two blue-and-white delights
are hewn from the rockside and
decked out in shades to match
the sky. But don’t think you’ll be
slumming it – with bubblinghot
tubs overlooking the sea and
terraced gardens tumbling down
4. La Casetta,
Tuscany, Italy
It’s perfect if… you’re having
trouble locating a Tuscan pile for
two. Finding a villa that doesn’t
sleep at least five is difficult in this
region, but here’s a tiny house
slap-bang in the middle of wine
country, just made for a couple. All
the Italian design features are here:
bucolic-chic limewashed furniture
and an iron bedstead, as well as
a pool looking over seemingly
endless green and gold fields.
It’s private but convenient, too
– you’ll have to squint to see the
neighbours, but the sepia-tinted
hilltop town of Montepulciano is
only a five-minute drive away.
The downside is… that you won’t
be taking pictures of La Casetta’s
exterior. It’s a modern, peachwalled bungalow, with little of the
romantic charm of the region.
From £475pp for a week, including
flights to Perugia, with Vintage
Travel (01954 261431, www.
5. Merope, Agios Nikolaos,
Crete, Greece
It’s perfect if… you’re all about
the views. Set in a small complex
of villas, this one’s big sell is the
pool terrace, which looks out from
7. Renato’s Tower,
Umbria, Italy
l For tiny villas suited to two, try: Chic Retreats (020 3397 0085,; Exclusive Escapes (020 8605 3500,;
108 Sunday Times Travel March 2011
including transfers to and from the
harbour and twice-weekly maid
service. This company lists villas
direct from their owners. It’s often
cheaper than booking through a
tour operator, but do refer to our
‘Things To Bear in Mind’ section
(overleaf) before booking. BA (0844
493 0787, flies to
Catania from Gatwick, from £150
return. EasyJet (
flies from Gatwick to Naples.
6. A Picciridda,
Panarea, Italy
It’s perfect if… you want to gaze
out to sea – in-between gazing at
each other. This tiny, one-bed
house hangs on cliffs above
crashing waves on the chic
Aeolian island of Panarea. Cars are
banned here, and A Picciridda is
a quick ride by electric taxi (or a
10-minute stroll) from the buzz
of the port. Glamorous owner
Carolina has decorated her ‘tiny
gem’ in chic blue and white, with
traditional Aeolian tiled floors. Pull
open the bedroom shutters to
see dawn break over the summit
of Stromboli, the next island in the
chain, then prepare to laze on the
outsized veranda or stage an
expedition to Panarea’s pretty
sandy cove. Several of Italy’s finest
restaurants are within walking
distance (family-run trattoria Da
Peppino’s is the best; try Nonna’s
aubergine cake), but half the fun
of this place is shopping for fruit,
veg and meat from the carts that
regularly wheel round the island.
The downside is… the price of
everything on Panarea. A pizza
dinner will set you back around
£70 for two, while gin and tonics
come in at £10 a pop– even at
the little bar by the harbour. And
there’s no pool, so you have to be
prepared for swimming in the sea.
Holiday Rentals (020 8827 1971, has one
week from £590 for two people,
2. Valletta Nobile,
Valletta, Malta
among forested hills, with hazy
views of the Gulf of Mirabello
beyond. It has two double
bedrooms, so can sleep four at a
stretch, but far better to keep it all
to yourselves. Maximalists will
adore the chandeliers and gilded
mirrors, the perfect antidote to
the cool, calm and uncluttered
decor of most Greek properties.
It even comes with air-con, daily
maid service and grocery delivery,
meaning you get hotel service
along with the privacy of a villa.
The downside is… it’s pricey
– and as the buzzy town of Agios
Nikolaos is a couple of kilometres
away, taxis add to the cost.
James Villas (0800 074 0122, has a week,
including flights from Gatwick,
from £1,305pp.
It’s perfect if… you really want to
cuddle up together. Mon Cabanon
is cosy in the extreme, with
clapboard walls in the living room,
rugs on the floor and decked
terraces accessorised with sunny
striped loungers and hanging
lanterns. The views, by contrast,
are not so much twee as in-yourface dramatic, through fairytale
woodland to the stylish seaside
town of Porto Vecchio.
The downside is… that you’ll have
to really love each other: Mon
Cabanon is in the middle of
nowhere – it’s 20 minutes to the
beach, shops or restaurants by car.
From £690pp per week, including
flights from Heathrow and car hire,
with Simpson Travel (020 8392
the cliffs towards the water, these
are some of the poshest small
rental properties out there (they
also come with air-con, wi-fi,
daily housekeeping and a mobile
phone). Both houses have one
double and one twin room
– but we favour Island Blue for
its romantic indoor hot tub,
complete with fake starry sky.
The downside is… also an upside
– Oia is the poster village of the
island, with its cobalt church
domes and fiery sunsets, which
means it can get clogged with
tourists come summer. Visit
off-season to see it at its best.
From £240 per night through
Santorini Villas (check out its other
properties across the island; from
£80 a night; 00 30 2286 02220, Fly via
Athens with Aegean Airlines (00 30
210 626 1000,,
from £220 return from Heathrow.
Or EasyJet has direct flights from
Gatwick from April 26 2011.
1. Mon Cabanon,
Corsica, France
Just the two of you
It’s perfect if… you fancy
something eccentric. The owner
of the pretty hamlet of Borgo
San Biagio transformed it into
five rental properties and gave his
own name to the most romantic
– the one you can see peeping
out of the Umbrian foliage as you
approach. One-thousand-yearold Renato’s Tower elicits wows
from new arrivals as they discover
a different room on each floor – all
stone walls, carved wood, fresh
flowers and creamy-coloured
cotton linen. Excitement builds
as you near the battlement roof
terrace, which has splendid
views of the hills, and a hot tub
in which you’ll want to plonk
yourselves immediately.
The downside is… you have to
share a huge heated swimming
pool with Renato’s other guests,
which spoils the seclusion
somewhat, and means keen
swimmers are likely to see the
same faces every morning.
CV Travel (020 7401 1010, has a week at Renato’s
Tower from £1,000 for two – as well
as some of the most glamorous
self-catering properties out there
on its books. Ryanair (www.ryanair.
com) flies to Perugia from Stansted.
8. Salkim Evi,
near Kalkan, Turkey
It’s perfect if… you need a room
with a view. A glorified shack,
with palm roof and wooden walls,
this villa for two sits high in the
mountains above the dramatic
stretch of Patara Beach. Lounge >
Think Sicily (020 7377 8518,; Simpson Travel (020 8392 5858,; CV Travel (020 7401 1010, ‰
March 2011 Sunday Times Travel 109
in its infinity pool until you wrinkle,
hypnotised by a shimmery blue
horizon, or embark on excursions
in the Jeep that comes with the
house. And leave the bedroom
curtains open so you wake with
the sunrise, when mists curl
around the surrounding forest
like woodland nymphs.
The downside is… the bedroom’s
floral curtains, which jar with just
about everything, from the pine
walls to the chic poolside cabana.
Exclusive Escapes (020 8605 3500, has a
week from £725pp, including flights
from Gatwick. All the company’s
holiday prices are calculated on
two people sharing, making it
great for couples getaways.
Things to BEAR IN MIND if you’re booking direct
Whether you deal directly
with the owner, or book
through a website, such as
where owners post
advertisements for their
properties, this is what
you need to know…
l How do I get there from
the airport or train station?
Is transport provided; if not,
can you order a taxi for me?
l What amenities will I find
there? Ask about kitchen
essentials (cutlery, oil, drinking
water, etc) and toilet rolls, bed
sheets and towels.
l Where and when should I pick
up the keys?
l What should I do in case of an
emergency – is there someone
nearby who can help?
l Can I speak to somebody
who’s stayed before? You can
never judge a villa by its website:
if the owners don’t have
references from previous
visitors, try using social media
such as Twitter to garner
professional opinions, or
find people who have stayed
before. Alternatively, check
whether the property has a
Facebook page, which might
offer non-professional and
non-airbrushed snaps or visitor
comments. It’s also worth
posting questions on Tripadvisor
forums: popular destinations
often generate lively discussion
boards, which may give you the
heads-up you need.
l And remember, you’ll need to
book well in advance for peak
periods such as school holidays –
typically six to nine months ahead.
For tiny villas suited to two, try: Vintage Travel (01954 261431,; Villa Parade (0844 472 0040,
110 Sunday Times Travel March 2011
Family favourites
1. The Olive Grove,
near Málaga, Spain
It’s perfect if:… you’re a glam lot,
with affable teenagers. This is
a ‘wow’ house, with Wild West
views over the cactus-strewn
mountains of the Sierra Tejeda
National Park; a designer interior
dotted with art, mosaics and the
odd antique; even an outside
wood-fired oven, for pizza nights
under starry skies. Choose to
have your fridge stocked with
local cheeses, hams and organic
veg, or enlist the help of a private
chef, who’ll use ingredients picked
from your grounds. Then there’s
the pool, perched at the edge of
the property, with a tumbling
landscape below. It’s all so cool that
it’s begging to be Facebooked.
The downside is… the immediate
area’s loveliest activities may not
tickle your kids’ fancy. There are
Moorish relics, private cookery
courses and winding walking
paths through the mountains;
plus delicious Moscatel from
the on-site vineyard.
From £4,186 a week for up to eight
guests, excluding flights, with
Unique Home Stays (01637 881942, The
company has a considered collection
of stylish villas across the world.
EasyJet ( flies to
Málaga from eight UK airports.
2. Podere Colombaio,
Tuscany, Italy
It’s perfect if… you’re after the
quintessential Tuscan villa. From
its crumbling stone walls, beamed
ceilings and open fires, to the
rambling garden with its pergola
and pool, this place embraces
every one of the region’s best
clichés. But it’s the surprisingly
modern touches that propel it
to prizewinner – including an
outdoor shower and super-cool
bathrooms with butler sinks and
muted marble tiles. A mile away,
Pienza is an exquisite Renaissance
town with palazzos aplenty.
The downside is… there’ll be
arguments over the rooms if you
have more than two kids. The
three doubles are great, but
after that there’s only a sofa
bed and mezzanine left.
From £2,639 a week for a family of
six, including flights from Gatwick,
with Meon Villas (0844 415 1990, >
l Find your family home-from-home with: Thomson (0871 971 0560,; Meon Villas (0844 415 1990, ‰
March 2011 Sunday Times Travel 111
5, one of the
UK’s largest self-catering companies.
3. The Captain’s House,
near Orebić, Croatia
It’s perfect if… you have a holiday
cast of thousands. It may be a
300-year-old shipman’s house
hewn from stone, but there’s bags
of sunny room here for modern
families, what with the four airy
bedrooms (all ensuite), shaded
terraces, balconies and a private
outdoor pool. The location, on
the Pelješac peninsula (two hours’
drive from Dubrovnik), gives
you the same by-the-beach life
you’d get on an island. A snake
(harmless) in residence by the
pool could be a blight or a bonus
for the children.
The downside is… the hillside
spot. While it may have
spectacular views to Korčula
island, the setting means it’s on
many levels – with stone steps
and crumbly pathways for the
young ’uns to navigate.
A week for up to eight people costs
from £1,102. Book direct with the
owners (01273 831414, www. EasyJet
( flies to
Dubrovnik from Gatwick.
4. El Secreto,
Mallorca, Spain
It’s perfect if… you want to be
able to reach out and touch the
beach; you’ll find Cala Deià, an
adorable little enclave, at the
end of a private path, which cuts
through the villa’s grounds. At
the seashore (practically in your
garden), two shacks serve platters
of squid, langoustines, sardines
and hake fillet. Indoors, the villa has
a football table and a PlayStation
to keep kids happy, while you enjoy
the views of olive and almond
groves over a glass of Vina Sol.
The downside is… El Secreto is
out – in the ’60s, Deià became an
artists’ colony and increasingly has
become the base of choice for
creatives and musicians, wooed
by the dramatic landscapes. In
other words, you’re unlikely to
watch the sun set on your own.
Finca Service (00 49 89 487421, has a week
from £1,579 for up to six people,
including car hire. Bmibaby (www. flies to Palma de
Mallorca from Manchester,
Birmingham, East Midlands and
Cardiff from £42 return.
5. Villa Orchidea,
Gozo, Malta
It’s perfect if… you’ve dreamed
of hiring a whole resort. Orchidea
is practically a castle, with gigantic
wooden doors, four-posters and
outsized terraces overlooking the
countryside and blustery beach
down the road. Each of the three
bedrooms has a whirlpool tub,
but it’s the pool that’ll get the kids
excited – it’s got a wooden bridge
and coco-palm umbrellas. The
nearby village of Għasri is ideal for
excursions if boredom sets in and
is small, so easy to get around.
The downside is… you’ll need to
keep an eye on little ones, as some
low balconies are not child-friendly.
Meon Villas (0844 415 1990, www. has a week at Villa
Orchidea from £879, for up to six
guests. EasyJet (
flies to Malta from Belfast,
Newcastle, Manchester, Liverpool
and Gatwick. Bmibaby (www. flies from East
Midlands from £105 return.
6. Villa Tassy,
Provence, France
It’s perfect if… you’re after a
textbook Provençal pad in cutesy
countryside. Beautiful brick floors,
painted furniture and a private
olive grove make this a postcardperfect rental property, five
minutes’ drive from the hilltop
village of Le Castellet. You’ll find
supermarkets and pizzerias two
minute’s down the road in Le
Beausset, while nearby Wild West
theme park OK Corral makes a
great day trip. Kids will also love
meeting the owner’s labrador,
which pops in regularly for dips in
the pool from the villa up the hill.
The downside is… you might feel
as though you’re getting on top
of each other. Three bedrooms
(two doubles and a single), two
bathrooms and the lounge and
Find your family home-from-home with: Vintage Travel (01954 261431,; James Villas (0800 074 0122,; 112 Sunday Times Travel March 2011
kitchen are crammed into a small,
one-storey house – on a postagestamp slice of land. Also note that
the kitchen doesn’t come stocked
with basics, so bring salt, olive oil
and the kids’ favourites.
Holiday Rentals (020 8827 1971, has a
week from £1,000 for up to five.
EasyJet ( flies to
Marseille from Bristol and Gatwick.
7. Le Corti di
Cannamara, Sicily, Italy
It’s perfect if… you don’t want to
sacrifice style for space. This
poshed-up Sicilian farmhouse is
massive (seven bedrooms sleep
14 without a squash) and has
bags of country charm. A honeyhued hideaway in the hills above
the Baroque town of Scicli, in the
island’s sleepy southeast, the villa
comes with mesmerising views
that swoop down towards the sea
over silvery olive groves. Then
there’s the infinity pool, two
kitchens (one outdoors), palmshaded patio, home cinema,
hammam and jasmine-scented
gardens. Children will love
watching the songbirds take their
morning bath in the pool’s shallow
end. There’s plenty to explore
close by, too, but we bet you
never leave your sunlounger.
The downside is… the sloping
ceilings in some of the upstairs
bedrooms – worth considering if
you’re bringing tall teenagers.
Think Sicily (020 7377 8518, www. has a week from
£4,752. This company’s properties
and insider knowledge of Sicily and
Puglia are unbeatable. BA (0844
493 0787, flies from
Gatwick to Catania from £98 return.
8. Les Places,
Lot Valley, France
It’s perfect if… you want no
stress. Just below the Lot Valley,
only an hour’s drive from Bergerac
airport, Les Places is a rambling
old farmhouse restored by
simpático owners Steve and Tess,
who raised their two sons here.
Exuding rustic chic (the enormous
hand-crafted chestnut kitchen is
a chef’s dream) and filled with
delightful quirks (including Minoan
frescoes in the shower room),
the house is kid-friendly and
magnificently isolated amid 18
rolling hectares ­– including one
planted in lavender, just below the
infinity pool. As there’s no light
pollution, the stars blaze at night
with Van Goghian ecstasy. The
joys of rural France are all around:
food markets, local vineyards (AOC
Cahors) and fêtes. It’s perfect for
two or three families. Between
them, Les Places and attached
gîte, La Grange, sleep 14.
The downside is… the need for
a car. Although the village shop
is within cycling distance, the
supermarkets in Montayral are
a 10-minute drive, and the Lot’s
star attractions (the Gouffre
de Padirac, Rocamadour, and
the Grotte du Pech Merle) are
more than an hour away.
A week starts at £1,800 for 14 (00 33
964 131849,
Ryanair ( flies from
several UK airports to Bergerac, as
does Flybe (0871 700 2000, www.; from £60 return). >
Make your villa
l You’ll need to check several
things about your temporary
home before committing: is
there a gated fence around
the pool? Do balconies have
high enough barriers to
prevent little ones from
falling? Is there a busy or
dangerous road in front of
the property? Is the kitchen
l Consider how far you’ll be
from the nearest amenities
– crucially a pharmacy.
l Mountainous locations with
winding roads can be hell for
car-sick kids.
l If you plan to cook, check
that the kitchen has enough
pots and cutlery, a large oven
and hob, and a microwave.
l Travelling with teens? Ask
about satellite TV, DVD or
video players – and even
mobile-phone reception.
Villa Parade (0844 472 0040,; Villa Plus (01727 836686,; Simply Travel (0871 231 4050,
March 2011 Sunday Times Travel 113
2. Villa Bandol,
Provence, France
It’s perfect if… you’re a crowd of
design freaks – on art-student
budgets. This concrete and glass
confection has all the pizzazz of
the Côte d’Azur, but as it’s two
hours west of Cannes, you’ll get it
for a fraction of the price. Designed
by Rudy Ricciotti, the man behind
Marseille’s Museum of European
and Mediterranean Civilisations,
it’s full of primary-coloured, Pop
Art-influenced furniture, and each
of the six bedrooms has its own
bathroom. But the real party piece
is the swimming pool – it has
an aquarium-style glass wall
so swimmers can be seen
from the living room.
The downside is… the location.
Although the nearby countryside
is some of France’s most beautiful,
cross-stitched with vineyards
and olive groves, the seaside
here is rather kiss-moi-quick.
Sleeps 10 and costs from £3,600
per week through The Modern
House (08456 344068, www. – this lesserknown website has some superslick properties. Ryanair (www. flies to the nearest
airport, Toulon, from Stansted.
6. Villa Philemon,
Mykonos, Greece
It’s perfect if… you all used to go
clubbing together, but now you’ve
grown up. This is a party pad all
right, with cool, all-white interiors
(it’s been in Elle Deco), an outdoor
bar, infinity pool and a terrace that
demands to be danced on under
the stars. Mykonos is Greece’s
nightlife capital, but you won’t find
chundering stag types in the chic
4. Villa Oprtalj,
Oprtalj, Croatia
It’s perfect if… you want dinner
and drinks to remember, or have
an important announcement to
make. The long, grand dining table
is the USP, beneath high ceilings
and beside floor-to-ceiling
windows that reveal a backdrop
of lush countryside. If the clean air
inspires a health kick, a separate
building contains a gym and sauna.
The downside is… it may get
chilly up in the hills. On summer
evenings, you can sit outside with
a cardie, but during autumn, you
may want to settle in with a hot
toddy. Luckily, this place has seats
built into its huge windows, so you
can drink in the view in all weathers.
The Villa Book (020 7917 6830, offers a
week at Villa Oprtalj for up to 12
people, from £2,730. The company
has some of the quirkiest selfcatering around. Ryanair (www. flies to Pula from
Stansted, and to Trieste from
Birmingham and Stansted.
l Find your party pad at: The Big Domain (01326 240028,; The Wow House Company (01452 715373,;
114 Sunday Times Travel March 2011
7. Can Vich, Ibiza, Spain
It’s perfect if… you’re the types
to argue over the best rooms
– all five bedrooms here are
spectacular in a rustic, tile ’n’
terracotta way, and come with
ensuites. Nights are best spent
cradling gin y tonicas in the artsy
village of San Carlos, before
heading back to your pad to
continue the party – in the beamceilinged kitchen with your pals,
privately with some fizz in your
bathroom’s hot tub, or lounging
with a loved one on a cluster of
cushions in the park-like garden.
The outdoor space is intricately
designed, with little pathways and
scatterings of furniture arranged
across several levels.
The downside is… that the real
party is a 20-minute drive away.
If a few civilised glasses of Rioja
serve only to convince you to hit
Ibiza town, you’ll need a couple of
taxis to get your clan over there.
Villa Parade (0844 472 0040, www. has a week at
Can Vich from £1,845 for up to 10
It’s perfect if… you want a
country retreat with reliable
weather. This restored water mill
in the olive groves of Andalucía
is arranged around a courtyard
topped with trellised vines.
Comfort is the order of the day
here, with slouchy sofas, gigantic
wooden beds and cushioned
benches dotted around the
gardens. There are five terraces
for eating, snoozing and
sunbathing, too, and it’s well
placed for day trips to Córdoba,
Seville and Ronda.
The downside is… the kitchens
are hard to resist. There are two,
kitted out with huge fridges,
Spanish cookery books and paella
pans, and the garden offers up
eggs, herbs, pomegranates, figs,
almonds and walnuts. And there’s
plenty of room in the dishwashers.
Sleeps 18; a week costs from
£2,882 (book direct: 00 34 656
EasyJet (
flies to Málaga from Liverpool,
Glasgow, Belfast, Newcastle,
Manchester, Luton, Bristol,
Stansted and Gatwick.
It’s perfect if… you want to host
the pool party of the year. The
infinity pool is stunning, with a
Jacuzzi corner in which to nurse
your Martini, while taking in views
of nearby Leuca and the sea. This
white building is a curvaceous
beauty, lit prettily at night and
bordered with palms, so it’ll set
the right tone if you’ve guests
coming. And there’s no skimping
on the finishing touches – you’ll
wish the sofas, chandeliers and
towels were your own.
The downside is… the kitchen is
a bit on the small side, and not as
meticulously appointed as the
rest of the building. Meanwhile,
some bathrooms are beautifully
big, but most are just functional
– so there may be squabbles.
Think Puglia (020 7377 8518, has a week
from £6,714 for up to 10 people.
Ryanair ( flies
to Brindisi from Stansted.
3. El Molino del Conde,
Andalucía, Spain
1. Villa Blanca,
Puglia, Italy
It’s perfect if… you want a palatial
party, ballgowns and all. This
‘house’ is more like a royal
residence, with soaring windows,
grand staircases, tassels, froufrou patterns and chandeliers.
The best feature is the pool, set
in the open-air courtyard with vast
arches leading directly into the
living room; it glows golden when
lit up at night. There’s a tennis
court and billiards room, and
garden pathways lead to sandy
coves. Two-Michelin-starred
restaurant Vila Joya is a few
minutes’ walk away, but you won’t
need to visit – your own cook,
housekeeper and gardener live
in a cottage on the grounds.
The downside is… there is only
one double room; the other
five are twins.
Palmer & Parker (01494 815411, has a week
from £3,640 for up to 12 people.
The company is also a great bet for
family holidays. Monarch (08719
flies to Faro from Manchester,
Birmingham, Luton and Gatwick
from £70 return.
bars of Mykonos town (10 minutes
away) – and anyway, who’ll water
the plants if you’re out until the
early hours?
The downside is… it’s not
detached. You can hire the other
half of the villa if you can find
another 10 guests. If not, your
best hope is that you’ll get on
with the neighbours.
Sleeps 10 and costs from £4,575 per
week through A&K Villas (0845 618
2205, Aegean
Airlines (00 30 210 626 1000, www. has Heathrow flights
via Athens, from £220 return.
Party pads
5. Linucia,
Algarve, Portugal
people. Monarch (08719 405040, flies to Ibiza
from Gatwick, Manchester and
Birmingham from £79 return.
8. Casa Cadaques,
Costa Brava, Spain
It’s perfect if… you want rarified
living that’s easy to access. There
are numerous low-cost flights
to the Costa Brava’s airports,
Barcelona and Girona, but that
doesn’t mean you have to
compromise on style when
you get there. Gigantic Casa
Cadaqués looks more like a
boutique hotel than a rental
property, perched above the little
fishing village of Port Lligat and
done up in stainless steel, slate
and Scandinavian-style pale
wood. There’s a pool, of course
(with Jacuzzi), but you also get
a pétanque terrace, a beach
about 10 steps away, and a maid
to clear up each day.
The downside is… the
changeable Costa Brava weather
– you won’t get guaranteed
sunshine here. And once you’ve
visited Cadaqués and the Dalí
Museum, you might run out
of rainy-day activities.
Sleeps 16 and costs from £6,340
per week through SJ Villas (020
7801 4010,
Ryanair ( flies
to Girona from Stansted. >
Pimp your villa
Things you need for a big
splash – and how to get them
l BOOZE: There are internet
wine merchants all across the
Continent – to make life easy,
you can order alcohol from
them online (take advantage of
special offers on bubbly and bulk
buys) and arrange for them to
deliver on the day you arrive.
1855 (00 33 1 4261 1855, can deliver
anywhere in France with three
days’ notice, and the rest of
Europe with five.
l Chef: If you’re renting
through a company, this will cost
you, but if you’re renting direct,
owners can often make informal
arrangements for a fraction
of the price – typically around
£75 a day, unless you’re in a
particularly posh area. Ask
about housekeepers, too.
l Decorations: Celebrating
a big occasion? Get your fairy
lights, disco balls and banners
shipped out to your villa and
ensure there’s space for your
party dress in your luggage. The
Excess Baggage Company
(0800 524 4816, will send boxes
to the Continent from £100,
which isn’t much if you share
the cost between you.
l Minibus: Planning a monster
excursion but can’t fit everyone
in the car? Rather than relying
on the internet for pricey,
chauffeur-driven car services,
ask the rental company or villa
owner to recommend a local
taxi firm. They’ll give you a much
cheaper quote – especially if you
make it clear you will be using
them throughout your holiday.
Party Houses (01538 383099,; Unique Home Stays (01637 881942,; Big Holiday House (
March 2011 Sunday Times Travel 115
3. Royal Garden Villas,
Tenerife, Spain
It’s perfect if… you’re
entertaining superstars – this is
the villa to book. An exquisitely
refurbed old finca on the wooded
outskirts of the village of San
Juan, it is literally and figuratively
miles from messy San Antonio.
Decor is Eastern-inspired, with silk
cushions and stone-carved reliefs
brightening a predominantly
stone and concrete interior.
There’s even a Balinese hut by the
pool, where you can hide away
from the Balearic sun. On an island
where houses oscillate wildly
between flash and old-fashioned,
this place gets it just right.
The downside is… you won’t like
San Juan unless you can put up
It’s perfect if… you can’t afford
the flight to Bali. This collection of
28 villas is Asian-inspired, with silk
walls, embroidered cushions and
marble floors. The views towards
the Costa Adeje golf course are
fantastic: when nobody’s teeing
off, it’s an empty landscape of
bottle-green bobbles backed by
soaring mountains. Each house
has its own plunge pool to admire
them from – if you can tear
yourself away from the on-site
spa, with its Indonesian stone
carvings and soothing waterfall.
The downside is… you won’t be
cooking up a storm in the tiny villa
kitchen. Still, there’s a stunning,
4. Manor, Chantilly, France
It’s perfect if… you’re indulging
a pampered prince or princess.
This 13th-century manor house
has walls bedecked in patterned
silks, a collection of antique oils
and an indoor/outdoor pool with
its own sauna. And, should said
pampered prince/ss feel like
indulging in a spot of shopping,
Paris is 45 minutes away by car.
The downside is… it’s hard to put
your feet up when surrounded by
breakables that you’ll have to sell
your house to replace.
Price on application from Petersham
Properties (01608 658627, www.
l Your fantasy house awaits at: A&K Villas (0845 618 2205,; SJ Villas (020 7801 4010, ‰
116 Sunday Times Travel March 2011
5. Villa Kargi,
Datça, Turkey
It’s perfect if… you’ve been
searching for a super-villa in
Turkey. They’re hard to come
by, but this mansion, lost in the
sage-green woodland of the
Datça peninsula, is truly special.
Surrounded by ancient olive
groves, it has views across a rocky
landscape to the sea, with the
Greek island of Symi beyond.
Stock up on food (or cheat and get
the house manager to do it for
you), and you won’t need to leave
for the duration of your holiday
– everything’s here, from a clay
tennis court and outsized
poolhouse to a chef and laundry
service, and the bedrooms and
lounge harbour precious carpets
and antiques. Should civilisation
be needed, the seaside town of
Datça is 20 minutes’ walk away.
The downside is… it’s a long, long
way to Dalaman airport – twoand-a-half hours’ drive.
2. Can Alma, Ibiza, Spain
all-white restaurant on site, with
twinkling fairy-light curtains.
From £360 per night for two,
including breakfast, maid service
and one spa treatment (00 34 9227
Thomson (0871 231 4787, www. flies from Gatwick
and Manchester, from £150 return.
with trustafarians – and ones who
bought their fincas before the
property boom at that.
From £12,000 for up to 10 (01799
516971, www.internationalvillas.
net). EasyJet (
flies to Ibiza from nine UK airports.
It’s perfect if… you like your
holiday accommodation to be
furnished by Picasso. Not a joke:
the Greek art collector Dimitris
Tsitouras has chiselled his nest
of sublime villas into the top of
a cliff overlooking a volcano,
manned them with butlers and
chefs – and scattered around an
occasional piece by the artist, plus
other booty from his personal
hoard. Not all of the five guest
homes have knick-knacks by
mega-star artists – instead you
might get your own piano, or a
coffee table that began life as a
chunk of ancient temple. Outside
on the terrace, the island of
Santorini needs little introduction:
it’s the one you’ve seen in every
glossy Greek travel pictorial since
King Agamemnon was alive.
The downside is… that it’s
A-list expensive (the guest
book includes Versace, Gaultier,
Moschino – and Demis Roussos).
The Tsitouras Collection (00 30 228
602 3747, has
villas for two from £412 per night,
B&B, including free minibar. EasyJet
( flies from
Gatwick to Santorini from April 2011.
1. The tsitouras
Santorini, Greece
Eurostar (08432 186186, www. has return fares from
London St Pancras from £69pp; the
villa can arrange pick-up from Paris.
Luxury living
SJ Villas (020 7801 4010, www. has a week from
£3,900 for up to 12 people. Its
selection is especially strong on
Greece and Turkey. Thomas Cook
( flies
from Manchester, Gatwick and
Glasgow, from £110 return.
6. Cannes Villa, France
It’s perfect if… you fancy acting
like a film star. With more front
than the brazenly five-star
Martinez Hotel down the road,
this Belle Epoque beauty has a
characterful designer for an owner.
Expect a pool tiled in lightning
flashes, clear baths like sculptures,
and a cinema with its own bar.
There’s also a cinematic view from
the upper rooms, through Cannes’
19th-century sprawl to the sea.
The downside is… getting a
sunlounger. Most of Cannes’ sand >
It’s perfect if… you want to dance
under the stars. La Trasita is
actually a one-bed apartment
– the largest of three in a 14thcentury Saracen tower – and the
only one with access to a circular
8. La Trasita,
Amalfi Coast, Italy
rooftop. It’s built into rocks, with
views for miles across shimmering
ocean. Frankly, none of Amalfi’s
overpriced restaurant terraces can
compete, so set your table, fill it
with fresh clams, wine and lemon
tart from Positano (the centre is
close by) and fire up the most
amorous playlist on your iPod.
The downside is… there is no
direct access to the sea, even
though La Trasita perches above
it. You have to wander five minutes
to the water and swim round to
the cute little sliver of beach you
can see from your windows.
CV Travel (020 7401 1010, www. has a week from
£1,450 for two people. Thomson
(0871 231 4787, www.thomsonfly. flies to Naples from seven UK
airports from £185 return. >
How to bag a bargain beauty
l Five-star villas are much
cheaper through websites that
allow you to liaise directly with
the owner: try, www.owners or www.villarama.
com – and be prepared to
spend hours scouring for deals.
l If you have your heart set on a
particular destination but can’t
find your dream house, check
local internet noticeboards
or classifieds sites such as If you still can’t
find what you want, it’s worth
placing an advert yourself – but
don’t part with your money
until the keys have been
handed over.
l If you don’t want to pay at all,
contemplate a home swap: if
you live in a popular city, you
could exchange a flat for a palace
l Consider staying in the
countryside. Villas away from
the sea are much cheaper, even
in areas such as the South of
France, where the interior is
as stunning as the coast.
l Negotiate: owners will often
drop prices to ensure their
properties are rented,
especially out of high season.
Your fantasy house awaits at: CV Travel (020 7401 1010,; Scott Dunn (020 8682 5440,; Original Travel (020 7978 7333,
118 Sunday Times Travel March 2011
belongs to hotel beach clubs –
you’ll have to pay upwards of £50
each to join the bronzed and
beautiful on their striped loungers.
Mind you, if you’re staying here
you can probably afford it.
From £12,491 for up to 10 people,
through Royal Villas Europe (00 357
2200 2850, www.royalvillaseurope.
com) – nose around the finest villas
in Europe on its website. BA (0844
493 0787, flies to Nice
from Heathrow, from £116 return.
It’s perfect if… you’re an oligarchin-waiting. This seven-bed wonder
on Corfu’s northeast coast is made
for the rich and famous – it’s set in
sprawling, two-hectare terraced
grounds that tumble down towards
a poolhouse and sea-water infinity
pool built into the cliffs. Inside, it’s
polished to perfection, with whitebeamed ceilings, crystal table
lamps and designer throws strewn
casually on gigantic beds. There’s
even a small (pebbly) private beach,
and kids will love the children’s
pool, built just for them.
The downside is… going home.
With two housekeepers and two
chefs on site, as well as a sauna,
steam room and Jacuzzi, getting
back to reality is heartbreaking.
From £25,000 a week for up to 14
people, through SJ Villas (020 7801
4010, Aegean
Airlines (00 30 210 626 1000, www. flies to Corfu from
Heathrow, from £110 return.
7. Cassiopeia House,
Corfu, Greece
8; Unique Home Stays (01637 881942,; Palmer & Parker (01494 815411,
March 2011 Sunday Times Travel 119
The UK and Ireland
1. Boathouse at
Knotts End,
Lake District
It’s perfect if… you’re after the
UK’s most romantic setting. The
Boathouse may be small, with
only one bedroom and a weeny
combined lounge and kitchen, but
it comes with a private stretch of
Ullswater Lake and a rowing boat
for two. Spend your days on the
water, then cosy up by the woodburning stove come nightfall.
The downside is… you’ll probably
go stir-crazy if you stay for longer
than the weekend. And, if you’re
untidy, you’re guaranteed to
annoy your other half in this
minuscule space.
From £225 per night through Chic
Retreats (020 3397 0085, www. Newcastle is the
nearest airport; fly with Flybe (0871
700 2000, from
12 UK airports, from £15 return.
The Highlands
It’s perfect if… you long for the
lochs – but don’t want to drive to
them. Housed in the old waiting
room and station master’s office
on the platform at Plockton
Station, this meticulously
restored beauty is mere metres
from the train. Inside, there’s
proudly polished wood panelling,
a new, posh kitchen, two pretty
bedrooms, a fine antique hearth,
and even a sauna in what was
once the men’s loos. Plockton is
on the Kyle of Lochalsh line, a
stunning, single-track stretch
through the Highlands.
The downside is… you must be
prepared to be disturbed by a
handful of tourists alighting at the
platform – but as the first train
arrives after 11am and the last
train calls just after 8pm, it’s
not too much of a problem.
From £450 per week for six people,
booking direct (01599 544306,
the French Room is the most
adorable – it has a gigantic
wooden bed scattered with toile
de jouy cushions. Pick up goodies
for lunch in nearby Holt – buy mini
loaf cakes at Byfords Delicatessen
and organic wine at the Bakers &
Larners food court.
The downside is… that, while the
French and Chinese bedrooms
are opulent (the latter comes with
an opium den-inspired bed and
red lanterns), the three twins are
rather plain. Expect arguments.
Countryside Cottages, Norfolk
(01263 713133, www.countryside has four
nights from £1,690 for up to
10 people. The nearest train
station is Fakenham.
It’s perfect if… you want a
secluded British bolthole with
stellar sea views. Built on the
slopes of the Garrison, a fortified
hill still sprouting old canons, it’s
one of the most stirring spots in
the whole of the Scilly Isles. The
only passers-by here are the
occasional ramblers; otherwise,
It’s perfect if… you fancy a week
in a place fit for a glossy interiors
magazine. This place is a stunner,
from the beamed ceilings and
wood-burning stoves to its
kitchen, which any TV chef would
coo over. Of the five bedrooms,
4. Steval,
St Mary’s, Isles of Scilly
it’s just you and the view – and
it’s a corker, stretching over the
archipelago’s famously luminous
seas towards the ‘off-islands’
of St Agnes and Samson. Two
private decks are perfect for
sea-view sundowners, while
inside, the look is cosily chic, with
a wood-burning stove, sink-in
beds and soft wool throws.
The downside is… the schlep to
town. It’s a good 15 minutes along
a rough track to Hugh Town,
St Mary’s main hub, although the
coast-hugging walk is so pretty
– with boats chugging past, and
ponies grazing amid yellow
gorse – that you’ll barely notice.
Duchy of Cornwall Holiday
Cottages (01579 346473, www.
duchyofcornwallholidaycottages. has a week from £650
for four people; its selection of
cottages is spread across this
landed estate. Penzance is the
nearest station; from there, take a
helicopter to St Mary’s, from £146
return (01736 363871, www. You
can also take the boat or fly from
regional airports (0845 710 5555, >
l Best of British: The Landmark Trust (01628 825925,; Suffolk Cottage Holidays (01394 389189, ‰
March 2011 Sunday Times Travel 121
It’s perfect if… you do like to
be beside the seaside – but not
with the riff-raff. Just 15 minutes’
drive from Eastbourne, and a
little further from gloriously
blustery Pevensey Bay, this
13th-century priory is as far
removed from a dodgy beachside
B&B as you can get. Constructed
by French monks (exhibiting
some typically Gallic good taste),
it’s got mullioned windows,
a cute flint facade, and cosily
beamed ceilings, as well as
South Downs views towards
a Jerusalem-worthy landscape
of silent hills and sprouting
hedgerows – stunning enough
to inspire conversions.
The downside is… you might get
trespassers. The priory is famed
in these parts, and a favourite with
amateur photographers.
Sleeps six and costs from £958 for
three nights with The Landmark
Trust (01628 825920, www.landmark The nearest train
station is Eastbourne.
Co Cork, Ireland
It’s perfect if… you want to
explore Cork’s stunning coastline,
but won’t compromise on
comfort. The hotels in these
parts are drab and chintzy, but
this collection of four stone
outbuildings, circling a manor
house on the headland of
Dunmanus Bay, mixes slick
Scandinavian style with breezy
views over fields and out to the
Irish Sea. With one or two
bedrooms, you can choose to
bring the kids or leave them at
home. Best of all, you don’t
have to slave over the sleek
stainless steel stove to get your
breakfast ready: the lovely Mary
will happily deliver local salmon,
cream cheese and bagels,
alongside freshly brewed coffee,
on a tray from the restaurant.
The downside is… hard to
Best of British: National Trust Cottages (0844 800 2070, www.nationaltrust
5. Wilmington Priory,
East Sussex
pinpoint. This place is fantastic,
but you will need a car as the local
village is 20 minutes away by foot.
From £415 per week, self-catering,
or £75 per night, B&B (00 353 276
1127, Aer
Lingus (0871 718 2020, www. has flights from
Gatwick to Cork, from £75 return.
7. The Fortalice,
It’s perfect if… you plan to play
laird, in heather-strewn Glen Isla.
Originally built in 1560, this flinty
wonder, lost in the rolling green
landscape of the Grampians, has
survived sieges and several
questionable image changes.
The place has been recently
refurbished, and it’s all very
Monarch of the Glen now – with
tartan rugs, four-posters and
paintings of important Scotsmen.
Meanwhile, the kitchen is pretty
plush – flagstone floors, nooks
and crannies, and a gigantic cooker
to huddle around.
The downside is… you won’t like
it if you’re after the movie-star
version of a castle. While the
inside is magnificent, the exterior
is merely wing-sized, with some
disappointingly tiny turrets.
Sleeps 12 and costs from £3,370
for three nights through Stately
Escapes (020 7801 0246, www. See the
website for a large selection of
imposing, impressive castles. The
nearest airport is Dundee; Flybe
(0871 700 2000,
flies from Birmingham and the Isle
of Man, from £75 return.
8. Carrington House,
It’s perfect if… you want
somewhere glamorous to take
your girlfriends. This is about as
chic as self-catering gets; the
biggest and best room is the finedining one, with its enormous
ebony dining table, swirling blackand-white wallpaper, mirrors and
fuchsia lampshades. Use the
pavilion room for afternoon tea in
cosy armchairs, then move into
the den for chit-chat by the fire.
Later, fight over the black-andwhite Versace bedroom, which
contains Romanesque columns.
The downside is… if you’re into
understatement, you probably
won’t enjoy the eight-person
hot tub with colour-changer and
waterfall, which sits in its own
magenta-lit patch of garden,
dripping with mirror balls.
A three-night long weekend
costs from £3,650 for up to 20
people (0870 850 5468, www. The nearest
station is King’s Lynn. ■
The best times to visit the
UK’s finest spots…
l Head to the Highlands in
spring, when the wildflowers
have sprung but the midges
aren’t yet out.
l If you’re determined to
avoid the rain, Essex and
Cambridgeshire are the driest
counties in the UK.
l Swimming in the Lake District
is truly magical, but the water
can be too cold for comfort.
Head for Wastwater in
September, though, and you
should be able to splash about
without turning blue.
l In Cornwall, June is usually a
hotter, drier month than July
– and a significantly cheaper
period to boot.
l Want to ski but can’t afford to
hit les pistes? Head to Swinhope
Moor in County Durham instead:
when it snows (usually in January
or February), you can enjoy runs
of more than a kilometre long.; Natural Retreats (0161 242 2970,; Premier Cottages (01271 336050,
March 2011 Sunday Times Travel 123