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Regal Rentals

Whether It's a Mansion on Mustique or a Castle in Cork, Renting A Luxurious Vacation Home May Cost Less Than You Think
Larry Olmsted
From the Print Edition:
Danny DeVito, Winter 96

Few people live in hotels. For most of us, our home is our most prized possession. So why do so many travelers choose a hotel room for a vacation, when they can rent a home as nice as, or nicer than, the one to which they are accustomed?

You can find every amenity imaginable in some of the world's most luxurious homes, and you have these facilities all to yourself. From grass tennis courts to private 18-hole golf courses, indoor pools to private beaches, home theaters to equestrian centers, these properties and their staffs can rival the offerings of any full-service resort hotel.

"When a client stays in a hotel, they are competing with hundreds of other guests for the services," says Tim Roney, senior villa consultant for LaCure, one of the largest luxury home rental agencies. "In our villas, they have their own maids, their own cooks, their own staffs. You eat what you want, when you want, where you want--on the lawn, by the pool or in the dining room."

The staffing, amenities, architecture and price vary enormously by region. While luxury homes can be rented around the globe, the most popular destinations for U.S. residents are the Caribbean; France, primarily Provence and the Côte d'Azur; Italy, primarily Tuscany; Great Britain, primarily the Cotswolds and Scotland; and the United States, particularly in major ski areas.

Caribbean rental opportunities are quite varied, due to the number of nations and cultures and the abundance of smaller islands. In general, island villas tend to be modern, and many are staffed. Almost all have pools and outdoor dining areas, and many offer tennis courts and Jacuzzis. They are almost always true rentals, where you take the entire property for your party.

Each island or island group has distinctive features. Due to higher labor costs, U.S. territories such as Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands have the lowest levels of staffing. By comparison, homes on Barbados, Mustique and Jamaica are known for having enormous staffs, which often include maids, chefs, gardeners, pool men, boatmen and other personnel. What hotel room could compare, for example, to the Bon Vivant house on Barbados?

A sports lover's paradise, Bon Vivant boasts an Olympic-sized swimming pool, tennis and basketball courts, an air-conditioned raquetball court, a gym (trampoline included), a billiards room, a shuffleboard court, a Jacuzzi and even a playhouse for kids. A golf course is just a two-minute stroll from the house, and the beach (with your own private cabana) is only three minutes away. The house, which contains seven bedrooms, eight baths and spacious common areas, has a staff of 10 that is presided over by the housekeeper. The kitchen staff provides international or local cuisine as requested, and maids collect guests' laundry for washing and ironing. The house rents for about $2,645 per night during the high season and $2,075 in the low season.

The most extensive rental market in the Caribbean can be found on St. Barts, due to the European influence and the absence of large hotels, with the vast majority of tourist accommodations in the form of private homes. Hundreds of properties on St. Barts are available, ranging from one-bedroom condos to luxurious private estates. The largest rental agency for the region is the West Indies Management Co. (WIMCO), based in Newport, Rhode Island.

Charles Healy, a venture capitalist from Cincinnati, has been a longtime St. Barts renter. "In Tuscany I rented a place and it was fine," he says. "There are some really nice places in Provence. But in St. Barts I find it very simple and easy. I rent the same house every year, and by now I'm used to it. I know where the silverware is and how the dishwasher works. I want to go back the last two weeks of February forever."

Like Healy, many renters become repeat customers, taking the same property year after year. This familiarity makes their rental villa a home away from home. One luxury villa owner on St. Barts has several families who return each year, keeping his $10,000 a week cliffside estate rented about half the time.

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