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High Life

It's A Rental! This Fabulous Private House Can Be Your Next Getway


My Hotel, If you can call it that, came with instructions. They were left on the black granite kitchen counter like a note to the babysitter. But instead of particulars about bedtimes, the note covered the sorts of details that come up when you’re renting a $15 million house: rules for using the indoor-outdoor pool; warnings about the wind sweeping in and breaking one of the $27,000 glass doors; as well as a set of complicated driving directions that I could pass on to my personal chef and massage therapist to help them find the place—at the top of a Napa mountain. (Some guests, who find the house too difficult to access by car, helicopter in—you can land in a nearby field.)

Savvy travelers have been investing in vacation properties and timeshares since humans discovered home equity loans, and companies like One & Only and the Four Seasons have been scrambling to build new extreme-luxury locations to meet the growing demand. But private estates like this Napa mansion are fast becoming the hot new hideaways.

Patrick Smith says the trend has already taken off in California. He founded his Wine Country luxury rental company, Beautiful Places, just two years ago, and now manages more than 50 properties, including the 13,500-square-foot mountaintop beauty, affectionately dubbed the Aerie, that I rented for a weekend. International luxury-travel giant Abercrombie & Kent has seen similar interest in these types of rentals; spokeswoman Pamela Lassers says the company entered the market with just a few European villas in 2001 and now manages 42 properties throughout Europe and Africa, including single-family destinations like a $5,400-a-week villa in Crete and a 12-bedroom mansion in Italy that rents for $55,490 a week. My mountaintop hideaway runs between $2,500 and $3,500 per night, depending on the season.

Smith calls it a baby-boomer trend. “There are 78 million boomers, and the first wave [is] reaching early retirement. Not everyone is interested in plopping down $400,000 for a second home or [a timeshare] club membership,” he says, “so they’re renting.”

Being a high-end renter has its perks. When you’re willing to drop more than $5,000 on a weekend getaway, you can pick your dream house and design a custom vacation around it. I don’t typically have problems with the paparazzi or other stalkers, but if I’d been trying to hide my new boyfriend, Brad Pitt, the Aerie would have beat out a world-class resort any day. I was completely on my own, and could have spent the entire weekend naked if I’d been so inclined.

Naturally, I had to give up a few of my favorite resort perks for this level of privacy. A butler never showed up to offer me a plate of chocolates, and a maid didn’t come to turn down my bed and refresh the fruit bowl. But that’s the point: You’re in charge. You just need to tell the rental company what you want and when. Abercrombie & Kent arranges private chefs, maids, yachting excursions—whatever guests request during their stay. Beautiful Places does the same. Smith says many customers ask for their favorite bath products (a L’Occitane scrub, maybe) and groceries, and he sends a personal shopper out to stock the place before they arrive.

Dream up anything else, and Smith makes it happen: chauffeured winery tours, massages, hot air balloon rides, dinner parties, nannies, you name it. Ask for your favorite restaurant chef or request a meeting with a famous winemaker—for a price, pretty much anything will come to you.

I wanted to show off the Aerie to a few friends, so I invited them up for a dinner party, luring them with the promise of a meal cooked by a celebrated Wine Country chef. When I arrived for my stay, the smell of fresh herbs hit me at the front door. Kimball Jones, from the Carneros Inn, was already in the kitchen preparing a California-style feast. A few hours later, seven of us were watching the sun set and devouring his tuna carpaccio flatbread with aioli and capers, followed by salsa verde–topped grilled steaks with couscous and farm-fresh grilled vegetables. After dinner, we retired to the living room with a plate of artisanal cheeses and a bottle of Plumpjack Pinot. Jones’s services typically run about $1,000, plus the cost of ingredients, but it beats the hell out of room service.

Of course, I was living it up in someone else’s house, and even a multimillion-dollar crib has quirks that rules can’t fully account for. I pressed a few buttons on the pool’s electronic control board to make the water more comfortable, and later learned that I’d racked up a $500 heating bill. The owner wasn’t happy. Smith, who graciously picked up the tab, says this type of rental market is such new territory that he’s learning as he goes; each house is different and has its own set of problems (a bathroom drawer with used hairbrushes, for instance). But most of his exclusive properties have recently been brought up to resort specs, providing quality bath products and towels, flowers, and gift baskets for arriving guests. Ideally, you end up with all the luxuries of a resort, yet the solitude and privacy of your own house.

The real genius of the Aerie, and many other deluxe rentals, is that for all their exclusivity, they are still relatively close to civilization. In 30 or 45 minutes you can be pulling up a stool to taste wines at a Napa vineyard, strolling into the French Laundry for dinner, or trying on Ferragamos at the Barneys outlet. Better yet, in the same amount of time, something or someone can get to you. On a whim, I called the spa at Milliken Creek Inn a week before my trip, and asked if they could deliver a private couples’ massage during my stay. Voilà! Two therapists arrived at the Aerie one afternoon with tables, towels, and a case full of aromatherapy oils; this service runs about $175 for each 75-minute off-site massage (off-site treatments cost 20 percent more than the same treatment at the spa).

I chose my favorite spot in the Aerie for the rubdown—poolside, next to a crackling fireplace—and a lavender-scented rejuvenating oil, and my massage therapist got right to work. It was one of the best treatments I’ve ever had, I suppose because it was performed at the top of the world. And when it was over, I was home.

For information on luxury rentals in Wine Country, call Beautiful Places at (800) 495-9961.

Travel tips for the high-end renter

Pay for a pickup.
Finding an ultra-private estate is never easy—privacy is the point, after all. We spent three hours on winding Napa roads trying to locate the Aerie, and our massage therapist was lost for hours, too. If you’re splurging on a weekend getaway, go all the way and ask the property manager to arrange transportation.

Pack carefully (and don’t forget your razor).

High-end rental companies stock their properties with the requisite shampoo and lotion, but if you forget your toothbrush or shaving cream, you can’t just take the elevator downstairs and pick up an emergency replacement at the gift shop. You’re on your own.

Ask for a layout of the house.

Although the Aerie is advertised as a three bedroom (and is large enough to hold 200 guests at a party), the master bedroom is the only posh room for sleeping. Additional couples are stuck in twin beds or on a pull-out sofa downstairs.

Use your concierge.

These estates aren’t resorts: If you want restaurant meals, side trips, massages, babysitting, and other services, you need to arrange for them in advance with the rental company. It is designed to line up just about anything, including a meal cooked by a well-known chef, dinner with a local celebrity winemaker, and more.

Shop around.

Some private properties are so remote, you’ll never want to leave once you get there. Others are meant for those who like to walk into town for dining and shopping. Know what kind of vacation you’re after, then ask the rental company to show you your options—and a map of the area.

Make your own minibar.

Remember that private homes don’t come with cute little liquor bottles and bags of Terra Chips. If you want special snacks and drinks, bring them yourself, or give the concierge a grocery list before your trip. Even if your lunches and dinners are prearranged, you’re on vacation, and you’ll probably want to snack between meals.

Glam Getaways Farther Afield

Tanner & Haley Villas (formerly Abercrombie & Kent Concierge Villas North America) has been in the luxury travel industry for more than 40 years. They offer multimillion-dollar rental houses all over North America to anyone with enough greenbacks for a great private getaway. Here are three that will stoke your wanderlust.

Rocky Road Retreat, Telluride, Colorado You can ski right out of this four-bedroom, 1,100-square-foot mountain house to the base of two ski lifts, and schuss back home from Bridges Run. In the summer, call the complimentary shuttle for a lift to the Telluride Golf Club. Then again, you may never want to leave: Curl up by the fireplace with a book, hang out on the deck grilling shrimp kebabs, or soak in the hot tub.
Sleeps seven. Rates: $1,045–$1,925 plus tax per night, depending on season

Northwood, Sun Valley, Idaho This enormous home is a 10-minute drive from the Warm Springs and River Run lifts to Bald Mountain. Bring all your friends, because this place has it all: 9,600 square feet, eight large bedroom suites with private bathrooms, a gourmet kitchen with two dishwashers, two 14-person dining areas, a nine-seat home theater with surround sound and projection television, an office with cable Internet access and fax, an eight-person hot tub, ping-pong and game tables, exercise equipment, and a three-car garage stocked with sleds and snowshoes. There’s also radiant-heat flooring throughout and a mud room with a boot dryer and ski lockers.
Sleeps 20. Rates: $2,200–$3,000 plus tax per night, depending on season

Oceans Apart, Naples, Florida This four-bedroom, 5,800-square-foot beachfront home offers views of and easy access to the Gulf of Mexico. Walk down to the beach on your own private path, or simply admire the view from your heated outdoor swimming pool, from the balcony of your master bedroom, or from one of the many rooms featuring floor-to-ceiling windows. Two adult and two children’s bicycles are also available.
Sleeps 10. Rates: $3,900–$6,600 plus tax per night, depending on season

All homes feature complimentary services, including a destination specialist to help guests shape their itinerary, housewarming before arrival, and a 24/7 personal concierge to coordinate spa appointments and restaurant reservations. For more information, call (888) 499-5745


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