No matter how nice a hotel is, nothing beats the freedom of renting a villa, chateaux or a private apartment.
Renting a villa is more economical than you might think.
The best rule of thumb is to go bigger to save more. Often the priciest private homes have just one or two bedrooms -- but, rent an eight-bedroom castle with a group of friends, and you'll be paying far less than the price of a five-star hotel.
The Mustique Company
Mustique is one of the lesser-known Caribbean islands, but has megawatt star power. Princess Margaret owned a home here where she entertained the world's elite, and these days Mick Jagger is one of the island's homeowners.
The Mustique Company has 64 designer villas in its rental portfolio, and the styles range from Californian to Tuscan, Balinese and Chinese. The most traditional are the pastel, Oliver Messel-designed gingerbread houses.
While nearly all of the multimillion dollar properties are interior designed, some of the most striking are the nine-bedroom, five-acre Shogun, which has a series of pavilions and is crammed with Chinese antiquities, including a pool-side temple (rates start at $17,000 per week).
The Mustique Company
P.O. Box 349,
St. Vincent and the Grenadines, West Indies
Telephone: (784) 488-8000
If you're looking for a villa in Europe or the Caribbean, this company has over 1,000 properties in its portfolio, ranging from stylish city apartments to villas and castles.
La Cure's flagship property, the Roaring Pavilion Villa and Spa, is a luxury four-bedroom, plantation style villa on James Bond Beach in St. Ann's Bay, Jamaica. Rates start at $2,350 per night.
Or take a cue from Julia Roberts, who booked a stay at Castello de Renai in Tuscany, near the village of Montespertoli. This family-owned villa dates back to the 13th century, and has exquisitely furnished bedrooms, along with a living room, dining room and gourmet kitchen. Nightly rates start at €1409.
If you'd rather swap a Montelpulciano for margaritas, book a stay at Villa Betsey, which is the private home of fashion designer Betsey Johnson. Located near Zihuatanejo airport, this two-bedroom villa would be right at home on the Italian Riviera. Nightly rates start at $600.
275 Spadina Road
Canada M5R 2V3
Phone: (800) 387- 2726
If you're looking to live like a shipping magnate for a few days, call up Five Star Greece. This London-based villa rental company offers a hand-picked group of villas for rent -- most of which are exclusive to Five Star Greece. The company is so discreet that a password is needed to view the properties online (even then, the villas are not named), and prices are only given upon request.
A new villa christened with the code name "Mykonos 11k" has six suites built on three levels. There's an indoor-outdoor pool which flows into the living room, and Mykonos town is a short walk away.
Five Star Greece
c/o Ileana Von Hirsch
Harrow on the Hill
Middlesex. HA1 3NE, UK
Phone: +44 (0)20 8422 4885
For access to a unique set of villas around the world, become a member of Capricorne Villas, the second-largest destination club in the world.
The company has 70 properties in its portfolio. Membership starts at $2,000 a year, and renters can enjoy the services of a personal planner and a destination host.
One of the most glamorous properties is Villa Ramon in Dominical, Costa Rica. This five-bedroom villa, built in 2006 and valued at $6 million, is bordered by jungle and overlooks the sea. It has its own spa and outdoor fish pond, and private yoga classes can be arranged.
P.O Box 5005 #94
Rancho Santa Fe, Calif. 92067
Phone: (858) 952-0795
If you're looking for a villa rental company with choices all over the world, check out Luxury Retreats. The company's portfolio includes over 1,300 villas and nearly 300 in more than 30 global destinations. All properties come with concierge services.
Luxury Retreat's sister company, which focuses on Caribbean properties, is CarribeanWay.
The clifftop Bajuca in the Turks and Caicos Bajacu has 270-degree ocean views and is surrounded by a 13-acre estate of tropical gardens. The 9,500-square-foot property has 3,500 square feet of open deck, along with two infinity pools. Rates start at $2,900 a night.
5530 St. Patrick Street, Suite 2210
Canada H4E 1A8
Phone: (514) 393-8844
Renting a farmhouse in Tuscany -- or Puglia, or Sicily -- would arguably be on top of most people's dream vacation wish-list.
Chicago-based Select Italy has a portfolio of private properties all over Italy, and can also arrange cooking classes, source hard-to-get opera tickets or arrange a luxury car rental.
Villa Como is located on Lake Como, near George Clooney's house. It has its own cinema room and brick oven pizzeria. The property can hold 25 people in its main villa (which is over 9,000 square feet) and adjacent guest house. Price is available on request.
303 W. Erie St., Suite 500
Chicago, Ill. 60610
Phone: (312) 664-4200
Caribbean aficionados know that Wimco has some of the best properties in the region, but the company also rents villas in Morocco, Italy, Greece, France and England.
The Villa Les Amis du Vent on the island of St. Barths sits on 5 1/2 acres with views of the ocean. This Mediterranean-style villa has three bedrooms, 6 1/2 bathrooms and a heated 54-foot pool. Weekly rates start at $21,000.
P.O. Box 1461
Newport, R.I. 02840
Phone: (866) 850-6140
Ville et Village
This California-based company specialises in French, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese properties, all of which are hand-picked by owner Carolyn R. Grote. The properties range from farmhouses to former mills and grand homes.
Le Moulin in the Rhone Valley is a renovated farmhouse within its own walled park, and features six bedrooms and seven bathrooms. Weekly rates start at $6,992.
Ville et Village
2124 Kittredge St. #200
Berkeley, Calif. 94704
Phone: (510) 559-8080