One of the many things to have become apparent in the past few years is the importance of seizing opportunities to celebrate with your nearest and dearest. Sadly, many of us have missed out on these opportunities, having to mark big birthdays on Zoom and put anniversary parties on hold. But with the chaos of our first restriction-free summer receding, if now is not the time to start thinking about organising a holiday to mark a special occasion – past, future or tenuous – when is?
Gavin Hughes, a 53-year-old tech/wellness company director who lives in London, has celebrated a number of landmark events at Hacienda de San Rafael (00 34 9542 27116; haciendadesanrafael.com), a historic 18th-century olive oil estate- turned-hotel that sleeps up to 40 outside Seville. “For us, the joy of a trip to Andalucia with a party of 36 friends is the shared experience of travelling abroad together for a big celebration,” he says. “What is so special, though, is having real time to spend with friends and family.”
When it comes to the practicalities, many rental companies, tour operators and hotels have concierge services or event planners to ensure everything goes smoothly. Global brand Preferred Hotels & Resorts (preferredhotels.com), even has a collection entitled “Where Next? Buyouts” to meet the surging demand for group getaways.
Smaller hotels that you can take over completely give an event that all-important intimate atmosphere with no other guests to invade the space. Villas are another obvious choice for groups, but consider catering – no one really wants to be tasked with breakfast for a group of hungover revellers. Most villa companies with high-end properties offer additional services such as private chefs, housekeeping and concierges.
Larger hotels and resorts also have advantages; you can book the required number of rooms and afford your guests a little more privacy, along with access to facilities such as pools, spas and activities. Another variation is the increasing trend for hotels with villas. You get the privacy of a rental, but with all the resort services as well as private catering options. Hosts will also have to factor in what bills they are willing to foot. Inviting people to an expensive resort can mean the extras start adding up, so it’s important to make clear who will be settling up for those sundowners by the pool.
Morocco-based Boutique Souk (00 212 6613 24475; boutiquesouk.com), owned by Rosena Charmoy, has staged some spectacular bashes for the likes of Madonna, Rita Ora and Poppy Delevingne. “When choosing your venue it’s important to consider the budgets of your guests, if you are not picking up the entire tab,” she says. “We planned two extravagant 40th birthdays within a week of each other. One host chose to fly all his guests and buy out the hotel, while the second host let his guests pay for the travel and hotel but laid on unforgettable entertainment.” She also predicts that, while partying is still the main event, “healing, hammams and hiking will be very much on the agenda during the day”.
Trends aside, taking friends and family away means moments to treasure. The possibilities are endless, but it is all about the company you keep.
Where to host your bash... if you're staying in Britain
The Harper, Norfolk
Opened last year in Langham, just inland from Norfolk’s champagne coast, is the Harper (01328 805000; theharper.co.uk). Long walks and spa treatments can be followed by a dinner takeover of the Den, a private events space that also has an honesty bar, pool table and cinema screen.
Doubles from £175 per night, B&B
Wilderness Reserve, Suffolk
Conservation project-cum-country-house-retreat sums up Wilderness Reserve (01986 802113; wildernessreserve.com), set in idyllic parkland. There are 15 houses as well as Grade II-listed Sibton Park, sleeping 27.
From £468 per night for a house; Sibton Park from £4,740 per night
Honeybridge Estate, West Sussex
Seventeen acres of grounds surround the Honeybridge Estate (01403 597097; honeybridgeestate.co.uk) and the rolling hills of the South Downs National Park are on its doorstep. There are three houses on the estate, including a renovated barn, a Tudor-style cottage and the main house, which has an indoor infinity pool, a hot tub and a sauna. Concierge and chef services are also available.
From £1,100 to £7,400 for two nights; sleeps from 25 to 36
Henry’s Townhouse, London
Younger members of the group will welcome the chance to hit the town after dinner in Monsieur Halavant’s Pantry at Henry’s Townhouse (0330 133 4959; henrystownhouse.co.uk). This charming, Georgian pied à terre turned seven-bedroom hotel in the heart of Marylebone was once owned by the brother of novelist Jane Austen.
From £4,950 per night, B&B; sleeps up to 14
The secret Olchon Valley, with views of the Black Mountains, is the setting for Charity – a beautifully restored 15th-century farmhouse that sleeps up to 12. It has a hot tub, a sauna, an outdoor pizza oven and a party-ready restored barn – complete with disco ball – which doubles as a cinema.
Unique Homestays (01637 881183; uniquehomestays.com) offers a three-night stay from £2,295
Auchterarder House, Perthshire
Live it up like lairds at Auchterarder House, one of Scotland’s most lavish private homes set in 20 acres of gardens with views of the Grampians. The house sleeps up to 20 with additional accommodation available on the grounds.
From £24,000 for two nights with Loyd & Townsend Rose (01835 824642; ltrcastles.com)
The Farm at Avebury, Wiltshire
The Farm at Avebury (07790 026363; thefarmatavebury.co.uk) has unveiled its stylish Stables – six self-catering properties sleeping a total of 22. Farm-to-table feasts in the Granary or the Barn complete the picture.
From £3,590 for two nights
Monkey Island Estate, Berkshire
The historic Monkey Island Estate (01628 623400; monkeyislandestate.co.uk) is on the Thames in gastro-hotspot Bray, just outside London. It offers hotel rooms, plus six private residences sleeping between two and eight in the nearby village. Guests can enjoy river cruises, picnics and a luxurious spa.
Doubles from £275 per night
Keythorpe Hall, Leicestershire
At Keythorpe Hall (0116 298 6151; keythorpehall.co.uk), a Grade II-listed Georgian pile near Rutland, there is a country-house vibe with a foodie focus, including the services of a resident chef. Sustainability is the buzzword here, with fruit and vegetables from the walled garden and honey and gin made on the estate.
From £14,000 for a two-night stay; sleeps up to 20
Hillside Hangouts, Cotswolds
Every year people beat a path to bucolic Broadway, heralded as the heart of the Cotswolds, lured by its gentle honey-stone beauty. But there is another viewpoint of the village, one that is altogether more exclusive, from the well-established gardens of Elsker – the former family home of the owners of the Farncombe Estate. After an extensive facelift, the property is now available for hire as part of the estate’s Hillside Hangouts (01386 854300; hillsidehangouts.co.uk). It was especially created with parties, celebrations and time with friends and family in mind.
From £9,510 per week sleeping up to 16 (14 adults and two children)
Where to host your bash... if you're travelling short haul
Domaine du Murtoli, Corsica
A dreamy protected nature reserve in south-eastern Corsica between mountain and sea, Domaine du Murtoli (00 334 9571 8924; murtoli.com) has 20 villas, shepherd’s houses and a hotel scattered throughout the maquis and shoreline overlooking the Med.
From £465 per night for a house sleeping two, to £1,000 for a villa sleeping up to seven
Le Grand Banc, Provence, France
This tiny Provencal hamlet in the fashionable Luberon, with 10 individual houses, is the perfect setting for a family get-together. Think al-fresco meals at a huge communal dining table, a swimming pool, table tennis and a resident cook.
From £12,000 per week with Scott Williams (01749 812721; scottwilliams.co.uk); sleeps up to 24
Kaya Gunseri, Turkey
Cruise the turquoise bays and hidden coves of the Turkish coast from Bodrum to the Greek island of Symi on a gulet for seven nights. The Kaya Gunseri comes with full crew, a boat for water sports, and equipment. An additional gulet can be hired for a convoy.
From £8,353 per week for up to 14 guests with Red Savannah (01242 787800; redsavannah.com)
Hacienda de San Rafael, Andalucia, Spain
Deep in the countryside between Seville and Jerez de la Frontera, Hacienda de San Rafael (00 34 9542 27116; haciendadesanrafael.com) – an 18th-century farm with 20 bedrooms and a pool villa, sleeping up to 12 – is a place where big parties are par for the course.
Doubles from £357, B&B; villa from £1,785 per night
Beldi Country Club, Marrakech, Morocco
Some fabulous parties have been held in the fragrant gardens of the Beldi Country Club (00 212 5243 83950; beldicountryclub.com) with its sweeping views of the Atlas Mountains. The property comprises a riad, a small village, Bedouin tents, four swimming pools, 15 hectares of gardens, a roomy spa and a souk, in addition to 38 suites. A new 15-room hotel is also now open.
Doubles from £250 per night
Kempinski Hotel das Tirol Jochberg, Austria
Hit the slopes of the Austrian resort of Kitzbuhel if you wish, but there is plenty to keep non-skiers occupied with the charming medieval village on their doorstep. Kempinski Hotel Das Tirol Jochberg (00 43 5355 50100; kempinski.com) is a ski-in/ski out resort with a large spa, pool and wellness area.
Doubles from £268 per night
Masseria Petrarolo, Puglia, Italy
Just four miles from the beaches of the Adriatic coast, Masseria Petrarolo is a restored, fortified farmhouse surrounded by a landscape dotted with olive trees near the postcard-pretty town of Monopoli. It has two swimming pools and sleeps up to 25.
From £30,000 per week through Bellini Travel (bellinitravel.com)
Ballynahinch Castle, West of Ireland
On the Wild Atlantic Way, Ballynahinch Castle (00 353 953 1006; ballynahinch-castle.com) is a romantic rural retreat overlooking the Owenmore. As well as the rooms, the estate features two properties: Lettery Lodge, which sleeps 10; and Owenmore Cottage sleeping 12.
From £3,570 and £2,230 respectively, with a chef and waiter service.
Xinara House, Tinos, Greece
Xinara House (xinarahouse.com) is a lovingly restored 19th-century bishop’s mansion located near Mount Exomvourgo on the Cycladic island of Tinos – less well-known than its glitzy neighbour, Mykonos. On the edge of the tiny, car-free hamlet of the same name, this house was renovated to stay true to its origins with whitewashed walls, blue windows and marble bathrooms, and features a stylish mix of antiques, artworks and flourishes with a boho vibe. The main house sleeps up to 10 and there is also the smaller Blacksmith’s Cottage, which can be rented together or separately, sleeping up to three people.
Rental of the main house costs from £445 per night and Blacksmith’s Cottage from £98 per night
Villa Sola Cabiati at Grand Hotel Tremezzo, Lake Como, Italy
Romance is alive and well at the Villa Sola Cabiati, a magnificent 16th-century villa on the edge of Lake Como. It forms part of the nearby Grand Hotel Tremezzo (00 39 0344 42491; grandhoteltremezzo.com) and can be rented for groups of up to 12. The villa comes with staff, a pool and sweeping gardens.
From £5,355 per night, minimum three nights
Where to host your bash... if you're travelling long-haul
Devigarh, Rajasthan, India
Indian parties are elaborate affairs. Devigarh (00 91 82399 26000; raashotels.com) is a regal, 18th-century palace on a grand scale with 39 suites looking out over the Aravalli Hills outside Udaipur in Rajasthan. Take over its 17 garden suites where extra guests can be accommodated in Rajasthani-style tents on the lawns.
Garden Suites from £200; buyout of 17 Garden suites from £6,700 for two nights, B&B
Easily accessible from both sides of the Atlantic, the Rosewood Bermuda (001 44129 84000; rosewoodhotels.com) at Tucker’s Point is just outside Hamilton on the island’s East End. There are 92 rooms and suites, which can be taken in part for a celebration with private spaces for intimate dinners and a beach club overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.
Doubles from £460 per night
Mango Bay, St James, Barbados
There is private beach access, a pool and space for up to 15 in the main house, plus a two-bedroom cottage at Mango Bay – a luxurious beachside home set in lush gardens with interiors by celebrated designer Oliver Messel. Located in the Garden neighbourhood of St James in Barbados, it is fully staffed and has a private chef.
From £4,790 per night with One Fine Stay (0800 808 5830; onefinestay.com)
Four Seasons Resort Seychelles, Desroches Island, Seychelles
Take over one, or both, of the two five-bedroom private residences set among the lush vegetation of the Four Seasons Resort Seychelles at Desroches Island (00 248 467 4700; fourseasons.com), a private island with 14 beaches. Perks include a surfing school and in-villa barbecues prepared by a chef.
Residences sleeping 10 from £4,795 per night
Skye House, Galle, Sri Lanka
Overlooking a palm tree-fringed beach, Skye House is a tropical-chic villa just outside the Unesco world heritage town of Galle on Sri Lanka’s southern coast. The villa sleeps up to eight adults and eight children, has its own pool and its full staff includes a private chef.
From £640 per night; Eden Villas (00 94 9122 32568; edenvillas.com)
Ani Thailand, Koh Yao Noi
As locations go, the Ani Thailand (00 66 958 219 462; aniprivateresorts.com) is pretty perfect, right on the beach on the east coast of dreamy Koh Yao Noi island. This private resort consists of 10 pavilion-style suites sleeping up to 20 adults, plus children, with pools, beach access and all the frills of a five-star hotel.
From £11,660 per night for a minimum of six villas, sleeping up to 20 people on an all-inclusive basis for a minimum five-night stay.
Emeco Dahabiyya, Egypt
Drift down the Nile between Luxor and Aswan with a private sailing for 16 on a traditional Egyptian dahabiyya, enjoying extraordinary sights such as Edfu, Luxor and Karnak by day, followed by communal dinners back on board.
Audley Travel (01993 460054; audleytravel.com/egypt) offers trips from £2,245 per person, including three nights at the Four Seasons in Cairo, return flights, transfers, meals, accommodation and all activities
Pine Cay, Turks & Caicos
Pine Cay (001 64994 67758; pinecay.com) is an idyllic 800-acre Caribbean island of sand, sea and native pine trees surrounded by the azure waters of Turks & Caicos. There is a recently renovated 13-room hotel and eight of the island’s 38 villas are available to rent.
Doubles from £1,352 per night, all-inclusive for over-12s
Anantara World Islands Dubai Resort, United Arab Emirates
The Anantara World Islands Dubai Resort (00 971 4567 8777; anantara.com) is the first luxury resort in the South American “continent” of this Arabian Gulf archipelago, a 15-minute speed-boat ride off the coast of Dubai and with spectacular views of the city’s celebrated skyline.
Doubles from £285 per night
Bush Villa, Masaai Mara National Park, Kenya
Owned by the same family for generations, the Bush Villa at Cottar’s Safari camp sleeps up to 12 and sits in the middle of the wilderness on this private concession of 22,000 acres in Kenya’s Masaai Mara National Park. The house comes with its own pool, staff, safari vehicle and private guide and additional guests can stay at Cottar’s 1920s safari camp nearby.
From £905 per person per night, based on 10 sharing, through Aardvark Safaris (01980 849160; aardvarksafaris.co.uk)