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Ravishing vacation rentals

Sure, staying in a top hotel has its perks, but for discerning travelers looking for a more personalized vacation experience, one of the best-kept secrets is renting a private home. With exquisite architecture and interiors, full-time staffs, and other first-rate amenities, the finest rental properties can easily rival hotels in glamour and creature comforts. And since many of these residences sleep 10 to 20 people, when divided among a group, the head-turning weekly and monthly rates can actually start to look quite reasonable compared with top-end hotels. With so many alluring options, how does one go about finding the right property? AD consulted some of the world’s leading rental specialists to curate this list of stunning options for summer or beyond.

Saint-Tropez, France

8 bedrooms
8 baths
10,000 sq. Ft.
From $5,679/night

Pedigree: Designed for entertaining, this two-villa Mediterranean property dates back to 1908. The crisp contemporary interiors are the result of a recent renovation, and the main house features a grand dining room with an oversize table that seats 16. Each of the airy bedrooms features an en suite bathroom and a private balcony or terrace.

Property Values: At the heart of this nearly one-acre estate—a short walk from the center of Saint-Tropez—is a vast swimming pool, flanked by palms, cabanas, and a fleet of chaise lounges.

Talking Point: Guests can request a full-time chef and three waiters to preside over the impressive kitchen.

Contact: LaCure Villas, 800-387-2726;

Lake Como, Italy

12 bedrooms
9 baths
4 half baths
30,000 sq. Ft.
From $55,530/week

Pedigree: This historic residence was built in the 1700s by the Swiss architect Felice Soave for Count Passalacqua and is one of the most lavish villas around Lake Como. The simple, symmetrical façade conceals a crisply luxurious interior, featuring exquisite painted ceilings, Seminato flooring, Persian rugs, and Venetian chandeliers.

Property Values: Noted for its formal gardens, the seven-acre estate stretches from the village of Moltrasio down to the lake’s shore. A 12th-century bell tower stands watch over the pool, and a six-bedroom guesthouse can be rented as well.

Talking Point: Composer Vincenzo Bellini wrote his most famous operas, Norma and La Sonnambula, while living at the villa from 1829 to 1833.

Contact: Villas and Apartments Abroad, 212-213-6435;

Vathy, Greece

6 bedrooms
6 baths
1 half bath
26,900 sq. Ft.
From $82,240/week

Pedigree: Perched atop a hill on picturesque Ithaca Island, this grand Venetian-style mansion combines old-world Italian elegance with an exquisite Grecian setting. The interiors feature striking antiques, including leather-covered Louis XIV wing chairs, an 18th-century Hungarian commode, and a Murano glass chandelier, while outdoor terraces and loggias provide ideal spots to take in the panoramic views.

Property Values: Golf carts can be used to explore the 250-acre estate, which is lushly landscaped with Cypress and olive trees and includes a pool, a gym, and a guesthouse.

Talking Point: The rental comes with a classic Riva Chris-Craft boat and captain, for jaunts along the Ionian coast.

Contact: Cédric Reversade Unique Properties, 011-44-20-7788-7815;

Buzios, Brazil

5 bedrooms
6 baths
10,000 sq. Ft.
From $4,000/night

Pedigree: Located in a picturesque coastal town just north of Rio de Janeiro, this dramatic rectilinear house was created in 2007 by the Toronto-based firm Designcorp. The heart of the structure is a double-height living and entertaining area, with sliding glass doors that blend the indoor and outdoor spaces. Upstairs, the bedrooms are entered through a garden courtyard; all offer commanding ocean views.

Property Values: The 5.45-acre plot includes a stunning infinity pool and covered outdoor dining terrace.

Talking Point: Guests have access to a dune buggy for riding around Ferradura Beach, which is only a two-minute drive away.

Contact: LaCure Villas, 800-387-2726;

Shapinsay, Scotland

9 bedrooms
9 baths
35,000 sq. Ft.
From $42,103/week

Pedigree: Located in the Orkney Islands, a few miles off Scotland’s northern coast, magnificent Balfour Castle was designed by the Victorian architect David Bryce in 1847 for David Balfour, a Scottish Laird. A rare example of a calendar house, the original structure had seven turrets, 12 external doors, 52 rooms, and 365 sections of windows. Since coming under new ownership in 2009, the manor has been sensitively redecorated and restored.

Property Values: The 600-acre estate offers extensive gardens and woodlands, as well as numerous outdoor activities such as horseback riding, clay-pigeon shooting, trout fishing, and seal watching.

Talking Point: In addition to running the kitchen, award-winning local chef Jean-Baptiste Bady teaches cooking classes for guests.

Contact: Loyd & Townsend-Rose, 011-44-1835-824-642;

Trancoso, Brazil

2 bedrooms
2 baths
4,305 sq. Ft.
From $1,200/night

Pedigree: Formerly the ceramics workshop of a beloved Brazilian artist known as Cala, this white cement structure was converted into a chic Bohemian beach hut by local architect Daniela Lattari. Accented with aged tatajuba wood and furniture and decorative objects created by local craftsmen, there are also modern comforts like flat-screen TVs, wireless Internet, and a full-time staff.

Property Values: Situated in a private quarter-acre enclave, the cottage has a pool inlaid with green aventurine and is only a short walk from both the hip village and its numerous beaches.

Talking Point: One of Cala’s huge ceramic kilns was creatively transformed into an outdoor barbecue.

Contact: The Brazilian Beach House Co., 011-55-21-2225-9476;

Positano, Italy

4 bedrooms
4 baths
5,350 sq. Ft.
From $2,645/night

Pedigree: This Baroque property was originally built as a residence for Episcopal clergy in 1680 and served as the home of Bauhaus artist Edward Ghillausen from 1926 until 2000. Positioned on a cliff overlooking Positano and the Mediterranean beyond, the jewel-toned palazzo is formally decorated with gilt-framed artwork, plush furniture, and exquisitely frescoed walls.

Property Values: The 0.15-acre plot boasts a pool and verdant gardens filled with lemon and orange trees; oversized terraces feature dining alcoves, sun lounges, and spectacular panoramic views.

Talking Point: Ancient Roman baths on the site have been replaced with an elaborate spa area that boasts a sauna and hammam.

Contact: LaCure Villas, 800-387-2726;

Provincetown, Massachusetts

4 bedrooms
4 baths
3,000 sq. Ft.
From $4,500/week

Pedigree: Located on one of the most exclusive spots on Cape Cod, this award-winning contemporary beach house was built by Alexandria, Virginia–based architect Michael Winstanley to be his own vacation home. Designed to recall the area’s legacy of boatbuilding and fishing, the wood-framed residence features dramatic floor-to-ceiling windows and bold interiors by Robert Pahnke.

Property Values: An expansive wraparound porch provides abundant areas for relaxing and entertaining, and a boardwalk leads to a private beach.

Talking Point: The house is elevated on wooden pilings three feet above the sand, so as not to disturb the site’s natural vegetation.

Contact: HomeAway, 877-228-3145;


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