Forget the Penthouse suite—this is the era of the villa vacation. It’s a holdover from pandemic-era shifts, when self-contained accommodation was a must-have, propelling villas to a primacy they’d never before enjoyed. Changing travel habits—many are now traveling in multi-generational groups or for international family reunions—also helped burnish the appeal of standalone luxury like this.
No wonder, then, that it’s been a boom time for firms like Onefinestay, the luxury counterpart to Airbnb which launched in both New York and Provence, France, while French luxe villa broker Le Collectionist scored a funding round of more than $60 million to expand its footprint further around the world. The highest-end rental experts, including Travel Master Cedric Reversade of Unique Properties and Events, reported record bookings last year—and continued demand for summer 2023.
But what are the properties that truly stand out in this crowded, competitive market? Where can the most discerning traveler score a villa that surpasses any rivals in design, amenities, and services? Robb Report has rounded up the four best new options across the world, from a private island off the Côte d’Azur to the ideal hideaway on Greece’s buzziest island.
Craigieburn Valley, New Zealand
A working sheep station dating back to 1857. An outdoorsman’s homestead. An indulgent luxury villa. The land of Narnia. Flockhill, on New Zealand’s cinematic South Island, contains multitudes, which is easy to do when you’re a single-booking resort on 36,000 acres of high-contrast architectural landscape.
Opened last September, 30 minutes outside Christchurch by helicopter within the island’s iconic Southern Alps, the property was designed by local architecture firm Warren & Mahoney to create a light-filled hideaway that’s as zen as a spa as it is invigorating as a mountain lodge. “When you walk into the homestead and see that view . . . you never get tired of it, and it changes all the time,” says Andrew Cullen, the lodge’s on-site manager.
He notes that, since opening the resort, which can accommodate a group of up to eight guests, it has attracted A-list celebrities, couples and multi-generational families looking for an ultra-private retreat. “There aren’t that many luxury lodges in New Zealand that really welcome children,” Cullen says. “But Mom and Dad bringing their parents and their kids is what we really love. There’s enough to do and enough diversity to keep everyone happy.”
To wit: On-property activities include hiking, biking, fishing, caving and even skiing, in the winter months. Guides are on-site and at the ready. You can get in on the farming and give herding a try. “Nothing about it is manufactured,” Cullen says. “The homestead is built on a hill overlooking the farm building, so you can be out on your decking watching 2,000 sheep in the valley and the dogs doing their thing.”
Over the next two years, 14 new villas will open throughout the property, as well as a restaurant run by Andrew’s son, Taylor, of Sydney’s “garden on a plate” restaurant, Chiswick. (Until then, you’ll just have to make do with the property’s private chef.)
The vibe, Cullen says, is “barefoot luxury—it’s hugely relaxing.” From about $5,700 per night; rates vary depending on season and size of group. Chris Cameron
Le Grand Jardin
It all begins with Victor, a bronzed George Michael–lookalike who is waiting on the dock, ready to whisk guests by tender across the choppy waters that stretch from the Bay of Cannes to Le Grand Jardin, a 16th-century walled estate on the eucalyptus-cloaked shores of Île Sainte-Marguerite.
Privately owned by the monks of Lérins Abbey until 1612, Sainte-Marguerite is the largest of the four Lérins Islands, whose craggy terroir provides refuge from the film festivals and fashion shows that dominate the Côte d’Azur. On approach, across the water, I catch sight of a grandly imposing stone tower—my chamber for the following nights, once used by Napoleon as a lookout post.
At Le Grand Jardin, layers of history overlap like a mille-feuille, punctuated by mosaic benches and vine-covered pergolas. Previous owners include Louis XIV and Vijay Mallya, the former owner of Formula 1 team Force India. Under new ownership by Swiss realtor Ultima Capital, visitors are now, finally, welcome. The only condition: a week’s stay at minimum.
Guests may be greeted by the zesty aroma of ripening citrus trees or by geckos darting under the ivy-laden archways. All palm-lined tracks lead to the refurbished tower with a mirror-ceilinged suite, where views spill out across the yacht-dotted horizon. A further 11 bedrooms are spread across three separate cottages and a guest house, all varying in size and design but sharing a serene sophistication. The Governor’s House, dripping in nude nubuck leather, offers the largest living quarters and the only indoor dining room.
In one corner of the garden lies a subterranean wellness area that wraps around an elevated pool. Five cabana-style sun loungers sit close to the main dining area, shaded by day and heated by night. In another corner is a garden allotment brimming with fresh vegetables and herbs used by the chef in the set menus inspired by his Corsican childhood; the Fiadone (Corsican cheesecake) infused with Menton lemons, is a particular highlight (since menus are designed around each guest, be sure to ask for it).
But the best treat may be the lack of other visitors. Thanks to a strict buyout policy, the estate is rented as a whole for groups of up to 24, or just one—a storybook island retreat on the French Riviera, far from the madding crowd. From about $245,000 per week during summer months. Julia Zaltzman
It’s easy to miss Villa Canada—and that’s the point. The owner, Danish entrepreneur Anders Kirk Johansen, snapped up the former Canadian Embassy and ambassador’s residence a little over a decade ago, repurposing it as a discreet luxury home in the heart of Copenhagen. He has just now begun offering rentals of the seven-bedroom, 10,700-square-foot mansion, the first urban luxury villa of its kind anywhere in Denmark.
Johansen’s painstaking, deep-pocketed renovation included finessing original details of the 1918-built Belle Epoque house, from the mahogany staircase to the hand-carved dining room furniture, while also adding an extension that houses a farmer’s kitchen, an orangery, a private sun terrace and even a nightclub. To run the property, he poached superstar concierge Anders Ølsted Jensen from the nearby Hotel d’Angleterre and says Jensen can do more than simply wrangle a table at a booked-solid Michelin-star restaurant: “Some of [the restaurants] here, like Jordnær, are closed on a Saturday, which is unheard of in the rest of the world, and we can get the chef to come and cook for you here. That’s not possible in a hotel.” Traveling with your own chef? There are staff quarters in the basement, too.
The cellar is also home to a playroom, well equipped with Lego—no surprise, given that Johansen’s great-grandfather Ole Kirk Christiansen founded the world-famous toy company. Pause a moment when working at the Finn Juhl–designed desk in the second-floor office: That was where Godtfred Kirk Christiansen, Ole Kirk Christiansen’s third son, worked and figured out how to make the first plastic bricks—Lego-brand toys were originally made of wood—in the 1940s. From about $10,500 to $16,000 per night, depending on season and length of stay. Mark Ellwood
Luxury villas are plentiful in the prime locations of France and Italy—the Côte d’Azur, perhaps, or Tuscany. Strangely, such beachfront rentals are harder to find in the Greek isles, one of many reasons Spyros Meletopoulos’s 10-bedroom estate, set on almost 20 acres in the far north of Mykonos, is so noteworthy.
The real-estate developer built it 12 years ago as a family property but says he has just started offering the estate for rentals now that his children are grown. Don’t come expecting the whitewashed sugar cubes that have become a shorthand of the Cyclades, a legacy of anti-cholera measures from the 1930s that relied on the antibacterial qualities of lime. Instead, Meletopoulos deliberately opted to summon earlier times on the island. The dun-colored exteriors are typical of an era when homes were smeared with earth from the surrounding area.
“Everything in the house is handmade, the way the old Mykonians used to build,” he says of the eclectic cluster of houses, arranged around a pool and intended to evoke a small village. “Nobody builds like his neighbor, and everyone has their own aesthetic.” The houses here are decorated using tile fragments and wood reclaimed from nearby demolished homes.
Meletopoulos grew up on Mykonos and recalls the southern reaches of the island—now the hub of tourism around Chora—as decidedly bourgeois. The land there is typically more protected from the Cycladic winds, he explains, making any home built there cheaper to heat and more pleasant to inhabit. That left the windy north of the island to wealthier folks; he has tucked his own house into a hillside there, preventing the troublesome breeze from impacting neither the beach nor the home while retaining the cachet. No wonder his place has quickly become a favorite of the fashionable set, mostly folks keen to dodge the chaotic frenzy farther south. “This isn’t a house for 20-year-olds,” he says. “People come here to relax. They don’t even go out.” From about $24,900 to $48,000 per week, available via Five Star Greece. M.E.