Summer is coming. Not outside your window, obviously — the temperature as I write this is 2C — but with the right antennae you can sense warmer days approaching like the shoots of daffodils. January’s over, for starters. There has been news of bumper demand from holiday companies and airlines, and acres of adverts from tour operators urging you to come away.
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I mention this because anyone with plans for a group celebration or grand reunion this summer needs to start thinking about a rental — now. Although more holiday stays than ever are available, demand is high and the perfect summer party pad is not your standard rental. It requires mass appeal and unique features simultaneously.
Let’s start with location. Everyone has their favourites, so stick with the classics: somewhere like southern France or Italy, Spain or Greece; ideally beside the sea, or inland among gilded scenery like that of Provence or Tuscany. All are places where the weather gods smile, because you’re coming to live outdoors.
Which brings me to space. A party pad must not only accommodate everyone, it must do so comfortably (en suites for all, ideally) and provide appealing extras. A pool with sunloungers is a given. We’re also talking about things like a games room or spa or a beautiful terrace with an outdoor kitchen for long, lazy meals. Maybe even a bar. And libraries or scattered terraces; precious spaces in which to escape into smaller groups. Counterintuitively, time apart is the secret to a terrific break together. For similar reasons, having places to make day trips nearby is a smart move. Regular cleaning certainly is.
Most of all, a summer party pad should feel special. What elevates the stays in our list above standard group rentals is their wow factor. Whether they’re the only mid-century villa above Lake Como or a beautiful Provençal hamlet arranged like a private hotel, an Ibizan gaff with a bottomless supply of champagne, an enjoyably bonkers sculpture-filled stay in Marrakesh or a Greek hideaway that comes with a motorboat, all are not so much accommodation as spaces to play. To reconnect, to relax, to feel free in the sunshine and make memories.
Divide prices into cost per person — ours are starting rates that relate to the period between late May and late September — and they’re not expensive either. Now there’s a happy thought to sustain you until summer.
Villa Isola Paradiso
1. Villa Isola Paradiso, Mykonos
With interior design-mag looks, this villa is a rambling pile of bohemian cool — mid-century furniture, rustic finds, art on walls — with terraces for each of the eight en suites (plus three stone cottages for more privacy), a stonking sound system in an open-plan ground floor just made for pushing back chairs, plus a terrace above the Aegean for lazy dinners. Did I mention the infinity pool and whirlpool? Or that Lia’s beach clubs are an amble away? Or that there’s daily cleaning? Paradise indeed.
Details Seven nights’ self-catering for 16 from £15,600 (travelstaytion.com). Fly to Mykonos
2. Figari, Zakynthos
This is as far from the party town Laganas (at the opposite end of Zakynthos) as it gets in distance and mood. It’s a hippy-chic party pad at mid-level prices, four buildings of blue shutters and biscuit-coloured stone with nine en suite bedrooms and colour-washed walls. Outside are Indian daybeds and reed-roofed dining areas around a pool, plus direct sea access. The clincher for teenagers, though, is access to the nearby Peligoni Club (from £185 per week per person), for a giddy round of watersports lessons and parties. There’s also a crèche and babysitting available.
Details Seven nights’ self-catering for 20 from £13,500 (indigo-rock.com). Fly to Zakynthos
3. Paros Farmhouse, Paros
Live your Mamma Mia! dreams of a riotous Greek get-together in Paros at a newly renovated farmhouse above the beach near pretty Noussa village. It has the same boho-chic style with floaty drapes, plain white walls and kilim rugs adorning the floors. But who are we kidding? You’ll be mostly outside, drifting in the pool, grilling fish on the barbecue of an outdoor kitchen, perhaps dad-dancing on the terrace to the Abba bangers booming from a Bose sound system. My my, how can you resist it?
Details Seven nights’ self-catering for nine from £7,843 (escape-to-hiddenchic.com). Fly to Athens, then take the ferry (3-5 hours)
4. Dolphin’s Leap, Pelion
While we schlep out to islands by ferry, many Greeks quietly bury themselves away on the Pelion peninsula, a mainland backwater of Ottoman villages, wild pine-scented coast and simple beach resorts untouched by bling. It’s a coastline that begs to be explored, and that’s why you’re getting a motorboat included with this seafront place. Accommodation is split between two stone houses nestled among olive trees with an infinity pool overlooking the shimmering sea. Prinos beach is two minutes’ walk away. Mezedes — Greek tapas — await five minutes further in the tavernas of Lefokastro.
Details Seven nights’ self-catering for 14 from £5,800 (oneoffplaces.co.uk). Fly to Thessaloniki
5. Villa Tombolino, Tuscany
All the elements of a stylish Tuscan get-together combine in this beautiful hilltop villa — the effortless pared-back decor, all bedrooms en suite, the blurring of inside and out beneath shady pergolas and covered dining areas, the endless views from the infinity pool of the Val d’Orcia hills gilded by summer sunshine. Unlike at most stays, you’re getting a vast recreation space with ping-pong, table football and your own bar — just the ticket for a shimmy later. If you can tear yourself away, hilltop beauties like Montepulciano, Pienza and San Quirico are nearby.
Details Seven nights’ self-catering for 18 from £10,700 (fishandpips.co.uk). Fly to Florence
6. Masseria Coloniale, Puglia
Feel free to make a racket around the 18m pool. Or while prepping lunch in a summer kitchen with a gas barbecue and wood-burning pizza oven. Or when dining in the small hours beneath a vine-covered pergola. Who’s going to complain? Not the surrounding olive trees. Within, this is a marriage of butterscotch stone vaults and rustic-chic neutral styling. Daily maid service keeps things pristine. Though it feels remote, there’s fresh bread within three miles at Carpignano plus sea and sand at Alimini four miles away.
Details Seven nights’ self-catering for 12 from £6,384 (cvvillas.com). Fly to Brindisi
Casale degli Erei
7. Casale degli Erei, Sicily
Your friends will coo over this handsome stone manor set among vineyards. Hopefully they’ll be tempted to cook you up a feast in the cracking outdoor kitchen with a wood-burning oven. It’s the least they owe you when you’ve found somewhere with spa facilities — a sauna, whirlpool and Turkish bath — not to mention a 15m pool. The whole set-up is perfect for a sophisticated break between the stunning historic towns of Caltagirone and Piazza Armerina.
Details Seven nights’ self-catering for 17 from £5,600 (villatravellers.com). Fly to Catania
Villa Ponti Bellavista
8. Villa Ponti Bellavista, Lake Como
A special party requires a special setting and this place is a belter. The blurb calls it the only mid-century villa on Lake Como. That undersells an elegant stay above the lake’s Lecco arm, where arcing windows fill with mountains and water (the villa’s architect, Gio Ponti, built luxury transatlantic cruisers) and there’s a sunken lounge for Mad Men-style cocktails by the fire. Dotted across terraces with equally stellar views are a sauna, bocce court and swimming pools. Bellagio, the “Pearl of Como”, is a 15-minute drive — but don’t count on being able to prise yourself away.
Details Seven nights’ self-catering for 14 from £10,000 (villapontibellavista.com). Fly to Milan
9. Polpier Estate, Mevagissey, Cornwall
A great bet for massed families above Mevagissey, this. Once they’ve finished gawping at the castellated walls here, children will scamper between games of snooker and ping pong, tennis then croquet and cricket on the dedicated lawns of the two-acre grounds, interspersed with plenty of swimming in a heated pool. Parents will appreciate en suites or private bathrooms and the family suites (though the decor is rather spartan) plus well-fitted kitchens. You’ll unite in a home cinema, then a disco complete with turntables and automatically synchronised lights. It’s all good if you’re a gang of friends too, whether in your twenties or eighties.
Details Seven nights’ self-catering for 26 from £12,100 (thewowhousecompany.com)
DAVID CURRAN/UNIQUE HOMESTAYS
10. Senara, Gwithian, Cornwall
Behind one of Cornwall’s premier beaches, Gwithian near St Ives, this new place had me with the surfboard rack inside the house. Then I saw the soft Scandi minimalism within barnlike living areas flooded with light through floor-to-ceiling windows. Then the naturalistic garden with a heated pool and sauna, plus the fire pit and hot tub and outdoor kitchen lit by festoon lights. When the Cornish weather plays ball it’s like being in an immaculately curated advert. When it doesn’t, go surfing at Gwithian and Godrevy beyond the garden.
Details Seven nights’ self-catering for 12 from £6,500 (uniquehomestays.com)
Leuchie Walled Garden
11. Leuchie Walled Garden, North Berwick
This six-bedroom house is an intriguing blend of old, newer and the very up-to-date, having been extensively refurbished in 2020. Set within a 200-year-old walled garden is a thoroughly modernist house designed in 1960 by James Dunbar-Nasmith and formerly home to the family of travel writer William Dalrymple. There are six bedrooms and an open-plan area of games rooms, plus other more formal parts filled with antique furniture and paintings, alongside a snazzy kitchen extension. The five-acre garden is your own private space and includes a tennis court, a croquet lawn and a two-hole golf pitching range, as well as fruit trees and vegetable gardens to forage in. Best of all, a gate leads into woodland and beyond is very lovely Seacliff Beach.
Details Seven nights’ self-catering for 12 from £8,500 (crabtreeandcrabtree.com)
12. Upper Valley, Powys
A stay here offers both calf-crunching climbs into the hillside and a cinema room. In a supremely rural part of the area once known as Montgomeryshire, Upper Valley’s barn sleeps 14 and has mixed the bones and beams of the original building with powder-grey sofas, power showers and a huge open-plan kitchen-dining room. Book the farmhouse too and another eight will be able to squeeze around the barn’s dining table and take turns in the hot tub. The village of Pen-y-bont-fawr has a nice pub and basic shops, while Oswestry, just over the border in Shropshire, has half-timbered history and supermarkets.
Details Seven nights’ self-catering for 22 from £4,220 (uppervalley.co.uk)
13. Villa Zaffre, Turquoise Coast
You’ll take a gazillion photos of you and your bezzies in the infinity pool above the silver-blue Aegean. It’s a thing of beauty, the centrepiece of a sharp villa above the beach clubs of Kalkan that’s all about outdoor living. There’s a rooftop bar for cocktails and hammocks on the terrace. Glass walls slide back to open up crisp interiors. The effect is like a tiny boutique hotel, heightened by spa access at the Kalkan Regency Hotel and a gulet day trip included.
Details Seven nights’ self-catering for eight from £2,058 (simpsontravel.com). Fly to Dalaman
Dar El Sadaka
14. Dar El Sadaka, Marrakesh
Heads up, adventurers. An early summer sizzle is guaranteed at this unique stay, brand new to the market. It ain’t cheap, but what do you expect of a stay within a 25-acre palmeraie where high-end glamour is softened by a splendidly mad menagerie of huge animal sculptures by the French artist Jean-François Fourtou? Throw in a hammam, a cinema, chefs on call, a week’s worth of dream-like outside dining areas and the giddy joy of Jemaa el-Fnaa square 15 minutes away and you have the most fun address in Marrakesh.
Details Seven nights’ self-catering for 24 from £27,650 (scottwilliams.co.uk)
15. Pine House, Comporta
Comporta, the bohemian beach retreat for Lisbon hipsters, is all sand and surf and artfully rustic restaurants in former fishing villages. You need to stay somewhere to match, like this modernist gaff, a sleek symphony of glass-walled, open-plan accommodation and wooden decks that blur into 57 acres of private pine forest. There’s a pool, table tennis, a football/volleyball pitch, plus a playground and free bikes. Should all that fail to be sufficiently entertaining, book surf lessons at Carvalhal beach 15 minutes away.
Details Seven nights’ self-catering for 12 from £11,780 (oliverstravels.com). Fly to Lisbon
Casa do Eido da Devesa
16. Casa do Eido da Devesa, Alto Minho
For mellow Portuguese soul, swerve the busy coast and head into the green heart of the Alto Minho. More specifically, this estate of a 17th-century aristocrat outside Ponte de Lima (a terrific little town). It’s as traditional as you’d hope, all corkscrew pillars on four-posters, even a crucifix in the lounge. Yet there’s a pool, a sauna and table football, although you’re here mostly for location: to kayak from Ponte de Lima, slug wine in vinho verde country (and the Douro nearby), and perhaps walk in the Peneda Geres National Park.
Details Seven nights’ self-catering for 18 from £2,598 (vintagetravel.co.uk). Fly to Porto
Villa Ocean View
17. Villa Ocean View, Hvar
Finding the dream Croatian party pad is not so complicated. Base yourself close — but not too close — to Hvar Town, where Renaissance beauty meets beach clubs. Then rent a villa on a quiet bay with airy modern bedrooms and living spaces that open to a terrace with unobstructed sea views. Is there a pool, and lower terraces tiered among palms and pines for sunbathing, socialising and dining? Good. Finally, ensure that you have a private wharf with steps into the briny, pretty cove. This beauty has the lot.
Details Seven nights’ self-catering for 12 from £12,145 (croatianvillaholidays.com). Fly to Split
Finca del Campo
18. Finca del Campo, Ibiza
Who needs to go clubbing in Pacha when you can live the White Isle high life without leaving Santa Gertrudis? It’s not just because there are acres of alfresco living space around the pool and whirlpool here. It’s not even the top-notch sound system, which pumps music throughout the interiors (you can turn it off in the six en suites) or that a private chef handles breakfasts plus lunch or dinner. No, chicos, what makes this classy villa party central is its unlimited supply of Veuve Clicquot and Taittinger, wine and beer. Good luck.
Details Seven nights’ half-board for 12 from £19,683 (abercrombiekent.co.uk). Fly to Ibiza
19. La Finca, Andalusia
The simple solution to arguments about whose turn it is to cook? Don’t cook. Instead of a kitchen this historic estate among the pueblos blancos hills of Andalusia provides an in-house chef and the organic produce of its surrounding permaculture farm. Accommodation is wrapped around a courtyard and sizzles with Andalusian romance — old beams on lofty ceilings, rugs on tiled floors — all pepped up with artistic flair and a dash of Moorish exoticism. Tire of the pool and there’s yoga, massages and horse riding in Los Alcornocales National Park.
Details Seven nights’ accommodation only for 11 from £4,780 (welcomebeyond.com). Fly to Gibraltar
Casa del Molino
20. Casa del Molino, Galicia
First choice for Madrileños to escape summer heat? Not Andalusia, actually, but Galicia, Spain’s northwest corner built of granite, sand, stellar seafood and Celtic soul. Vintage, a company that focuses on cracking value rather than style fads, brings them together in a traditionally styled new-build. You’ll spend days on a powder beach a mile away, lunch nearby in Combaro village or Pontevedra, Galicia’s finest small town, then reunite in these spacious grounds; enjoy the pool, a meal outside with sea views and table-football World Cup in the games room. All in all, a bargain.
Details Seven nights’ self-catering for 12 from £1,798 (vintagetravel.co.uk). Fly to Santiago de Compostela
21. Villa Canacati, Mallorca
Go self-catering or get the chef in — it’s your call whether to cook together or use your time to catch up at this stay with a concierge. My guess is you’ll spend most of your time in spacious gardens that belie a location that’s ten minutes’ walk from central Pollença, the main town on the island’s east coast, whether chatting on daybeds by the pool or sipping something delicious at dusk on the terraces (note the plural) as music tinkles from a surround-sound stereo. Keep going through the grounds to find a separate gym/games room with table football and table tennis.
Details Seven nights’ self-catering for 11 from £8,888 (fishandpips.co.uk). Fly to Palma
Villa Bini Relax
22. Villa Bini Relax, Menorca
The Spanish have long prized Menorca for unfussy rustic luxury. Now it’s your turn in a newly restored 18th-century manor hidden down a private road on a 300-acre estate. The interiors are terrific — quietly sophisticated, with plenty of tranquil corners to retreat to, a separate TV room and a good kitchen. You’ll be camped around the pool with music playing and a barbecue sizzling by the pool house. Something from the fridge? Why not? Binigaus beach is just down a private road. So are your two kayaks for exploring a pine-clad coast of craggy beauty.
Details Seven nights’ self-catering for 17 from £14,262 (oliverstravels.com). Fly to Mahón
Le Grand Banc
23. Le Grand Banc, Provence
The secret to a successful group holiday? Time apart. That apparent contradiction is why you’re renting not a villa but a hilltop hamlet near chic Lacoste that looks like something from an interiors magazine shoot. Scattered along its cobbled lane are ten gorgeous, arty houses sleeping two to five in 15 bedrooms. As well as by the pool you’ll gather in a games room and at an outside table where meals are served. Yes, “served”: a live-in couple prepare breakfasts and lunch or dinner for you. See it as a private hotel: a bargain at £585 per person.
Details Seven nights for 24 from £14,000, not including groceries (scottwilliams.co.uk). Fly or take the train to Avignon
Ile de Batz mill
24. Ile de Batz mill, Brittany
Go to Ile de Ré for coastal chic. To reconnect with your tribe of laid-back beach bums, however, Ile de Batz is a better bet. Leave the car at home to enter its wave-washed world of bygone beauty: a two-mile long island of beaches, sun-silvered heath, sea and precious little tourism. It’s a 1950s’ Isles of Scilly with crêpes and cider, an authentic destination that demands an authentic place to stay — such as this turreted former hilltop mill with Breton furniture and squishy sofas, shrimp nets in the shed and not one megabit of wi-fi. Simple joys.
Details Seven nights’ self-catering for 12 from £3,704 (casalino-homes.com). Take the ferry to Roscoff
Le Mas Vermentino
25. Le Mas Vermentino, Provence
You want a sophisticated stay in the Luberon. Also hotel facilities. The solution is this gorgeous new(ish) stay in four private acres of the Domaine de Marie wine estate in Ménerbes. Inside, the owner Jocelyne Sibuet has created a gorgeous melange of rustic stone walls and boho-posh style. There’s a pool and petanque, obviously. Yet spa treatments, concierge service and a stellar restaurant are a short walk away in the estate’s luxury hotel, La Bastide de Marie. Good luck returning to reality.
Details Seven nights’ B&B for 12 from £6,422 (labastidedemarie.com). Fly or take the train to Avignon
26. La Chartreuse, Landes
There are paddleboards in the garage and a Big Green Egg — the hipster chefs’ barbecue — on the terrace. Bienvenue to Hossegor, the California of France: food trucks, surf beaches, perma-tanned folk living their best lives. Accommodation is reassuringly French, however. Eau de nil shutters on a grand maison de maître? Tick. Modern-country decor plus cosy corners to escape to with a book? Tick. Boules and a pool? Tick again. It’s so belle vie you might want to stick noisy kids in the loft games room instead.
Details Seven nights’ self-catering for 10 from £4,095 (simpsontravel.com). Fly to Biarritz
27. Las Laubios, Lot-et-Garonne
Under two and a half grand for a bright, four-bed hidden away in the Lot, the connoisseur’s alternative to the Dordogne, with a pool and a large garden where deer graze at dusk? The only reason this isn’t booked up for summer is because it’s new this year. Instead of sharp minimalism there’s relaxed homely accommodation (no en suites, mind) plus a good kitchen. There’s also the owner, Samantha Romagnoli. As well as renting out e-bikes she leads yoga sessions in her refurbished barn and organises in-house spa treatments and reiki.
Details Seven nights’ self-catering for eight from £2,498 (sawdays.co.uk). Fly or take the train to Bergerac