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Owning luxury: The world’s best vacation homes

Whether you want to sail the Amalfi Coast in your own private yacht, tear up the slopes in the Colorado Mountains, or relax on a secluded beach in the Maldives, Lisa Smyth discovers that there are luxury holiday homes just waiting to be snapped up.

Richard Branson has Necker Island, where he regularly holds tennis tournaments (the Necker Cup) and plays host to former US presidents (the Obamas visited in February last year). Bill Gates owns Rancho Paseana in Santa Fe, New Mexico, a working horse farm with a racetrack, five barns, and an olive orchard. And Jeff Bezos bought his US$24.5 million, seven-bedroom Beverly Hills holiday home on the lot behind Tom Cruise’s compound where, presumably, movie nights are anything but ordinary.

“Fate led me to The Pinelli Estate,” says Nigel Carley, a business developer from the UK who, together with his wife Dawn, renovated the crumbling farmhouse they found on the property in southern Italy two years ago. The result: a private, luxury villa called Il Rifugio that sits on an untouched, verdant green hillside overlooking the Cilento Coast. “I was meant to meet the realtor at a different address, but I got lost, and I wound up at the estate by accident, but I knew I had to have it. It wasn’t even for sale.”

Even though Nigel and Dawn had plans to retire, they realised they couldn’t keep this spectacular and hidden part of Italy to themselves. “There’s really no point creating something like this if you can’t share it.”

Although not everyone can buy an island or a slice of Italian paradise, the benefits of owning your own holiday home – either outright or through fractional ownership – are many. You can make the place your own, personalising it to your tastes, but it can also generate income when you aren’t using it. A vacation home can further save you money, as you won’t be paying premium rates for hotels and rentals, and, importantly, you can enjoy a place you love again and again.

The world’s most exclusive holiday homes


Coastal retreat

The Pinelli Estate, Italy

Investment: £120,000 for 10% share

The Cilento Coast in Italy’s Campania region is not nearly as well-known as its famous Amalfi neighbour, but what it lacks in foreign tourists and hiked-up prices, it makes up for with working farms, stunning coastal views, and plenty of authentic charm. Only a 90-minute drive from Naples International Airport, The Pinelli Estate sits on a hillside overlooking vineyards and the lush, green valley of Cilento National Park in this hidden part of Italy.

The Pinelli Estate, Italy

“It’s like God has shifted the mountains to make way for this incredible valley,” says Carley. “This area is the ‘garden of Italy’ – there are artichoke and tomato farms everywhere, and it’s the home of buffalo mozzarella. Mozzarella doesn’t travel well, so eating it fresh from the farms here is an experience you can’t get anywhere else
in the world.”

Italians have been holidaying in Cilento for decades, but, except for the daytrippers who visit the nearby UNESCO World Heritage Site of Paestum, foreigners rarely make the journey past Salerno. In Cilento, waiters seldom speak English, nonnas sit and chat outside local vegetable markets, and, although the beaches may be busy, it’s unusual to hear anything but the romantic melody of the Italian language floating through the air. Visitors to The Pinelli Estate are left with the delightful feeling that they have this pristine part of Italy all to themselves.

The retreat

Il Rifugio means ‘the retreat’ in Italian, and the history of this lovingly restored, 300-year-old farmhouse is easy to spot. From walls built of local stone to terracotta roof tiles, this magnificent four-bedroom villa is a getaway with character.

Although regular guests can rent the estate for weeks at a time, Carley is looking to share Il Rifugio on a more permanent basis. “We’ve decided to offer fractional ownership of the property, with 10% shares in the company that owns Il Rifugio,” he says. “One share buys you a slice of paradise for five weeks a year, and you can use a two-week continuous block and three separate weeks when you like.”

The owners have made every effort to blend the rustic charm of the farmhouse with luxurious decor and modern amenities. Beautiful, uneven stone floors and exposed bedrock sit alongside ornate gold-framed mirrors and crystal chandeliers. Each bedroom has an en suite and iPads with Spotify that are set up to a Sonos sound system.

One of the retreat’s most enchanting touches is the Pinelli Estate logo – a golden, upside-down pineapple – which you can find on everything from bathrobes to pillowcases. Golden pineapples are also used as lamps and light fixtures. But that’s not to say that those who buy shares in the estate can’t add their own touch.

“You can personalise the property as much as you like,” says Carley. “Before your arrival, we will remove your personal possessions – family pictures, artwork, ornaments – from local storage and place them exactly where they were when you were last at Il Rifugio.”

The Pinelli Motor Yacht

A highlight of the property is its large, open terrace with breathtaking views of the valley and ancient villages below. It overlooks an infinity pool and jacuzzi, and to the right, you can glimpse the azure waters of the ocean.

This is where fractional ownership in the property really starts to pay off. A mere 15-minute drive from the estate is the Agropoli marina, where the Pinelli Motor Yacht, a stunning Rizzardi 50 Top Line charter, is moored. Fully captained and crewed, the luxury yacht is complimentary for owners during their stay.

“There is no better way to see the Amalfi Coast than from the water, and going out on the yacht is a fantastic way to explore southern Italy and the surrounding islands,” says Carley. “We always recommend that guests don’t just head north, but go south along the Cilento Coast and discover its hidden gems. Santa Maria di Castellabate is one of our favourite villages. We got married at Palazzo Belmonte there – the Prince of Belmonte, Angelo, was very accommodating,” he adds with a cheeky grin.

Royalty, lavish yachts, and deliciously fresh buffalo mozzarella … paradise awaits.

Wilderness refuge

Cimarron Mountain Club, US

Investment: US$2.8 million

If you’re a skiing fanatic or a Bear Grylls-type wilderness enthusiast who loves to enjoy the outdoors away from the crowds that flock to Aspen or Vail every year, then it doesn’t get more private than the Cimarron Mountain Club (CMC). Colorado’s first and only private ski resort – located between Telluride and Crested Butte in the high San Juan Mountains – CMC has more skiable terrain than Aspen Mountain, and just 13 members and their families and friends will share it.

Cimarron Mountain Club, US

“The biggest thing for people to wrap their heads around is just how low-density it is – only 13 owners on 708 hectares of property, each with a 14-hectare cabin site. That’s a huge amount of space for very few people, and a lot of untracked powder to ski,” says Jim Aronstein, a retired natural-resources lawyer from Denver who dreamt up this mountain utopia with his wife, Patsy. Together, they made it a reality.

“I have for the longest time wanted to develop a mountain club that would provide all the recreation options we wanted but not have the crowds or density of other areas and still allow people to be in touch with nature,” says Aronstein.

Let it snow

Although members can enjoy world-class hiking, fishing at 15 stocked ponds and an eight-hectare lake, hunting, canoeing, mountain biking, snowshoeing, sledding, and rock climbing, what you would really be buying here is some of the best powder on earth across 60-plus ski runs. Heli-skiing is also available, with pick-ups directly from CMC.

Aronstein, a ‘buoyant powder hound’, couldn’t believe his luck when he found the property after viewing more than a dozen potential sites in the Rocky Mountains. “This is phenomenal ski terrain on private property,” he says. “In Colorado, you often have valley floors that are privately owned, but as soon as you start climbing, it becomes national park. But we are 2,530 metres above sea level – that’s very unusual to find. The absolute beauty of the property is staggering. We are inside a dormant volcano with sheer cliffs and top-of-the-world views.”

Cimarron Mountain Club, US

All in the family

The club launched in July this year with six member families each paying US$2.65 million for their membership and cabin site; the remaining seven memberships are still available (US$2.82 million each at this time). Although members can choose to build their own cabin if they desire, the property already has a three-bedroom cabin at its entrance and two two-bedroom ‘glamping’ yurts will be built before the 2018–19 ski season.

There are plans for a 4,65-square-metre lodge with four bedrooms, lounge and dining areas, a bar, and an outdoor spa and fire pit, as well as a warming hut on the shores of
the club’s mountain lake.

One membership can include as many as five family members, and members can invite guests with an adult member accompanying them. CMC is determined to keep the area as pristine as possible, and every cabin site will require use of off-grid utility systems, in line with the club’s vision of ‘walking softly on the land’.

It’s clear that this little club on a big mountain should not be a hard sell for anyone who loves adventure and privacy in equal measure.

Island hideaway

Soneva Jani villa ownership, Maldives

Investment: from US$3 million to US$15 million

For some, there’s only one type of relaxing holiday: crystal-clear waters, sand between the toes, a good book, and (insert cocktail of choice here). Couple that with a bespoke luxury villa, private butler service and sustainability credentials lauded around the world, and you’ve got the Maldives’ Soneva Jani – the perfect place to invest in an island holiday home.

The latest resort in the Soneva Group, the 25-villa Soneva Jani opened in 2016 and sits within a 5.6-kilometre lagoon with an uninterrupted, 360-degree view of the Indian Ocean.

Soneva Jani villa ownership, Maldives

“Soneva Jani is one of the lowest density resorts in the world,” says owner Sonu Shivdasani, who opened his first resort, Soneva Fushi, with his wife Eva in 1995. “Its not an island resort. It’s a lagoon with five private islands where only one will ever have development. When designing and building Soneva Jani, I was very mindful that the area should remain as natural and beautiful as the first day I laid eyes on it.”

The Maldives is an ideal vacation destination, with balmy temperatures around 28°C during the day. There’s an abundance of coral reef and marine life – great for snorkelling and diving – and the white, powdery sand and turquoise waters of the beaches draw more than a million tourists every year.

Meanwhile, Soneva Jani resident owners can spend their days sliding down a water slide from the roof of their private villa into the lagoon below. That’s right – personal water slides.

Anything you wish

To get to Soneva, the first company to offer luxury resort real estate to foreigners in the Maldives, you take a 40-minute seaplane flight from the international airport in Malé, the country’s capital, to the property’s overwater villas. And once you arrive, you’ll likely find it difficult to leave.

Soneva Jani villa ownership, Maldives

The villa features six food and beverage outlets, including the Gastrodome, which houses chocolate, ice-cream, cheese, and charcuterie rooms, and the Tasting Table, which delivers exceptional cuisine prepared with organic fruit and vegetables grown on the island.

There is also an onsite library, wine cellar, observatory, and the Maldives first overwater silent cinema, Cinema Paradiso, where guests use Bluetooth headphones while watching films so as not to disturb the nesting wildlife in the area. And, if all that isn’t enough, villa owners also benefit from the services of Mr or Ms Friday private butlers.

Privacy and seclusion

Shivdasani and his wife have a vision for all of their properties that marries luxury and an environmentally responsible lifestyle. 85% of all waste from the resort is recycled, and the private villas at Soneva Jani are made using sustainable materials.

Each property is entirely bespoke and uniquely designed to meet owner requirements. Shivdasani confirms that no wish is too great. “One villa owner asked that the design of their villa have no sharp edges – only curves,” he says. “This villa also has a ‘King’s Tower’ on its upper level that offers incredible 360-degree views of the island’s surrounds, and it’s the first villa to have its own chocolate and ice-cream room.”

Soneva Jani villa ownership, Maldives

Construction can take anywhere from 12 to 18 months, depending on customisation, and owners receive a 20% discount at restaurants and bars, flight transfers and leisure services such as sailing, windsurfing, and kayaking. Owners may use their villas for as much or as little time as they like, but they can take advantage of the villa rental program, which allows for a return on investment.

But when it comes down to it, if you are considering investing in any of these prestigious properties, it’s less about rental yields and more about how you want to spend your precious downtime. Plus, who doesn’t want their own ice-cream room?

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