From the marinas of Monaco to the slopes of Aspen, it's no secret where the wealthy like to go on holiday.
But where they stay is more of a mystery. Rental homes offer space and privacy, while luxury hotels come with "as you wish" service staff willing to bend over backward to keep wealthy clientele happy.
With "ultra luxury" villas, affluent travelers can have both. The houses, which represent the pinnacle of the luxury real estate rental market, come with palatial grounds, private chefs and nightly rates that equal many people's monthly mortgage payments.
For those who need more than the oversized bathtubs and marble kitchen countertops of a regular luxury house, there are "ultra luxury" rental homes. The term is being used by several rental companies to distinguish stand-out houses among high-end holiday home rentals.
One such company is Icon Private Collection, where users can search for "ultra luxury villas" with budgets that begin at 10,000 British pounds ($13,450) per night. Another, UltraVilla, connects travelers to luxury homes from Saint Martin to the South African vineyards of Franschhoek.
Villas of Distinction distinguishes its best villas with a different term. Its "Chairman's Collection" houses feature premier locations, architecture and privacy, as well as "exquisite design both indoors and out," according to the company's website.
Of more than 2,900 luxury rental houses, only 35 qualify for the special designation, said Steve Lassman, vice-president of Villas of Distinction.
"We have a couple of new ones coming within the next 30 days that are incredible," he said, adding that some will feature private jet service starting in 2021.
Other companies are more location-specific. Luxico rents five-star "ultra villas" in Australia that come with daily maid service, personal butlers, designer linen, stocked refrigerators and a "sommelier's honesty bar" supplied with top wines and liqueurs.
Ani Private Resorts is a hybrid holiday option for wealthy travelers.
The company has four "private resorts" — in Anguilla, Dominican Republic, Sri Lanka and Thailand — which combine the best aspects of a private villa and resort into one, said company CEO Ira Bloom.
"In a private villa, guests have to do a lot of things for themselves, whether it's hiring a chef, planning meals, doing the dishes … they are mostly left on their own without staff," said Bloom. "At Ani, we customize everything to our guests."
Staff members, most of whom were trained at Aman Resorts and Four Seasons hotels, can organize special requests, from firework celebrations to landing helicopters inside the villas. They recently held a "Moana"-themed birthday party at the Thailand location with the staff in full costume, said Bloom.
Amenities, too, are more akin to a resort than a rental house. Set on 20,000 square meters along the southern coastline, the Sri Lankan location has its own tennis court (and tennis pro), Ayurvedic spa and activity coordinator for the kids.
Despite the global coronavirus pandemic, all four properties are open, said Yeshi Phuntsho, the company's managing director of operations.
"Àni Anguilla and Àni Dominican Republic are running normal operations," he said. "We have actually been very busy there as people prefer to travel private because of Covid."
The locations in Thailand and Sri Lanka are open for domestic guests only.
Like a private house, each location hosts only one group at a time, said Bloom. Rates include meals, beverages (including alcohol), spa treatments, personal training, cooking classes and children's entertainment.
The company used to charge a la carte but going through an itemized list of charges wasn't a "super fun" way to end a trip, said Bloom.
"Going luxury all-inclusive now allows our guests to not worry about anything and just be in the moment," he said.
Rates: from $4,625 per night (8 adults) or $9,625 (28 adults)
After a near decade-long $40 million dollar restoration in 2019, London's stately Templeton House is now accepting nightly guests. The 240-year-old Georgian mansion and former home of Winston Churchill has eight bedrooms, a spa and a 25-meter (82-feet) swimming pool.
In 2010, the home was purchased by David and Laura Rich-Jones, the husband and wife team behind Richstone Properties, a London-based real estate development company that moved into the luxury residential rental market with the launch of La Bergerie in southern France.
Thus began the Richstone Collection, an "ultra-exclusive portfolio of fully staffed properties," said CEO David Rich-Jones.
Unlike many hotel and home rentals, instant bookings are not available. Rich-Jones said guests, who come mostly from "highly professional business backgrounds," are evaluated before they can book.
"We always vet our guests — most importantly to ensure that the travel and provenance of funds are legal," said Rich-Jones. "It is also important for us that these properties, which are all privately-owned homes by us, are respected."
Exclusivity and privacy are two of the main reasons guests book these homes.
"With a Richstone Collection property, you will enjoy all the benefits of a top hotel, but within a very private setting," said Director Laura Rich-Jones. "You don't have to share your pool or your dining room with strangers, for example."
"Only a few select guests can stay each year," she said. "And most bookings are by word-of-mouth."
Each house comes with a chef, sous chef, hosting staff and a team of housekeepers. Services such as babysitting and yoga can be arranged. The company organizes activities, such as mountain climbing, gliding and race car driving, which have all been requested by previous guests.
Nightly rates from:
· Templeton House: £15,000 ($18,217)
· La Bergerie: €4,850 ($5,890)
· Villa Charlotte: €4,357 ($5,290)