In association with HomeAway Holiday-Rentals, Lara Dunston and Terence Carter have traded hotel rooms for holiday homes with a mission to explore more enriching and authentic ways to travel. The Grantourismo Blog chronicles their findings from each 'stop' including food, wine and local knowledge.
Here are Lara's Top 10 luxury holiday rentals from their Grand Tour:-
1. Austin #1
We believe the most luxurious of all our holiday rentals this year, the first Austin property we stayed at, is something of a model for holiday rentals. As beautifully furnished as any five star hotel, with plush carpets, gorgeous linen and towels, quality toiletries etc, it also boasts an excellent collection of books on Austin, a huge reading library, an equally large DVD library, iPod docking station, televisions upstairs and downstairs, fast internet access, etc. But it was the kitchen that impressed us most – filled with absolutely everything you could need plus an impressive pantry, which is like a museum to local produce! The owner Rusty Irons (yes, that’s her real name) also provides the best ‘welcome package’ of any property we’ve stayed at which includes things to get you started like milk, bread, tea, coffee, local treats, fresh fruit and veg, and wine. Rusty is also the property’s concierge, and I’m sure there is nothing she could not organize.
This was the most spectacular property we stayed at this year: four storeys high, with no exterior walls (only walls for the bedrooms), it was open to all the elements, which was wonderful - except when it rained, but even then it was like nothing we’d ever experienced before. Each level provided a different experience: the top level (which was home to the kitchen and dining areas, infinity pool and terrace) looked over the jungle canopy; the second level (where the living room and two bedrooms were) looked into the canopy; and the third level (where the rest of the bedrooms were) had views of the jungle floor. The ground level was the staff residence. Yes, it also comes with staff! There is a concierge who arranged all sorts of activities for us, including a massage and spa at home! We also had visits from these cute little guys every day too, which made the stay here really special.
Not only did this big beautiful two-storey villa have its own swimming pool and jacuzzi, but it took us just one minute to walk from our kitchen door down the stone path through lush tropical gardens to the beach. We literally walked straight onto the sand. When it was time for sunset we were down there with a glass of wine in our hand! Terry went surfing every day and I did laps in the pool. The place also had a wonderful kitchen and an enormous upstairs bathroom, while the master bedroom had views of the garden, palm trees, and beyond to the sea. We had daily monkey visits here too!
Dubai has been our base since 1998 and over the years we’ve stayed in almost every five-star hotel in the city – before and after we became travel writers – but we’d never stayed in a villa on The Palm Jumeirah. And I have to confess that before we did we had the impression that life on The Palm was a bit artificial. After a week at Villa Talida, we changed our minds – it was wonderful! We had direct access from our front garden (which had a swimming pool!) to the sandy beach, where locals went for jogs early in the morning and sunset walks in the evening. They also went kayaking, fishing, and swimming, and on weekends they sunbathed and had family picnics on the beach. It gave us a great insight into an aspect of life in Dubai we’d never experienced before. The villa itself was gigantic and glam in the way only Dubai villas can be, with everything you could possibly want in a holiday rental. We even had a pre-Grantourismo launch party here! After our stay here, we’ll have a hard time going back to five-star hotels.
Our Balinese property was like something out of a ‘Bali Style’ book with lush tropical gardens boasting towering palm trees and tranquil ponds with floating water lilies and stone Hindu statues dappled with mould. The house itself was heavenly. Despite the fact we were working, we could not be anything but relaxed here. There was an outdoor deck overlooking the infinity pool that we settled into and it was just so rejuvenating sitting there everyday looking at the gardens, the kites flying in the sky, the visiting birdlife, etc. Inside, there were high ceilings, polished floorboards, heavy wooden furniture, and mosquito nets over the beds. The property was also well staffed – and the staff were lovely. There was even a chef who cooked for us every day, plus gave Terence cooking lessons!
6. Mexico City
In Mexico City we stayed slap bang in the historic centre – the location could not have been better! – in a sprawling, elegantly furnished penthouse in one of the city’s most architecturally significant buildings. It was just stunning, filled with light, with a wrap-around terrace with cacti and plants, and great views over the city. It had a fresh, clean look and feel about it, with its white and cream furnishings, splashes of colour, works of original art and Mexican handicrafts scattered stylishly about the place. There were fresh flowers and baskets of fruit, a housekeeper, plus they also offer cooking lessons and can organize language lessons and tours. We could easily have lived here!
A lavish, light-filled, three-storey penthouse apartment in south London with three glam bedrooms, a brilliant kitchen, two living areas, and a big terrace with Thames River views was our second ‘home’ of the year and the venue for our Grantourismo launch party. It was freezing when we arrived in London from Dubai and it was a shock to the system but the apartment was so warm and toasty, it was heavenly! The kitchen was one of the best equipped this year – with everything from a Dualit toaster to a Krups espresso machine – even the chef from the catering company who helped us with the party loved it. But I think it was the space and the quality of the furnishings and fittings that really made the place luxurious. And the views and access to the Thames – this is now one of our favourite parts of London.
8. Cape Town
In Cape Town we had an huge family home boasting four big bedrooms, plus several separate studio apartments, a very elegant living and dining area, and a lovely garden with a small swimming pool and two outdoor dining areas. It’s a place that’s ideal for big groups or families. And the house was made for entertaining. The kitchen cupboards were crammed with every conceivable kind of appliance and an abundance of dinnerware and glassware. If that weren’t enough there was a beautiful piano, which Terence played daily, and shelves full of cookbooks, which he used constantly. Me? I was satisfied with the Cable Mountain views and the two-minute stroll to stunning Camps Bay beach. We’d return in a heartbeat.
Hidden away down a gritty alleyway in Marrakech’s medina, behind a small door in a dimly lit alcove, it’s next to impossible to find this riad (Moroccan guesthouse). But it’s worth the effort! Once you’re behind the door of Dar Rocmarra, you enter accommodation that’s quintessentially Marrakech: a tranquil courtyard boasting an olive tree and pond with trickling fountain, fresh roses in vases and rose petals sprinkled on the beds, and chic rooms decorated in the rich Oriental décor for which the city is famous – but with the unique stamp of the owners. Our stay here was not typical of the rest of our holiday rental experiences this year – while the riad can be booked as a whole, when we stayed it was more of a ‘bed and breakfast’ set-up with several other couples there during the course of our stay. We enjoyed the intimacy of the place, the delicious food made by the riad cook, and our enormous suite, which was like a little apartment without a kitchen.
10. Austin #2
This chic, renovated, retro-style house was just as hip as any design hotel we’ve ever stayed in. The owners are a funky young couple – she’s a designer and he’s a filmmaker – and their taste is reflected in the property from the stylish décor to the added extras, like the sleek pushbikes that were parked out front. I’ve put this place in the luxe category as much for its amenities as for its style – these people have thought of everything. The kitchen was so well kitted out and it was such a great place to entertain that we even had a dinner party here one night.