There’s a home from home waiting when you need that essential fix of winter sun.
Summer villa? Yes, please: thousands of us hire one in Italy, Spain or France every year. Winter villa? Doesn’t quite have the same ring. Yet the qualities that make a European property so appealing in summer – the freedom, the privacy, the price-per-head affordability – apply every bit as much to the tropical destinations we make for when it’s dark and chilly at home.
Happily, there’s now a great range of villas available in destinations where, in years gone by, the only choice was a hotel – Sri Lanka, the Caribbean, Thailand and more. The villa scene differs a little in each destination, though – so we’ve sized up the markets and picked our favourites from what’s on offer. Nearly all have pools (or the next best thing, an ocean) and plenty of availability for the coming winter. Now then, where did we put that suncream…
Prices are per villa per week, excluding flights, based on the cheapest available week between November and March
The south coast was hit hard by the 2004 tsunami, but an exhilarating rebirth has spawned a string of breathtaking designer villas on beautiful palm-fringed beaches. Most are serviced – and it’s good service – and a relative snip.
The former manager of the boutique hotel Sun House, Henri Tatham, has poured heart, soul and buckets of creative flair into Kikili Beach Villa , a romantic one-bedroom hideaway in Unawatuna, near the magical Galle Fort. It’s a joyous kaleidoscope of fabrics and mosaics, with a pool, a yoga pavilion, a powder-white beach beyond the garden gates and, if all that’s not enough, the wonder chef, cleaner and shopper Kumara.
Sleeps 2; from 1,600; kikilibeach.com
Founded by a British fashion designer and her banker husband, Eden Villas, in Tangalle, is a byword for sighingly beautiful south-coast villas – and Walatta House is the star turn. The minimalist villa is all open, covered spaces in front, with palms encroaching, and there’s a 65ft infinity pool.
Sleeps 6; from 2,474; evinsl.com
With vaulted timber ceilings and a wraparound veranda, hardwood furnishings and local artworks, three-bedroom Cove House, near Dikwella, is
a gloriously old-school villa. It’s set in flower-filled gardens, right on the sand
– a chef leaves more time for the beach and the pool, or you can borrow the house rickshaw and explore. There are two more garden-house doubles should you be bringing your respective in-laws.
Sleeps 10; from 3,283; fleewinter.com
The luxe option
Designed by Geoffrey Bawa, the pioneer of tropical modernism, Claughton House has a chef, maid service, five ensuite bedrooms and eight beautifully manicured acres leading to the wide, sandy sweep of Kudawella beach. You pay for the name, but the open-plan spaces are wonderful, the poolside pavilion and day bed worth the splurge alone.
Sleeps 12; from 8,244; evinsl.com
No jet lag, average January temperatures of 23C, spectacular resorts with superb seafood and wine, the rand in accommodating mood – no wonder South Africa draws armies of wintering Brits.
These restored one-bedroom farmhands’ cottages are in Boschendal, a 5,000-acre winery in the Franschhoek Valley, just across the Simonsberg crags from Stellenbosch. The decor is Dutch colonial, with traditional reed ceilings, seagrass rugs and mountain-view verandas. There’s a shared pool and abundant Boschendal bubbly in the nearby deli.
Sleeps 2; from 1,657; boschendal.com
Camps Bay penthouse
Nothing says weak rand like Lion’s View, a stunning two-bedroom penthouse apartment just five minutes’ walk from the beach in Cape Town’s chichiest neighbourhood – and it’s yours for less than 80pp a night. The sliding glass doors in the living room and kitchen open onto a panoramic patio with sunloungers, a plunge pool and mighty views of the ocean and Lion’s Head.
Sleeps 4; from 2,129; lionsview.co.za
Thatched beach house
Bali meets Cape at Misty Mornings, a thatched beach house with dark-wood floors, rattan furnishings and poolside views of Chapman’s Peak. It’s set on the headland between Kommetjie and Noordhoek, two of the largest bays in the Western Cape, each with a stretch of bone-white sand.
Sleeps 6; from 1,400; kommetjiebeachretreats.co.za
Would-be Crusoes should cast themselves away at Pearl Bay White House, in Yzerfontein, a bleached-white clapboard house on a wild, dune-backed beach an hour’s drive north of Cape Town. Driftwood artworks are scattered across three breezy, uncluttered floors; the top-level master bedroom has views from the veranda and the bath over fynbos, sand and sea.
Sleeps 6; from 2,450; avenueproperty.com
Big-group party pad
Practically dipping a toe in Keurbooms Lagoon, five miles north of “Plett” (Plettenberg Bay), Plett Lagoon Villa is the ultimate multi-family pad, with four doubles and a bunk room sleeping nine. The lagoon-front villa has paddleboards, kayaks, a hot tub, a heated pool, a steam room, tennis and shaded outside dining.
Sleeps 17; from 3,414; plettlagoonvilla.co.za
The Caribbean has always done private houses – Richard Branson on Necker Island, Princess Margaret on Mustique – but villas have suddenly gone mainstream. Many are attached to resorts, ideal if you crave privacy, but still want a spa, watersports and restaurants. Winter is the best time to go, with blue-sky days in the high 20Cs.
For splendid isolation, look no further than Honeycomb Cottage in Exuma, an island chain in the Bahamas: it’s a cute, quirky beach shack for two, set on stilts on friendly Staniel Cay, a short stroll from the bars and boutiques in the local village. The colours are classic Caribbean – mustard timber walls, sky-blue clapboard interior – and there are sea views from the bedroom and the veranda hammock. The lovely owner, Anita, will lend you bikes and you can rent a boat on the beach.
Sleeps 2; from 1,351; homeaway.co.uk (ref 3896752)
More than 65m was spent turning Jalousie Plantation, on St Lucia, into the Sugar Beach resort, and blimey, it shows: treetop spa, day beds everywhere, top-notch watersports centre and restaurants. Little wonder Matt Damon renewed his vows here in 2013. The elegant two- to four-bedroom plantation house-style residences have hardwood floors, white-on-white interiors and pool views of the Pitons and the beach.
Sleeps 4; from 8,652; destinology.co.uk
Modernist crash pad
Marooned on two wild private acres in the British Virgin Islands, Bayhouse Villa is a spectacular modernist beach house set above its own sandy bay, with panoramic sea views. Two sleek white cubes are linked by a shady dining terrace; they have polished concrete floors, hammock-slung verandas and sun-bleached decking around the pool.
Sleeps 6; from 8,230; bayhousevilla.com
It looks pricy, but fill Nelson Gay, in Barbados, with mates and it’ll cost about 850 a head for the week. Built 50 years ago for the American ambassador, this elegant colonial-style villa oozes old-money elan, with whitewashed timber ceiling boards, antiques, Caribbean art and almost two acres of tropical gardens leading past the pool to the coral-white Cobblers beach. You’ll have a chef, maids and use of the facilities at the neighbouring Cobblers Cove Hotel.
Sleeps 18; from 15,288; hammertonbarbados.com
Phuket’s dollar-a-night beach shacks were celebrated in 1960s hippie circles, but a rising number of high-spec villas are making Thailand popular with 21st-century sunseekers, too – especially in winter, when average temperatures on the southern coasts nudge a rainless 30C.
Arty hillside retreat
Villa Belle, in the hills above Choeng Mon, on Ko Samui, has dizzying views over the Gulf of Thailand and an infinity pool from which to soak them up. Thai antiques, sculptures and photos make it feel more like an artist’s home than a holiday rental. High ceilings, a chef and maid service add to the high-end vibe.
Sleeps 6; from 3,304, B&B; villabellesamui.com
Arranged like a temple complex around a palm-fringed central pool, Acacia Villa comprises four teak-floored pavilions just feet from Ko Samui’s Maenam beach. The villa has a chef, a maid, sea kayaks, a home cinema and an enormous gym.
Sleeps 8; 1,249, B&B; thailandretreats.com
Twenty miles north of Krabi’s crowds, Eden Villas is a collection of three simple, stylish and pin-drop quiet properties with private pools near the fishing village of Ao Thalane. They’re set in tropical gardens, backed by towering limestone cliffs; there’s complimentary car hire for the 10-minute drive to the beach.
Sleeps 8; from 724 per villa; edenvillaskrabi.com
Swanky resort villa
When it has to be flash and to hell with the cash, head to Villa Amanzi, on Phuket. Clinging to the cliffs in a private corner of Paresa Resort – guests can use all the facilities – this is a steel and glass palace that Frank Lloyd Wright could have designed, with a 50ft infinity pool and a jungle boardwalk to the Andaman Sea.
Sleeps 12; from 14,997; villaamanzi.com
About 1.7m Brits head to the Sunshine State every year. Disney World, Universal Studios, beaches and burgers: who can blame them? A big chunk of these visitors self-cater. Florida’s villas aren’t the prettiest on earth, but they compensate with bling touches and added extras.
Bug screen over porch and pool, tick; purpose-built villa community, tick; Dynasty-chic decor, tick. In other words, your classic Florida villa, but what sets Casa del Sol, on the Gulf Coast, apart is the setting: bang on a canal in Cape Coral, a Shangri-La of golf courses, beaches, water parks and canals, warmed by 355 days of sunshine a year.
Sleeps 6; from 777; ownersdirect.co.uk (ref 7089237)
Wow. First there’s the zip code: 33139, aka the Venetian Islands, an artificial archipelago of millionaires’ homes. Then the design: San Marco Modern is an angular white mansion, like LA’s Getty Museum towed to Biscayne Bay, with double-height ceilings, steel staircases and a rooftop lounge reached by elevator. Finally, there’s the price. Wow again. This is how the other half live.
Sleeps 8; from 25,277; luxuryretreats.com
A short walk from Manasota Key beach, on the Gulf Coast, Lemon Tree is a two-storey clapboard house on stilts that wouldn’t look out of place in New Orleans. The five airy double rooms have air conditioning and ceiling fans, and the veranda, heated pool and tennis court make this excellent value.
Sleeps 10; from 1,806; jamesvillas.co.uk
It’s a Footballers’ Wives fantasy of gleaming white marble and glass, and we love it. Six miles from Disney World, in Orlando, Reunion Resort 4500 (terrible name, awesome villa) is multi-family holiday heaven, with a water park in the resort, a 50ft pool, a gym, a sauna, a cinema and a games room with a pool table, arcade machines, eight TVs, a PS4… Need we go on?
Sleeps 20; from 9,835; thetopvillas.com
Four hours from London, with low fares, the Canaries are perfect for short-haul winter sun. Technically, this is Spain, but it’s the same latitude as the Sahara. Even January averages push 20C.
On a quiet hilltop near Tijarafe village, in La Palma, this one-bedroom cottage has a pool and a shady terrace with vast ocean views. Car hire is included, but Casa Fide is hillwalking heaven, with forest trails on your doorstep weaving into Caldera de Taburiente National Park.
Sleeps 3; from 755; inntravel.co.uk
The decor in Canaries properties can be a bit 1970s pinefest, but Villa Clara, on the south coast of Lanzarote, is bright and airy, with a huge skylight over the lounge and a cheerful smattering of ochre bedspreads and sea-blue rugs. Set in pretty Tias, 10 minutes from the beach, bars and restaurants, it has a shaded poolside dining area looking out over the village’s rooftops.
Sleeps 6; from 795; vintagetravel.co.uk
You’re only five minutes from Puerto del Carmen’s bustling beach scene, but you wouldn’t know it. The wonderfully secluded Villa Luna Mar is an up-to-date open-plan house with a modern kitchen and three generous bedrooms, each with patio views of the ocean. A wide veranda by the solar-heated pool cries out for long, lazy lunches.
Sleeps 6; from 2,543; lanzaroteretreats.com
Your own clubhouse
Overlooking the Salobre Golf Resort, in Gran Canaria, Villa Piedra is a riot of sharp angles and glass. There’s a heated pool, you can use the resort’s facilities, and the covered terrace has sofas that are made for sunset G&Ts as you take in the fairways and the surrounding hills.
Sleeps 8; from 3,250; oliverstravels.com