Scotland on Sunday Travel Wishlist - Home from home: The top villas to book in Europe this summer

With news that international travel may resume in time for a sunny escape, Sarah Marshall recommends the top private holiday stays.

Le Mas des Chenes Verts, Provence, France, has views of the Luberon Valley and Mont Ventoux.

It felt like it might never happen, but finally foreign travel can once again become more than just a distant fantasy. Soon after the roadmap to recovery was announced for England, agents have reported a flood of holiday enquiries, with villa bookings proving most popular.

It’s no surprise.

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Villas offer the reassurance of crowd-free privacy and minimum interaction with strangers so many of us are seeking. They are also ideal for multi-generational breaks, as families seek to reconnect, and longer stays, which are a growing trend.

Responding to a demand for greater flexibility, many operators have adapted their policies. Abercrombie & Kent, for example, has introduced an Extra Flex guarantee for more than 70 of the European properties on their books, with reduced deposits of 20%, and 100% refund or fee-free postponement if clients cannot travel because of government travel advice or quarantine requirements.

Freelance Villas are also offering customers the chance to book by the day, with minimum five night stays, to allow better matches with flight schedules.

As bookings come in thick and fast, all operators agree it’s better to book now rather than later. Here are some of the fantastic properties still available…

Villa Baroniblei, Sicily, Italy

Casa Majada, Ronda, Spain, a finca renovated by a renowned Spanish architect, gardens, pool, pizza oven and barbecue, an hour's drive from Seville, Cordoba or Granada, an hour’s drive away.

According to Massimo Villas, who specialise in Italy, sexy, modern spaces with up-to-date tech are in vogue. Wifi, in particular, is a priority request, especially for a new breed of digital nomads looking to combine work and play, booking stays of up to eight weeks.

A Bond-esque beauty wrapped by the sandy beaches of east Sicily, four-bedroom property Villa Baroniblei is a perfect embodiment of the new trend. Low-lying and angular, it’s an architectural treat. Aquamarine tiles match the seascape, while floating beds conjure up a fantasy escape.

Set in the countryside, it’s close to the flamingo-filled Vendicari nature reserve, Baroque town Noto and fishing village Marzamemi. Being a new property, there’s still plenty of availability for this year.

How: A seven-night stay costs from £415pp (10 sharing), excluding flights. Visit massimovillas.com or call 020 3529 8773.

The pool overlooking the sea at Villa Kalypso, Crete, Greece.

Le Mas des Chenes Verts, Provence, France

As families seek to reconnect with one another, demand for large villas has been high, according to Abercrombie & Kent’s specialist villa division. A grand French farmhouse with modern trims, this six en-suite bedroom house is the fit for a multi-generational summer break.

Sleeping areas have a touch of Regency style, while an open-plan kitchen and dining room invite family get-togethers. Outside, meals can be taken on north or south facing verandas with views of the Luberon Valley and Mont Ventoux, and there’s a semi-covered space for barbecues next to the pool.

Reached by a short walk along a forest path, the village of Bonnieux has a selection of shops selling fine wines and fresh pastries.

The pool at Villa Isidora, Crete, overlooks the quiet town of Sita, where pretty tavernas line the seafront.

How: A seven-night stay in June costs from £1,025pp (12 sharing), excluding flights. Visit akvillas.com or call 01242 547 705.

Villa Isidora, Crete, Greece

Since Greek tourism minister Haris Theoharis announced vaccinated Brits will be able to travel to Greece without the need to self-isolate, interest in the destination has shot up.

Simpson Travel recommend Villa Isidora, a three en-suite bedroom property on the rugged far eastern side of Crete. Ideal for families with older children, the contemporary property is decorated in coastal colours and has a pool and a gym.

Set on a hillside in an area of olive groves and wine production, it overlooks low-key town Sita, where pretty tavernas line the seafront. Backed by the only palm tree forest in Europe, beautiful beach Vai is a 30-minute drive away. Walking trails along dramatic gorges can also be found inland.

How: A seven-night stay costs from £795pp (six sharing), travelling on May 25, including flights and car hire. Visit simpsontravel.com or call 020 8003 6557.

La Poderina Villa Siena. See PA Feature TRAVEL Villas. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/Stefano Scata. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature TRAVEL Villas.

Villa Kalypso, Kefalonia, Greece

Making up for lost time, many people are booking longer than usual stays this summer. Paul Fogg, managing director of Freelance Villas, reports their average bookings are for 16 nights.

Accessible with direct flights from the UK, Kefalonia is proving to be popular. Fogg recommends three-bedroom Villa Kalypso, brand new to the market, near Spartia on the south coast. Located at the foot of the headland, a fixed ladder leads to the water and one best snorkelling sites in the Ionian Sea.

Sandy beach Spartia is a 3km drive away, although most guests prefer the privacy of the headland. With no through-road and no tavernas, there are very few day-trippers, making this is one of the quietest corners of the island.

How: A seven-night stay in shoulder season starts from £225pp (six sharing), excluding flights. Visit freelancevillas.com or call 01789 297 705.

Casa Majada, Ronda, Spain

With a number of holidays rolled over from last year, many villas are already taken for key periods. Victoria Hooberman, founder of luxury villa company Scott Williams, says July is the busiest month, although unusually, August has more availability, as many of those holidays took place last year.

Properties new to the market are more likely to have space, such as Casa Majada, a finca renovated by a renowned Spanish architect.

Two of the four en-suite bedrooms open onto an inner courtyard covered by trellises with vines, and the vast gardens are filled with lavender and 100-year-old olive trees. The addition of a pool, pizza oven and barbecue mean there’s little reason to venture far, although anyone seeking a cultural fix can visit Seville, Cordoba or Granada, an hour’s drive away.

How: A seven-night stay costs from £1,000pp (eight sharing), excluding flights. Visit scottwilliams.co.uk or call 01749 812 721.

La Poderina, Siena, Italy

Celebrity holiday fixer and Italy specialist Merrion Charles, who counts Jude Law and Stella McCartney among her A-list clients, says she has seen an increase in the number of people wanting to stay outside cities in remote pockets – but still be within reach of restaurants and culture.

She recommends classic Tuscan villa La Poderina, a revamped ruin surrounded by olive groves, only 5km from Siena, and also within easy reach of several small villages.

Sleeping 10, the property has a pool, wine cellar, orchard, pizza oven, cook service and daily housekeeping. Any excess calories can be worked off in a gym with Pilates reformer set-up, and in-house yoga.

Designed by landscape artist Luciano Giubbilei, two time Chelsea Flower Show Gold medal winner, the gardens are a delight.

How: A seven-night stay costs from £893pp (10 sharing), excluding flights. Visit merrioncharles.com or call +39 0585 92098.

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Villa Isidora, Crete. Set on the rugged far eastern side of Crete, this contemporary property is ideal for families with older children and has a pool and a gym.
A floating bed in one of the bedrooms at Villa Baroniblei, Sicily. Close to the sandy beaches of the east of the island, the four-bedroom property is close to the flamingo-filled Vendicari nature reserve, Baroque town Noto and fishing village Marzamemi.
The pool at La Poderina, Siena, Italy, a revamped ruin surrounded by olive groves and landscaped gardens.
Le Mas des Chenes Verts, Provence, France. A grand French farmhouse with modern trims, this six en-suite bedroom house is the fit for a multi-generational summer break.