Most people buy homes where they need to. Celebrities buy where they want to—and they frequently buy more than one. Then, rather than leave their extra dwellings empty most of the year, some stars rent them out to ordinary folk. Ordinary folk, that is, who can afford them. For the jaded traveler who wants to escape the humdrum and hoi polloi, what could be more perfect than a week or two under a celeb's roof, eating with a celeb's flatware, sleeping in a celeb's bed? "Once you're there," says Palo Alto, Calif., real estate developer Christopher Treble, 60, who took wife Nancy to Jane Seymour's English manor house for her birthday in 1996, "the world we live in just doesn't exist." From Seymour's Tudor splendor to Robin Leach's Caribbean hideaway, herewith is a sampling of some surprising vacation alternatives.
JANE SEYMOUR'S MANOR HOUSE
St. Catherine's Court, Bath, England
$21,000 a week
Nine bedrooms, six bathrooms, two kitchens, private chapel, music room
Special Features: Croquet lawn, tennis courts, stables, guest membership in Beaufort Hunt and Cirencester Polo Club (Prince Charles is a member of both)
Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell slept here. So did Johnny Cash. So, perhaps, did Henry VIII, who is said to have bestowed it on an illegitimate daughter in the mid-16th century. What Henry thought of the place has been lost to history, but for Dallas oil-industry consultant Tom Mitchell, 61, a two-week stay there in the summer of 1997 with wife Cynthia and a group of friends was a sojourn in a bygone time. "The house has a ballroom, so we had dances with a string quartet," he recalls.
The English-born, L.A.-based Seymour, who bought the 14-acre estate in 1983 while filming the Jamaica Inn TV movie there, stays at St. Catherine's for a few weeks each summer and at Christmas, renting it out the rest of the time. "The upkeep is horrendous," she says, "and rather than getting a government grant to maintain it, we decided to rent it."
Most who stay at St. Catherine's are Americans, says estate manager Beverly Lee. Though Seymour's personal possessions are locked away, "while guests are here, they're living in her home, looking at her pictures, just as she does." The presence of a staff—and a hefty security deposit—ensures that guests are on their best behavior. So far, only one has posed a problem. British rocker Robbie Williams, who stayed there last year, tried to pass St. Catherine's off as his own on MTV. Worse, says Lee, "he turned the croquet lawn into a soccer field." Obviously not to the manor born.
MICK JAGGER'S ISLAND PARADISE
Mustique, The Grenadines
$15,000 a week
Six living pavilions, games pavilion, pool, pond, Jacuzzi
It's not easy to get to, unless you have a yacht, and there isn't much to do, unless you have pals among the island's ultra-rich denizens. Plus, arranging a stay at Star-groves, the island hideaway Jagger bought in 1980, can take a while, since the leasing agents have to track down the elusive rocker to get his personal approval of every prospective renter. And, of course, Jagger and family have first dibs on the best weeks.
Once you get there, though, the hassles are over. Guests (the villa sleeps 10) have the run of a Japanese-themed piece of paradise right on pristine Macaroni Beach. "The appeal here," says Jeanette Cadet, the villa manager, "is total privacy, plus security and excellent food." That's because the rental includes a cook and a chauffeur who will double as a bodyguard. "Having people come through keeps the staff on its toes," says Gregory Patrick, who runs Houston's Tours of Enchantment. Perhaps most important for the deep-pockets escapist, says Wendy Wachtel of the renting agency VillasoftheWorld.com, "It doesn't scream Mick Jagger. It screams tasteful rock star's vacation home."
JULIO IGLESIAS'S MEXICAN MANSION
$52,000 a week
Six bedrooms, swimming pool
Special Features: Yacht, limo, fishing boat, masseuse, nutritionist on call (Plàcido Domingo is a neighbor)
The velvet-voiced Spaniard actually owns three Acapulco homes and rents out two. The smaller, cozier one is in a hilly section of town. The other, Las Brisas, on a hillside overlooking the bay, tends more to the spectacular. "He has an infinity pool," says Dave Odom, a sales manager with a Houston financial-services firm, who took five of his top employees and their spouses to the compound for a week in April 2000. "One side of it spills over the side of the mountain like a waterfall." And, he says, "There were three maids, two cooks, a house manager and a bartender. I kept thinking Julio has a pretty good life here. I don't know why he ever leaves."
During their stay, Odom, 43, and his wife, Jill, slept in the master bedroom. "Every time I crawled into that bed," he admits, a little sheepishly, "I kept thinking about the song that Julio recorded with Willie Nelson, 'To All the Girls I've Loved Before.' " But if guests are hoping for dish—other than the kind served at lunch and dinner—they'll be disappointed. "The ladies who cleaned and cooked spoke only Spanish," says Jill, 43, "so it was a dead end for gossip."
ROBIN LEACH'S GARDEN OF EDEN
Jumby Bay, Antigua
$65,000 a week
(Rates lower off-season) Seven bedrooms, eight vegetable gardens, sunken library with 50-inch video screen, four guest cottages
Special Features: Fully equipped kitchen, outdoor shower among the rocks, souvenirs from Leach's travels as host of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous
Those lifestyles of the rich and famous can sometimes be much simpler than one might expect. At the multimillion dollar Casa di Sogni D'Oro (The House of Golden Dreams), says Leach, "We go out to the garden every night and pick dinner. We have almost every fruit and vegetable." For those who might be fatigued by all that manual labor, there's a chef to handle the cooking—along with three gardeners and a housekeeper. Leach was filming a 1986 Lifestyles segment when he discovered Jumby Bay, an island just off the coast of Antigua in the British West Indies. The exterior of the Casa, an Italianate villa completed in 1991, has been distressed to make it seem much older. "I don't use this home as much as I'd like," says Leach, 58. "A house needs life in it."
RANDY TRAVIS'S HAWAIIAN HAVEN
Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii
$8,400 a week
Four-bedroom main house with two guest cottages, gourmet kitchen
Special Features: Pool, Jacuzzi, gym, Zen rock garden
There's a lady from Canada who spends Christmas here. "She books a year in advance," says country singer Randy Travis's wife and manager, Elizabeth. "We have Christmas decorations put away for her." The Travises stay there once or twice a year. "I love the property because it's so private," says Randy. And there are signs of Travis everywhere, from photos on the wall to his cookbook in the kitchen. There's also the autograph tree. "It's a rubber tree," says property manager Mack Downing. "People scratch their signature on a leaf. The scratched area turns white and stays that way forever." Well, almost forever. "One guest," says Elizabeth, "stole the autographs of my husband and Chuck Norris." Is nothing sacred?
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