Your own private villa is a vacationer's dream come true. For families, couples, singles, multigenerational reunions, retirees, business executives - there is a diversity of luxurious rental villas all over the world - from a beachfront estate on a pristine shore, a lodge overlooking snow-capped mountains, an Italian retreat with vineyard views, even a house on your own island.
The word "villa" usually means a free-standing, privately-owned, single-family home with private outdoor space (often including a staff or partial staff - maid, cook, gardener). Today, villas can be found in just about any vacation destination in the world. Popular locales include oceans, lakes, rivers, ski and hiking areas, golf courses, nature reserves and city centers.
Many travelers are finding a villa experience offers the ultimate affordable luxury vacation, often costing no more than a stay at a hotel or resort. From a casual beachside house for a family with small children to a stately English manor home with a staff of five, the diversity has made this vacation style a fast-growing trend in the travel industry.
Mike Thiel, president of Hideaways International, was nicknamed "Mr. Villa Vacations" by Arthur Frommer for his role in popularizing vacation-home rentals.
"We have seen a great increase and interest in villa vacations these past few years," he noted. "With time-shares and the proliferation of vacation homes all over the world, many vacationers appreciate the quality homes and villas we offer. And we do a quality-control feedback seeking to learn from the renters and the homeowners just how the vacation stay was experienced."
A surge in requests for European villas reveals a variety of accommodations for all seasons, often at holiday time (Thanksgiving, Chanukah, etc.) or related to a special event in a particular country.
Prices can start for a modest villa property for $1,000 a week to many thousands a week, depending on the season and the property. Most villas are rented for a one-week minimum, although some areas may offer rentals for just a few days.
There are also villas for rent within an upscale resort. On the island of Nevis, for example, the Four Seasons Resort will rent a private villa that includes all the resort amenities.
Usually, a credit-card number is required to hold a reservation, with anywhere from 10 percent to 50 percent of the gross rental price due within two weeks of the booking (villas are priced in U.S. dollars). Almost all villas include daily maid service, except on Sundays and holidays. Tipping for good service is recommended; a suggested amount is $6 to $10 per day.
Before you leave for your vacation, you'll be provided with an information package that details directions to the villa, local activities, services, restaurants and other pertinent information. In most cases, the villas are locally managed.
You will be met at the villa by a local representative or the owner, who will orient you to the home and the region.
Here is a sampling of properties available from some of the villa rental companies:
WIMCO (West Indies Management Company) is a U.S.- and London-based company that represents villas in many parts of the world, particularly in the Caribbean. Listed here are three of them:
• Gouvereur is a deluxe villa in St. Barts on 7.5 acres of land with beautiful views overlooking Gouvereur beach, the ocean, Nevis and St. Kitts. The Colonial-style house occupies one level with the exception of a heated pool, which is down a few stone steps next to a lovely gazebo designed for outside dining. The villa even has its own driving range for golfers. A quick, two-minute drive down the hill finds a bucolic, secluded beach.
• On Barbados, Heronetta is a gracious home with a long beach frontage and its own tennis court. Two bedrooms are in the main house, with a two-bedroom guest cottage nearby. There are spacious living and dining areas, terraces, a library and staff quarters. The staff includes a cook, housekeeper, butler, laundress and night guard.
• Villa Paradiso 5, a group of several villas on Nevis, is nestled in a former coconut plantation directly on serene Pinney's Beach. With a blend of Balinese and Caribbean architecture, the villas have hand-woven thatched roofs, enclosed lush gardens, an outdoor dining pavilion overlooking a private waterfall pool and magnificent views of the Caribbean Sea and St. Kitts.
Each villa accommodates eight people. The four bedrooms feature handmade Brazilian hardwood beds, private patios, private gardens and sliding glass doors. There is tiered pool with a waterfall. A terrace surrounds the pool, and is built off both master bedrooms.
For information or brochures of the company's properties, call 1-800-932-3222 or write: WIMCO, P.O. Box 1461, Newport, RI 02840.
Hideaways International offers villas all over the world. The company (which publishes the Hideaway Guide and Hideaways Newsletter) also prints Villa Vacations Made Easy!
Initially the company matched travelers and vacation homeowners through its directory but since the Web site was launched, travelers are using this popular, trusted site: www.Hideaways  .com. Exploring this vacation road less traveled, the company lists exclusive resorts with elegant villas, boutique hotels, cozy castles, even entire islands.
For information, call 1-800-843-4433.
ResortQuest represents owners of luxury homes, villas and condominiums throughout North America who put their properties on the vacation rental market.
• On Captiva Island in Florida, "Seas the Day" nestles on 1.5 acres of gulf-front property with five bedrooms in the main house and three bedrooms in the guest house. The spacious living room features 29 feet of sliding glass doors facing a private beach and the sparkling waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
There are two pools, one for the main house and one for the guest house. The dining area is cozy, yet seems like a garden and can seat two to 16 people. Every bedroom has its own private bath with a Jacuzzi tub, balcony and electronic amenities, such as TV, fax, printer, high-speed Internet connection and more.
For information, call 1-800-ResortQuest or visit: www.resortquest.com .
Coach House Rentals London is the leading specialist in short-term central London rentals, with more than 70 properties ranging from cozy apartments for two to grand mansions that sleep up to 12.
For information, visit: www. rentalschslondon.com.