If the rumours are true, George and Amal Clooney are putting up the “For Sale” sign outside their lavish Lake Como retreat, Villa Oleandra, with paparazzi intrusion and unwanted attention said to be a contributing factor. The Clooneys are believed to be planning to spend more time at Domaine de Canadel, the vineyard they bought outside the town of Brignoles in the Var region of Provence.
Beloved of France’s trendy set, this is a peaceful inland fragment of Provencal perfection, all tumbling honey-coloured villages, vineyards and lavender fields, yet close enough to the glitz and glamour of the nearby French Riviera when required. No doubt the 172 hectares that surround the estate were another big selling point, offering plenty of breathing space instead of the prying lenses and boatloads of nosey tourists the couple had to endure on Como.
Could Lake Como and its ilk be losing their appeal thanks to “overtourism” and a general sense they are not as exclusive as they used to be? While there will always be superyachts and their flashy occupants dropping anchor at Ibiza and St Tropez, a growing number of celebrities seem to be turning their backs on some of Europe’s most celebrated holiday hotspots to avoid the glare of publicity and the mobile-wielding public.
While yachts are a practical option for many of the super famous and super rich, not everyone wants to spend their summer floating around the Med. They hanker instead for the simpler things on holiday that the rest of us take for granted.
A very famous film star once told me that she would probably never be able to visit Capri as she and her equally famous husband would never be left alone. But before we break out the tiny violins, there are plenty of under-the-radar corners of Europe where the A-list can seek out their holiday bliss unhindered.
The celebrity quotient in Greece over the summer was particularly high. But some of its famous visitors shunned fleshpots like Mykonos in favour of lower-key islands. Pop star, Dua Lipa, and her film director beau, Romain Gavras, rented a villa on the lesser-known Cycladic Island of Sifnos, which is already popular with well-heeled Athenians thanks to its quiet beaches and burgeoning food scene.
Margot Robbie, on the other hand, chose some post-Barbie downtime on Folegandros, which is probably better known for its deserted pristine beaches and aquamarine waters than its celebrity count.
Perhaps the Clooneys should take a leaf out of Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson’s holiday playbook. The couple own a villa on the Greek island of Antiparos, a tiny speck off the more popular Paros, and regularly visit the island often with celebrity chums like the Obamas in tow. For those without an invite, the island is also home to the boho-chic The Rooster, a wellness retreat that already has a dedicated following of high-profile clientele.
Danae von Hirsch of villa rental company Five Star Greece says: “Antiparos was an unknown speck in the Cyclades when we introduced it to Tom Hanks – it is now a showcase of designer homes for a very exclusive group of regular visitors, not unlike Mustique. We had some A-listers this year who all sought out smaller islands like Sifnos, Tinos, Folegandros – hard to get to islands with low-key but quiet luxury.”
Escaping the crowds in Italy
Away from the bustle of Como, Italy will always be a favourite, dotted as it is with secluded properties perfect for a low-key getaway. Villa Tre Ville, the former home of film director Franco Zefferelli, is an unparalleled hideaway beloved of the rich and famous – including Jennifer Lopez, who holidayed there earlier this year. On the Amalfi coast near Positano, it has all the perks of the breathtaking location and none of the pitfalls, like other guests.
Hotel Il Pellicano, a Tuscan icon occupying a secluded spot on Monte Argentario, near Porto Ercole, is another enduring choice for those who want to go largely unnoticed. Or, if the Clooneys get a hankering for lakeside living again they can always check into the gold standard of A-list retreats, Grand Hotel a Villa Feltrinelli, an exquisite Art Nouveau mansion overlooking Lake Garda.
The lesser visited region of Umbria is also enjoying its place in the celebrity sun, mostly thanks to the existence of Hotel Castello di Reschio, a 1,000-year-old castle turned hotel surrounded by an 1,500-hectare estate scattered with seven villas offering an idyllic slice of Italian country living for the publicity shy.
Villas are the obvious choice for those seeking seclusion. Not to be confused with the glitzier Cap Ferrat of the French Riviera, Cap Ferret on France’s Atlantic coast is proving popular with the A-list, according to Eleanore de Cadier de Veauce of Le Collectionist, who has a portfolio of properties dotted around Europe. Lège Cap-Ferret, a slim peninsula between the Bay of Archachon and the Atlantic Ocean, is a bit like a Gallic Hamptons with historic clapboard houses, quiet sophistication and devotees like actors Marion Cotillard and Guillaume Canet.
Tom Marchant, of high-end operator Black Tomato, says: “Iceland is another destination where we’ve sent lots of celebrity clients, but recently, the lesser-touched north is particularly appealing with its private lodges like Deplar Farm.
“Another destination which we’ve seen becoming increasingly popular amongst A-list clients is Slovenia. While not as widely known for being a culinary hotspot, as say Italy or France, it has an incredible wine scene, innovative cuisine… and [there’s little] fear of high-profile clients being photographed by paparazzi.”
Anonymity in Ireland
Despite the unreliable weather, Ireland is a preferred spot because famous people tend to be left alone. Actors Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick have been visiting their holiday home in County Donegal for years, and stars like Saoirse Ronan and Graham Norton have homes in West Cork, which has also recently been abuzz with the news that heartthrob actor Paul Mescal has bought a cottage in the region.
Ballyfin, one of Ireland’s most lavish hotels, an opulent and exclusive 18th-century pile in County Laois where the Clooneys have also checked in, also crops up on a lot of Emerald Isle itineraries, as does the more rural but legendary Ballymaloe House in County Cork.
David Prior knows a thing or two about the likes and dislikes of the high-profile traveller. The company he founded in 2018, Prior, creates meticulously curated journeys for clients predominantly from the worlds of fashion, music and cinema, although he is far too discreet to name names. “It’s more about houses since the pandemic and travellers want to stay put in the same place for longer rather than hopping to several destinations”, he says.
Prior has also noticed a shift towards the Atlantic fringes of Europe. “The Mediterranean is extremely busy, hectic and hot in high summer and it’s quite a nice thing to do a lower profile trip somewhere like Ireland, southwestern France, Melides in Portugal or perhaps a lesser-known Italian island like Pantelleria off the coast of Sicily.”
His clients tend to favour the less obvious destinations he recommends and come back time and again. “It might sound a bit counterintuitive but a lot of our clients lead very rarified existences, where everything is organised for them and they want something different when they travel where they can experience the local culture and connect rather than be completely cut off”.
He also notes that high-profile hotels and restaurants can actually be more problematic for celebrities. “Smaller, more off the beaten track places also tend to have fewer rubberneckers,” he says. “It’s more of an immersive experience, but in most instances, that’s what people really seem to enjoy.”