"That day, as we stood on the terrace, looking out to the mountains at the astonishing view, with no other sign of human habitation, and at nature at its most simple and dramatic, Jimmy fell silent."
So wrote Lady Annabel Goldsmith of the moment she and her famously garrulous husband Sir James began their love affair with Torre de Tramores, just one of the many luxurious holiday homes now available on the new online platform Villa Collective.
Set back on 600 hectares of unspoilt Andalusian countryside near the town of Benahavis, the Tramores estate has been a regular holiday home for the Goldsmiths since 1986, "offering sanctuary to celebrities as famous as post-divorce Princess Diana, Jemima Khan and Hugh Grant," according to the Spanish news website Olive Press.
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As you would expect, the original building, a historic Andalucian farmhouse has been beautifully converted into accommodation of an exceptionally high standard. It's exquisitely decorated with Mallorcan textiles, and Andalucian and Moorish antiques.
The indigenous Iberian woodland, dissected by the Guadalmina River and a series of crystal clear springs and streams, has been wonderfully incorporated into the surrounding gardens. The property even boasts a small working organic farm and a productive organic kitchen garden.
Throughout the property guests are invited to sit, lounge and relax in numerous shaded terraces perfect for outside dining. For a taste of the local area, the nearby town of Benahavis is something of a culinary haven. Its many restaurants offer fish and seafood dishes as well as the area's much-loved "mountain food", including solomillo de cerdo (pork fillet), a dish people are known to travel far and wide for.
Those looking for a taste of the high life can simply enjoy the many delights of the property thanks to the new online platform.
"What villas like Los Tramores need is exposure, which is why I decided to launch The Villa Collective," the platform's founder Nick Cookson explains.
The business operates much like an exclusive version of Airbnb, drawing on travellers' increasing appetite for booking holidays directly with owners, while working with agents or "professional managers" with first-hand knowledge of the properties.
"These properties are better equipped and more efficiently run than ever, with savvier owners and a new generation of expatriate house managers who understand the needs of paying guests. By booking direct, guests can draw off the intricate local knowledge of the owner or house manager," says Cookson.
The platform enables discerning travellers to search and compare villas across multiple countries on one website and make the booking directly with the person who knows the villa and its surroundings best. Private villas and estates range in price from £4,000-£100,000 a week across France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece and Morocco.
Villa Collective offers potential renters added security. Unlike existing accommodation platforms, every owner and villa is vetted for its authenticity and required to meet a set of criteria before being offered membership.
While many properties come fully staffed with a chef and a maid included, each villa must have a house manager as a minimum requirement before joining the collective.
The model is "proving unsurprisingly popular with villa owners because of the ease and flexibility it affords them," says Spears Magazine.
"People like to be in control now," Alithea Johns, a landscape architect and family friend of the Cooksons' told the magazine.
Control is undoubtedly the key for both property owners and renters in a still emerging market.
Jelena Cvjetkovic, the associate director of residential for the international department at Savills, told The Times: "Most people will look at making some rental income from their property – they want their properties to work harder. The difference has been the launch of these websites where you can do this without investing time and effort into marketing a property."
There is also an increase in interest in villa rentals, adds the paper, as they are seen as good value and are great for intergenerational holidays, which are becoming more popular.
"In countries with strong rental markets, people wanting to sell their holiday home are not willing to drop the price, as they are doing so well renting them out," says Cvjetkovic.
Torre de Tramores is available to book direct via The Villa Collective from €22,500 per week.
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