When Sir Richard Branson began looking into adding a hotel arm to his Virgin group – which he finally launched in Chicago earlier this month – he drew up a list of all the things he hated about hotels and vowed his would be different. Overpriced minibars? Chargeable Wi-Fi? No pets? Uncomfy beds? Not in my name, he said.
Anyone who has ever weighed up the pros and cons of a villa holiday against a hotel will know where he was coming from – only the list gets longer. For a start, there’s the cost. Group rates tend to be far better in villas, especially over longer breaks. Then there’s the privacy factor. No matter how much you stump up at a hotel, you’re unlikely to get the garden and pool space a villa canoffer. Privacy is a huge deal: it can be nigh-on impossible to find a private common area in hotel, whereas villas are all about seclusion – your home away from home is one big, exclusive sanctum. The kids can let off steam around the pool without the fear that they might be letting the side down too. If they want to have a water fight, let them. I can even invite guests to come and stay and we can sit around all day swilling the local plonk, playing our choice of music at our preferred volume (at least until the nearest neighbours, half a mile away, get the hump).
And then there are the little things: I’d like breakfast at midday, thanks. And a holiday isn’t really a holiday without a barbecue, the cornerstone of any good villa. I want the freedom to cater for myself, to cater for my friends, without the fawning assistance of a hotel waiter. And I don’t want to have to smuggle cartons of milk and supermarket wine into a Lilliputian minibar to avoid astronomical hotel prices; I want my own full-sized fridge and the ability to graze all day without having to keep one eye on the snowballing bill.
I’d rather immerse myself in the aromas and flavours of the local markets, then cook up a feast in my own kitchen – although at times it might be nice to jab my finger at a menu while somebody else does the hard work. Is 24-hour room service something you can’t live without? Do you want rural isolation, or a buzzing location slap-bang in the centre of town? Perhaps you can’t live without a kids’ club, so the little ones are looked after while you luxuriate with waiter service by the pool…
As holidaymakers formulate choices based on their own tastes and needs, hoteliers and villa
owners are increasingly bending over backwards to cover all the bases. That’s why the newer hotels are cutting out some of those age-old aggravations: Virgin’s minibar items are sold at high- street prices, the high-speed Wi-Fi is free, and it even has dog beds in some rooms. That’s also why, on the flip side, villa rentals increasingly throw concierge services and private chefs into the mix. Michelin-star cooking within the privacy of a sprawling villa? Yes, please.
In Ibiza, little will ever beat the privacy, tranquillity (or naked raucousness, depending on your disposition) of a villa holiday. Once you’re spent on nightlife and beach parties, all you really want to do is splay out on a sun lounger by your own pool, with not a soul to bother you and nothing but the next slow, leisurely Mediterranean meal to think about.
Nevertheless, the hotels on Ibiza have been upping their game in recent years, bringing the personal touch and sense of pampered isolation that once only the private villas could muster. Last year saw the opening of Europe’s first Hard Rock Hotel on the White Isle’s Playa d’en Bossa, with swim-up suites, some with private Jacuzzis. Over on Nikki Beach, the new ME Hotel offers guests in its best suites their own Jacuzzis and pools. Little wonder that Ibiza’s high-end clientele are minded to give them a whirl.
As a result, villa owners – out of season at least – are having to be more flexible with their bookings: the days of strict Friday-to-Friday or Saturday-to-Saturday lets are making way for a new era of customer-friendly flexi-lets. Want to break up your week with two nights at an upmarket
hotel followed by five nights at a villa? Then why the hell shouldn’t you?
“More than 1,500 new hotel rooms arrived in Ibiza last year alone,” says George Burdon, founder and owner of the Ibiza villa rental and concierge company Dynamic Lives. “That’s given us something to think about. Villa owners have to be more flexible these days. If a client comes to us out of season and says, ‘we love your villa, but we only want four nights, because we want the Hard Rock for the weekend,’ then we should be able to accommodate that. Some clients want to stay on the island for more than a week, but can’t afford two weeks in villa, so we say to them ‘come stay with us for Week One, and we can book you a few days extra in a hotel at the end.”
With five children aged 17-25 – all of whom wanted to bring friends – Kerry King decided to book a week at the Dynamic Lives villa Casa Lagartija last July, located between St Eulalia and San Carlos on the tranquil northeast coast of the island. But she wanted a 10-day holiday, not a week, so she added on three days at a boutique hotel in Ibiza town for her, her husband and three of her daughters. “It worked out really well for the family,” she says. “There were 12 of us in total in the first week, so we didn’t have the budget or inclination to eat out all the time – and the villa, which has this amazing pool, gave us the space to chill out. Everyone could do their own thing. We went sailing for a few days, too. Then, once the older kids left, we could go into town with our three daughters, go to nice restaurants, eat out more and crash at the hotel. It was the perfect balance.”
Villa or hotel? I’ll always prefer the former, but I could easily be persuaded to do both.