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Privacy, Please: What's Next for Exclusive Travel

Daniel Benson

There's a scene in Succession, that near-Shakespearean takedown of the superrich, where eldest son Connor complains that he had to fly back “scheduled.” Family patriarch Logan Roy oozes sarcasm: “Oh, I'm sorry, son. That's really tough.” In fairness, to misquote Kate Moss, nothing tastes as good as private feels right now—especially when you're at 41,000 feet being served a menu concocted by Jean-Georges Vongerichten. The private airplane has been the poster child of elite travel ever since the original jet-setters started flying down to Acapulco, with Sinatra on the airwaves (or on board), in the 1950s. There's an eternal allure to taking off at a whim, unscheduled. Put simply: to freedom.

But recently, our idea of exclusive travel has broadened. There's an inclination to go further and deeper, to be more spontaneous and creative, with bucket lists overflowing. Since the era of social distancing, a desire to reconnect with friends and family has led to more ambitious group trips. The rise of hyper-personalization is trouncing the one-size-fits-all holiday thanks to canny travel fixers and tour operators that are threading the desire for off-menu, bespoke experiences into travel's ever-evolving DNA.

That could look like a marine safari around Lamu on a chartered private dhow with Journeys By Design or a buy-out of Venice's Palazzo Garzoni (take all four residences) or Thuwal Private Retreat in the Red Sea (take the whole island). Hotels are getting wise, adding private residences, like Rosewood London's Lincoln House and the aptly named Villa Inkognito at Oslo's Sommerro, while The Reserve at Savoy Palace in Madeira has just unveiled a hotel-within-a-hotel, complete with a personal assistant just a WhatsApp message away. And if what you crave is total solitude, save for perhaps the primates in the wilds of Gabon, experts like Pelorus can curate a bespoke expedition just for you without ever skimping on all the luxe comforts. Now that is a new style of luxury. —Rick Jordan

True to its name, the exuberantly designed Villa Inkognito is a secluded house next to Oslo's Sommero.
True to its name, the exuberantly designed Villa Inkognito is a secluded house next to Oslo's Sommero.
Francisco Nogueira
Cheval Blanc St-Barth comes with a dedicated butler service.
Cheval Blanc St-Barth comes with a dedicated butler service.
E. Labouerie

Hotels, heightened

It's no surprise that hotels are riding the private travel wave, granting guests exclusive access, bespoke experiences, and even greater privacy. Concierges are acting more like personal fixers: At J. K. Place Roma, in the 17th-century Palazzo Borghese, Giulia De Sanctis uses her connections to take visitors behind the curtain of the Italian fashion scene, from exclusive events for new collections to coveted invitations like Vogue's Valentino shindig. Tours are getting more elaborate too. The Four Seasons Hotel Sydney can organize a private jet to the Lightning Ridge Opal Mines; the creative director of the jeweler Giulians, Gary Coffey, tags along and helps attendees craft their own one-of-a-kind piece. And beyond the presidential suite, some hotels offer secluded villas on their grounds—from the Pool Cottage House at Mallorca's Grand Hotel Son Net, complete with their own pool and garden, to the five-bedroom Villa de France with dedicated butler service at the Cheval Blanc St-Barth. And price upon request, darling.

Casino Doxi Stracca in Puglia is set on acres of vineyards and comes with multiple pools and a wine cellar.
Casino Doxi Stracca in Puglia is set on acres of vineyards and comes with multiple pools and a wine cellar.
The Thinking Traveller

La dolce villa

Of course, instead of a top hotel, you could just book your own estate, which offers the same level of service but allows you to go anywhere you like in your pajamas. And when it comes to these rentals, bigger is indeed better. “We've seen increased demand for our largest villas as more people bring the whole family or big groups of friends,” says Rossella Beaugié, cofounder of luxury-villa specialist The Thinking Traveller. Below, some options for a grand getaway—with or without your entourage.

Escape the island's crowds and abscond into one of two (or both) residences at sleek jungle-fringed hideaway, Casa Alma, Phuket, Thailand owned by Thai Belgian hotelier Jonathan Schmidt. Photographer and designer Zeina Aboukheir rents out her five-suite residence at Villa Zeina, Luxor, Egypt, which is overflowing with art from her travels. Don't forget the private butler and chef service. Drive through Casino Doxi Stracca's five acres of vineyards in Puglia, Italy to this 18th-century marvel filled with amenities like multiple pools, a wine cellar, and—blessedly—air conditioning. Casa Manantial, Cartagena, Colombia is a 17th-century mansion, hidden behind an unmarked door off Plaza de Bolivar, makes for an artful city escape complete with a pool and room for up to 10.

Aman’s flagship yacht, Amandira is a custom-built sailing and diving vessel with five cabins and a crew of 14.
Aman’s flagship yacht, Amandira is a custom-built sailing and diving vessel with five cabins and a crew of 14.
Aman

Ride the wave

Nothing evokes seafaring excitement quite like tall white sails, and private yachts offer that plus service and sustainability credentials. NaiSabah, a solar-powered, wind-driven traditional Omani liveaboard, traverses the mangrove and riparian forests of Kenya's Lamu Archipelago. Guest experiences include weaving with local artisans; profits help fund local conservation efforts. In Indonesian waters, hotels are operating phinisi yachts, such as the Vela, owned by Nirjhara, an eco-focused hotel in Bali; and Aman's five-cabin Amandira. In the world of high-end charters, heritage yachts are exerting a bigger pull than ever, like the elegant 1967 yacht Malcolm Miller, restored and available by the week through Arthaud Yachting.

Mimi Todhunter's black book include gondoliers, musicians, and antiquarians, whom she loves to gather for dinners in her Venetian palazzo.
Mimi Todhunter's black book include gondoliers, musicians, and antiquarians, whom she loves to gather for dinners in her Venetian palazzo.
Fred & Tam

Access is everything

For a truly bespoke trip, tap a specialist to get off-book experiences, even in familiar cities. With London-based operators True Travel, who focus on behind-the-scenes twists on the capital, this might look like a private evensong at St. Paul's Cathedral or watching the changing of the guard from inside Buckingham Palace. But don't discount the seemingly simple. “We often take people to meet an old army captain at the Grenadier pub in Belgravia,” says Henry Morley, True Travel's founder. “Just hearing amazing stories over a pint of Guinness is sometimes the thing that leaves the biggest impression.”

Locals can be the ace in the hole for specialists curating bespoke trips. “It's about booking the right people as much as the right places,” says Jules Maury, head of Scott Dunn Private. Well-connected on-the-ground fixers make the impossible possible. In Venice, that might be Mimi Todhunter, whose black book is a Venetian who's who, including gondoliers, musicians, and antiquarians, whom she loves to gather for dinners in her palazzo.

Or, for a total break from city life, head to the middle of nowhere. Red Savannah can get you on a helicopter to the Minaret Station on New Zealand's South Island, where hot tubs and tented suites at the head of a glacial Southern Alps valley await; or to The Lindis, a high-design house resembling a glassy Hobbit home from the future, hidden in the pristine Ahuriri Valley.

From helicopter airport transfers to exclusive terminals, individualized air travel is here to stay.
From helicopter airport transfers to exclusive terminals, individualized air travel is here to stay.
Kin Coedel/Thursday's Child

First class-ified

After a pandemic-induced boom in individualized air travel, it's easier than ever to build à la carte private flying experiences. For an airport transfer, take a Blade helicopter between Manhattan and JFK or Nice Côte-d'Azur and Monaco. For an entirely exclusive airport terminal, slip into the PS Private Suites at Los Angeles and Atlanta (and soon, Miami and Dallas) and get driven directly to the plane. For the toniest of lounges, head to London Heathrow's Windsor Suite, originally designed for the royal family and now with Jason Atherton dishes and white-glove service available to anyone prepared to pay. For a not-quite-private flight, book with Surf Air to snag spare seats on small charters all over California. Move over, ride-shares—flight-shares are here.

Private chefs like Michael Dane help take the stress out of holiday entertaining.
Private chefs like Michael Dane help take the stress out of holiday entertaining.
Miranda McDonald
Along with cooking the meal, private chefs can help source the freshest local ingredients.
Along with cooking the meal, private chefs can help source the freshest local ingredients.
Miranda McDonald

Fully flavored

Enlisting a private chef can help you curate a flawless evening beyond the dining room—abroad or at home. “I'm also a host,” says Michael Dane, a California-based chef who organizes events for A-list clients in Hollywood and Silicon Valley. “It's my job to make sure the lighting is set, the flowers are arranged, the scent is right.”In addition to cooking the meals, a chef might also source the best produce from area markets, translate local cuisine for clients' tastes, and meet memorably over-the-top requests. Dane says, “Once, a client rented the Houdini mansion for 500 people, and I created a living wall of cheese and charcuterie.” Elevated exclusive experiences don't have to mean stuffy formality; it's all about ease and intimacy. Having your own chef can help. As Dane puts it: “The idea is that the client doesn't have to worry about a thing.”

From top (clockwise): House in the Wild, Kenya ; Onduli Enclave, Namibia; Singita Milele, Tanzania
From top (clockwise): House in the Wild, Kenya ; Onduli Enclave, Namibia; Singita Milele, Tanzania
Lippa Wood; Mike Dexter, Ultimate Safaris

Solo sightings

For so long, safaris were a communal affair, but in recent years, game-ready private houses have come into their own. Here are the movement's pioneers. House in the Wild, Kenya is a seven-lodge compound tucked into a lush bend of the Mara River is owned by Tarquin and Lippa Wood, founders of the surrounding Enonkishu Conservancy. After lunch, grab a swinging bed on the riverbank and watch the hippos wallowing nearby. Atop a granite outcropping that overlooks the ochre terrain of Damaraland, Onduli Enclave, Namibia addition to Onduli Ridge is composed of three exclusive-use stilted suites that come with their own guide, butler, and chef, and even an airstrip for aerial transfers.

Dug directly into the landscape like an eco–Bond lair, Melote House, South Africa is a high-design lodge that sits in South Africa's rhino-friendly Lapalala Wilderness reserve, fully staffed for game drives, boat cruises, and spa treatments available at your leisure. Singita Milele, Tanzania are five suites that sit on a prime wildebeest migration outlook in Tanzania's iconic Grumeti Reserve. For winding down after daily drives, this villa has a movie room, a stocked wine cellar, and an infinity pool with a view of the Serengeti plains.

This article appeared in the April 2024 issue of Condé Nast Traveler. Subscribe to the magazine here.

Originally Appeared on Condé Nast Traveler