PUERTO VALLARTA, MEXICO
Luxury Retreats is a full-service villa rental company with a collection of extravagant, hand-picked properties around the world, mostly in tropical destinations, from Hawaii to the Caribbean. Luxury Retreats has a dedicated concierge, an army of repeat customers, and it fosters this lifestyle with an online magazine. Their portfolio of beautiful properties easily inspires people to travel, and Casa Septiembre in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico is well worth the jaunt alone.
One of the most gay-friendly destinations in Mexico, Puerto Vallarta has a lively gay scene, excellent restaurants, natural attractions, and perfect temperature, and many gay travelers have chosen Casa Septiembre as their preferred retreat. The villa is simply breathtaking: the eight-bedroom/eight-bathroom hacienda-style beachfront villa has stunning views of Banderas Bay, an open-air terrace, private swimming pool, palapa bar, and cleaning and kitchen staff to boot. Best of all? It hugs a very pristine and secluded beach, which I generally had all to myself.
Owner Ulises Leon, a young gay local, says: “The design of the house was inspired by the look of traditional haciendas and the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright. Visitors feel that they are going to a different time, more specifically the colonial era.” With antique photographs, exotic décor like African masks, and Morrocan tables and pre-Hispanic art, Casa Septiembre feels elegant and timeless. High ceilings, lush gardens, and plenty of breezy corridors make the home feel worlds away, though it’s rooted in place with a luxury Mexican vibe.
When the home was first built decades ago, Director Roland Emmerich used to live here, and many celebrities like Jason Isaacs have made it their stomping ground. The villa starts at $1,500 a night, but considering the eight bedrooms (sleeping 16 people), wealth of amenities and the savings—the experience, is extraordinary. www.luxuryretreats.com
PALM SPRINGS, CALIFORNIA
Palm Springs may be sprawling with exciting gay-friendly hotels, but the vacation rental scene is burgeoning and prominent. Many homeowners have transformed their properties into registered, independent vacation-rentals, meaning they manage them and have their own web-site without ties to vacation rental companies, and they truly provide a no-frills vacation experience for larger parties.
One of my favorite spots is The Amado, a private five-unit compound just steps from all the action. The self-contained property features an outdoor lounge area, private pool lined with citrus trees, and lounge chairs for all-day sunbathing. Each suite has bright orange doors that open directly to the outdoor, communal area, so guests can conveniently bond in the intimate quarters (rather than walk long hallways or take an elevator as in a hotel). It’s perfect for gatherings and celebrations, and solo travelers can book one suite rather than the full property. The Amado is also pet-friendly. My pup, Ruby, loved basking in the sun on a lounge chair and happily played leash-free within the compound.
One of the property managers, photographer Jaime Kowal, also owns the popular Ernest Coffee and Bootlegger Tiki, part of hospitality brand The Desert Collective.
“By virtue of being located in Palm Springs, we are very organically integrated in the LGBT community,” says Jaime. “They are our neighbors and guests, members of our team, and our friends. We absolutely support equality on every level.”
Jaime worked with Palm Springs Tourism on developing the official LGBT campaign last year. “I literally, personally helped to create and imagine the campaign encouraging LGBT travel to our open and embracing city! The motto for the Amado is Come Together. We know how important time away with friends and loved ones is.”
The Amado has hosted gay actress and comedienne Tig Notaro, and gay couples celebrating engagements and birthday parties. One-bedroom suites from $175 a night/entire property from $1,350 a night. www.theamado.com
LOWER GARDEN DISTRICT
NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA
HomeAway is one of the largest vacation rental sites in the world, with more than 1.2 million listings. Travelers can find their dream vacation homes in almost any country, and one of their main pillars is to create lasting memories with friends and families.
On a recent visit to New Orleans, I wanted to have more space than a hotel, be able to cook, and, most of all, spend some time in a historic property, truly living like a local in this beautiful city.
HomeAway offered dozens of options, and I chose a beautiful, twobedroom home in the emerging Lower Garden District (where Beyoncé and Jay-Z recently bought a house). The Garden District area, on the other side of Canal Street, is the fastest-growing neighborhood with cool shops, boutiques, restaurants, and that “it” factor that’s just starting to gain attention now.
The neighborhood couldn’t have been more ideal, though it’s the house that won me over. The historically restored, late-1800’s two-story home has high ceilings, chandeliers, new hardwood floors and tiles, and con- temporary furnishings, with more space than a large hotel suite. It’s grand and understated, with a dash of popping colors that accentuate the space (like yellow pillows among a mostly gray and brown color scheme).
The back porch was a bonus, as well on-site washer/drier, fully furnished kitchen (including microwave), and all the modern conveniences you could ask for. I couldn’t help but truly feel like a local and had a daily fix at nearby coffee shops and juice bars. The property manager, Ro, a former New Yorker, was beyond helpful, providing a list of local bars, restaurants, grocery stores, and yoga classes. The best part? The rate was only $263 a night for the entire house, less than a room at a five-star resort. www.homeaway.com
WAILEA BEACH VILLAS
Many five-star resorts have villas with indulgent accommodations that come equipped with many hotel perks that aren’t part of their room inventory. For instance, Ritz-Carlton Dorado Beach offers two, five- bedroom villas with their own infinity pools and the added benefit of room service, and Four Seasons Punta Mita offers private villa residences on the backside of the resort in a villa community. The villas have sweeping views of the sea, private infinity pools, personal chefs, and more. Naturally, guests receive all hotel benefits by staying on property (including use of the spa, pools, restaurants, beach, etc).
Destination Hotels, the largest owner and operator of independent hotels and resorts, and a management company for unique properties in the United States, has a portfolio of upmarket vacation rental and villa properties, many in destinations known for outdoor adventures (like Colorado and California). I had the luxury of checking into Wailea Beach Villas last year. With it’s a self-contained complex of 100 villas (the lowest-tier accommodation is a two-bedroom penthouse!), I couldn’t help but feel like I was at a full-service luxury resort. The property was perfectly landscaped with sprawling lawns, two pools (including one adults-only), and, unlike most resorts in Maui, the perfect amount of quiet with no screaming kids or crowded pool areas.
My friend Josh and I booked a two-bedroom villa, just steps from the beach, with sliding, floor-to-ceiling glass walls, a generously sized terrace with barbecue, fully equipped kitchen, and bathrooms the size of my apartment back home.
At night, we truly felt like we were in the land of aloha with the tiki-torch lit ponds, tropical, lush foliage, and peace and quiet under the stars. With the intimate number of villas, we felt like we had the entire property to ourselves. Two bedrooms start at $1,460 a night. www.destinationhotels.com