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At Vintage Travel, we are passionate about villas - and the destinations we feature. As a small specialist tour operator, we are fortunate to have a team of dedicated staff, all experts in their own fields.
Between us, we have many years experience of hunting down individual villas with pools in unspoilt corners of Europe.
Here, we reveal our personal secrets - the regions and villages we love the most, the properties where we have stayed and the places we return to year after year for our own family holidays.
If you are inspired by our experiences, call us on 01954 261 431 or email us with your personal requirements.
There are mountains, lakes, little villages where time seems to have stood still, vast areas of protected woodland where you can drive for miles without seeing another vehicle, and, everywhere, stunning views. It's a real paradise for photographers, and for walkers, cyclists and bird watchers too.
What is also lovely is the feeling of space and closeness to nature, but wonderful cities like Sevilla, Cordoba, Granada and Cadiz are an easy drive away so although we are 'away from it all', we're not isolated.
Andalucia is lovely at all times of year; I love the Spring, when the air is fragrant with blossom and wild flowers, and it's hard to beat sitting by the pool or on the terrace on a summer's evening, drink in hand, enjoying the herb-scented breeze and watching the sun go down.
I am often asked which is my favourite Vintage Travel house in my area, and I honestly can't answer that because I would end up naming them all! We have houses to suit all tastes and requirements and they all come highly recommended by clients who have stayed there.
Living here is fantastic and I wouldn't want to be anywhere else; I love seeing clients enjoying their holidays or reading their comments afterwards, but I must admit that I sometimes feel quite envious... after all, I never get to stay in any of these lovely houses!
Ever since my very first visit to Italy in 2001, I have been captivated by the country. Perhaps it is the landscape of tree-covered mountains shimmering in the early morning mist, which evokes memories of my Scottish origins.
Maybe it is the charm of ancient stone-built villages perched on hilltops. Perhaps the friendliness of the people, going about their daily lives in an uncomplicated way. Undoubtedly the food and the wine play a part, along with the unique style and flair of shops and markets - an enticement to even the most reluctant shopper.
Casale Fonteluccia on the edge of Cortona has long been a favourite and this year I had the opportunity to stay there for a few days. It was everything I had hoped for: a country cottage with fantastic views over tree-covered hills, yet only a short walk into the delightful town of Cortona where we enjoyed some memorable meals.
We relaxed in the lovely garden and made full use of Fonteluccia's large swimming pool, but also found time for some great trips out to Arezzo, Siena, Perugia and to Passignano, on the edge of Lake Trasimeno.
Every time I visit Menorca, I fall in love with the island a little bit more. The gentleness of Menorca and the peace I find there is balm to my soul.
It's a family-friendly island, with lovely clean sandy beaches and clear blue waters. Its rich and diverse history and the strength of its conservation programme appeal to the historian and the eco-warrior in me.
I recently stayed at Es Pi Verd, a three bedroom villa only 2km from Menorca's only golf course. Well equipped and comfortable, it was a great place to stay. There are a couple of supermarkets and restaurants within walking distance (just under 1km), making it easy to dine out or dine in! Most nights, we enjoyed a barbecue on the terrace.
I was 19 when I first glimpsed Llafranc. We drove down a steep hill towards the village centre and the view framed before us was of a pine-covered hillside leading down to a small marina, a sparkling blue sea and a sandy beach. I couldn't wait to get out of the car and explore!
I wasn't disappointed - nor with the neighbouring village of Calella de Palafrugell which we reached on foot via the clifftop path. We discovered five tiny coves with colourful fishing boats sitting on the sand in front of whitewashed fishermen's houses.
To complete this trio of picturesque bays is Tamariu, which we stumbled upon by taking the road that meanders down through a hillside of pine trees. The tiny bay lay hidden at the bottom. Over the years I have enjoyed many holidays in Llafranc. I've taken my own children there from the time when they were babies through to the present day, when they are teenagers.
We see the same faces year after year. There is a particular group of elegant Catalan ladies who spend their mornings catching up with old friends and swimming in the sea, before heading home for lunch and a siesta. I have seen this charming scenario played out many times and it never fails to delight.
I have so many favourite villas in Catalunya that it's hard to choose one. I love Mas Gras (picture shown above left), a masia in Cruilles, Villa Llafranc in Llafranc, Can Tilly, a modern house in Tamariu built in the style of an old masia, and Mas Casanova near Mont Ras for its stylish interior.
It was my first trip to Greece and I fell in love with Skopelos. I decided that swimming in the Aegean and Ionian seas is better even than swimming in the Pacific Ocean.
I was delighted by the domestic scale and the prettiness of Skopelos. All around was the most beautiful, yet quite spectacular scenery.
The colours of these landscapes are both natural and intense; you think you know the colour turquoise but you don't until you have swum from Myrtos beach in Kefalonia.
If I had the choice of all our villas in Skopelos, I would stay at Maro. The house, the view and grounds are beautiful and it's close to two beaches and within easy reach of Skopelos town for restaurants, bakeries and people watching.
I first went to Catalunya with my family 34 years ago. I was 10 at the time and we drove through France in an old Vauxhall estate car. Having four sisters with me, we were somewhat cramped but the uncomfortable journey was well worth it because we had a fantastic holiday.
I returned to the area some 15 years later with my girlfriend Esther (now my wife) and her parents, Mavis and Tony Poole, the founders of Vintage Travel. What surprised me most was how alive my memories were.
The place had changed very little, with none of the high-rise hotels you see on some of the other Spanish Costas.
Picture shown is of Can Pitu, Ullastret, Catalunya.
Even to this day Catalunya remains largely unspoilt. You can still sit on a beautiful sandy beach and gaze up at the hills behind you adorned with pine trees. Catalunya, for me, has something for everyone and it is for this reason that we regularly visit the area for our own family holidays.
I first went to Istria in Croatia five years ago and I was instantly smitten by the warmth of the people, the spectacular landscapes and the remarkable restaurants.
But it was the vivid colours that stood out for me: the conker-red fertile soil, perfect for sustaining the battalions of olive groves and vineyards; the turquoise sea, clean and transparent; the warm, golden hue of the local stone and the lush greenery, with pine woods here, and oak forests there.
Pictured is Casa Amelie, sleeps 10.
Delving deeper, I discovered a land of fascinating, chequered history that has bestowed a rich legacy of varied traditions, architectural and culinary influences. This compels me to return, again and again.
I had no idea how amazing the Algarve was before I went; the beaches are fantastic, miles and miles of golden sand as far as the eye can see!
With all the hours of sunshine, the golf courses and marinas, it's a great destination with something for everyone. The houses we have there are some of the best I've seen - beautiful locations with panoramic views, simply stunning.
At Casa de Baixo (my favourite villa!) the garden is wonderful and the pool is huge.
There's a great poolside games room with table football, pool table, card table and PlayStation -what more could you ask for?
At Santiago de Compostela, the most important place of pilgrimage after St Paul's in Rome, we sat on the square outside the Hotel de Catholica watching the pilgrims shuffle away for a well-earned meal. In the evening they were replaced by wedding parties that arrived and left, one after another in conveyor-belt style.
We entertained ourselves by awarding marks out of ten for the outfits of the "Mother of the Bride". Hilarity ensued and we soon found ourselves invited to a wedding reception - difficult to imagine that happening in Rome.
There are two sides to Galicia. Most people live and work in the cities and along the edge of the Rias, where pretty villages merge into each other. But get into the countryside and the villages and farms disappear into the folds of the hills.
It takes a while to realise just what is so different. You are sitting on the side of a hill gazing at miles of fields and countryside laid out in all directions and you cannot see a single vehicle - not a car or even a tractor. It is amazing.
Of our villas in Galicia, I have a few favourites. I like Casa de Anunciada(pictured above) near the coastal town of Baiona, and I would love to hold a house party at Casa do Remesal - it's built of solid local stone, it has been beautifully restored and staying there you have a whole hillside to yourself.
My favourite part of the Costa de la Luz is Vejer de la Frontera. Precariously perched atop a solitary hilltop, its whitewashed walls and facades dazzle like a beacon.
Drawing from the town's heavy Moorish influences, Casa Juan Bueno is in the town centre amid a network of narrow cobbled streets lined with orange trees.
The town's summit offers views inland and out to sea over El Palmar, a simple beachside village which chaperones the vast, golden sandy beach stretching north and south as far as the eye can see.
Such is the space here that you are never short of a spot to install yourself and enjoy those hours of unbroken sunshine.
Pictured is Casa Leza, Conil de la Frontera, Andalucia, sleeps 8 - 9.
With France being our closest neighbour I wonder why I still get excited at the thought of an impending holiday there, but I do!
As I drive along the quiet, tree-lined open roads, witness the rural way of life and gaze out over vast open spaces, I know why I always return home feeling relaxed and invigorated.
Pictured: La Maison Fleurie, sleeps 4.
In the mornings I love to meander through the local markets, soak up the atmosphere and see the freshest fruit and vegetables displayed like coloured jewels.
With the tastiest and smelliest cheeses, local wines and chocolate covered prunes (a local speciality) offered for tasting, it's my idea of heaven.
Moors, mountain views and marvellous weather sum up the Alpujarras. There's a feeling of stepping back in time as you wander through tiny whitewashed villages where the locals wave hello from their open doors.
It's a great place for walking, as the signposted routes lead through an ever-changing landscape - valley floors lined with avocado and olive trees are irrigated by acequias, ancient Moorish channels still used by farmers today.
This region was the last bastion of the Moors before they were expelled for good from Spain and their ancient kingdom was based around the Alhambra in Granada.
We spent a great day here not only admiring the palaces but the amazing gardens too. The old centre is lined with Arabic coffee shops and colourful bazaars which we found hard to resist!
Pictured: Casa Buganvilla Sleeps 4.
Many years ago I travelled to Galicia in an ancient mini which struggled along the little lanes with frequent stops to wait for sleepy cows that had wandered into the road. Nowadays the roads are vastly improved but in the countryside the sleepy cows are still there, accompanied by their owner who will be delighted to pass the time of day with you.
Everyone wants to talk to you here - Galicia is home to the friendliest people I have ever met. It's got some marvellous beaches too; Playa de Roda on the Cies islands has sand as soft as velvet and must be one of the best in the world!
There are still more beaches to visit though, as well as seafood to sample, Albarino to sip, and tapas to nibble in the little squares of Pontevedra, so I can't wait to go back!
Pictured: Punta Bazar Sleeps 6.
Since I started work at Vintage Travel (way back in 1992) I have lost count of the number of times I have travelled to France - both for business and for pleasure. I must have seen literally hundreds of houses ranging from ancient restored cottages through to historic manor houses and even the odd chateau.
Every once in a while though, a house really sticks in the mind and such is the case with Le Portail: on a trip with two colleagues from the sales office and our France area manager Louisa, we were delighted when the owners of Le Portail invited us to lunch with them.
As we toured the house (taking careful notes), our host explained the history of the property and showed us photographs of the restoration work in progress.
Each room is now individually decorated and has great charm and character. It was really fascinating, however our concentration began to lapse as some wonderful cooking aromas wafted from the kitchen. Work completed, we sat ourselves around the table on the balcony and spent several enjoyable hours eating, drinking and chatting with these hospitable people. As I gazed over the fantastic rural panorama, I had to remind myself that this was a working day for us and we still had a timetable of visits to make. We never did catch up on our schedule but I will remember Le Portail and that lovely afternoon for a long time.
Pictured: Le Portail Sleeps 8.
When it comes to booking my own holiday, as it is usually just my husband and I travelling, I am always on the lookout for a property that is private and in a quiet setting, but is also within walking distance of a restaurant or two.
That way, we avoid the argument of who is driving (and not drinking) when we go out for a meal. After all, one of the great attractions of any trip to France is the opportunity to sample the regional wines. We usually build in a visit to a Chateau or 'Cave Co-operative' and purchase a case or two to bring home as a reminder of our holiday in the sun.
That's why I have picked out Le Bastidon as a favourite. You could easily spend a week there and never venture further than the short walk into the village of Caromb whether it's to shop in the little supermarket, have lunch in one of the local hostelries or simply have an aperitif at the bar in the square.
Le Bastidon itself is the epitome of Provencal charm, decorated in soft pastel colours that reflect the warm southern sunlight. I love its garden too, with a pool that is large enough to really swim (and work off a few calories from last night's dinner!). If you go there, I'd really recommend you try some of the local rose (not just Tavel), any of the Cotes du Rhone reds, and maybe just a bottle of Muscat de Beaumes de Venise - to serve at Christmas with the pudding.
Pictured: Le Bastidon Sleeps 6.
For me, Corfu is perfect for a 'relaxing away from it all' holiday but still with everything I need: lovely blue seas, sandy beaches, villages with local restaurants serving delicious Greek salads and freshly caught fish of the day. On the roadside you see the villagers with their stalls selling local honey and produce, a real traditional way of life.
If I had to choose a house, my particular favourite would be Korision. It has fantastic views over the countryside towards the sand dunes and sea and is only a short drive from amenities.
I can just picture myself sitting on the covered terrace, sipping a cool drink, followed by a dip in the pool or a stroll down to the beach for a swim in the sea. Heaven!
Pictured: Korision Sleeps 6.