Exclusive Resorts Making a Comeback in 2011

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When it comes to considering exclusive resorts, the "come-on-down!" numbers are speaking. Luxury home sales have jumped more than 20 percent in some parts of the country. The Standard & Poor's 500 index is up 96% from its 12-year lows of 2009. And travel agents who sell to the most finicky and high-end clients are now seeing less concern about price and much more interest in destination, enrichment experiences and luxury.

If exclusive resort interest is on the upswing, it remains far from a one-fits-all model for satisfaction. Exclusive resorts can range from a rustic and remote ecolodge on Kangaroo Island in Australia to an enchanting elephant sanctuary in the jungles of Thailand to a private suite on the Pacific Ocean along a spread in Mexico. They can be decked-out private huts for two on a nowhere island in Fiji where every need and concern is handled by doting wait staff. And they can be bohemian sojourns into the landscapes and lifestyles of Santa Fe complemented and executed by trained staff at an exquisite address.

Results of a survey just released by Virtuoso, an association of 6,000 travel consultants focused on the luxury sector, sees 2011 as a change year in which the top reasons for travel are pegged as: seeking authentic experiences in new destinations, and secondly, rest and relaxation. More than half those polled see once-in-a lifetime experiences as a key reason people are traveling, and most of those who are traveling for pleasure are taking trips of eight days or more to international destinations – most of those to Italy and France, or Hawaii for domestic travel. And what are these upscale travelers doing? Unique, hands-on experiences that inspire a personal connection and build lasting memories, say the agents: cooking classes; staying in African villages; visiting locals in schools in remote places.

Villa rentals are making a hit with families who like to travel as an ensemble and private jets are all the rage for large family groups. And for the active set, 2011 will be about adventure activities in multiple destinations during the trip, such as zip-lining, hiking and bone fishing, say the agents. Finding exclusive resorts that center around these interests is as easy as, well, finding the right outfit to wear to a White House dinner. It's going to cost bucks; you will definitely need some help in the selection process; and if it's not right it could end up all wrong.

One place to check for exclusive resort stays in palatial spreads that wow as much as the location they are in is a new company called Beautiful Places. The company manages villas in California, Florida, Massachusetts, New York, Bahamas, France, Italy and Mexico. These will not be your classic high-rise suites overlooking a crowded beach. Rather, each villa is a private house, usually with pool, terrace, fireplace, assorted bedrooms, hot tub ... whatever must-have amenities are on your list. They will sleep two or ten, come with a butler and cook if desired, and always feature a concierge service to see to a smooth flow.

Want a culinary adventure? Try a house in the Tuscany. Colussi House is an old stone manor in the Italian countryside that serves as an exclusive resort for hubbing between explorations of area wine cellars, sampling antique olive oil presses, visiting artisanal bread shops and engaging in cooking classes set up by the concierge.

If Italy is too far, there are villas in Sonoma big enough to accommodate your family and a dozen of their closest friends. Wine and culinary tours are a specialty, although it all comes with a hefty price tag.

Consider this package: A private Michelin-starred chef who cooks all meals for you and 16-18 of your guests –: including daily breakfasts, three-course lunches, and four course dinners paired with wine. The spot is a massive villa complex on the beach in Punta Mita, Mexico. The package includes roundtrip airport transportation, access to the Four Seasons Resort and Jack Nicklaus golf course nearby and a personal car and driver for local excursions. The price? From $13,500 per night (plus 18% tax), three nights minimum. Exclusive enough?

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