Shana Ting Lipton reports from the sun-drenched terrace of a new online platform offering select luxury villas from Corfu to the Côte d’Azur…
It’s morning on the north-east coast of Corfu. Across the water from this section of the stunning Greek island, in the East, Albania’s Western coastline – with its constellation of oceanside buildings – looms in the distance. Thus begins another perfect day, with the sound of undulating waves setting the decidedly low-key tempo, and a mist of ocean spray infusing the air. The surrounding landscape is dotted by olive and cypress trees.
This part of the island – given the splashy moniker “Kensington-on-Sea” by many a clever-clever media outlet – accordingly draws, in large part, visitors and seasonal residents from the affluent London neighbourhood. Elsewhere on the isle, other geographical locales are well represented, with Agni reputed to be “an Italian pocket” and Germans apparently flocking primarily to north Corfu.
Here in the north east, at the Villa Yeraki – a luxurious property accommodating up to 12 guests – visitors can dive into the temperate Ionian Sea from one of two private jetties, and engage with the clear royal blue waters via paddle board, windsurfing board or yacht. Other villa patrons may partake of local eats such as fresh hummus – expertly prepared by the Yeraki’s in-house chef Joanne – whilst seated on one of a trio of dining terraces, or infinity poolside.
It’s easy to see how this upscale home on this magical island may have been something of a muse for London estate-agent-turned-independent-businessman Nick Cookson, for his new online business venture The Villa Collective. While the Yeraki is available as a holiday rental for anywhere from about £5,000 to £26,000 per week, depending on the season, its family roots give it an elegant home-away-from-home sensibility.
Cookson’s father Richard purchased the sought-after property – one of the few in the area to be found directly on the beachfront – in 1982, just a year after Greece joined the European Union. This followed on the heels of what some locals have viewed as an influx of overseas visitors and settlers hitting the shores of Corfu. Passed on to Cookson and his brothers by his family in 2013, the villa has most recently operated under the 32-year-old London entrepreneur’s management.
Focusing on the popularity of holiday property rental sites like HomeAway and the United States company’s acquired United Kingdom counterpart Owners Direct, Cookson saw a gap in the (luxury) market. So he got to work launching The Villa Collective – a site which caters to upmarket villa owners around select parts of Europe, taking direct bookings from renters. “The majority of villa [owners]want direct bookings,” says Cookson, adding, “I’m progressing towards the long-term goal of being a marketplace for luxury villas.”
Unlike a traditional rental agency, whose core business model is commonly a 20 percent commission rate, The Villa Collective only charges a flat subscription fee of £650 + VAT – a savings for villa owners. And from visitors’ standpoints, the offering is a bit more hand-picked (Cookson has thus far, in the early days, been relying on recommendations). A prerequisite for inclusion on the site is that the villa must have caretakers or at the very least a locally based house manager.
Describing the platform as a sort of ‘Owners Direct for the luxury market’, Cookson has begun by populating his discriminating and smart site with holiday property listings from popular destinations in Spain – such as Ibiza and Mallorca – among others. On the latter island, Virgin Limited Edition – from Richard Branson’s collection of luxury retreats — has a couple of homes showcased on The Villa Collective, which come complete with cook and maid services, tennis courts, swimming pools and sea views. The online rental portal also features villas from Tuscany and the South of France (including of course the Côte d’Azur), as well as Marrakech. Its Grecian network – in particular the Ionian Islands, including Paxos and Zakinthos – is robust as Cookson naturally has strong direct ties to the islands’ markets.
One such link has resulted in the site’s rental offering of the Villa Velanidi – a unique concept property corner-stoned in 2016, which overlooks the fishing village of Kassiopi. Fashioned by its owners, local architect/designer duo Alithea Johns and her husband Marcus Warren of architecture and landscape company Skopos Design, the villa is one of only two homes in Greece to be branded ‘passive’. This term refers to an elevated standard of energy efficiency which produces comfortable indoor temperatures year-round.
Featuring solar panels, a chic narrow 20 meter black bottom pool and a treehouse-in-the-making, the sleek and airtight two-floor designer home even includes a chicken coop – where guests can gather their own eggs for breakfast. Johns and Warren started work on the family home two years ago, building it entirely from scratch.
The property – with its pristine and minimalist floor-to-ceiling glass walk-in showers and other design details such as an antique cistern – seems like a Wallpaper magazine spread come to life, but Warren is quick to underscore: “Corfu appeals to so many different people”. His wife chimes in: “The clients really change – you get ramblers and families, and older people”. With regards to the latter, Warren explains that they also offer double-to-single-bed conversions for senior couples who perhaps prefer to sleep close together but separately.
The stylish pair – who first met in London in 2000 and now live on the island with their two young daughters – rent their bespoke home out during the high season. During rental periods they stay up the hill at a family holiday home which Johns’ parents bought in 1970. This period, according to the designer/architects saw a “major movement of people” coming to the Greek islands. “People who came on holiday to Corfu as kids are returning with their kids for holidays,” she notes. “Corfu – especially this part of the island – has tourism, a lot of people investing,” adds Warren.
Johns and Warren – who manage the Velanidi and rent it out with a maid and potential add-on chef services – relish the freedom of having their property listed on The Villa Collective. As such, they have high hopes for finding suitable renters via the site – which will also offer the possibility for owners and guests to write reviews of each other. “People like to be in control — to manage their own property,” concludes Johns, “And that’s what Villa Collective is [offering]”.
For more information about the Villa Collective and its properties, visit www.villacollective.com.