On The Road
The Ultimate Places To Throw A House Party
Palazzo, villa or farmhouse… whatever your style, here are eight perfect locations to throw the best winter bacchanal
Hinwick House, Hinwick, Bedfordshire. Photograph courtesy of Mulberry Cottages
At MR PORTER we like a party. They are good for the soul. And now the dark months of autumn and winter are upon us, we have an extra opportunity, because a proper party needs a proper venue and a committed roster of guests. It’s not so easy to plan during the summer months when everyone is in Mykonos or Malibu or at some dull-as-dishwater family picnic. But now that the clocks are going back and everyone is settling in for the colder months, it is the perfect time to throw a weekend party at a chateau, country house or remote retreat. To help ensure yours is the event of the year, we have rounded up the best holiday houses for a very refined (or a very raucous) party.
Resarö Villa, Resarö Island, Sweden
Resarö Villa. Photograph by Mr Rickard Behm, courtesy of Grand Trip Sweden
Four bedrooms, four bathrooms, sea views, a sauna and an open log-burning fire – what’s not to like about this villa 40 minutes outside Stockholm? We’re considering moving in, but failing that, it makes a spectacular backdrop to a party. Not only is its position on Resarö Island what estate agents call “enviable”, and its reception vast and seven metres high, it also has a heated swimming pool which you can plunge into and not risk hypothermia, something of a boon in this part of the world. We recommend settling down into the Scandi-chic living room, leaving the TV unplugged and watching the sun make its stately progress down into water as cocktail hour begins. If the next day your head will allow, you can rent bikes or kayaks to explore the surrounding area – after all, no pain, no gain.
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Durslade Farmhouse, Somerset, UK
Everything Is Going To Be Alright, 2011 by Mr Martin Creed at Durslade Farmhouse. Photograph by Mr Aaron Schuman. Courtesy Mr Martin Creed and Hauser & Wirth. © Mr Martin Creed
Tootling down the drive at Durslade Farm in Bruton, Somerset, you might imagine you are arriving at a particularly well-tended farm. There is the cluster of barns, the endless rolling acres and the resplendent 18th-century farmhouse. So far, so farmy. And then you turn a corner and come across artist Mr Subodh Gupta’s five-metre high stainless-steel bucket, a witty nod to the building’s previous incarnation as a dairy farm, and first of many clues that all is not as it seems. In fact, Durslade Farmhouse is part of Hauser & Wirth Somerset, the latest of Mr Iwan and Ms Manuela Wirth’s galleries (they also have outposts in London, Zurich and New York). It includes five areas for showing art and the well-reviewed Roth Bar & Grill – which works with local farmers to create a seasonal and sustainable menu which is largely cooked on a wood-fired grill; try the salt-aged Hereford beef or the homemade charcuterie then perhaps write it a poem. The house itself is a six-bedroom 18th-century farmhouse complete with arched stone mullions, Lloyd Loom chairs and works by H & W artists on every wall. A Zhang Enli hangs on the stairs, the dining room features a giant mural by Mr Guillermo Kuitca and there is a Ms Pipilotti Rist installation in the sitting room. It is like living in a gallery – only fun and with Smeg appliances. There’s even a room full of slippers and wellies for trundling around the pretty garden landscaped by designer Mr Piet Oudolf. If your plans are more sophisticated than wild, this is your place.
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Villa Cetinale, Siena, Italy
Villa Cetinale Gardens. Photograph courtesy of Villa Cetinale, Siena
Villa Cetinale dates back to 1680 and has seldom seen a dull moment. Created by a cardinal with a taste for the ribald, Cetinale or “holy wood”, was the perfect place for lascivious parties and hunting, not least because it is surrounded by a three-mile wall. It may have been this that attracted the late Lord Lambton, a government minister who left England under a cloud in the 1970s after an incident with a lady of the night and a cannabis joint. Today it is owned by his son, Ned, a country singer, who has lavished time, money and the profits of his keen eye on turning it into one of the finest houses in Italy – and now it’s available to rent. There are 13 bedrooms, including three large suites, and a floor of reception rooms stuffed with first editions, bas reliefs of Grand Duke Cosimo III de’ Medici’s, and other family heirlooms. Included in the price are the services of the butler, maids, housekeepers and cook, who is known for the excellence of his peach cake. The cardinal, you feel, would approve of a wild 40th here. It’s seen worse.
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The Walled Garden, Wilderness Reserve, Suffolk, UK
The Walled Garden. Photograph by Mr Will Pryce, courtesy of the Wilderness Reserve
There is much to like about the Wilderness Reserve. The 5,000 acres of prime Suffolk countryside plays host to an ornamental lake and sits next to the village of Yoxford, which seems to have emerged from the pages of an Austen novel with its two pubs and Norman church. But the greatest attraction of the estate is The Walled Garden, the latest property to open to paying punters on the estate (there are 11 others, of varying sizes). Built from, you guessed it, the remains of the walled garden, that once victualed the “big house” on the Sibton Park estate, it has a pleasing mix of the old and new. There are eight substantial double bedrooms, of which all, save two, have roll-top baths, along with an enormous kitchen that’s perfect for dancing the night away in, as well as a lounge and dining room. It is both cosy and grand. And, thanks to the free welcome hamper and option of a private chef or Waitrose delivery sent in advance, very comfortable.
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Marchesa Grand Canal, Venice, Italy
Grand Salon at Marchesa Grand Canal, Venice. Photograph courtesy of Venice Prestige
If you are going to throw an elegant masquerade party, make sure it is in an elegant location. That is the first and perhaps only rule of party-throwing. Everything else is, frankly, negotiable. What better place to host a gathering then, than in a six-bedroom palazzo on the Grand Canal in Venice. The Palazzo Marchesa is the real deal in all senses. It has the frescos and terraces and water gates that you want when you rent a two-floor canal-side palazzo that once hosted Mr Richard Wagner (you, too, can rest your bum on the sofas that accommodated his posterior). Although Venice does not lack for decent places to eat, we recommended availing yourself of the private chef offered by Venice Prestige, the rental company, and hosting a dinner (for up to 24) in the double-height piano nobile, which spans the entire length of the building. If you want to be a doge for a weekend, there is no better place to do it.
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Château de Varennes, Bourgogne, France
Château de Varennes. Photograph by Mr Alban Pichon, courtesy of Château de Varennes
Oh, Château de Varennes, let us count the ways we love you. With your stately, Gallic frontage, aquamarine pool set like a studded sapphire in the formal gardens and endless surrounding acres, it is no wonder CNN declared you one of the finest wedding venues on Earth. But this is not only a well-appointed location for nuptials – the Varennes family’s 400-year-old summer home will contain any party you care to decant into it. There are in total 17 bedrooms and 14 bathrooms, with some rooms practically the size of Belgium and others more suited to children, all looking out onto the rolling Bourgogne countryside, which is something of a balm when you have over-indulged the night before. In outer space they may not be able to hear you scream, but at Varennes they cannot hear you singing karaoke at 3.00am. Alongside the well-equipped kitchen and the endless comforts of the interior, there is also a separate orangery which can host some 240 guests, if you have a hundred or two friends in the area.
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Hinwick House, Bedfordshire, UK
Games Room at Hinwick House. Photograph courtesy of Mulberry Cottages
Hinwick House was built in 1710 by an upwardly mobile squire who fancied living somewhere that looked like Buckingham Palace (or, as it was known before it got its current frontage, Buckingham House). And today it maintains a diverting regality. You could spend an entire weekend exploring every nook of this beautiful Queen Anne property and its attendant stables and cottages, though that isn’t the extent of the activities on offer. The 38 acres of grounds have a croquet lawn, tennis court, deer enclosure, walled garden and two ornamental lakes. And if the weather is a little inclement, then you can repair, as aristocrats are wont to do, to the Great Hall and its snooker table, dressing up box and honesty bar, which has surprisingly cheap wine and spirits. If you prefer to entertain in a more formal style, there is a 16-seat dining room which is covered in red silk and a large drawing room for afterwards. The main house sleeps 28 and the two estate cottages sleep a further eight, so you can throw your own royal garden party if you like.
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Pump Station, Dungeness, UK
Pump Station, Dungeness, Kent. Photograph courtesy of Mulberry Cottages
One of the great pleasures of going away with your friends for a weekend is that it allows you to ignore everyone else. You can retreat into the warm bosoms of friendship, safe in the knowledge that they will not raise their eyebrows if you drink two bottles of Pouilly Fumé at lunch and jump, sans clothes, into the sea at sunset. On all those scores, the Pump Station rates highly, being quite beautifully marooned on the Kent coast at Dungeness, no neighbours in sight. Built as an oil-pumping station during WWII, it has been given a vogueish makeover, with lots of muted colours and Scandi furniture. What it lacks in soft furnishings, it makes up for in both chic and position – the views are extraordinary and the windows are many, and there is no one to hear your Italo disco next door. Pets are welcome and the place can sleep 10 at a push. Sit down in the large, open-plan dining room, and let an on-call chef take care of lunch, and, if the mood takes you, you can indulge in some post-prandial yoga, clay pigeon shooting, or adventure sports. Though, for our money, a long walk along the shingle beach is just as good. Especially after Pouilly Fumé.
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