Abercrombie & Kent Villas
Best For: Excursions; local staff; user-friendly website
Five decades of experience as a luxury travel operator gave A&K a healthy head start with its 135-property villa-rental offshoot, which launched in 2009.
What We Love: Rentals can include the on-point services that made A&K famous: customized itineraries; wine tastings; cooking classes.
Standout: C’Awanui, a four-bedroom villa in Majorca whose 32-foot swimming pool has views of cypress tree–lined hilltops ($8,265 a week). 800/652-8413; akvillas.com.
Best For: Great values; flexible minimum stays; special events
While the Sonoma-based agency is known for its far-flung properties, its current agenda is to offer more value-oriented options.
What We Love: The events: Ferrari race-car driving, costume balls in French châteaux, even a party where guests create their own barrels of Bordeaux wine (later shipped back to the States).
Standout: A restored six-bedroom stone farmhouse just 40 minutes’ drive from the Tuscan wine capital, Montepulciano ($11,132 a week). 800/495-9961; beautiful-places.com.
Carpe Diem Luxury Travel
Best For: Local connections; over-the-top services
The 25 properties Maria Gratsos represents all belong to people in her social network. After a telephone interview, you’ll receive password-protected links to suitable properties’ websites.
What We Love: Those looking for privacy and discretion will find it here.
Standout: A hilltop palazzo in Umbria with 10 bedrooms whose staff will organize hunts for truffles or even wild boar ($47,872 a week). 44-20/7402-5330; carpediemtravel.co.uk.
Dream & Charme
Best For: Travel services
A list of 500 properties includes pricier Dream or less expensive Charme properties in France, Greece, Italy, Spain, and Switzerland.
What We Love: The Milan-based company is also a travel agency, offering one-stop shopping for airfare and car rentals.
Standout: Dream’s fully staffed six-bedroom ski chalet near St. Moritz, with chauffeur service to the slopes and an in-house spa ($94,212 a week). 39-02/8050-3457; dreamcharme.com.
Best For: Exclusives; great values
The company’s 700 properties are especially strong across Italy and France, with a growing presence in Spain.
What We Love: LaCure’s zealously guarded private portfolio is not just for over-the-top properties; owners of reasonable mid-range rentals also prefer to keep their places out of the public eye.
Standout: The private portfolio includes a former hunting lodge with six bedrooms in Tuscany that was once owned by the Medici family ($48,772 a week). 800/387-2726; lacurevillas.com.
Luxury Lifestyle Management
Best For: Great values
Even if your budget is inflexible, owner Maria Salazar will likely find the best possible option for your dollar among her 2,000 listings. Her favorite values right now: the Azores and Madeira.
What We Love: Salazar deftly steers clients away from “outrageous” high-season prices in favor of secret shoulder-season deals. She also offers frank advice about the true costs of the trip.
Standout: Casa Alta de Cerro in Algarve, Portugal, a hilltop property with five bedrooms and views of the Atlantic ($11,845 a week). 866/293-9061; dreamexoticrentals.com.
Best For: Exclusives; local staff
The agency aims to represent only the two or three finest villas in its destinations (currently 140 properties in 70 countries), handpicking them for privacy, style, and individuality.
What We Love: All properties are fully staffed and include a local guide and concierge services.
Standout: The five-bedroom Tyringham Hall estate, in Buckinghamshire, set on formal gardens ($55,486 a week). 44-20/7723-5599; privateworldvillas.com.
Unique Properties & Events
Best For: Special excursions; exclusives
Each of the 80 properties—in France, Greece, Italy, Spain, and Switzerland—includes private concierge service and a local host.
What We Love: The company is equally known for the “events” portion of its name (a tasting of rare wines in Tuscany; access to private yachts during the St.-Tropez regatta).
Standout: A five-room travertine palazzo in Cortona surrounded by ancient olive trees ($36,231 a week).
What’s Next: This year, the group will introduce a small selection of villas in Corsica. 44-20/7788-7815; cedricreversade.com.
* A note on pricing: Weekly rate listings are for high season; prices often drop dramatically in low season.
The Best in Italy
Best For: Exclusives; local connections
Many of the 80 gems offered by Florence-based Countess Simonetta Brandolini d’Adda are owned by her friends. She has visited all the properties and regularly spends the night.
What We Love: Want to taste wine with the owners of Antinori or Frescobaldi, or meet the jockeys behind the scenes at the Palio in Siena? The countess can make it happen.
Standout: A 16th-century manor with five bedrooms built by the bishop of Fiesole ($20,000 a week). 39-055/233-064; thebestinitaly.com.
Best For: Exclusives; regional expertise; special excursions
The group’s 80 listings are pure fantasy, and Think Sicily’s strict standards ensure every villa is up to snuff.
What We Love: Unique outings, such as helicopter flights over Mount Etna, wine-tasting trips, and in-villa spa treatments.
Standout: Don Arcangelo all’Olmo, a 12-bedroom manor in the countryside between the sea and Mount Etna ($50,850 a week).
What’s Next: January saw the launch of Think Puglia, from the same company, with a handful of properties on the fashionable Salento Peninsula. 44-20/7377-8518; thinksicily.com.
Best For: Local staff; regional expertise
Aqua Living specializes in Mykonos and has its headquarters there, which means you’ll get unparalleled access to the island-based staff. The 80 listings also cover Rhodes, Santorini, and Tinos.
What We Love: The company’s own catering service, Aquafusion (mykonoschefs.com), ensures a stellar roster of private chefs for its villas.
Standout: The five-bedroom, Cycladic-style Magic Garden, in Mykonos, whose entire second floor is dedicated to the master bedroom and its terrace ($18,900 a week).
What’s Next: Villas in Mykonos’s sister islands of Antiparos and Paros. 44-207/060-6244; mykonosvillas.com.
White Key Villas
Best For: Superb locations; local staff
The Athens-based owners focus only on properties they believe are in prime destinations, from the golden beaches of Halkidiki to cosmopolitan Santorini. All 81 properties are beachfront or have sea views.
What We Love: A concierge is always available, and on-site requests are encouraged (a fully stocked fridge, personal-training sessions, private security detail—you name it).
Standout: Villa Jade, a minimalist villa with five bedrooms on its own small bay in Kardamili ($23,100 a week). 30-210/721-5530; whitekeyvillas.com.
Best For: Great values; local staff Each of the 125 properties comes with a host who will greet you and help tailor an itinerary as relaxed or intricate as you’d like. The company also has properties in Croatia, Italy, Scotland, and Spain.
What We Love: Booking promotions, such as a recent offer for $500 toward a chef’s services in an ivy-covered château in the Dordogne.
Standout: Le Grenier, a 19th-century estate with six bedrooms in Fontainebleau whose 45-foot-tall granary is now a living room ($11,700 a week). 800/374-6637; hostedvillas.com.
Ville et Village
Best For: Local connections
Carolyn Grote has a sleuth’s knowledge of both the 250 properties she offers and the towns they’re in (how long it takes to walk into town; how good the market is). Listings include Italy, Portugal, and Spain.
What We Love: Ville et Village is straight with clients, warning when authenticity means no window screens, no microwave, or a garden gone wild.
Great Value Standout: A restored three-bedroom farmhouse in the Vaucluse with its own lavender field and views of Mount Ventoux ($3,938 a week). 510/559-8080; villeetvillage.com.
Suzanne B. Cohen & Associates
Best For: Attentive service
Suzanne Cohen thoroughly interviews all of her potential clients before steering them to her wealth of 395 cottages and manor houses.
What We Love: Every property is managed by the same exacting firm, so you can expect consistency.
Great Value Standout Property: The Gates, a three-bedroom, stone-walled house in the village of Castle Combe, near the Cotswolds ($2,560 a week). 207/622-0743; villaeurope.com.
Best For: Great values; user-friendly website
This Madrid-based company’s 80 villas and 200 apartments are located all over the country, from Catalonia to the Balearics.
What We Love: Searching online is easy with the aid of categories (Luxury, Unique Charm, Great Deals).
Standout: An eight-bedroom house on the Cap de Creus peninsula (near the Costa Brava); it’s a short ride from El Bulli and has views of Salvador Dalí’s house ($22,580 a week). 34/91-523-7451; spain-select.com.
Best For: Great values; flexible minimum stays; emerging destinations
This eight-year-old company’s 350 villas represent the lion’s share of the growing market in Croatia; it also has listings in Bosnia, Montenegro, and Slovenia.
What We Love: The London staff can arrange local transportation and guides.
Great Value Standout: A one-bedroom apartment in Korčula’s Old Town that has an ancient Roman column uncovered during a recent renovation ($780 a week). 44-20/8888-6655; croatianvillas.com.