Whether they're villas, castles, châteaux, or schlosses, most hotels have yet to firm up their festivities (not to mention prices). But you can bet you'll get the royal treatment.
Hotel Schloss Fuschl takes the torte when it comes to New Year's Eve. In 1996, "An Emperor's Evening" was devoted to Austria's 1,000th birthday; the theme for 1997 was "1001 Nights." Ideas are still percolating for the big bash, but you can count on a nine-course dinner, palm readers, waltzing in the ballroom, and fireworks set off a little after midnight (to allow the more personal sparks to come first). 43-622/ 922-530, fax 43-622/9225-3531.
Hole up in grandeur at Hartwell House, once Louis XVIII's residence-in-exile in Buckinghamshire. The 47-room hotel has a standing tradition of a house party to ring in the New Year. A champagne reception segues to a gala feast, followed by dancing. Recover with a spell in the spa. 44-1296/747-444, fax 44- 1296/747-450. Or spend New Year's Eve on the edge of New Forest, at Chewton Glen Hotel in Hampshire. Bring diamonds; the conservatory restaurant of the Georgian manor house picks up sparkles. But double-check your clasp; who knows who will end up in the pool?44-1425/275-341, fax 44-1425/272-310. Pack your finest for Cliveden, because it will be unpacked for you. Service at this 38-room estate in Buckinghamshire comes in the form of indulgence, from the uncorking of champagne on New Year's Eve to the placing of a footstool by the fire on New Year's Day. 44-1628/668-561, fax 44-1628/668-137.
The aim of Château de Bagnols is to be the world's quietest place. Crystal and silver will clink discreetly during a 10-course feast; the fire will gently hiss in the Gothic hearth of the Salle des Gardes. Before retiring to 20 of the most splendid bedrooms in France, guests will watch fireworks. If anyone can make explosives whisper, the Château de Bagnols can. 33-474/ 71-40-00, fax 33-474/71-40-49, doubles $530. What to expect at Les Fermes de Marie, in Megève, in the French Alps: the glow of firelight, the hum of music, even children (yes, New Year's Eve can be a family affair). Typically, the dinner menu is as refined as the setting is rustic, and dancing carries on until sunup. The hotel's 10th anniversary coincides with the millennium, so the party is sure to be the best ever. 33-4/50-93-03-10, fax 33-4/50-93-09-84; doubles $400, including meals.
Resolution No. 39: Take up polo. Hie thee to Humewood Castle, where owner Renata Coleman has installed ponies and much-needed additional plumbing. Each of the 12 bedrooms in the granite mansion has a private bath and sophisticated touches, such as a chinoiserie wardrobe. Potential millennium plans: a masked ball, a medieval night, or an evening with Irish literary figures. Take the whole castle and the choice is yours. 353-508/73215, fax 353-508/73382; doubles $380.
La Posta Vecchia, John Paul Getty's former palazzo on the sea near Rome, will savor the turn of the millennium for seven days, with a moonlit monument tour, a private visit to the Sistine Chapel, sessions with antiquities and wine experts, a white-tie truffle dinner, and dances every evening. A silent auction on April 30, 1998, will determine who gets to go. Opening bids start at $25,000 a day for the entire nine-room, eight-suite property. 39-6/994-9501, fax 39-6/994-9507.
Raise a flute to the ghost of Andrew Carnegie, one Scot with whom Americans feel a particular kinship, at Skibo Castle, his home turned club north of Inverness. Here, the Main Hall is greater, the flowers more glorious (thanks to the Gulf Stream), the roofline more loaded with dormers, turrets, and crenellated towers than nearly any other Highland estate. After all the millennium hoopla, luxuriate in the quiet of the only private Carnegie library in the world. Potential club members have an initial three-day visit in which to yea or nay paying the dues; why not make yours the final days of the century?44-1862/894-600, fax 44-1862/894-601. At 235-room Gleneagles, what you lose in intimacy you gain in revelry. Hogmanay (the traditional Scottish celebration of New Year's) here reaches fever pitch; a three-night house party comes with the usual piping and feast and the less-expected fortune-telling and Scottish dance classes. Weather permitting, try your new 21st-century luck on one of three golf courses. 44-1764/662-231, fax 44-1764/662-134; doubles $544. Howl as loud and long as you want New Year's Eve at Kinnaird; all you'll disturb is a handful of guests and a covey of grouse. The Edwardian manor house has only eight bedrooms and one suite but nearly 1,000 acres (on the River Tay) per guestroom. 44-1796/482-440, fax 44-1796/482-289; doubles $430 $455.
Stars will be sparkling in the winter sky above La Residencia and most likely in El Olivo, the main restaurant for the 17th-century manor house turned 65-room hotel on Mallorca. Michael Douglas has a house nearby, the king of Spain has been known to drop in, and anyone from British royalty to pop stars could arrive on the arm of Richard Branson, the hotel's newest owner. 34-971/639-011, fax 34-971/ 639-370; doubles $232. Palacio de la Rambla is a magnificent noble house in a notable Renaissance town, Ubeda, in a corner of historical Andalusia. Plan a celebration fit for a king--Alfonso XIII once spent the night here--with a surplus of attention from those who know the ropes. The owners are descendants of the titled family that built the palace--now a seven-room, one-suite hotel--in the 16th century. 34-953/750-196, fax 34-953/750-267; doubles $96.
The combination of Swiss scenery and Italian cuisine is hard to beat. Villa Principe Leopoldo, a turn-of-the-century villa overlooking Lake Lugano where Prince Leopold von Hohenzollern used to hang his crown, has both in spades, plus excellent French champagne. Each of the 37 rooms has a balcony from which to survey Paradiso, a suburb of Lugano--and beyond. With an Alpine vista, who needs fireworks?41-91/985-8855, fax 41-91/985-8825; doubles $343-$479.
If you don't want other guests to cramp your style, rent your own villa or estate. These agencies have access to Europe's finest (some so special they're not even listed in the catalogues) and can arrange sky's-the-limit festivities. BEST IN ITALY 39-55/223-064, fax 39-55/229-8912.
ELEGANT IRELAND 353-1/475-1632, fax 353-1/475-1012.
HAMILTON FITZJAMES (France and Italy) 800/801-6147, fax 33-3/80-22-04-67.
HOMES AWAY (France and Italy) 609/921-1416, fax 609/
IN THE ENGLISH MANNER 800/422-0799, fax 213/629-4759.
LA CURE (Western Europe, Greece) 888/452-2873, fax 416/968-2204.0
SCOTTS CASTLE HOLIDAYS (Scotland) 44-131/446-9717, fax 44-131/446-9718.