Where the Royals Vacation
Royal vacations are the stuff of myth and murmurs. Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, was caught on camera having her toes sucked by her financial advisor in St.-Tropez. In the days before she died, Princess Diana was seen in Sardinia lounging on the yacht of a then little-known billionaire playboy, Dodi Al Fayed. And a fairytale proposal between the future King of England, Prince William, and his college sweetheart, Kate Middleton, took place in a remote wilderness lodge facing Mount Kenya.
Royals might have day jobs like no one else’s, but when they choose to get away from it all, their vacations become iconic—and at times infamous. Titled aristocracy can pick anywhere in the world for their playground, but season after season, you will find them in the same sandboxes.
“I’m very fond of Greece,” says Princess Padmaja Mewar, 31, of Udaipur, India. (The House of Mewar is the world’s oldest dynasty, dating back 77 generations to A.D. 734.)
“With its own beauty, culture, and heritage, I love it. I feel different there than I do anywhere else in the world; it’s probably the only place that I feel I can relax.”
While heads that wear the crown can’t always rest easy, they do take breaks. Travel + Leisure takes you to the regal island retreats and elite wilderness resorts where the nobility pack their tiaras away and let loose.
The summer season sees imperial yachts anchoring off Europe’s majestic ports of call, like Costa Smeralda on the Italian island of Sardinia, where Saudi princes own many of the villas that dot the shore and sloping hills.
In winter, nobles seek the peerless beaches of Mustique, a three-square-mile Caribbean island in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. With only one small hotel, the island—which was “discovered” by Princess Margaret in the 1960s—is an exclusive club for villa rentals, with weekly rates that rival the cost of college tuition.
And for wind-whipped, adrenaline-filled Christmas, the slopes of the Swiss Alps have long provided sovereigns like Prince Charles with excitement and exclusivity. The short days of winter also leave plenty of time for après-ski partying with the well-heeled.
While royal destinations might be grander than our simple ditch-the-desk getaways, the vacations themselves might not be so different after all—filled with relaxation, adventure, and an opportunity to leave the royal pains of everyday life behind. —Sarah Rose
Mustique,St. Vincent and the Grenadines Princess Margaret
This privately owned island hideaway made it to the map because of one resident alone: Princess Margaret, Queen Elizabeth’s sister. The land on which she built her villa was a wedding gift to her and her photographer husband, Antony Charles Robert Armstrong-Jones, a.k.a. Lord Snowdon. With Margaret’s royal presence in the Caribbean, aristocrats and international tastemakers such as Mick Jagger and Tommy Hilfiger followed, and soon the three-square-mile rock became a regal resort. The princess’s very own villa, Les Jolies Eaux, built by theatrical set designer Oliver Messel, is available for rent. (From $18,000 per week, low season; $28,000, high season.) —Sarah Rose
Spetses, Greece Prince Nikolaos of Greece and Denmark
Though Greece has a strong democratic tradition, it is rich with tales of royal travel dating back to Homer. (The very first travel book ever written was in Greek.) Today, the islands of the Aegean and Ionian seas provide an aqua-blue backdrop for any majestic retreat. Spetses, summer home to the deposed Greek royal family, recently hosted the wedding of HRH Prince Nikolaos of Greece and Denmark. A who’s who of European royalty gathered for the festivities at the Poseidonion Grand. (Doubles from $311.) —Sarah Rose
Udaipur, India Maharana Shriji Arvind Singh Mewar
In the princely state of Rajasthan, the city of Udaipur is the jewel in the crown. The opulent city of lakes and hills has been called the Venice of the East and is a favorite exotic destination for those who live royally in the West. Queen Elizabeth, the royal families of Denmark and Spain, and Mick Jagger have all visited recently. The Lake Palace, centered in Lake Pichola and accessible only by boat, is owned by the Maharana, the monarch of Udaipur, but run as a hotel—the very image of imperial indulgence. (Doubles from $825.) —Sarah Rose
Mount Kenya, Kenya Prince William
With no moat to protect a prince, any security-minded monarch might choose to surround himself with man-eating lions, ferocious rhinoceroses, and hungry hippos. When Prince William popped the question to Kate Middleton, they were staying at Rutundu Lodge, on the slopes of Mount Kenya, accessible only by air, horseback, or a seven-mile hike. “I love the warm fires and candle lights,” wrote Kate in the guestbook. “Look forward to next time, soon I hope,” wrote Prince William. (Doubles from $350.) —Sarah Rose
Balmoral, Scotland Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip
This castle in the Scottish Highlands is where Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip spend every August, September, and early October. A countrywoman at heart, the queen loves the outdoor life of picnics, horseback riding, and driving around the 64,000-acre estate in her Ranger Rover (as shown in the film The Queen). It was also here in 1980 that Lady Diana Spencer was first spotted by photographers as Prince Charles’s new girlfriend. When the royal family is not in residence from April through July, the grounds, gardens, and parts of the castle are open to the public; winter tours are available from early October to early December. —Yvonne Yorke
Klosters, The Swiss Alps Prince Charles
On the ski slopes of the Alps is where you’ll find most of Europe’s royals every winter and spring. Prince Charles has been going to Klosters in the Parsenn ski area of Switzerland for 40 years (a cable car to the top of Gotschnagrat Mountain is even named the Prince of Wales), and stays at the five-star Hotel Walserhof. Also, Prince William and Kate Middleton were photographed kissing on the slopes at Klosters in 2008, and in 2009, William treated his future wife to a $60,000 weeklong ski holiday in a private chalet with butlers. (Doubles from $530.) —Yvonne Yorke
Majorca, Spain King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia of Spain
King Juan Carlos of Spain, Queen Sofia, and their family spend their summer holidays at Marivent Palace on the Balearic island of Majorca every year. The queen has been spotted on shopping expeditions in the main town of Palma de Majorca, and while taking her young grandchildren to the water park. The king, a yachting enthusiast, is often seen competing in the regattas in Palma. Michelle and Sasha Obama even had lunch with the Spanish royal family when they paid a visit to Majorca in August 2009. —Yvonne Yorke
Costa Smeralda, Sardinia Saudi Royal Family
This northeastern stretch of coast on the Italian island of Sardinia has been a favorite vacation spot of the rich and famous since Prince Karim Aga Khan IV developed it in 1962. Today, it’s filled with summer villas owned by Saudi princes. (This was also where Princess Diana spent her last summer holiday—forever captured in that iconic photograph of her perched on the diving board of the Al Fayed yacht.) Not staying on a mega-million-dollar yacht? Check into the area’s most exclusive hotel, Cala di Volpe, now part of the Starwood Luxury Collection. (Doubles from $725.) —Yvonne Yorke
St.-Tropez, France King Abdullah and Queen Rania of Jordan
Another popular Mediterranean hot spot for royals and jet-setters is St.-Tropez in the South of France. In fact, many of them sail here on their yachts before or after spending time in Sardinia. King Abdullah and Queen Rania of Jordan love to vacation in this glamorous seaside city; Rania was even seen dining among the palm trees with Naomi Campbell at Le Club 55, an exclusive club on Pampelonne Beach that’s attracted the tan and fabulous since 1955. —Yvonne Yorke
Skagen, Denmark Danish Crown Prince Frederik
Crown Prince Frederik and his family spend their summer vacations in Skagen, Denmark’s northernmost town on the Jutland coast. Visitors are drawn to this tiny fishing port, with a population of just over 8,000, for its picturesque wild landscape of sand dunes, charming local houses painted yellow with red-tiled roofs, and a Nordic light that so enthralled painters that the town became an artists’ colony in the late 19th century. See their works in the Skagen Museum, and stay next door at the historic Brøndums hotel. —Yvonne Yorke