Renting a holiday home with friends: dream villa or friendship killer?

Renting a holiday home with friends may sound like the perfect escape, but beware – it could be a short-cut to a miserable getaway, says Simon Mills

Did you ever see A Bigger Splash? It’s a holiday (disaster) movie set on the tiny Italian island of Pantelleria, where reclusive rock star Marianne (played by Tilda Swinton) and her boyfriend have rented a beautiful house to enjoy a quiet and relaxing break. Just the two of them.

Then Ralph Fiennes’s character Harry turns up and everything goes wrong. He swims naked in the pool, gets sloshed all the time, flirts, makes a scene in the supermarket, shows off at the village dance, talks loudly and obnoxiously at the local restaurants and plays Rolling Stones records too loud on the villa hi-fi, strutting around the kitchen like a goon.

Ralph Fiennes and Tilda Swinton show the perils of villa sharing in A Bigger Splash. Shutterstock

To make matters worse, he starts inviting friends round as if it were his own home and hogging the schedule by insisting on endless sightseeing jaunts. Oh, and Harry’s precocious and smouldering daughter (Dakota Johnson) sleeps with Marianne’s boyfriend… who then (spoiler alert!) drowns Harry in the pool. You did see it? Well, a couple of summers back, my girlfriend and I rented that very same Pantelleria house.

Just the two of us, like Marianne and her BF had. And it was total bliss. Only with no Harry-style house guests to worry about, no pool murder to interrupt our cooking, lying around, lying in, swimming, sunbathing, reading and taking our little Citroën rental car on trips around Pantelleria’s volcanic wonders and magical coves.

Vacations like this, we decided during that heavenly week, were much too good to share with a group of Harrys. Our days of villa cohabitation were well and truly done. Holiday hell, we agreed, is other people.

My ex-wife and I (with our teenage kids) once stayed at a villa in Majorca with two other couples, waking one night to a huge row. The villa host’s husband, thinking that his wife had gone to bed, had started snogging another man’s wife (he was also asleep) in the pool and had been rumbled by one of his wandering, insomniac kids, who quickly informed her mum. All this at around 2am. Chaos ensued; screaming, doors slamming, the sound of hire car engines revving, bags being packed and wheely-suitcases hastily dragged across gravel. By the morning there were only three grown-ups left.

Back home, divorce papers were issued soon after but the incident also proved to be something of a villa chiller in the Balearics. While the temperature hit the high 30s in the resort, things remained remarkably cool around our pool.

Throwing together a cast of characters for a short, hot but intense period of time creates a micro-community where expectations and emotions run high. You commit not just to a holiday but also to taking on the mostly unwanted roles of tour guide, personal shopper, maître d’, matchmaker, caterer, nurse, ringmaster, Redcoat and concierge. Is anyone grateful? No. Non. Ochi.

The good news about villa sharing is that you can split the costs – that’s the theory, anyway. The reality can be somewhat different. We once shared a villa with a City boy guest who decided to play house banker for the fortnight, making a big show of collecting the divvied-up cash when the dinner check for 15 arrived and doing the villa accounts when we hired a boat one day. It soon became clear that he was creaming 100 euros from each transaction. We all knew. And he knew that we knew. It was most embarrassing. Of course, being British, the rest of us said nothing but there was a tacit agreement that the fun we had gossiping about him around the pool was well worth the money we’d lost.

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You may think, meanwhile, that being invited as a villa guest (villa filler, if you will) rather than being the host is the way to avoid these woes. Not so. Take the example of my friends who were invited to a five-day break at a beautiful house in Mustique. All they had to do was get themselves there (London to St Lucia or Barbados then a twin-propeller transfer). Accommodation would be provided gratis, lunches cooked by capable house staff and they would be ferried around the island in the owners’ spare, air-conned 4×4. How could they resist a freebie holiday on the Caribbean island jewel made famous by Mick Jagger and Princess Margaret?

The trouble started when my friends were informed that they would have to tip the staff. Not only that but the host, it transpired, had already taken the liberty of doing this on their behalf. They were asked to transfer a thousand quid into the wife’s account before arrival. Or better still, bring cash.

Then there was the hosts’ impromptu kids’ birthday party on the beach – a privately catered barbecue – burgers and ribs for 15 people (all previously unknown to my pals). My friends thought it would be a nice gesture, an obligation really, if they offered to pay. This cost them another £1,500. On departure, the hosts insisted that my friends muled a couple of heavy bags (their excess luggage as it happened) back to London because the family’s battalion of suitcases wouldn’t fit on the private plane. This ended up costing my pals – not rich people by any means – another £400 in charges. Total cost of holiday, with the very expensive flights? Around nine grand. And it rained most of the time. And they never got to meet Mick. You just don’t get any of this kind of drama à deux. We can eat what we like, when we like, have full access to all four seats in the car and walk around naked sometimes.

As a couple we can dive into restaurants as walk-ins rather than calling ahead every night asking for a table for 12 or 15 and being told that the only slots they have are 6.30 or 10.30pm.

If we do chance to find ourselves at a property in Milos or Minorca with a spare room or two, we’ve learnt to be choosy – mindful of what happened in Ibiza a few years back. On this particular villa holiday, an invited guest of ours took it upon herself to ask another friend of hers, completely unknown to us, to stay… possibly indefinitely? A deeply tanned, rogue singleton woman in a sarong and Birkenstocks duly showed up, plonked her small bag down and didn’t introduce herself, presumably because she thought that we all knew her. She sat with us for meals, slept on a sun lounger at night, went out to the night club until late, and contributed nothing in terms of cash or kitchen duties. Then, one day, we woke up to find her gone. I never found out her name. Never saw her again.

Ben Elliot, founder of the Quintessentially concierge brand, recalls a Corfu holiday house guest who ‘everyone else thought was someone else’s friend’. Turned out that no one knew them. In the end Ben chased them out of the house with a water pistol. ‘They were so wasted,’ he said, ‘they thought it was a real gun.’

So, like I say, the only cast-iron way to avoid villa-fication this summer is to avoid either inviting or being a guest. When the phrase ‘do drop in on us in Sardinia’ springs into your mind, just make sure that’s where it stays.

Happy holidays!