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.
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.
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.
Hinwick House, Hinwick, Bedfordshire. Photograph courtesy of Mulberry Cottages