It's been a summer of mega yachting around the Med for the top one per cent; Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck cruised the Cote d'Azur in France, Julia Roberts headed to Italy's Amalfi coast, while Robbie Williams and his family motored around the crystal clear waters of the Turkish peninsula. While the post-Covid back-to-the-office push is on in the UK, for the uber-rich and ready to travel, it's quite a different story.
There are currently more super yachts than ever in the Mediterranean, according to research by Bloomberg; the French Riviera has been clogged up with luxury vessels, while in Italy (where Paris Hilton and Kendall Jenner chartered boats), harbouring rates are 30 per cent higher than last year.
On a trip out on her own boat last week, Caroline Carminati, whose Cannes-based concierge business Xanadu arranges yachts, restaurants and hotels for A-listers (Cxanadu.com), said it was not the opulence of surrounding super yachts that came as a surprise, but the age of their occupants. "They were so young - people in their 20s," she says.
In the quieter eastern Med, too, Croatia, Turkey, Montenegro and Greece have become popular hotspots because the traditional honeypots of Amalfi and the South of France were overflowing.
"Greece and Croatia have been the most popular destination for our clients," confirmed Henry Smith, partner and director of yacht brokers Cecilwright.com.
Montenegro, meanwhile, has seen a 41 per cent rise in yachts. Indeed "billionaires have rediscovered their habits on the coast", according to one hotelier in Cannes, where the occupancy rate of the top hotels is said to be set for its best season yet.
Luxury travel consultant Julia Perowne (Perowneinternational.com) likens the super wealthy's current appetite for holiday spending to that of the Roaring Twenties; the average spend has increased by 50 to 100 per cent in top hotels across Europe, she said, with people dressing up for dinner and buying expensive champagne and spa treatments. "People have an absolute desire for glamour," she says.
Whether at land or sea, returning to bricks-and-mortar offices or schools is still off-menu for those continuing the party into the shoulder season. Charting a floating five-star hotel (J-Lo's had a 20ft pool) costs more than £375,000 ($A697,500) per week, but the super rich - after 18 months of pandemic travel restrictions - are more than happy to pay top dollar for the perfect break.
"If you're on a boat with a beach club, a nightclub, a professional DJ, gym, spa, pool and cinema, you don't really need to go on shore," explained Smith, who says his company had been inundated all summer.
"And this is precisely what many of our clients have elected to do."
Out on the water, bubbled up with friends and family on a boat with a helideck, the rich and famous have space, flexibility and privacy - all of which were priorities since the pandemic, says Smith.
"Once you are PCR tested, you can arrive by helicopter, step on board and totally relax with a crew who are tested regularly," he explains.
Hairdressers, private tutors (particularly now term has restarted), personal trainers and, in the case of Russian clients, crates of caviar, can be shuttled to the vessel at short notice, while the onboard chef will create daily menus to rival any onshore restaurant.
As a result of this new wave of interest, second-hand yacht sales are booming - the vessel J-Lo chartered was recently on the market for $US130 million - and building yards are booked out. At a shipyard in the Netherlands workers are hurrying to complete Jeff Bezos's new giga yacht, a 400ft custom-built vessel expected to cost more than $US500 million.
The problem with yachts, says Perowne, is that you can never get one big enough. For many wealthy clients, an ultra secluded private home in decadent gardens by the sea had more appeal - plus you could always do what Elton does and take your mates out on a super yacht for the day (for a cool £10,000).
"A villa suits those who prefer to be discreet about how they're spending their money in the wake of the pandemic," she says. "Moving around has become such a hassle that people are booking in for far longer than they did before - two months rather than two weeks. They want to arrive somewhere glorious and settle in."
Villa Sainte Anne, a fully staffed five-bedroom villa belonging to the Hotel du Cap Eden Roc on Cap D'Antibes, which launched in June this summer at £13,000 per night, was immediately booked until the end of October. Meanwhile around St Tropez, the best houses - those surrounded by their own palm-fringed grounds, close to beach clubs such as the Club 55 - are booked for the next two summers.
Edward Marquis, who runs his own concierge company for celebrities, royalty and the super rich in St Tropez (sttropezluxury.com), says it had been his best season, with clients spending up to £120,000 per week on houses. "The problem is we've run out of cooks. Everyone wants a private chef, as well as a masseur and someone who does nails."
One super wealthy client, who preferred not to be named, hired a yoga teacher for six hours a day for the duration of her six-week stay at one of St Tropez's most expensive villas, in case any of her guests felt like a stretch. She also secured a fleet of limousines to wait in the drive, should they want to head out shopping. "We've come here to have fun and we don't want any issues," she explains.
Indeed, such is the fervour for the Mediterranean's most coveted beach clubs that the super rich send their concierge team to the venue in advance to ensure there will be enough space around the table.
This summer's grand retour to the Med wouldn't have been possible without private jet travel, as there is no chance, particularly in the current circumstances and red list restrictions, of the wealthiest Brits, Europeans and Americans flying commercial. Instead, they are bypassing airport queues (and the risk of contracting Covid) by using their own planes or signing up to one of the private jet clubs, which handle Covid tests and administration.
"NetJets and Vista Jets are having the best year," Perowne says. "They're not just flying people to Europe, they're off to Africa, too."
As temperatures begin to cool across the Med later this month, it will be interesting to see where the super rich jet off to next. There's a growing appetite for adventure, according to Perowne, with wealthy travellers booking bespoke African safaris and luxury road trips through Europe.
"Given the difficulties of long-haul air travel, UHNWI (ultra high net worth individuals) are dusting off their beautiful cars and taking them on the road with like-minded friends," agrees Luis Contreras, owner of the five-star hotel group Sereno Hotels, whose car parks have resembled a concours d'elegance all summer.
They're even dabbling in British staycations now the rest of us are back at the office - private estates and five-star hotels in the Lake District and Scotland are enjoying a bumper autumn of bookings.
St Barts in the Caribbean. Photo: iStock
The Caribbean, where most mega yachts spend the European winter, is the obvious next stop, however. Jumby Bay, where Piers Morgan recently holidayed with his sons, is fully booked until March 2022, even though the best suites cost $US3,334 per night, and it's almost impossible to get a five-star villa on St Barts before May.
"People are committed to getting away," Perowne says. "They're going - and they're spending."
The Telegraph, London