Meet the aristocrats who rent their castles on Airbnb

In the 1980s, legendary monocle-wearing tourism impresario John Colclough, who had successfully organized tours in a fleet of vintage Bentleys for American tourists to stately rural homes in the bucolic Irish countryside, started a new business titled Hidden Ireland.

The plan was to allow handpicked and carefully selected tourists to stay with their Irish peers in their homes and, for a fee, join the master and mistress of the house for dinner. Long before authenticity became a marketing buzzword, Colclough saw in some travelers the desire to participate in the “normal” life of a stately home.

Although they were paying for the privilege, this vulgarity would be quietly forgotten, and they would be treated, more or less, as private guests.

The plan was enthusiastically received by poor aristocrats and a meeting was called at Colclough’s house in Dublin.

Colclough, who now runs the luxury travel agency Ireland and Great Britain Observé recalls, “Everything was going wonderfully until I said, ‘Now to really get the message out, we’re going to have to bring in journalists and write about you and your beautiful homes.’

“There was a long pause, and then someone, let’s call him Lord Prong of Prong Castle, coughed and said, ‘A gentleman’s name should only appear in the newspaper three times; on the occasion of his birth, of his engagement and of his death.'”

What a difference a generation makes. Today, the online pages of Airbnb and other public-facing vacation rental sites are teeming with aristocrats displaying the wares of their ancestral homes, offering their historic properties to all comers at fair prices as part of the endless battle to “keep the roof.”

Take for example, carnal, a sprawling house and 2,000-acre estate in Ayrshire, Scotland, which has been in the Findlay family for 700 years. The current holder, Micky Findlay (who proudly boasts of having no title because his great-grandfather refused a peerage on the entirely reasonable grounds that it was stuff and nonsense) lists his house on Airbnb for 20 guests for around $3,000 per night. His girlfriend Adrienne handles the ad.

Carnell’s guests – who should be “awesome” because Findlay has to stay on the premises for insurance purposes – have included Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. Another guest, Larry Hagman, was a “bloody hoot” according to Findlay. Hagman quickly invited Findlay to come stay with him.

Non-geniuses receive little attention. “We had a horrible group and I became more and more like Basil Fawlty (from the legendary BBC comedy Fawlty Towers). In the end, I overtook Fawlty and said to them, “What do I have to do to tell you to fuck off?” ,” Findlay recalls with a jovial chuckle.

He says his grandparents would have been horrified to rent the house for money: “Paying guests? Perish the thought”, but as he points out, they “were so rich”, the question did not really arise.

“The fact is it costs around $120,000 (£120,000 or $154,000) a year just to run the house,” he said. “It’s a huge problem for all these big houses. The other day I was complaining about the cost of maintaining the roof to the Duke of Marlborough and he said, ‘I have six acres of roof to maintain’.

(The Blandford have long rented Blenheim Palace to help defray their costs.)

A recurring problem in stately homes for rent is the issue of bathrooms.

Colclough recalled: “The owners would proudly advertise that each bedroom had its own bathroom and that ‘their’ bathroom was next to all the others in the bathroom wing built by their grandfather, the 5th Baron, a five-minute walk down freezing corridors. at the other end of the house. It was a cheerfully sensible way of doing things in 1907.”

Those horrible modern inventions so dear to Americans, showers, present similar difficulties for owners of old batteries.

“There wasn’t a single shower when we moved in, but we have two now,” Lady Sarah Leslie proudly said.

Leslie is the young and energetic new castellan of gigantic Wardhill Castle in Aberdeenshire, Scotland (it would be double its current size if a far-sighted ancestor hadn’t knocked down half of it) which seats 16 comfortably and can be rented on Airbnb for as little as $1,000 a night.

The house has been in the Leslie family since 1100, making it one of the oldest private homes to never change hands in the country.

His father-in-law (known by the Scottish title Chieftain) and his wife moved into “another castle fifteen minutes away” which, conveniently, the family also owns, two years ago to make way for the next generation, ( parents also offers accommodation on Airbnb).

Leslie says her main goal is to pass the house, in good condition, to her son, the 17th Laird of Wardhill. “We only listed the house on Airbnb in April and it’s been great. We’ve just been so happy to have people come through the door and appreciate it,” Leslie said.

Although she noted that people want an authentic experience of life in a large house, creature comforts cannot be sacrificed. “It is important for visitors that there is heating and hot water and that the wifi works,” she said.

Leslie agrees that it would have been unimaginable in recent memory for a good family to hawk their house so openly to the paying public, but she says, “It’s a different world now. Airbnb has completely changed the landscape for us and other homes like this.”

Airbnb can also provide a convenient way for owners of stately homes who live overseas to avoid selling. Adrian Knott, owner a remarkable Victorian villa in Torquay, Devon, which sleeps 21, rents out his home to help cover expenses such as housekeeper since living abroad.

“I live there with my children when I’m not in London,” he said. “I am separated from my wife and they visit me on weekends. I travel a lot with work and have a new partner in Moscow so Airbnb is working well. I am a superhost – five stars.

Justin and Paula Kent, who lived full time with their five children in Crayke Manor, in Yorkshire, England for two decades, now spend much of their time abroad and the $2,000-a-night rentals on Airbnb have both avoided selling the family home and kept them going to use it as a family base at Christmas.

Kent told The Daily Beast that he’s never felt nervous about renting to strangers: “We’ve always thought the Airbnb community is very friendly and respectful,” he said.

However, it is undeniable that the greatest obstacle to historic home owners the inscription of their house is the unspoken fear that it will be ransacked or robbed by light-fingered guests.

Some have tried to solve this dilemma by building guest rooms for this purpose in the countless outbuildings that dot these historic estates, and have largely fallen into disuse.

Nick and Becky Wilkinson, for example, recently converted an old stable into their 1863 mansion, hot well housein County Meath, Ireland, into four unique bedrooms and a shared common relaxation space, all available on Airbnb.

The house is famous locally for a hot spring that springs from underground at 25°C and which locals believe has healing and magical properties. The couple hope to introduce a new generation of travelers to its appeal.

However, the revolution does not go any further. Another aristocrat contacted by The Daily Beast said he pulled his home from Airbnb after being ‘faced’ by guests who ‘just didn’t understand’ and complained about old horsehair mattresses of horse.

“At the end of the day it ceases to be your home if it’s rented all the time,” he said. “Also, for us, the risk/reward ratio was completely wrong. For example, we have open fires everywhere. All it would take is a very small accident – say some idiot puts the wrong kind of wood on the fire – for the place to burn down and I’m not sure the million dollar insurance policy of Airbnb would cover the reconstruction of an 18th century mansion.

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