Founded in 1965, the U.K.-based Landmark Trust finds and rescues historic buildings, restoring them to their former glory. Then, after they’re renovated, the nonprofit rents them out as vacation homes. Across its nearly 200 offerings, there are medieval castles, Gothic temples, Georgian follies, and even train stations. Even crazier? These places are renting for way, way less than most hotels or Airbnbs: You can rent a room in an Italian villa for $20 a night. This is all the excuse you need to take a summer trip across the pond.
Here are a few of the wildest places we came across, along with their incredible renovation stories.
Considering a trip to Italy? Why not stay in this casual Palladian villa outside of the city of Vicenza. Designed by renowned Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio around 1550, the estate has a layout typical to Palladio’s villas–symmetrical with a grand portico and huge rooms. When the trust started working on it in 1989, it discovered colorful frescoes beneath thick layers of limewash and restored them to their 16th-century glory. It sleeps you and 15 of your closest friends–throw yourself a fabulous birthday party.
Disguised as a boring brick box on the outside, Fox Hall is an opulent, lovely, largely gilded hunting lodge on the inside. Located in Charlton, West Sussex–the site of the Charlton Hunt in the 1600s–Fox Hall was once used as lodging for noblemen who came down to take part in the fox hunt. When the Landmark Trust started working on the house, it had already fallen into a state of severe disrepair. But clues to details like the silk brocade hung on the wall in the duke’s master bedroom and the grand stone fireplace helped them come as close to the original design as possible.
Built for the fourth earl of Dunmore in central Scotland, the Pineapple is an 18th-century summer house built “of the very finest masonry”–in the shape of a pineapple. Inside the prickly dome, there’s an elegant room overlooking an elaborate walled garden (though, inexplicably, you can’t rent this room. You have to rent the “plain, unassuming” rooms that once housed the gardeners). When they started restoring the Pineapple, it was (appropriately?) covered in vegetation. They uncovered the fruity top, and the stonework was in surprisingly good condition, which the trust attributes to its good design and drainage system. They raked out the leaves and cleaned the entire thing with just water and a churn brush.
No, this name is not a euphemism. This was once actually a pigsty. Made with wood columns, and once inhabited two real-life pigs, the Pigsty is said to be Squire Barry of Fyling Hall’s version of “primitive classicism,” inspired by traveling around the Mediterranean in the 1880s. After Squire Barry’s death in 1920, it was used for hens then dogs until the 1980s when the Landmark Trust took it over. It built an extension for the bedroom and bathroom (you won’t have to sleep in a trough), restored the timber columns, and repainted the facade to look exactly as it did before.
There’s no better way to enjoy the Yorkshire countryside than staying in an 18th-century Georgian folly. Perched above a steep wooded gorge, this building is Janus-faced, meaning it has two faces–a Gothic one in the front and a Romanesque, triple-domed “ruin” set just behind it. The Ruin was partially collapsed by the time the restoration took place, and the building had to be pieced back together by a mason. In 2003 they brought water and electricity in from the main road and rebuilt the interiors to resemble the original as closely as possible.
As the website puts it, the Egyptian House is “a rare and noble survivor of a style that was in fashion after Napoleon’s campaign in Egypt in 1798.” In 1970, it was converted into three apartments (one of which was originally a museum and geological shop on the first floor of the house), but the facade was carefully restored.
This is just a measly sample of the incredible buildings you can call your vacation home. See all of the Landmark Trust holiday getaways here.
All Photos: courtesy The Landmark Trust