Great estate escapes

Tired of "luxury hotels" that all blur together? The owners of these unique estates, from Mexico to Italy, are now welcoming guests. So you can (temporarily) call these luxurious spots your own.

1. Cuixmala
1. Cuixmala
Luxury and ecology meet at Cuixmala, a 25,000-acre preserve on Mexico's "virgin coast," where jaguar and puma are not just brand names. The estate--a 2 1/2-hour drive south of Puerto Vallarta--was built in the '80s as a tropical hideaway for British billionaire and environmentalist Sir James Goldsmith. After Goldsmith's death in 1997, his daughter Alix Goldsmith Marcaccini opened up the property to guests.

My father "wanted a place to do organic farming and also to have his family around him," says Marcaccini. "Having guests seemed like a way to keep the place used and healthy and alive." Once you arrive, you need never leave the estate: Spend the day exploring the ecological preserve (home to mangroves, zebras, gazelles, and organic farmland) and the evening enjoying fiestas with mariachi bands or quiet, moonlit lagoon rides.

"Luxury is space, and there could not be more of that here," says Anthony Lassman, founder of the Nota Bene guidebooks. "Alix and her husband understand how to make a holiday special. Their nonformulaic approach is rare--they arrange picnics and parties on a whim." And if you tire of eating locally grown blueberries on the expansive white beaches? Head to a lecture from one of the biologists at the eco-preserve.

Costalegre, Mexico
13 rooms, from $350 to $15,000 a night


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