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Picture Courtesy of Landmark Trust

At Home In Pineapples and Pigeon Towers: Unusual Vacation Rentals


I always seek out the unusual in accommodations, but what I've liked even better has been "staying on the economy"--renting a property overseas and living there for a week or two.

I love getting to know the local baker (which means learning to buy his specialty bread that comes in rounds as big as a car wheel); discovering a village restaurant named "Pet de Lapin" (I don't dare translate); or walking through blowing snow across fields to discover a ruined castle in your own backyard. With experiences like these, I've never missed chocolates on my pillow at night.

What has made my vacation letting (as the British call it) even more enjoyable has been finding unusual and historic properties to rent. My two girls will never forget our "home" in the French pigeon tower, perched in a moat surrounding a 17th-century château.

And the most fun we've had in years came when we put up for four days in a 45-foot-tall stone pineapple just outside the village of Airth in Central Scotland. Lodgings like these beat a prefab condo any day.

People are always asking: How do you find such unusual accommodations? We found our pigeon tower which had, indeed, originally housed the ubiquitous bird, in a catalog called Vacances en Campagne: Selected Country Houses in France that I'd discovered on a London trip many years ago. I’ve pored over this catalog, filled with hundreds of properties ranging from a Norman half-timbered cottage to an old stone watermill in Languedoc, for years.

Our stone pineapple, really an 18th-century garden house built by Lord Dunmore for his wife, was another picture in a catalog I'd read and re-read over several years. The pineapple, probably the most unusual looking of the properties rented by Britain's Landmark Trust, is nestled along with a Poultry Cottage in Wales (still filled with nesting boxes) and The Pigsty whose description reads "two pigs were the excuse for this exercise in primitive, almost barbaric, classicism, supposedly inspired by a variety of buildings visited by Squire Barry of Flying Hall on his travels around the Mediterranean in the 1880s."

The Landmark Trust is different from other vacation rental companies: it is a charitable organization whose sole purpose is to rescue buildings that are in danger of being lost, through neglect or disrepair, and to restore them. To raise funds and awareness, the Trust turns the buildings into holiday rental properties. Unlike The National Trust, which focuses on restoring and maintaining properties of major historical significance, The Landmark Trust picks up "minor but good-looking buildings, put up with thought and care, but no longer wanted for their original purpose." A real charity case.

Though the Trust operates almost exclusively in the United Kingdom, it has rescued a few properties overseas: an apartment overlooking the Spanish Steps in Rome, for example, just one floor above where the poet Keats died in 1821, and Naulakha, the Brattleboro, Vermont home of Rudyard Kipling and his wife Caroline (it was with Caroline's brother, American writer Wolcott Balestier, that Kipling wrote the novel, The Naulakha).

Within the pages of The Landmark Handbook, I've found the ultimate vacation property for anyone who, like me, is an avid fan of Scottish Arts-and-Crafts architect and designer, Charles Rennie Mackintosh. I can live in The Hill House, the house Mackintosh designed for Walter Blackie's family and considered to be his "domestic masterpiece." I’m there.

Most properties must be rented weekly, but if you plan to travel in winter, you can take advantage of the "Short Breaks," i.e. renting a property for less than a week. It is always best to plan ahead and make your reservations at least 30 days before your arrival. But, be warned: staying in these unique lodgings can be addictive: why stay at home when you can "live" in a pineapple or a tower, a castle or quaint farmhouse?

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