In Review

ThirdHome: the Airbnb for millionaires

“See these black streaks on the floor?” says investment banker Marc Deschamps. We all nod, holding our third glass of magnum-served crémant. “They’re the tyre marks of German soldiers’ motorbikes from WWII.” We’re all stood around the restored entrance hall at the Chateau de Vezins in the Loire Valley. This is Canadian Marc’s second home and he’s showing us around.

The 18th-century property has been a long labour of love, with Marc dedicating serious resource to bringing it back to its former glory. The tyre marks remain, though. This, I guess, is on purpose, as it’s clear on our saunter that Marc is something of a history fan. And there’s plenty of that round here.

It's been the home of nobles, on and off, since the time of the first crusades. The existing building however was built in 1708 by the erstwhile Baron de Vezins, who owed all the land for 50km around. Add a French Revolution in to the mix, along with a few more Barons and we come to 1929, which was the beginning of its being abandoned for nearly 80 years – save the Nazi occupation.

Marc and the Rozon family picked things up in 2007, embarking on a 10-year restoration that included renovating all 77 rooms, replacing 100 windows and clearing no less than five tons of pigeon droppings from the second floor.

The results are rather spectacular, not least in the red-gravel parterre at the back of the property, which we saunter around while Marc explains what he, his family and the Rozon’s have committed to in order to get the place back to best.

Marc explains that he and his family used to fly over nearly every weekend (from London, not Canada) for two years to do some of the work themselves. Somehow it was this, rather than simply owning a chateau, that hammered home the idea to me that Marc was a man of means.

A platform for luxury home sharing

But then not so stinking rich that he doesn’t like to get stuck in to some DIY. At dinner that evening – a genuinely memorable serving from a local traiteur/caterer – he reinforces that notion with his rationale for being a member of ‘luxury property travel club’ ThirdHome.

Wealthy folks with second homes put their property in the pot, and in return can stay at other members’ places when they’re free. This 10,000-strong portfolio of pied-à-terres, bolt holes and retreats are worth, on average, £1.8m. Members work to a points system where keys are awarded according to the value of members’ properties and the amount of time they’re available for.

“It gives me access to a range of properties that would otherwise be out of reach,” says Marc. Compelling evidence to anyone listening that wealth is relative. Millionaires holidaying like billionaires; the 1% granted access to the lifestyle of the 0.1%.

While the idea of home swapping is not new, what ThirdHome does seem to offer is surety (that everyone in the club is ‘trusted’ and ‘like-minded’) and efficiency, simply in removing much of the admin required to market your home and find one to holiday in yourself.

Giles Adams, the partner and president of ThirdHome explains that no money exchanges hands between members (though the company charges an exchange fee for bookings), but Marc is unabashed about the relative value he gets from the service. “In a roundabout way it helps to pay for the upkeep of this place.”

Airbnb for millionaires

As all this is being discussed, a quote from Withnail & I springs to mind: “Free to those who can afford it; expensive to those who can’t.’’ Though at dinner, Giles explains, how ThirdHome has now extended its offering to permit anyone (who’s been carefully vetted) to simply rent one of the properties, rather than having to contribute a property too.

This has prompted some to call ThirdHome an ‘Airbnb for millionaires’. While it undoubtedly has the hallmarks of a sharing-economy company, the rental prices, particularly when you’re part of a group large enough to fill the space, are surprisingly reasonable.

For example, nine-bedroom Chateau de Vezins – which has a pool, hot tub and yoga room – costs £6,219 for seven days in the spring or £7,107 during peak season. Split between nine people, that's £122 a night. And there are cheaper homes in the range. The money saving compared to a hotel of equal quality is palpable, which is probably why ThirdHome describes itself as a ‘disruptor’.

Wine tasting on the Loire

After a good night’s sleep – despite the revelation at dinner that there’s a resident ghost – we set out for a wine tasting on the Loire. Sébastien, who owns le Domaine Chateau du Petit Thouars, invited us to try a range of cuvées aboard the Harassay, a traditional, flat-bottomed river boat (called toue cabanées).

More crémant, a chenin blanc and range of remarkable reds (the Cuvée Amiral, a ballsy cabernet franc, was joyous), served with good-quality charcuterie keeps the group content while we admire riverside Montsoreau, a village listed among the most beautiful in France and part of the Loire Valley Unesco World Heritage Site.

I ask Mark where he plans on staying next. “Bookings and plans have already been made for a sea-front house in Costa Rica, a house on a canal in Miami, a Greek-island house with a sea view, and a country manor in the UK,” he says. Clearly getting his keys’ worth then.

For further information on THIRDHOME and Chateau de Vezins, please visit www.thirdhome.com 

For Loire Valley wine tasting tours visit www.chateaudptwines.com or call +33247959640.

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