Who knew you could spend a night in Picasso’s first studio in Paris or Roald Dahl’s favorite childhood holiday home in Wales? But there they are, these and more, the very places where historic figures through the ages have retreated from the world to do what they do best, whether it’s painting or pondering political transgressions or jamming on the guitar. Places today that you—and anyone—can stay for a night or two, transporting you back to another time. Check out these intriguing rentals once lived in by someone famous.—Barbara Noe Kennedy
Roald Dahl’s The Cabin
WHERE: Tenby, England
With the lulling waves of Carmathen Bay just outside the windows, you can understand why a young Roald Dahl—author of such children faves as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory—loved his Easter holidays in the walled seaside town of Tenby. The first-floor apartment where he, his mother, and five siblings stayed for holidays is still owned by a family member, and it retains the sweet English cottage style of yesteryear. In his book My Year Dahl writes, “We adored Tenby.” Stay here and you will too.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Guide to Wales
Ian Fleming’s GoldenEye
Always one for a good hideout, spy thrillist Ian Fleming built this tropical cliff-top retreat overlooking the Caribbean Sea on the northern coast of Jamaica. And here he wrote all 14 of his James Bond thrillers (and several were filmed nearby, including Dr. No and Live and Let Die). His muse? No doubt, in his words, the “blazing sunshine, natural beauty and the most healthy life I could live.” The property includes a collection of cottages and villas overlooking a private beach and lagoon. The super exclusive “Fleming Villa” is the one you’ll want.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Guide to Jamaica
Pablo Picasso’s Atelier
WHERE: Paris, France
A young Pablo Picasso moved into this one-bedroom, one-bath pied-à-terre in 1900, at the height of Montmarte’s artsy heyday. Here the Catalonian plunged into his blue period, where he painted such works as “Self-Portrait in Blue Period,” when he was only 20. Decorated with eclectic pieces, the suite offers a relaxing place to fall into a plush sofa, pull a book from the well-stocked bookcase, and dream about a man full of revolutionary ideas.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Travel Guide to Paris
Giambologna’s Florence Home
WHERE: Florence, Italy
It’s not every day you can spend the night in a palazzo built by Cosimo de’ Medici, the head of the Medici dynasty that brought so much fame and fortune—and art and culture—to Florence during the Renaissance. Perhaps that’s what famed sculptor Giambologna was thinking when he, in turn, occupied this two-story apartment within the palace walls between 1600 and 1608. The space is airy and bright, with tasteful furnishings. A quiet courtyard offers peace and quiet, though the best part is the veranda overlooking Florence’s ancient terracotta rooftops—what a place to sip a Campari and watch the sun set!
Insider Tips: If you want a first-hand look at Giambologna, check out his works on display at the Boboli Gardens, a 20-minute walk away.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Travel Guide to Florence
Historic Florsheim Mansion
WHERE: Chicago, Illinois
Milton Florsheim began cobbling shoes in 1892 in a small Chicago workshop—a winning enterprise that flourishes to this day. Even Michael Jackson wore Florsheims. So you can imagine the Gilded Age mansion that Florsheim heiress Lillian Florsheim built right in the heart of Chicago’s Gold Coast. The six-bedroom mansion simply glows with lofty ceilings, a Steinway Grand Piano, and museum-quality artwork. All yours for the night.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Travel Guide to Chicago
Borgia Family’s Castle
WHERE: Umbria, Italy
The infamous Borgia family including corrupt Pope Alexander VI, ruthless Cesare, and meddling Lucrezia, notorious for her skill in creating political intrigue, made quite a stir during the Italian Renaissance. And they hailed from this fairytale castle overlooking Lake Trasimeno on the Tuscany-Umbria border. Large stone fireplaces, heavy wood furniture, and colorful frescos give you the authentic Renaissance castle experience, though sitting poolside, you’d never imagine the misdeeds that once went on here.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Travel Guide to Umbria
Degas House B&B
WHERE: New Orleans, Louisiana
The famed French Impressionist Degas lived in New Orleans for several months in 1872, residing in this French Creole house. Today it’s an elegant B&B—the world’s only Degas house or studio open to the public. Exquisite period decor makes you feel like you’ve entered the genteel world of yesteryear, with special touches alluding to the artist. In the Estelle Suite, for example, you’ll find the balcony depicted in his painting, “Woman Seated on a Balcony.”
Insider Tip: Even if you’re not staying here, you can take a guided tour—taking in the home, museum, courtyard, and Degas museum. A yummy Creole breakfast and commentary by one of Degas’ great-grandnieces are part of the tour. There’s also an Impressionist Tour on offer, which includes a tour of Degas’ French Creole neighborhood, a visit to his other New Orleans house, and viewing the award-winning film “Degas in New Orleans, a Creole Sojourn.”
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Travel Guide to New Orleans
Jim Barrie’s Summer Retreat
WHERE: Eilean Shona, Scotland
Enjoy a taste of Neverland at this former hunting lodge, perched on a tiny private island off Scotland’s west coast. Barrie spent his summer holidays here in the 1930s, and this is where he penned the screenplay for Peter Pan. The lodge has since been renovated to perfection, with a mix of eclectic and exotic furnishings. Barrie once wrote about Eilean Shona: “We have mountains and lochs and boats and tennis and billiards and most of the western islands of Scotland lying at our feet.”
Insider Tip: The property also includes cozy cottages and a newly revamped Old Schoolhouse.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Travel Guide to Scotland
John Steinbeck’s Studio
WHERE: Pacific Grove, California
“I bought a small house and garden in Pacific Grove,” John Steinbeck once wrote to a friend. Here, in this charming Pacific Coast town, the author of The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men wrote The Log from the Sea of Cortez. And today it’s available for rent. The gingerbread cottage is tiny (350 square feet), but charming as can be, with tent cathedral ceilings, a carved fireplace, and a dining room overlooking the gardens and Monterey Bay. Amid such coziness, one wonders where all the depressing stories came from.
Insider Tip: In October, migrating Monarch butterflies swarm to Pacific Grove.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Travel Guide to California
H.C. Andersen’s Broholm Castle
WHERE: Gudme, Denmark
How appropriate that poet Hans Christian Andersen spent much time at this storybook castle, set behind a majestic moat. It’s rumored the master spinner of fairy tales was even born here. Today, you can rent the Anders Suite and indulge in 700 years of Danish history—and soft beds where even the pickiest princess would fail to find a pea. Be sure to take the “fairytale walk” through plush parkland.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Travel Guide to Denmark
Rudyard Kipling’s Naulakha
WHERE: Dummerston, Vermont
Unwind in the very studio where the Nobel Prize-winning author and poet wrote The Jungle Book and other classics, and sleep in his bedroom. Kipling built the Shingle-style house in 1893, naming it for the Hindu word meaning “jewel beyond price,” and lived here until 1896. Rescued from deterioration by the Landmark Trust USA in 1991, it’s been authentically restored to Kipling’s time, down to the full library, game room with billiards table, and original Kipling furniture. The beautiful grounds include one of Vermont’s first tennis courts (and great hills for winter sledding).
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Travel Guide to Vermont
The Brownings’ Casa Guidi
WHERE: Florence, Italy
Upon defying her strict father, English poetess Elizabeth Browning secretly married her true love, Robert, and they fled to Italy. They ended up in a romantic apartment in Florence, where they happily lived for 14 years. This romantic space promises an evening of tranquility among 19th-century furnishings once owned by the famous literary couple—including their son Pen’s desk and the drawing room mirror. Pull out a book of poetry from the library and settle in for a relaxing read in this inspiring space.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Guide to Florence
King Edward VIII’s Célibataire
WHERE: Gif-sur-Yvette, France
After King Edward VIII gave up the British throne to marry his American-born mistress, divorcée Wallis Simpson, the exiled couple moved to Paris. And on weekends, they retreated to the site of a former mill a short train ride away, where they renovated the main house along with guest accommodations. Le Célebataire is one of the small guest houses, offering a dash of English panache in the French countryside.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Guide to France