Stressful times typically call for big vacations, but the tough economic climate has forced some families to find enjoyment closer to home this year. The same isn't true for the world's billionaires. Although some have seen their net worth shrink, many continue to visit their personal getaways to escape from their high-profile lives.
The location of these luxury destinations is a matter of personal taste.
Some, like Oprah Winfrey, enjoy the Caribbean heat. Despite owning a 60-acre Maui getaway and a 42-acre estate in Montecito, Calif., Oprah occasionally yearns for the serenity created by the crystal-clear Caribbean water and the region's perfect palm trees. To calm this urge she visits her coastline playground on Antigua, where Eric Clapton and Giorgio Armani are among her famous neighbors.
Virgin's Richard Branson also basks in the Caribbean sun from Necker Island, his exclusive 74-acre getaway. As part of the British Virgin Islands, this destination is surrounded by turquoise waters and comes fully staffed with a water sports crew, a personal chef and a masseuse. Visitors often rent the entire island, which can accommodate up to 28 guests.
But sometimes one hot destination isn't enough. Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen certainly feels this way, choosing instead to island-hop on his private playground “Octopus”, a $200 million, 416-foot megayacht. This floating five-star hotel features a pool, a basketball court, a movie theater, two helicopters, a 10-person submarine, a jet-ski dock and a 60-person crew.
Other billionaires are drawn to colder climates. When he's not sailing on his 557-foot yacht, Roman Abramovich, owner of Chelsea Football Club, gets in some exquisite skiing while staying at his 200-acre ranch on Wildcat Ridge near Aspen, Colo.
also likes escaping to the cold — the very cold. Since retiring from Microsoft in 2008, the philanthropic billionaire has dedicated his time to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, whose development initiatives are based mainly in Africa. To escape the continent's heat Gates has been known to spend time at Greenland's only ski center, the Apussuit Adventure Camp.
At this remote resort 15 miles outside Maniitsoq, West Greenland, there are no ski lifts and, more importantly, not many people. "Given the small populations in Greenland's towns, one can bring his or her own staff and gallivant around town going completely unnoticed," says Mads Nordlund p.r. and marketing coordinator for Greenland Tourism.
Although most billionaires use their playgrounds to evade the press, Frenchman François-Henri Pinault — son of fashion and art mogul François Pinault — set sail for paparazzi haven Ibiza with Salma Hayek, his then girlfriend, in 2008.
Photographers snapped the couple frolicking with friends and family off the shores of this elite Mediterranean playground and tabloids around the world ran the pictures, but Hayek wasn't put off — she was so impressed by Pinault, or at least Ibiza, that she married him the following Valentine's Day.
Yet not all billionaires have the urge to fly for hours just to relax and have fun. Indian petrochem and telecom tycoon Mukesh Ambani is instead making his own home into his playground. His extravagant 27-story skyscraper being built in Mumbai has an estimated billion-dollar construction cost and plans call for a four-story open garden, a grand ballroom with a ceiling 80 percent covered by chandeliers and a health level that holds both a yoga studio and an ice room to escape the heat.
This residence may be ultraluxe, but at least Ambani can say that, like everyone else, he just finds enjoyment at home.