The 124,000-acre Broken O Ranch in Augusta, Montana, recently sold for $132.5 million, the USâ€™s highest-priced land transaction in 2012.
The living room in La Playa Villa at Cuixmala mixes a fashion-forward aesthetic with ocean vistas to stunning effect.
Set into the hillside, Las Alamandasâ€™ Casa San Isidro provides discreet travelers with all the luxuries of home, including two spacious suites with terraces, private pools, and panoramic garden and ocean views.
The approximately 160-acre Elk Horn Ranch has a 7,000-square-foot main residence, not including the gate house, barn, and stables, all de rigueur in Big Sky country spreads.
There are places where the rest of the world appears not to exist. And even though these wide-open, undeveloped tracts of land are becoming increasingly rare in the modern world—hard to find and even less likely to be on the market—they remain coveted prizes for the über rich. For the billionaire set, extreme privacy and no neighbors in sight is the only kind of real estate worth buying. (Access and availability of private airstrips is also essential to a secluded parcel’s appeal.)
In the US, western Montana’s vast ranches have attracted rarefied buyers because they promise and deliver several elements: incredible scenery, sizable spreads, utter privacy, and increasingly, a return on their investment. In Mexico, the tropical Costalegre (on Mexico’s Pacific Coast south of Puerta Vallarta and north of Manzanillo) presents a similar vastness, with tracts of undeveloped land peppered with deluxe hideaway villas and exclusive hotels. In these two locales, urban life and megacities are distant realities.
Montana has notably attracted a cross section of deep-pocketed buyers in recent decades. Billionaire CNN founder Ted Turner owns four ranches totaling almost 154,000 acres and has stewarded the restoration of native cottonwoods, waterways, and wildlife. His acquisitions helped spur Montana’s attractiveness to wealthy out-of-town buyers, particularly those from Southern California. Entertainment figures (Justin Timberlake and Ashton Kutcher partied at the Yellowstone Club during last year’s ski season; Jeff Bridges is a longtime second-home owner), CEOs, and financiers have also bought into the country’s fourth-largest and mostly rural state, where a population of only 967,000 helps foster a reputation for paparazzi free anonymity.
Nondisclosure rules keep real estate sales out of the public record, a plus for boldfaced names, notes Tim Murphy, a partner at Hall and Hall, a Billings-based real estate firm. “Land is the irreplaceable aspect in the West,” he says. He continues, “It’s the land that makes a property unique, as houses can be modified and tastes are highly subjective in rural locations.” He points to the $25 million Grizzly Creek Ranch, three miles from Yellowstone National Park. The main house (envision a glam, supersize Western-style log residence) as well as the rest of the compound was remodeled in 2006 into a tricked-out executive retreat, but it’s the property’s approximately 1,967 scenic acres that share the park’s ecosystem and wildlife that set it apart.
Within the private Yellowstone Club (Microsoft’s cofounder Bill Gates was an early member), Hall and Hall is representing the approximately 160-acre Elk Horn Ranch, which has an asking price of $26.5 million. The 7,000-square-foot main residence is detailed in rich woods and stone, and is sited for mountain views. Also repped by the firm: an ultra-contemporary architectural residence by Emilio Ambasz—a rare bird because of its post-modern aesthetic—is just one alluring aspect of the 1,396-acre, $12.5 million spread, close to Missoula.
Unlike other Western enclaves (think Jackson Hole, Wyoming), “Montana has very scenic and spectacular locales that have not been developed or ruined, and there are still opportunities to invest, build, and create,” advises Mike Swan, owner and managing broker of the Swan Land Company. He represented the sellers in the US’s highest-priced land transaction in 2012—the reported $132.5 million sale of the 124,000-acre (approximately 194 square miles) Broken O Ranch in Augusta, Montana. Purchased by billionaire Stan Kroenke (whose holdings include the Denver Nuggets and the Malibu Colony Plaza shopping center), the massive working ranch’s scale (about 40 percent the size of the city of Los Angeles) is difficult to envision… even from the air!
Vast ranchlands (north or south of the border) represent more than just a second home—they encompass a way of life. An opportunity for complete control is often what drives grand land acquisitions. Legendary entrepreneur Sir James Goldsmith surveyed Mexico’s Costalegre in the late 1970s and purchased vast expanses of then-untouched jungle. His descendants continue his legacy: his daughter, Alix Goldsmith Marcaccini, along with her husband, Goffredo Marcaccini, developed Cuixmala, an ultra-private, ultrafashionable resort (popular with Madonna, Heidi Klum, and a roster of celebs) centered within a 25,000-acre private nature preserve—zebras and antelopes included!
Daughter Isabel Goldsmith-Patiño founded and is CEO of Las Alamandas, a 1,500-acre resort also sheltered within an eco-preserve. The art-filled, artisan-built, seven-villa hideaway takes guests to the next level in privacy and personalization: Staff is there to meet every whim from organizing beach horseback rides through the on-property stables to preparing the organic produce grown on-site. “Las Alamandas is chic, private, discreet, and secure, which are the most important criteria for the super rich when selecting a location for a vacation getaway,” says Goldsmith-Patiño. She was inspired by her own experiences at the world’s finest resorts when establishing the sophisticated refuge. (Her grandfather built Las Hadas—one of Mexico’s first world-class resorts.) A private airstrip makes Las Alamandas easily accessible; the vibrant, tricked-out Mexican-style indoor/outdoor villas are open to ocean vistas and breezes, and are designed to exceed the expectations of the high-profile/high-demand guests.
Real estate pro Miguel Garcia of LPR Luxury International, based in nearby Punta Mita, Mexico, finds the remote, upscale area unlike any other. “There aren’t many places like this in the world; it’s an escape,” he explains. He points out that current rules governing foreign ownership of beachfront property in Mexico may change in the coming year, observing that the most spectacular homes are actively listed and promoted.
“When there still exists these great undeveloped spaces of natural beauty relatively nearby,” says one well-known LA jet-setter, “there’s no reason to cross multiple time zones to escape, because the ultimate retreats are right here in North America.”
photography by rowe vantine; Karl Neumann (ELKHORN RANCH); courtesy of cuixmala (living room); courtesy of las alamandas (casa san isidro)