There are times when you want to escape the grind and switch the jet engines off or take a special someone to a magical place, or treat yourselves to a memorable experience. A stay at a really special hotel can be elevating and enriching.
There are hotels where the architecture can set the pulse racing, such as Frank Gehry’s Marques de Riscal in Spain, others where the views keep you riveted such as The Explora in Torres del Paine, Chile. Some are steeped in history, such as The Saxon in Johannesburg where Nelson Mandela lived after he was released from Robben Island. Others are one-of a-kind like the mud-walled Mandawa Desert Resort, Rajasthan, the tree-house, Tigertops in Chitwan National Park, Nepal and the salt hotel, Playa Blanca in Bolivia. These places compete with the offerings of the cities or wilderness around them. They are abodes where you’d be happier decompressing in your room and exploring the grounds rather than taking off for the day. On arrival, you’d set your bags down and sigh, “Runglee Rungliot!” (“Thus far and no further” in Tibetan). Here are a handful of places that have made me pinch myself.
CHONGWE RIVER HOUSE, ZAMBIA
Basking on the side of the Chongwe River, a tributary of the Zambezi, this organic house of wood, ferro and thatch designed by Neil Rocher has no doors, windows, closets or drawers. A couple of bedrooms are even missing a wall. The living room sofa is a fallen winter thorn tree with a rivulet running underneath it. It was a wrench to leave it to see the wilderness beyond, but when I stayed in, I found myself enjoying magnificent wildlife right from the veranda. For more information, visit www.zambianhorisons.com
It may be difficult to locate, but when you do, you’ll find paradise on this private kilometre-long hideaway facing the ocean. Only six people can inhabit The Captain’s House, traditional Goan villa and a handful others stay at the Otter’s Creek tents, sharing this haven with otters and birds amidst the rustle of palm trees in Mandrem, Goa. For more information, visit www.aseascape.com
JADE MOUNTAIN, ST. LUCIA
This labour of love by Nick Trebetskoy is an exquisite hotel chiselled out of the side of a mountain and its Galaxy Suite has been voted “the best room in the world”. The vast space has open views to the twin-mountains, the Pitons, a World Heritage Site and the infinity pool in the room seems to cascade into the vast ocean beyond. For more information, visit www.jademountain.com.
SUMIYA RIYOKAN, KYOTO
Staying in a traditional Japanese home was true immersion into Japanese culture. We had to don slippers to enter the guest house, a second set for our room and a third for the tiny rock garden beyond. The rice paper room dividers, home cooked delicacies served in lacquer ware and a kimono clad hostess showing us traditional tea etiquette was a cultural experience no tour guide could have shared. For more information visit, www.japaneseguesthouses.com
THE ICE HOTEL SWEDEN
Each year a new team of architects executes a crystal palace sculpted from ice in Sweden’s Arctic Circle. Spending a night at five degrees below zero might sound like lunacy, but warm clothes and fur bedding go a long way in keeping you comfortable and the magical, enchanting spaces lift the spirit for eons. For more information, visit www.icehotel.com