Top 10 nature breaks around the world
Boutique hotel experts Mr & Mrs Smith suggest 10 of the best getaways for unwinding in style, from relaxing rural retreats to snow-blessed mountain hideaways and simple seaside sanctuaries.travel Updated: Nov 16, 2012 19:06 IST
Escape big-city stress with a chilled-out back-to-nature break.
Boutique hotel experts Mr & Mrs Smith suggest 10 of the best getaways for unwinding in style, from relaxing rural retreats to snow-blessed mountain hideaways and simple seaside sanctuaries.
1. Wilderness wonders
Wolgan Valley Resort & Spa, Blue Mountains, Australia
Just a scenic three-hour drive from Sydney, all-inclusive Wolgan Valley Resort & Spa in the Blue Mountains offers an iconic Australian country experience. Set in 4,000 acres of jaw-dropping, pristine wilderness, taking in vast valleys and elevated escarpments, it delivers dramatic nature in spades. Guided horse-riding and mountain-biking tours beckon, alongside wildlife safaris to spy kangaroos, wallaroos and platypuses. There's no need to sacrifice creature comforts though, with 40 pampering pool suites, fine-dining, a huge pool, tennis court and indulgent spa. Charles Darwin fell for Wolgan Valley in the 19th century, and it's easy to see why.
2. Private-island chilling
Tikehau Pearl Beach Resort, Tuamotus, French Polynesia
What do you get when you cross France with the South Pacific? French Polynesia, a dreamy cluster of lagoon-lapped archipelagos in the deep-blue sea, boasting romantic islands and awe-inspiring coral atolls. The Tuamotus archipelago is one of the latter, playing host to tropical Tikehau Pearl Beach Resort hotel on an intimate motu (or mini isle). With a pretty pink-sand beach, bird life galore and a mix of 37 overwater and beachside bungalows looking over the lagoon, this is a tranquil, just-remote-enough paradise. It's perfect for a laid-back honeymoon or family escape, far from the madding crowds. Expect stellar snorkelling and diving.
3. Natural highs
Vigilius Mountain Resort, South Tyrol, Italy
If you prefer to head for the hills, ideally enveloped in an icing-thick layer of snow, then Vigilius Mountain Resort in north-east Italy's spectacular Dolomites is for you. Modern, minimalist swathes of wood and glass dominate the eco-sleek lodge, with 35 rooms and six suites, all mercifully free of Alpine kitsch. Spend your days skiing, snowboarding or Nordic walking, then hit the toasty spa. In summer, hiking, horse-riding, archery and mountain-biking are the big draws. Worked up an appetite? Guests can enjoy modern European fare at Restaurant 1500 or hearty stews and strudels at Parlour Ida.
4. Desert chic
Amangiri, Lake Powell, United States
When only a desertscape will do, escape to Amangiri boutique hotel near Lake Powell in the heart of Navajo country in southern Utah. An exclusive pocket of modernist luxury surrounded by wild and wind-carved land, this is rockstar chic at its best. The 34 soothing suites embrace the outdoors with stellar views, as does the sandstone-set outdoor heated pool. The incredible spa sports five treatment rooms, a watsu pool and Water Pavilion, and rates include yoga classes and a daily guided hike. Delicious food and drink takes inspiration from the region (think bison burgers, tortilla chips and salsa, and prickly-pear margaritas).
5. Spa serenity
MesaStila, Yogyakarta, Indonesia
If you fancy a jungle spa stay away from the tourist hordes, MesaStila hotel on Indonesia's main island Java could be just the ticket. Ringed by verdant forest and eight easy-on-the-eye volcanoes, this serene garden-set retreat was once a Dutch colonial coffee plantation. Now its 22 elegant villas promise to calm you down rather than rev you up, thanks to the award-winning spa, which uses estate-grown products in its treatments, a hammam, yoga classes and view-blessed pool. The culture-rich town of Yogyakarta is nearby for a hit of dance, art or music, and famous Buddhist temple Borobudur is also within easy reach.
Chateau de Bagnols, Beaujolais, France
For a rural retreat that knows a thing or two about wine, hightail it to luxurious Château de Bagnols, a five-star aristocrat near Lyon in cultivated Beaujolais. Boasting its own moat, drawbridge and towers in honey-hued stone, the hotel's 21 spacious rooms are elegant feasts of vintage style. Gourmet delights are also on offer at La Salle des Gardes restaurant, occupying a former guards' room beside a sunny terrace, which dishes up modern French cuisine as well as trad spit-roasted meats and game. There's an impressive wine list, and wine-tasting and cooking classes on tap. Horse-drawn carriage jaunts, picnics and hot-air balloon rides up the romance factor.
7. Modern-rustic luxe
Blackberry Farm, Smoky Mountains, United States
Gorgeous views, a patchwork of picket-fenced fields, sylvanian countryside, and a model home-on-the-farm feel - all the ingredients are there for a textbook rural retreat, but 59-room Blackberry Farm, in Tennessee's Smoky Mountains, ratchets the luxury up a notch with smart contemporary decor, can't-do-enough staff and its own Lexus fleet (or commandeer a golf buggy). Our fave rooms are the Singing Brook Cottages, which are superbly spacious, pleasantly secluded, and offer a gorgeous contemporary take on chic rusticity. The hotel flaunts outdoor pursuits aplenty, including hiking, climbing, rafting, riding and stargazing. The Aveda Spa offers an indulgent alternative for working off those all-inclusive meals.
8. Animal magic
The Farm at Cape Kidnappers, Hawke's Bay, New Zealand
The Farm at Cape Kidnappers in wine region Hawke's Bay, on New Zealand's North Island, combines a 6,000-acre working sheep and cattle farm with jaw-dropping Pacific Ocean views, an 18-hole golf course and soothing spa. Touting 22 suites (and the larger Owner's Cottage for group getaways), this boutique retreat offers serious luxe, fine dining and a romantic circular snug for James Bond-glam drinks. To get your fresh-air fix, opt for a farm tour by foot or four-wheel drive, go on a Kiwi Discovery Walk to spot the rare national bird or take a safari to the local gannet colony.
9. Country pursuits
The Wheatsheaf Inn, Cotswolds, United Kingdom
Just a two-hour drive from London, the Wheatsheaf Inn brings the trad English coaching inn bang up to date, with stylish design, tasty regional food and beer, and a small spa. Once weary wayfarers called into this 17th-century bolthole to recuperate. Now you can do the same, provided Cotswolds-loving supermodel Kate Moss and her posse haven't booked it out first. The 14 cosy suites include a former piggery and stableblock, but tasteful mod cons rule now. The dining room and bar are equally welcoming, teaming tempting dishes with bold modern art. Should you fancy yourself as an English country squire, try out clay-pigeon shooting, with Hunter wellies provided.
10. Jungle thrills
El Silencio Lodge & Spa, Costa Rica
Eco suites on stilts meet the cloud-forest canopy at El Silencio Lodge & Spa in central Costa Rica, set in a 500-acre tropical forest with a winding river and three waterfalls cascading down the mountainside. Take in picture-perfect panoramas from an outdoor hot tub, greet the sunrise from the yoga deck, and feast on natural, organic food (restaurant Los Ventanas uses produce from the garden and local fishermen pitch in with fresh trout). Each of the 15 mountainside Suites is assigned an Eco Concierge, who leads your courtesy hike, coordinates activities, arranges tree-plantings and can point out flora and fauna (expect beautiful birdlife in this private nature reserve).