Guest post by Mark Hodson, 101 Holidays
If you’re looking for somewhere different to stay this year, beyond the excellent recommendations in The Good Hotel Guide, here’s a selection of 10 ideas hand-picked by the team at 101 Holidays, from a homestay in Borneo to a private island in the Seychelles.
Who doesn’t dream about sleeping under a velvet black sky lit up by stars? At the Lion Sands River Lodge in South Africa’s Sabi Sands Game Reserve, you can stay in one of 20 thatched bungalows with indoor and outdoor shower and wood-built viewing deck overlooking the Lion Sands River. And, for the ultimate experience, you can stay overnight at the Chalkley Treehouse in a double canopy bed lit by kerosene lamps with nothing between you and the stars but a mosquito net.
Cambodia is a beautiful, fascinating country. Once you’ve dashed around the cities and temples, you’ll be ready to unwind completely at the 4 Rivers Floating Lodge, a luxury eco-resort set amid the mangrove forests of the Cardamom Mountains. It has just 12 tented villas and a central platform with gourmet restaurant, and is reached by private boat transfer along the Tatai River. Don’t miss the dawn jungle trek and sunset cruise.
As essential part of any visit to Japan is an experience of a traditional onsen. The hot springs baths at Nyuto are among the most rustic and atmospheric in all Japan where locals in yukata robes and wooden geta sandals bathe in milky white water, as their ancestors have done for hundreds of years. There are six ryokans where you can stay, but the most sought-after is Tsurunoyu which is set within a forest with traditional rooms and indoor and outdoor baths.
Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula is known for its lively high-rise resorts, but you can get completely away from it all. Holbox Island is set in an ecological reserve and is home to just 2,000 fishermen and their families. There you’ll find Casa Sandra which is owned and run a Cuban artist, Sandra Perez, who has created a tiny slice of beachfront paradise (and she makes a mean mojito). Her homely rustic lodge has just 19 rooms, a pool set in tropical gardens, a restaurant serving home-cooked gourmet food and a chance to see Hawksbill Turtles, pink flamingoes and iguanas.
In the American West you can stay on a working ranch and experience the life of a real cowboy and cowgirl, whether you’re an experienced rider or have never sat in a saddle before. Confident riders can head to Silver Spur Ranch in a remote location at the head of Medicine Lodge on the border of Idaho and Montana. It allows up to 10 guests to join a horse drive, travelling around 20 miles a day, sleeping in tents and eating meals around a camp fire.
In the remote western forests of Nepal, Tiger Tops Karnali Lodge is set in Bardia National Park. It’s not easy to reach – you’ll need to take a flight and two-hour transfer – but that’s enough to deter the tourist hordes. With just 20 rooms, Tiger Tops has pioneered sustainable tourism in Nepal with solar power and organic home-grown food. There’s a team of guides and naturalists offering walking, river and jeep safaris so you can discover the local wildlife.
In Borneo, you can stay in a traditional longhouse with people from the Iban tribe. Typically, this homestay in the Malaysian state of Sarawak would make up just one night of a private tour. It’s basic – you’re provided with a mattress, mosquito net and sleeping sheet – but it’s a fascinating insight into village life. Tattooed to ward off evil spirits, the Iban people were previously know for headhunting, but nowadays are peaceful and welcoming.
When you land in the Seychelles you feel immediately that you’ve stepped into an earthly paradise. But for the ultimate experience, you need to head to a private island resort. Denis Island is a well-established retreat with just 25 cottages sprinkled along an idyllic powder white beach. Each has a private balcony and comfortable bed – no TV or wifi – and guests are encouraged to kick off their shoes and keep it simple: swim and snorkel in the sea, take nature walks, learn about the hotel’s conservation efforts and listen to the local birdlife.
In Finnish Lapland there are a number of places where you can sleep in a glass igloo to observe the night sky. Wilderness Hotel Muotka is a log-cabin lodge set in vast taiga forests bordering a national park. Some of the 26 rooms and suites have a log fire and private sauna. In summer you can gaze at the ethereal midnight sun while in winter you can lie back and watch the magical Northern Lights.
Amid the all-inclusive resorts of Jamaica, there is one hotel that retains the celebrity glamour that brought the island to world renown in the 1950s. Set on its own private beach, Jamaica Inn oozes class; the ultimate place to stay is the White Suite, set on its own private peninsula, where both Winston Churchill and Marilyn Monroe have stayed (separately, of course).
Sarawak image credit: Sarawak Tourism Board / Kirkland Photos