The Rise of Sustainable Outdoor Travel Adventures—Plus The Most Beautiful And Luxurious Eco Resorts Around The World
It’s never been easier to get away from it all and closer to nature in style, as the traditional outdoors travel experience is redefined with a new generation of discerning eco-conscious travellers in mind.
There is plenty of evidence that spending time in nature improves physical and mental health—benefits that are especially valued by millennials—and the travel industry is responding accordingly. Experts at the Global Wellness Summit 2019 recommended the hotel industry considers reflecting the recent trend that sees spending time in nature as a “gold standard for wellness.”
Indeed, architects and interior designers have already started to look more closely at the value that biophilic design—biophilia is Greek for ‘love of life and the living world’—adds as nature is incorporated into the man-made environment through sustainable materials, considered construction methods and energy-efficient appliances, or by adding an eco-conscious element to their design narratives. This goes beyond just including a lot of plants. The most successful designers evoke deep emotional elements of nature through patterns, textures, colours, furnishings and art that give the sensation of being outdoors.
A Different Perspective
Television programmes such as George Clarke’s Amazing Spaces and Netflix’s Cabins in the Wild have done much to generate interest in designs that reflect these natural attributes. For instance, the award-winning Woodsman’s Treehouse, designed by British architects Brownlie Ernst and Marks around an ancient oak tree in a forest in Dorset, was long listed for BBC television’s Grand Designs House of the Year 2018.
It combines a beautifully crafted aesthetic through natural materials that blend into the seductive scenery with playful factors such as access via a rope bridge, a rooftop spa and sauna, and a slide to the forest floor. Indoors, a quirky window inserted into the floor provides a different perspective on the surrounding woodland.
James Lohan, founder and chief creative officer of curated travel platform Mr & Mrs Smith, says that more travellers are seeking immersive experiences and eco-friendly, out-in-the-wild stays. He points to the success of Treehotel in Sweden, whose design-led dwellings have captured the imagination of adults and children alike; it also has the added benefit of minimal impact on their surroundings. In the United Kingdom, retreats such as The Fish, Chewton Glen and the Pig Hotels have adult-friendly treehouses, shepherds’ huts and isolated cabins kitted out with all home comforts.
Remote getaways off the tourist track such as Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort in the rainforest of British Columbia, Canada, which can only be reached by air or sea, are becoming all the rage. “Experiencing the great outdoors without roughing it is a huge draw, and as travellers become more eco-conscious it’ll only become more popular,” he predicts.
Camping’s upgrade to glamping has resulted in outstanding examples such as Awasi Atacama’s chic cabanas in Chile’s otherwise inhospitable desert, as well as Under Canvas, a network of safari-inspired tents set in unspoilt locations around the US such as Utah’s Zion National Park.
Even in Japan, travellers are looking further afield from the popular cities of Tokyo and Kyoto. Julia Maeda, co-founder of Okuni, an agency that arranges bespoke luxury tours, says that many international clients are interested in combining culture, architecture and nature. “They are not just looking for luxury in out-of-the-way locations. There is a strong interest in being immersed in nature and local culture in a thoughtful and meaningful way,” she says.
Places that have caught her eye include Japanese Shugendo Buddhist monk and businessman Tetsuji Matsubayashi’s Sasayuri-Ann traditional farmhouses, which are surrounded by rice paddies in the serene mountain town of Fukano, Nara Prefecture. Silent seclusion is complemented by panoramic views and opportunities for seated and walking meditation in the pine-forested mountains. “The stress of busy modern life makes getting away to spend quiet, mindful time in a natural setting more important than ever,” Matsubayashi says.
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A serious back-to-nature movement is also evident in Mainland China, where the country’s first eco-luxury resort, Naked Stables, became the first in the country to receive LEED Platinum certification, an industry symbol for sustainability achievement. It sets a high benchmark with its luxurious yet nature-friendly rammed-earth huts with outdoor showers and treetop villas as well as enormous open-air timber Jacuzzis, built along the ridge of a mountain using innovative techniques to minimise forest disturbance. A three-hour drive from Shanghai, the striking mountains of Moganshan have quickly become a popular retreat for hiking, horseback riding and mountain riding trails.
“Ten years ago, when we opened Naked Stables, the Chinese living in the city had no idea what it is like to be in nature, but they learned quickly. Today we see the public wanting to explore and experience all kinds of outdoor activities, both locally and internationally. This is only the beginning,” says Naked Retreats co-founder and architect, Delphine Yip-Horsfield.
Pioneering boutique hospitality brand Singita has also been doing its part by transforming the luxury safari experience, fully immersing guests in the extraordinary landscape of each lodge with a seductive combination of serious conservation and great design.
Set within 72 hectares, their latest opening, Singita Kwitonda Lodge in northwestern Rwanda, incorporates the natural elements of Volcanoes National Park, home to 320 endangered mountain gorillas, and provides a nexus for learning and support. The lodge features indoor and outdoor fireplaces and heated plunge pools, while large windows allow guests to revel in sweeping views. “The real attraction is the authentic wilderness experience,” says Singita founder and executive chairman Luke Bailes.
Even when you simply can’t go far from home, there are still ways to escape. Forward-thinking developers are starting to create inventive natural cocoons that elicit a sense of freedom in the heart of the city.
Retail giant Amazon leads the pack with The Spheres, a set of three gigantic intersecting spherical glass domes filled with cloud forest gardens at its headquarters in downtown Seattle. Their geometric pattern is derived from a shape found in nature, and they contain more than 40,000 plants from all over the world. Amazon employees can host meetings in the treehouse and the visitor centre is open to the public. It won’t be long until this inspired idea can be replicated in your urban abode, but for now the choice is yours on where to take that much-needed natural immersion.
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Check out our top picks of eco-friendly luxury resorts around the world:
What: An ultra-luxe retreat in the rugged Canyon Point
Where: Southern Utah, US
Why: A new satellite camp featuring tented pavilions
In terms of the luxury quotient, Amangiri is hard to fault. The polished concrete rectangular pavilion resort—a contemporary interpretation of traditional Native American architecture—blends elemental luxury living harmoniously into 240 hectares of monumental Wild West desert scenery in southern Utah’s red-rock canyon country.
To celebrate its decade in the desert, it has added a satellite camp, Camp Sarika, with 10 tented pavilions, each with a bar, plunge pool and private terrace with a fire pit. Guests can use the main resort located a five-minute drive away or enjoy the solitude of their camp, which has a lounge and restaurant pavilion, two spa suites, a swimming pool and Jacuzzi.
Adventure activities include taking to the skies in a hot air balloon, helicopter or plane, or to the water in a kayak or a paddleboard. There are horses to ride and mountain trails to walk as well as storytelling sessions and ritual dances by the fire, sandstone pillars and ancient caves.
2/3 The Pavilions Himalayas Lake View
What: An eco-luxury tented hotel in the midst of the Annapurna mountains
Where: Pokhara, Nepal
Why: A first in the country, this sustainable hotel affords guests utmost privacy
This luxury tented hotel in Nepal opened in 2019 with eight elegant villas, each on a wooden platform with an alfresco dining area. Surrounded by rice fields and the Annapurna mountains, guests have to ride a paddleboat across Phewa Lake and then hike over a mountain trail to reach the hotel, which is situated near a natural mountain spring pool.
The cosy, open-plan villas have solid walls and a tented roof, and natural local materials are used to blur the boundaries between the inside and out. Retractable, wraparound glass doors and an outdoor rain shower help guests become one with nature, and seamlessly combine Pokhara’s rustic charm with a touch of opulence.
Its eco-credentials are peerless: guests and the community are afforded equal priority; it runs on biogas and solar energy; it offers homemade biodegradable toiletries; and it has an organic farm that supplies produce to its Nepalese restaurant. In terms of activities, guests can join guided walks and treks with a local naturalist, as well as go kayaking, paragliding and rafting.
3/3 Wild Coast Tented Lodge
What: A glamping destination with unique, custom-built tents
Where: Yala National Park, Sri Lanka
Why: It combines the beauty of sea and safari in stunning style
Located on Sri Lanka’s southern coast, Wild Coast Tented Lodge offers rustic yet luxurious tents inspired by the egg-shaped boulders strewn across the pristine beach. The unusual, dome-like tents are made from French canvas; inside they feature teak floors, leather furnishings and a striking freestanding copper bathtub.
There’s plenty to keep guests occupied, with a spa, open-air restaurant, infinity pool and game drives in the wildlife-rich Yala National Park, which is renowned for its leopard population. The camp’s designers, Nomadic Resorts, were so inspired by these elusive creatures that each cluster of tents forms the shape of a leopard’s paw.
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