There’s more to a holiday than lazing on a sun lounger, as these alternative holiday experiences show…
If you want more from your holiday than siestas and sangria, there are plenty of options to shake things up. Glamping hits new heights at The Bower Treehouse in Somerset, where a luxe wood cabin perches in the branches of remote forestland.
Further afield, São Lourenço do Barrocal in Portugal is a vast working farm where you can indulge in fresh cuisine, reared right before your eyes. The tranquil Masseria Trapanà in Puglia is a food lover’s paradise, featuring the region’s simple yet delicious dishes, plus cookery demonstrations and tastings.
For a high-end safari experience, South Africa’s Singita Lebombo Lodge offers an extraordinary close-up of wildlife at Kruger National Park. For a unique trip any time of year, Deplar Farm in Iceland takes you off-grid for some spectacular skiing, hiking and whale-watching, while Isla Secas in Panama is an off-grid private island paradise that’s ripe for discovery.
The lowdown pared-back luxury on an unspoilt island
Best for A total escape with an eco ethos
The Gulf of Chiriqui with its collection of Robinson Crusoe-style islands off the Pacific coast of Panama is ripe for discovery.
Sitting somewhat under the regular traveller’s radar, the region is most noted for its off-grid, paradisiacal beach escapes.
So far, many of these have been of the back-to-basics variety. A new game changer, the Islas Secas resort, is bringing high-end, pared-back luxury to the region.
Expect immaculately designed and secluded casitas with plunge pools, thatched cabanas and sleek decks backing onto the rainforest canopy.
None of this comes at the expense of the archipelago’s eco credentials though; solar energy powers the entire resort, all water and food waste is recycled or reused, and only a quarter of the area has been touched by human hand.
Whilst here, experience one of the resort’s guided excursions, from watersports to whale-watching with local experts.
THE BOWER TREEHOUSE
The lowdown A fresh, ultra-decadent take on glamping.
Best for Couples craving a romantic break under the stars.
The Bower Treehouse is no ordinary treehouse, as it features underfloor heating, a king-size bed, fully equipped kitchen and log-burner for those chilly British nights.
Out on the spacious balcony deck is the pièce de résistance: a large oval bath, in which a long soak with a chilled glass of bubbly (or two) is obligatory. Once ensconced in your own little slice of paradise in the trees, be on the lookout for owls, woodpeckers, deer, foxes and badgers.
Created by award-winning garden designer Lulu Urquhart and partner Simon Parfett, the treehouse has been sustainably designed and is made up of two interlinking hexagons with the brass and copper kitchen in the middle.
The style is all harmonious wood walls, with a bed carved from stag oak. Your home-from-home is stocked full of organic goodies, from butter to pesto, as well as that all-important champagne.
Rustle up your own barbecue for dinner, or order a home-cooked meal from the owners. While the treehouse is aimed at couples, extra guests can be accommodated on a sofa bed.
And if you can bear to tear yourself away, excursions include the Frome Independent market and Glastonbury Abbey, while the world-famous Hauser & Wirth gallery is just down the road in Bruton.
Book it: Treehouse from £275 per night.
SINGITA LEBOMBO LODGE
KRUGER NATIONAL PARK, SOUTH AFRICA
The lowdown A luxe environment with safari on its doorstep.
Best for Anyone prepared to splash out on an unforgettable holiday.
Recently refurbished, Lebombo Lodge is a thing of true beauty. Its 13 contemporary suites and private villa are suspended above the N’wanetsi River, blending effortlessly into the African bushland. Each room has floor-to-ceiling glass windows for maximum light and spacious decks where you can sleep under a mozzie net to be closer to nature.
The design focuses on rustic wood furniture and softly billowing fabrics in muted greys, with sumptuous sofas and cushions throughout. Highlights include indoor and outdoor showers, a sublime 25-metre pool and a panoramic deck for stargazing.
Of course, the prime reason to visit is the safari. A few days in the wild should deliver sightings of ‘the big five’: leopards, lions, elephants, buffaloes and black rhinos. Children (who are welcome over the age of 10) will love the Mini Rangers’ course, with lessons in bush survival techniques and birdwatching.
The lodge also offers a complementary minibar, help-yourself deli, gym and spa, with Dermalogica facials and body treatments. At sunset, tuck into some tasty local game, including antelope and ostrich and team your dinner with a tipple from the on-site wine studio. Perfection.
Book it Suites from £1,415 per night.
SAO LOURENCO DO BARROCAL
The lowdown A rustic-chic getaway on an idyllic working farm.
Best for Outdoorsy families who like a touch of luxe.
A two-hour drive from Lisbon, São Lourenço do Barrocal is a 200-year-old farm estate, whose crumbling whitewashed buildings have been lovingly restored to their original glory.
Spread across 780 hectares in the Alentejo region, the hotel blends country charm and Scandi minimalism, with a range of 40 simple rooms, deluxe suites and larger cottages for families.
Plain white walls and gorgeous terracotta-tiled floors abound, with homely, all-natural materials and Portuguese vintage pieces completing the look. The pretty farmhouse dining room has a welcoming fireplace, marble tabletops and a handmade wood bar.
Grab a picnic and cycle around the farm, looking out for 75 bird species, roaming cattle and wild rabbits. The estate treasure hunt will keep the kids entertained, especially once they spot the treat-laden chest.
Seek refuge in the spa, with organic treatments by Susanne Kaufmann. Or enjoy a horseback trek to the hilltop village of Monsaraz, one of the oldest in southern Portugal. Cuisine is another USP here and meals reflect the farm-to-table policy, with home-grown veg, herbs and the estate’s beef on the menu.
Top tip: Be sure to take a pair of binoculars with you as the Alqueva lake nearby is the first Starlight Tourism Destination site. This immense nature reserve, spanning 3,000sq km, makes the perfect backdrop for a mesmerising night of stargazing…
Book it Double rooms from £147 per night.
TROLL PENINSULA, ICELAND
The lowdown A five-star lodge close to the Arctic Circle.
Best for Adrenaline junkies who want to get away from it all.
Located on northern Iceland’s amusingly named Troll Peninsula, Deplar Farm is a stunning contemporary lodge, which doubles up as the perfect base for daredevil pursuits. A former sheep farm that has been converted into a luxe hotel, there are 13 cosy bedrooms, each kitted out with sheepkskins, native artefacts and textured walls.
The prime suites offer dreamy hammocks for two and panoramic views. In the communal areas, enormous windows draw the ice-capped mountains inside and the lounge features an open fireplace and oversized sofas to snuggle up on after a hard day outdoors.
There’s plenty to do virtually all year round. In winter, try cross-country and heli-skiing, snow-mobiling and sledding. Visit during the summer months and it’s all about hot spring tours, horseriding, kayaking and surfing. Your best chance of catching the Northern Lights falls between September and April.
The spa has two i-sopod flotation tanks and a steamed, open-air geothermal pool, complete with a swim-up bar, where native schnapps shots are all in a day’s work. Meals consist of farm-to-table fare, including locally caught salmon and mountain lamb.
Top tip: In the Land of the Midnight Sun, at least one all-nighter is in order during peak summer. The sun doesn’t set until around midnight in mid-June and rises again at 3am. Observe the phenomenon in style on a boat cruise or ski trip.
The lowdown A lovingly upgraded 16th-century farmhouse.
Best for Gourmets who want to treat their tastebuds.
A stay at the laid-back-luxe Masseria Trapanà should come with a warning – this super-chilled boutique hotel is so stress-busting and so gorgeous, you’ll never want to leave. Surrounded by 60 hectares of olive groves, with the air scented by a heady mix of lemon and orange trees, fresh herbs and plump roses, everything about this zen-like space is geared towards relaxation.
Foodies are spoilt for choice – as well as pizza night (see roundel), be sure to sign up for one of the family-run half-day cookery classes in the nearby village of Squinzano. Back at the masseria, ace chef Sandro Cagnazzo’s authentic cucina povera is divine – think orecchiette with aubergine and sublime gelatos – taken outside on the terrace on endless balmy evenings or in one of the rustic-chic indoor spaces.
Other must-trys include Hatha yoga in the meditation garden and dreamy treatments in the subterranean spa. While all nine of the rooms are pretty special, with their massive four-posters, towering vaulted ceilings and private courtyards complete with outdoor baths, the garden is the star of the show.
Divided into six themed areas – including the pool garden and games garden (afternoon croquet on the lawn is a big draw) – you can lose hours ambling down the winding paths, smelling the fabulous fleurs or taking time out for a snooze in a hammock. And with its strict no-under-12s policy, your passport to peace is guaranteed…
Top tip: Don’t miss pizza-making night in Masseria Trapanà’s cutting-edge kitchen. Fired up by a rousing soundtrack of Italian opera (and plenty of prosecco), guests get to design their own masterpiece from a range of freshly chopped toppings.