I have chosen these as my Top Ten because they are unique in the beauty of their settings and/or their unusual construction.
Salar de Uyuni – Bolivia.
Hotel Palacio de Sal.
In the midst of a flat, blinding white, expanse of salt that forms a pattern of polygons as far as the eye can see, is a hotel built entirely of salt. From the bedrooms to the furniture, to the ceilings, and support columns, this elegant, warm, and inviting hotel that sits on a vast salt plain, appears like a mirage. As the day wanes and the lights come on it becomes a sparkling, fairytale, salt palace.
Email: email@example.com / www.palaciodesal.com/bo/en
The Wyanad Forest – India
Tranquil is a boutique homestay on a four hundred acre coffee and spice plantation nestled in the lush Wyanad rain forest of Northern Kerala. We stayed in the Treetop Villa high up in the forest canopy on eye level with the monkeys who would swing from branch to branch pausing now and then to stare and check us out. This treetop hideout equipped with every five-star comfort has two bathrooms – my favorite, enclosed in glass, has a tree growing through it. The silence is absolute, broken only by the occasional snap of a branch or the rustling of leaves in the gentle breeze.
Takayama – Japan
Oyado Koto No Yume – Ryokan
Takayama located high up in the Hida Mountains is surrounded by peaks covered in maple and pine trees. It was autumn when we visited, and the hillsides were ablaze in red, amber, gold, and orange. A Ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn dating back to the 6th Century. A tall, imposing, kimono clad, gentleman welcomed us to Oyado Koto No Yume Ryokan. Our shoes and luggage were whisked away, and we slipped into comfortable cloth slippers. After relaxing over a cup of tea and cake, we selected our indoor Yukatas (robes), our outdoor Kimonos, and were then escorted to our suite which had traditional Tatami (straw mat) flooring. We luxuriated in the Ryokan’s hot spring indoor and open-air baths; slept on puffy, comfy, futons, on the tatami floor; and attempted to dress up in our kimonos which proved to be quite entertaining as it’s no easy feat. Breakfasts were quite an experience. They required some instruction and practice. The first morning I suspect we did everything wrong but shared some good laughs with the staff who were most amused. When in Japan, don’t miss the Ryokan experience.
Telephone #: (+81)577320427
Les Maisons de Cappadoce
Visitors flock to Cappadocia in the spring and summer but here’s the best kept secret: in winter it’s one of the most gorgeous, unforgettable, destinations imaginable! The tufa fairy chimneys- created over centuries by volcanic eruptions, wind, and water- are covered in a light dusting of snow; the skies are awash in blue; the snow covered volcanoes cradling the valleys are painted gold and pink at sunset. Les Maisons de Cappadoce was beyond our wildest imagination. Designed by a French architect, our converted cave nestled among the rock formations and fairy chimneys, while the patio offered sweeping panoramic views of Pigeon Valley and the volcanoes. Our low-slung king size bed – covered in the finest French Linen – rested on a built in marble base. Thick white rugs were scattered around the suite, and the fireplace was flanked by built-in marble couches covered in oatmeal and cognac-colored seat cushions. An archway led to a bathroom appointed with elegant fixtures and fittings, while the spacious shower room was housed in its own little cave. Each morning a large basket was placed outside our door containing fresh eggs, fruit, yogurt, cheeses, freshly baked bread, homemade jams, and pastries. We could have cocooned in that magical hideaway for weeks on end. Unfortunately, we only had three nights.
Sapa – Northern Vietnam
Cradled by majestic mountains in Northern Vietnam – an hour’s drive from Sapa – Topas Ecolodge perches on a hilltop. Semicircular electric green rice paddies cascade down the mountainsides. Thatched roof, rustic bungalows – built from milky white granite and wood – look out at the ever drifting clouds and mist, that like a curtain, conceal the mountain peaks, then draw back to reveal their quiet strength and beauty. The lodge is an ideal place to return to after a two day – sometimes grueling but always exhilarating – trek, to visit and stay with the hill tribes. A visit to the lodge’s spa treats one’s aching limbs to a bath in a Red Dao recipe of mountain herbs, while soaking up a postcard view of the surroundings. Follow up with an herbal and essential oils massage, and an herbal compress to rejuvenate the feet that have carried you down valleys and up mountains for several days. Sit on your private balcony; read, stare at the view, and enjoy a hot cup of tea and a pastry. Topas Ecolodge is an idyllic place to recharge after days of traveling and hiking.
Telephone: (+84)(24) 3715 1005
Patagonia – Argentina
We boarded Estancia Cristina’s private boat at the dock in the little town of El Calafate, and for the next two-and-a-half hours were enraptured by the spectacular scenery of massive sculptures of mint-blue icebergs floating on the milky turquoise-blue waters of Lago Argentino. Estancia Cristina was established in 1914 by a British couple who turned this remote, pristine, inhospitable, corner of Patagonia, into a paradise. Upon arrival, we were driven by jeep to our suite, housed in one of five cottages. A wall of windows looked out at a field of wild flowers beneath the towering snowcapped Andes. Now and again, wild rabbits, foxes, and horses would pass by our window. We spent our days hiking to lagoons and waterfalls; visiting Upsala Glacier- that neither words nor photos can do justice; and horse riding in the valley across streams and up into the mountains. We would return with huge appetites to the sun filled dining room and indulge in gourmet dining. Estancia Cristina is beautiful and serene beyond description. It is sheer bliss.
Telephone: (54) (2902)491-133
Hampi-Karnataka State – India
Hampi Boulders Resort
We drove through fields of rice paddies, past towering palms, banana trees, fields of golden marigolds, and the Tungabhadra River, which snakes through the landscape. Monumental boulders created by millennia of natural erosion balance precariously atop each other in a jumble of granite. Visitors are attracted to Hampi for its vast number of ancient ruins which bear testament to the dynamism and wealth of the Vijayanagara Empire, which existed here in the 15th and 16th Centuries. Turning onto a dirt lane that slithered amongst stands of bamboo and around sculptured boulders, our driver came to a stop outside a cottage with a simple sign that read "Reception.” Hampi Boulders Resort blends in completely with its surroundings. Every step, every pathway, every cottage, is constructed so that it melds with the natural terrain. We stayed in the secluded Sun Cottage which has a wraparound shaded patio, and a sun roof with a 360 degree view. It perches on the edge of the river where crocodiles sun themselves and Langur and Macaques monkeys romp and play. Guided hikes on the property lead one to spectacular waterfalls, caves, and ancient rock art, while the swimming pool – set amongst the reeds where hundreds of butterflies hover- is a treat in the heat of the day.
Telephone: (+91) (944)8034202
Daintree Rainforest – Australia
Daintree Wilderness Lodge
Tucked away in the dense rain forest, is an understated treasure with seven cottages. At the boutique Daintree Wilderness Lodge, cottages are so well spaced that one feels as though one has been dropped into a magical forest where birds, frogs, and the occasional spider – who weaves a magnificent, intricate silk web between trees – are your companions. Tall black feathered Cassowary birds that sport a crest that resembles an exotic primitive headdress, have bright turquoise blue necks and look as though they are wearing hot pink neckties – peck at the jungle floor. The cottages are reached via elevated wooden boardwalks shaded by huge palm leafs that form a canopy of gentle waving fans. Sunroofs and a multitude of windows puncture the wooden cottages, allowing the filtered light of the forest to caress the interiors with soft natural lighting. After going for a swim in the natural pool hidden among the jungle foliage, we lunched on fresh trout, salads, and fruit, served on the wooden deck as far away as one could imagine from city life.
Telephone: (+61) (07)40989105
Manu Biosphere Reserve – The Amazon – Peru
Our group of ten, including a chef and guide, traveled by private bus up into the misty rainforest of the Amazon then down to the river, where we boarded a low, open-sided, covered longboat with padded high backed seats, that was to be our mode of transport for the next four days. The Manu Biosphere is a pristine protected part of the Amazon jungle that has never been burnt, chopped, or polluted. Each night we stayed in a different lodge; their entrances were so camouflaged by the seemingly impenetrable jungle foliage that we marveled at how our boat drivers found them. On our fourth night, we stayed at the Aguaje Tented Camp. More cottages than tents, they stand on stilts, have see-through mesh walls, and shared bathrooms. To end a tiring day in an open sided structure surrounded by the jungle – while breathing in the pure, sweet air and being lulled to sleep by the sounds of nature – is a treat to treasure. At 4 a.m. however, it sounded as though King Kong was about to come crashing through the trees. I’ll never forget that sound that reverberated through the forest. As it turned out it was a male Howler Monkey romancing his mate. Hard to believe that a relatively small creature can make such a booming sound.
Myanmar Treasure Resort
At the tiny dock in Nyaung Shwe, we boarded a three-seater teak long boat for the ride to the Treasure Resort. Along the way we paused to watch the balletic grace of the famous fishermen of Inle Lake, who balance on their wooden skiffs on one leg, while wrapping their other leg around the oar, leaving both hands free to raise and lower their nets in and out of the water. Forty minutes later our boat driver cut the engines and drifted soundlessly through a water garden of pink and white waterlilies dotted with white egrets. On the jetty, three staff members awaited our arrival. A young woman offered us cool, fragrant hand towels, while her colleague proffered a tray of green tea and crisp, sweet potato puffs. Our cottage stood on stilts in the water looking out at the mountain hugged by scarves of puffy grey clouds, and the waterlily garden, while the rear of the suite faced lotus gardens and electric green rice paddies. We had two bathrooms, one indoor and one outdoor with a view of the lake. The resort has a spa and offers Burmese cooking classes with the chef. While the name ‘Treasure’ resort may sound corny, this resort truly is a treasure. We could have done with one full day of just hanging out at the resort once our days of uncovering the sights of Inle Lake were over.
Telephone: (+95) (81)209481
Disclosure: The following photos were not taken by me: The two interior photos of Les Maisons de Cappadoce, and the photos of the Daintree Lodge cottage and the Cassowary bird.