AL FRESCO ADVENTURES
Get back to nature with my pick of the most luxurious ways to find yourself in the wilderness.
A TREEHOUSE: Chewton Glen, Hampshire
A luxury hotel may not be the first thing that springs to mind when it comes to being in tune with the great outdoors, but Chewton Glen, in the New Forest, has something up its sleeves (or should we say trees?) for the summer. Hidden away in the country house hotel’s extensive grounds, are six ultra-luxe, eco cedar-tree houses, which have just opened to the public in June.
Designed to have a minimal visual and physical impact on their pristine surroundings, the tree houses appear from a distance to ‘float’ over the forest canopy. This magical quality is extended to your experience from the minute you arrive. The tree houses are approached via a raised boardwalk giving the feeling that you are leaving solid land behind and walking into the air. Once inside, you are faced with breathtaking views of the valley dropping away below you, with the verdant forest and picturesque, bubbling stream in the distance.
Inside, the hideaways feature floor to ceiling windows (they have been situated so you can watch the sunset), vaulted ceilings, secret ‘bunk’ rooms for children, wood burners and ambient lighting. The rustic-luxe design is made complete with natural details – hessian, linens, wools are mixed in with oak, stone, shimmering shell and copper accents. Free-standing spa baths are situated on wraparound decks and therapists, from the hotel’s renowned ila-spa, can visit to pamper you under the trees. It’s true enchantment in the forest.
A MOUNTAIN LODGE: Minaret Station, New Zealand
Forget soggy ground sheets and damp sleeping bags, bringing the wow-factor to mountaineering is New Zealand’s first tented camp, the Minaret Station. Accessible only by helicopter, the Minaret Station is located in a jaw-dropping location. At the head of a stunning glacial valley, in the Southern Alps, and on the western shoes of Lake Wanaka, the camp is nestled at a height of 3,000 feet with incredible scenery all around.
The ultimate retreat, the camp consists of communal lodges and tented sleeping areas, all designed so guests can truly be at one with nature. The idea is that under canvas, as opposed to more conventional building materials, you are much more sensitive to all the subtle changes around you: waking up to the gurgling of the nearby waterfall, feeling the difference between the morning and evening breezes and hearing the cries of rare birds.
While the surroundings keep true to the spirit of exploration, the interiors of the tents are as far away from traditional camping as you can get. There are wall-to-wall sheepskin carpets, king-size beds, en suite bathrooms and private decks with hot tubs.
The communal Mountain Kitchen lodge boasts plush sofas and a large open fire in its living room. There’s a dining room with under-floor heating, where guests are served sumptuous feasts devised by the on-site chef and there’s even a library for literary moments under the stars. From hiking to helicopter tours, fly-fishing to alpine walks, there’s a host of activities on offer. With no road access or formal tourist trails to speak of, this is about as wild as it gets, albeit with a touch of luxury.
A YURT: Sirocco, Cadiz, Spain
Just outside the town of Tarifa, on Spain’s most southern tip, are these delightful countryside yurts – perfect for those who prefer the notion of glamping as opposed to old-fashioned camping. The three Bedouin-style yurts (each sleeping two adults and two children) are hidden away on a smallholding with an eco sensibility. Power is provided by wind and solar energy, water is sourced from a well, there’s a vegetable and herb garden and guests can request freshly-baked bread and free-range eggs.
Locally crafted furniture, large double beds, fine linens and pretty, homely details make your escape a cosy getaway. The sides of each yurt can be rolled up to take in the view, which on a clear day stretches across to Morocco, or let in the sea air on balmy afternoons. There are two separate, slick bathrooms and a cute, Hamptons-style kitchen, although you can always order breakfast if you’re not up for the full d-i-y holiday.
It’s a wonderful area to explore. Tarifa, just 3km away, is renowned for its stunning coastline and secluded beaches. Whale-watching, hiking and watersports are all on tap, and the area is famous for its magnificent wildlife and landscape: in season, the skies are full of migrating birds and the nearby cork forests are home to mongeese, hoopoes and vultures. Best of all, the yurts are undisturbed by light or noise pollution meaning you can kick-back under a star-lit sky.
A GYPSY CARAVAN: La Bastide De Marie, Provence, France
If you want to get away from it all, but still have a touch of luxe on offer, then this summer head to one of Provence’s most romantic hotels, La Bastide de Marie. Don’t book into one of its charming suites, though. Instead head out to the gorgeous estate, surrounded by lush vineyards, and there you’ll find The Roulotte.
The emerald-green, gypsy-style caravan has been lavishly kitted out with glossy wooden floors, crimson walls, an antique bed and vintage-style dressing table to make an evocative, sensual retreat.
While you can remain secluded if you so wish, you can also full take advantage of all the facilities on offer at the hotel – such as a dip in one of the two swimming pools or an indulgent treatment at Spa Altitude. Dinner at the Bastide restaurant is a must. Seasonal produce is gathered from local markets to create twists on Provençal classics. Highlights include the smoky chilled tomato soup with olive tartare, creamy risotto with Vaucluse mushrooms and truffles and crème brulée flavoured with lavender grown in the grounds.
For those of you, who truly ‘vant to be alone’, there’s a special La Vie en Rose package for this summer. You will experience a night in the Roulotte, with the floor sprinkled with rose petals, a candlelit dinner and champagne on arrival. It’s possibly the most perfect bohemian boudoir.
A LUXURY DESERT CAMP: The Serai, Jaisalmer, India
Bringing the spirit of the Raj to the notion of camping is Sujan’s ultra-luxe camp in India’s Great Thar Desert. A stunning oasis set amid dramatic sand-dunes and under clear, blue skies – The Serai aims to recall the glamour of bygone eras and is more akin to a boutique hotel in the sand, than a campsite.
All of the 21 creamy, billowing tents rise up from a base of local Jaisalmer stone and have relaxation verandahs, living rooms and bedrooms complete with oversized beds and air con. The Luxury Tented Suites also have private gardens and sunken pools, while the Royal Suite is the most impressive, with its own private spa, outdoor pool, dining and lounge tents. Inside, you can retreat amid a stylish mix of Indian Dhurries, traditional fabrics and campaign furniture.
The Serai also features a stunning swimming pool based on a traditional Indian step-well and a spa designed by Raison D’Etre, pitched around a pretty garden. Here, you can choose from a choice of organic treatments, inspired by the local Rajasthani traditions, with products blended from healing Indian herbs and spices, such as saffron, honey and black sesame seeds.
At night, the camp truly comes into its own and is infinitely romantic, with its flickering lanterns and glowing camp-fires. The communal dining tent offers local delicacies or classic Western dishes – the choice is yours – using home-grown produce. After dinner you can retreat to one of the leather club chairs in the library bar to a backbeat of 30s jazz, or have a wander around the boutique, which sells sequined and cotton kaftans made by artisans, local art, leatherwork and beaded items as well as furniture to order.
If that doesn’t keep you busy, you can explore the beautiful pink-sandstone fort city of Jaisalmer, just a 45-minute drive away, or go for a sunset camel ride, complete with a hamper of sundowners. On your return, you’ll be given a hot water bottle to stave off the night chill of the desert. It’s fabulous, heart-warming stuff.
This article was written by myself for the May issue of Kensington & Chelsea Magazine