From castaway cabins to grown-up treehouses, get ahead of the travel trends with Lizzie Pook’s pick of the coolest places to stay this year.
Exploring new places is one of life’s greatest pleasures (alongside crisp new books, blustery beach walks and buttery toast in front of a crackling fire). So why tarnish that pleasure with a bog-standard hotel room? Travel (and more importantly, annual leave) is precious, so this year we want more from the places we stay in. Thankfully, some of the coolest places to stay in 2020 offer much more than uninspiring off-white walls and long-life milk in the minibar. I’m talking off-grid cabins with uninterrupted nature views. Treehouse rooms set high above the animal-filled South African bush. Lighthouses in which to rest our heads and watch ships passing in the night like fireflies. Getting itchy feet yet?
So here’s my round-up of the most inspiring places to stay in 2020. And there’s not a scratchy hotel robe in sight.
The 72-hour cabin, Sweden
If you really want to get away from it all, this glass-walled cabin set on its own private island in remote West Sweden should just about do the trick. A smattering of these glass houses were built following a Swedish study which found that participants reduced their stress levels by 70% by living alone in a glass cabin on an isolated island for 72 hours.
The cabins tap into the very Swedish concept of Allemansrätten, or ‘the freedom to roam’, which means everyone has the right to access, walk, cycle or camp on any land.
In May, the tenth of these cabins will open on Hunneberg, a staggeringly beautiful plateau mountain on the tip of Sweden’s largest lake, Lake Vänern. After getting to the island by boat, guests are left to fend (mostly) for themselves, with access to canoes, rowing boats and fishing rods for a truly Swallows and Amazons escape.
From £321 per person for 72 hours; 72hcabin.com
Ngala Treehouse, South Africa
Fancy bedding down in a luxury treehouse, under a blanket of stars, with the sound of the African bush (and perhaps the throaty call of distant lions) to lull you? Yeah. Us too.
The brand new Ngala Treehouse – part of the &Beyond Ngala Private Game Reserve on the edge of the game-rich Kruger National Park – is cocooned within bird-filled natural bush in prime Big Five territory. But while you might hear the sound of leopards fighting, or hyenas cackling in the dead of the night, you’ll be safe squirreled away in your four-level treehouse, surrounded by home comforts, including a well-stocked bar, midnight snacks and Swarovski Optik binoculars for sunrise animal-spotting in your dressing gown.
From £436 per night when booking at either &Beyond’s Ngala Safari Lodge or Ngala Tented Camp; andbeyond.com
Rooms at the Artist’s Residence, Bristol
Well this place has certainly undergone something of a facelift, considering the building was once an old boot factory.
Set in the arty St Pauls community, just minutes from Bristol’s buzzy city centre, the newest in the clutch of design-focused Artist Residences looks set to be as wonderfully eclectic as its existing counterparts, with a cocktail of industrial, vintage and bohemian interiors spread across 23 rooms.
With vibrant contemporary art, grand roll-top bathtubs and vintage-style Roberts radios, come May this will be the place from which to conduct your weekends of rummaging in Bristol’s vintage shops, traipsing around its agenda-setting galleries and even taking to the boards (surf boards that is) at The Wave, the new in-land surfing lake set just out of town.
From £100 per night; artistresidence.co.uk
Lodges at Bawah’s Elang Island, Indonesia
When it opened in 2018, the eco-friendly Bawah Reserve – an absurdly idyllic, off-the-radar scattering of six tropical islands in Indonesia’s Anambas Archipelago – was one of the most buzzed-about holiday spots on the planet.
Cast adrift between Malaysia and Borneo and accessible only by seaplane, it’s made up of 36 exquisitely-designed suites and bungalows on the main island, which shimmers with sapphire lagoons and brilliant white beaches. Now, it’s got something even more irresistible to shout about, with brand new accommodation being unveiled on the previously-untouched neighbouring island of Elang.
Opening in May, six sustainably-minded lodges – built from recycled natural materials, bamboo, driftwood and hand-cut stone – will peek out from the jungle. Each will have its own private butler, a foliage-fringed balcony and a private path meandering down to hidden rocky coves and out to the sea.
From £2513 per night; bawahreserve.com
The Lighthouse at Hotel Brosundet, Norway
Norwegian experiential travel company 62° Nord aren’t messing about when it comes to hotel rooms. Fridges filled with KitKats and plastic bottles of mineral water? Nope. Bog-standard beds with scratchy sheets? Absolutely not. In fact, the company – which offers highly-personalised adventures on the rugged north west coast of Norway – has quite the collection of lodges, boats and helicopters (no biggie). Most exciting, however, is their lighthouse, in which you can actually spend the night.
In the small fishing town of Ålesund (which was rebuilt in pretty Art Nouveau style following a devastating fire in 1904) you’ll find Hotel Brosundet. Ask for room 47 and you’ll be given the key to Ålesund’s Molja Lighthouse, a 150-year-old, three-metre-wide lighthouse which stands at the end of the city jetty.
Guests can fall asleep to twinkling lights from passing ships then wake to rolling Nordic sea views and a day filled with sea safaris and kayak adventures into magnificent fjords.
From £178 per person per night; 62.no/en
Pod dorms at Book1 Design Hostel, Denmark
Brøchner Hotels have a history of cool-looking spaces – they’re the team behind the sci-fi-style Hotel Herman K (built inside an old transformer station) in trendy Copenhagen. This Spring they’re taking those design credentials and applying them to a new hostel in arty Aarhus, transforming the oft-nightmarish backpacker experience into a genuinely cool, affordable place to stay.
There’ll be 444 beds set across pod dorms, private suites and bunkrooms in a converted library in leafy Mølleparken. There’ll also be a sauna, pop-up shops, a 24-hour reception and a buzzy bar.
Beyond the bunks, Aarhus is awash with food markets, quirky museums and bustling neighbourhoods ripe for exploring, including an old waterfront, a Latin quarter, a meatpacking district and Dokk-1, which likes to describe itself as ‘the world’s greatest library.’
Dorm beds from £30; brochnerhotels.com
Eco-tents on Kangaroo Island, Australia
Bursting with Eucalyptus forests, milky turquoise bays and dramatic limestone cliffs, Kangaroo Island, cast 11km off mainland South Australia, is a veritable wildlife haven. But the New Year bushfires destroyed much on these pristine shores, ravaging 155,000 hectares (about a third of the island) killing an estimated 25,000 koalas and destroying the islands’ flagship luxury property Southern Ocean Lodge. Now, local businesses and residents are working tirelessly to rebuild this sun-soaked idyll, and are actively encouraging tourists to return. Overlooking Penneshaw’s beautiful Hog Bay beach (named so because numerous pigs were released here long ago) you’ll find a clutch of ocean-view eco-tents, set amongst native bushland in a private area of KI seafront holiday park (arguably one of the most beautiful spots on the island).
Each tent comes with comfy beds, air conditioning and its own private deck, from which to sip on a glass of local Sauvignon Blanc and take in the striking KI coastline.
The island is prime for hiking and adventure, but night time is the best time to see Penneshaw’s little penguin colony, which waddle up the beach to retire to their holes when the sun sets.
From £113 per night; seafrontholidaypark.com.au
Suites at Mayfair Townhouse, London
Set across seven listed Georgian townhouses on Mayfair’s Half Moon Street (immortalised in Oscar Wilde’s novel The Importance of Being Earnest), when it opens in September, The Mayfair Townhouse looks set to be one of London’s most sought-after (but terribly discreet) addresses.
Overseen by the team behind Cliveden House, Chewton Glen and The Lygon Arms (so you know it’s going to be pretty special) it will debut with 173 handsome rooms – including two Penthouse and Garden Suites – a private gym and The Dandy Bar, serving up curated cocktails and elegant bar dishes, making this a home away from home for London’s coolest crowd.
Price TBC; Themayfairtownhouse.com
Nests at Xigera, Botswana
More of a living art exhibition than a safari lodge, when it opens its doors the ultra-luxe Xigera in Botswana’s Okavango Delta will showcase the world’s largest collection of Southern African art and design. Bespoke works created specifically for the camp include a hand-beaten bronze lily centrepiece and human-sized nests woven by Porky Hefer (whose work also features at The Nest at Sossus in Namibia and Joali in the Maldives).
There’ll also be a three-storey steel baobab tree located 1km from the camp, in which guests can spend the night lulled by the sounds of the bush. The lodge will sleep a maximum of 24 guests across two islands in 12 individually designed suites, each of which has been created to look like a Pel’s Fishing Owl (one of Africa’s most elusive birds) in-flight.
Safaris will be done flexibly here, with guests choosing when they want to head out into the bush (in search of Botswana’s marsh lions, leopards and rare hunting dogs), when they want to explore the Delta in glass-bottom mokoro canoes and when they fancy taking part in helicopter or walking safaris.
From £2048 per adult per night sharing; xigera.com
Spa houses at Aman, New York
Beloved by billionaires and celebs from Bill Gates to Beyonce, the Aman chain is known for its chic, pared-back design and uncompromising focus on wellness. But while most Aman hotels are in nature reserves or UNESCO World Heritage Sites, their newest will open in busy NYC, providing a welcome escape from the frenzy of the city.
With 83 rooms and suites and 23 private residences, it will open in Manhattan’s historic Crown Building, two blocks from Central Park and across the street from Tiffany & Co’s flagship Fifth Avenue store. There’ll also be a subterranean jazz club, a cigar bar, a Japanese restaurant and the all-important spa set across three levels, with a 65-foot indoor swimming pool, sauna and steam rooms, hot and cold plunge pools, and an outdoor terrace with cabanas and daybeds.
Price TBC; aman.com
Images: courtesy of venues