31 July 2013 by Alex Stewart
Our top alternative types of accommodation and where you can try them
Although there are a wealth of luxurious and exclusive hotels and accommodation options worldwide, there are also a host of original and unforgettable places to stay too. Here we round up some of the more unusual and interesting options, which can often be enjoyed in conjunction with exciting experiences and activities. There's something for everyone, all around the world, including an actual bed in a tree.
Sleep in a tree
Stay in a tree house and enjoy the sensation of swaying amidst the branches. Visit the TreeHotel in Sweden, set in a beautiful pine forest 60 km south of the Arctic Circle for the chance to overnight in one of six unique tree houses. Suspended up to six metres above the ground, they mix modernist and minimalist design with back-to-nature values. The Bird's Nest blends in with its surrounds, The Cabin provides a cosy platform high on a hillside and The UFO looks like an alien spaceship slipping through the forest. Choose the Mirrorcube though and climb through a tiny Alice in Wonderland-style hatch in this camouflaged hideout to discover a roof terrace with breathtaking views of the surrounding forest.
When you're not reconnecting with the forest and your inner-tree-climber, go walking, skiing or dogsledding to see the surrounding landscapes or meet traditional Sami reindeer farmers for an insight into their lives. Best of all the hotel is open all year so you can enjoy the Midnight Sun in summer and Northern Lights in winter.
Alternatively, stay in a tree at Cap Jaseux in Canada, in Québec, overlooking the stunning Saguenay Fjord or track tree-climbing lions from the private verandas of the &Beyond Lake Manyara Tree Lodge in Tanzania, where the tree houses are cradled in the boughs of mighty mahogany trees.
Bunk down on a bed of ice
Travel to Sweden to stay in the original Ice Hotel. 200 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle in the small village of Jukkasjarvi, you're guaranteed a frosty reception. Newly built every year from blocks of freshly-cut ice from the nearby Torne River, the hotel features a fresh design that reflects the landscape and culture of the region each time.
Stay in one of the hotel's Snow Rooms, where the temperature drops to minus five degrees, and sleep on a bed of snow and ice, swaddled in reindeer hides and a thick sleeping bag. Upgrade to an Ice or Art Suite, more spacious options featuring intricate ice sculptures. Outside the hotel, enjoy a wide range of activities such as snow shoe trekking, ice driving, husky safaris and searching for the Northern Lights in a genuinely wild and remote location.
Alternatively, North America's first ice hotel, Hotel de Glace, can be found a short distance from Québec. Also made entirely from snow and ice, it features ornate furniture carved from ice blocks, two art galleries, a cinema and the famous Absolut ice Bar. For a more intimate atmosphere, try the Sorrisniva Igloo Hotel in Alta, Norwegian Lapland. Somewhat cosier are the glass igloos at Hotel Kakslauttanen in Finland, which are heated.
Stay on a ship marooned in a sea of ice
Pretend to be a Polar explorer and enjoy a unique, unforgettable adventure in the Arctic wilderness of Svalbard by staying on a hotel ship frozen in the sea ice. The stranded Basecamp ship, a 100-year old schooner, is marooned in the frozen waters of Tempelfjorden every year; accessed by snow mobile or husky sled, it acts as a comfortable retreat from the elements and the enormous polar bears that often pad beneath the bowsprit.
Spend your days exploring Svalbard with your dog team, driving your own sled and revelling in the silence, broken only by the panting of the huskies and the scrape of the sled on the ice.
Go camping but not as you know it
Banish unhappy memories of camping under damp canvas by staying in a luxury tented camp. Savute Under Canvas in Botswana's game-rich Chobe National Park is an exceptional example. The camp offers spacious walk-in tents with en suite bathrooms, tin basins and flush toilets making it as far from the typical camping holiday in the UK as possible. What's more, each is furnished with a comfortable twin or double bed in which to fall asleep whilst listening to the African bush.
The camp is fully staffed and professional guides accompany you on all activities, from helping you to spot a wealth of wildlife to stoking the camp fires and sharing stories at the end of the day. Camps move every five or six days, ensuring that game drives always explore a new area. Located close to waterholes there's always an easy base from which to observe high levels of animal activity as well.
Alternatively, enjoy a tented safari in Kenya at Kichwa Tembo Tented Camp in the Masai Mara or stay at the &Beyond Ngala Tented Camp in South Africa to explore the Kruger National Park; each tent here has an oversized bath tub overlooking the surrounding savannah. Out of Africa, stay at a Sami wilderness camp in Arctic Norway at Camp Tamok, where you can learn Sami folklore and spend the night in a lavvu, a traditional type of Sami tent.
Experience historic hotels on the Iberian Peninsula
Although the name translates as little more than 'stopping place', Spain's 93 Paradors are anything but humdrum hotels. Instead, they're palaces, fortresses and medieval castles, monasteries, convents and grand country houses. The common thread that binds them is that they've all been restored by the grace of the state. Together they form a network of exceptional places to stay.
Seek them out in Granada, Santiago de Compostela, Segovia and Toledo. Take a self-drive trip along the Camino de Santiago pilgrim route on the northern coast, the Navarra Wine Route in the north or the Castle Route in the west and experience these historic, atmospheric accommodation options.
Alternatively, look out for the Parador de la Gomera in the Canary Islands, which is filled with marine and nautical references from the time that Columbus left the eponymous island for America. Otherwise, Portugal's Pousadas are similar to Spain's Paradors in that they're a network of state-owned hotels synonymous with the history, culture and traditions of their particular region and showcase an alternative side of the country. Travel through the Algarve staying at a selection of these places tosee a different side to the typical tourist trail.
Make like a Mongol
Although yurt's are more frequently associated with Central Asia and the steppes of Mongolia, there's an exceptional example in Chile. Patagonia Camp consists of 18 luxury domed tents built on stilts, standing amidst beech trees and scrub on the shore of Lago del Toro.
Each yurt boasts brilliant views across the lake to the Paine massif; sit on your private terrace to soak up the view or lie back in bed and gaze through the glass roof at the starscape that displays after dark. The accommodation, amenities and facilities are of a far higher standard than you'd expect in a tent, making it a fabulous, romantic and yet adventurous place to stay whilst exploring Patagonia.
Live like a king
India has a host of spectacular palace hotels. Once home to India's royalty, the buildings have been converted into upmarket accommodation in order to preserve their existence, meaning that you can now stay and experience first-hand how royalty once lived.
The Neemrana Fort Palace in Rajasthan is located about halfway between Agra and Jaipur, making it a great option when exploring the Golden Triangle; Devi Garh near Udaipur occupies a former hilltop fort whilst the Taj Lake Palace, which appears to float on the picture-postcard waters of Lake Pichola, is a romantic idyll.
Alternatively, Denmark boasts the world's oldest monarchy so its perhaps unsurprising that the country has some 600 castles crammed into its compact countryside. Many of these have been converted into lavish and sophisticated hotels. Take a self-drive tour of the country and discover locations outside of the capital Copenhagen and main cities such as Odense, Aarhus and Aalborg, exploring the pretty landscapes of Zeeland, Funan and Jutland, all the while staying in accommodation that lets you live like a king.
Sleep over the sea
Let the sky and sea fuse into one and be lulled by the sound of the waves by staying in an over-water villa. The Maldives are the over-water capital of the world with a wealth of glamorous locations to choose from.
Cocoa island by COMO is on an intimate private atoll, just a ten minute walk from end to end. Each of the over-water villas here is in the form of a traditional dhoni fishing vessel moored to the sea floor. Each of the suites has its own private terrace and direct access to the crystal clear waters of the island's lagoon.
Alternatively, seek out over-water villas on Bora Bora in French Polynesia. Known as the 'pearl of the Pacific' the accommodation is similarly glamorous, with stunning resorts in harmony with their surrounds. Elsewhere, check out Pangkor Laut in Malaysia for an alternative place where you can sleep on stilts above the sea.
Retreat underground to a cave
Go underground and follow in the footsteps of monks and hermits who, between the fourth and eleventh centuries, were drawn to the surreal lunar landscapes of Cappadocia, deep in the heart of Turkey. To escape the elements that tormented this arid region, they carved hundreds of cells and churches, complete with vaults and pillars, apses and domes, out of the rock.
Some of these structures have been beautifully transformed into boutique hotels such as Taskonaklar. Carefully preserved, every room is unique. Outside the caves, there are opportunities for balloon flights, treks and horseback rides to discover the region's landscapes and plenty of traditional concerts and encounters with Whirling Dervishes to enjoy as well.