Luxury Pop-Up Hotels Are the Ultimate New Travel Adventure
Forget the usual travel playbook: proper hotels, predictable services, planned itineraries. There’s another, more adventurous way. At travel’s cutting edge, all the world’s your stage, and the trip designer is your genie in a bottle. Bespoke does not begin to capture the possibilities: You can sleep luxuriously in an uninhabited wilderness. Dine lavishly on a desert dune. Get beamed, Star Trek–style, from your Mediterranean cruise to the landlocked vastness of Mongolia. Few will follow in your footsteps (that’s bragging rights), and no trace of you will remain behind (tents and props will be packed up). But you can relish the environmental correctness of that. And the adventures will last where they matter most: in your memory.
The Teslas of Tents
Luxurious, stylish, and sustainable, they let you boldly go where few have gone before.
An Amazing Escapes geodesic dome tent in the Shleronde Meadow above Verbier, Switzerland.
"We started on a dare,” says Vincent Raisiere, the managing director of the Swiss-based camping outfitter Amazing Escapes. “We were a conventional tour operator, and one day a billionaire said to us, ‘Surprise me.’ ” How about venturing, they thought, into the world’s vast uninhabited places, where no one else is? A meadow high in the Swiss Alps, say, or the sand dunes in Oman’s Empty Quarter, or an undeveloped atoll in the Maldives? And doing it in high style? “It’s a simple concept,” Raisiere says. “People are increasingly looking for that feeling of being lost, of disconnecting. But they also want comfort. We provide luxury hospitality where there is no infrastructure for it.”
You sleep in tents especially brought in for your small group of family and friends (at one site or several consecutive ones—you’re the boss). Their styles vary: geodesic domes, or futuristic inflatable bubbles, or classic Central Asian yurts. They’re chosen for specific, sometimes extreme environments based on their insulation, wind tolerance, portability, sustainability, and, importantly, aesthetics—if they were cars they would be Teslas. (This month a group of 12 hardy souls will be in northern Norway following the Sami people of Lapland as they move their reindeer to summer pastures, and they will be sleeping in domes.)
Each tent has a private bath area with hot and cold running water (the hot water is heated by portable solar panels and then recycled). The mattress and sheets are fit for a five-star hotel. The lighting is ample (thanks to portable generators). There are soft floor coverings of natural fibers, chairs to lounge in, stacks of pillows and throws. A chef whips up gourmet meals in the communal dining tent while guides concoct daily menus of activities, which can include, depending on location: hiking, riding, biking, sailing, dogsledding, ballooning, and more.
Or you can simply sit in the pristine silence and watch the sun move across the sky.
Verbier camp interior. "People never expect this level of comfort," says Amazing Escapes Vincent Raisiere. "Even if we tell them, they don't believe it. Not until they arrive.
“We also bring in a team of designers,” Raisiere says, “to create the atmosphere. Because people want adventure, but also soul.” In Chile’s Atacama Desert they transformed an old car wreck into a pisco sour bar (imagine those happy hours under the desert stars). They might set up sculptures of found drift wood, decorate place settings with dried flowers, even adorn lowly bedside water bottles with crisp white linen holders. “But it’s always a balance between the amenities and the adventure,” Raisiere says. “A storm coming in? Great. We also want to take you out of your comfort zone.” You have been warned.
BOOK NOW Price depends on the expedition, starting at $9,900 (P515,146.50) per person for 6 nights, all inclusive.
A private bachelor party set up by EXP Journeys on Lake Powell came with a chopper and water toys.
For all their vast plains, canyons, and rushing rivers, America’s national parks don’t offer much of one luxury— privacy—especially in their crowded lodges. The best way to take in all that primal beauty—Zion, Bryce, Arches, Monument Valley, etc.—is to camp along the parks’ edges. EXP Journeys caters to your party alone—“this is not glamping,” EXP owner Kevin Jackson points out, referring to the luxe tents you can book like hotel rooms. Each camp comes with a private chef, guides, a raft of customized activities, and an unbeatable guarantee: No one else’s vacation will spoil your view.
BOOK NOW $2,800 (P145,698.00) per night for a family of 4, all inclusive.
Africa Without Walls
Trade in the four-posters and clawfoot tubs for the frisson of fly tents and true wilderness.
A great plains mobile camp, (inset) Uma Thurman photographed in Botswana for a T&C story in 2015.
GREAT PLAINS CONSERVATION
When Karen Blixen and Denys Finch Hatton went on safari in early-20th-century Kenya—the experience that jump-started their affair (see Out of Africa)—they stayed in “Fly tents”: small, easily portable structures pitched at sunset wherever the day’s adventures had led them and packed up easily at dawn. Great Plains Conservation, the wildlife preservation and tourism company (in that order) that is renowned for the impeccable classic style of its permanent lodges in Botswana and Kenya, is going back to safari’s roots with a series of expeditionary trips. “I don’t believe only animals should be migratory,” says Great Plains chairman Dereck Joubert. “There is a great romance to being light and free-spirited and nomadic. Adventure doesn’t come to you—you need to find it. The mobile camps make you feel as if you could follow a leopard for days. The tents don’t exclude you from even a moment of the experience.”
The Selinda Adventure Trail is a four-day walking and canoeing expedition offered May through September (for up to eight travelers) in the Selinda Spillway of Botswana’s Okavango Delta, one of Africa’s most pristine wilderness areas. The six-day Ride 4 Lions takes up to 10 travelers at a time on a 125-mile cycling expedition on wilderness trails through Kenya’s impossibly picturesque Amboseli and Tsavo regions (savannas, lava flows, misty forests, and the green hills Hemingway marveled at).
Not only will you have untold wildlife encounters just across your handlebars, but all profits go toward expanding wildlife corridors between areas of human habitation—critical to the survival of Kenya’s lions. That’s pop-up travel with a lasting impact.
BOOK NOW Selinda Advanture Trail, $2,850 (P148,299.75) per person; Ride 4 Lions, $15,000 (P780,525.00) per person.
A dazzle of zebra's (that's the term!) near Asilia's Naboisho camp.
It’s easy to get caught in a human stampede in some of East Africa’s most popular game reserves. The safari company Asilia specializes in more secret spots, and two of its lodges—Naboisho, in Kenya’s greater Maasai Mara region, and Raho Ya, in Tanzania’s less traveled Selous—now also offer fly camp extensions. From Naboisho you’ll walk two to four hours to your tents on a hill, and then it’s you and yours, the bush, the beasts (it’s Big 5 country), and forever views of the Mara.
BOOK NOW From $335 (P17,431.73) per person per night
Live like a local in some of the most exotic destinations around the world.
Hanchey House, one of the traditional Cambodian homes.
Sixteen years ago Thierry Teyssier founded Dar Ahlam, a singular luxury hotel in Morocco where everything is tailored to you and nothing is off-limits. (You want to picnic in the middle of the Sahara with no one else around? Done.) For his latest venture, 700,000 Heures (named for the average number of hours in a lifetime), Teyssier is recreating this experiential model by taking over spectacular private residences around the world. The catch: They will operate for just six months at a time before he packs up and disappears. “If you want to come back next year, we’ll be in another country,” he says. “It’s now or never.”
Siem Reap, Cambodia, is one of this fall’s destinations (Salento, Italy, is the other). The itinerary includes stays in two traditional Cambodian homes, a floating house on Tonle? Sap Lake, and a temple that’s closed to the public. Like Dar Ahlam, 700,000 Heures focuses on the absolutely unique, and authentic, experience, which Teyssier creates with the help of a robust staff and 100 trunks containing everything from silverware to a fully equipped kitchen for impromptu meals in far-flung places.
Angkor Wat, Cambodia's most famous temple complex.
Everything is five-star, but Teyssier says that if you need bottle service or the amenities of, say, an Aman, this is not for you. “When I sleep in an Aman I want to die! It’s like a cemetery,” he says. “I prefer to open your mind to real life, with amazing moments.”
BOOK NOW From $1,862 (P96,889.17) per day for 2
The Land Cruise
An exclusive cruise line's new trips conquer uncharted territory– offboard and on land.
The dining tent in a camp in Bolivia, one of the destinations in Silversea's Couture Collection; (inset) one of its cruise ships.
One of the greatest challenges for a cruise line, no matter how state-of-the-art and amenity-rich it may be, is getting passengers to destinations far inland. Ships skim wonderful coastlines from the Mediterranean to New Zealand and offer excursions to major cities nearby, but not much else. For a company as well equipped as Silversea, however, the solution is simple: conquer the airspace.
This past winter the cruise line debuted the Couture Collection, a new series of pre- and post-cruise land extensions into the hardest-to-reach, most off-the-radar regions—think the salt flats of Bolivia, villages in Mongolia, the South Pole. A fleet of charter jets, private helicopters, and 4X4s transports you from port to these places, where temporary camps with bespoke tents have been set up (some itineraries also include stays at luxury hotels) and guides await to fully immerse you in the destination.
In Bolivia, for example, a 10-day journey begins with a drive from La Paz to Sajama National Park, where you’ll get acclimated to the altitude (which exceeds 14,000 feet) with coca tea in your private yurt. Later in the week, you’ll be taken to the Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest salt flat, where you’ll spend a night in a luxury dome that sits right on top of the salt.
And don’t let the words tent and yurt lead you to think this will be a rustic experience. In line with the Silversea ethos, whatever you expect to find in a five-star hotel you’ll also find here (the hefty price tag guarantees as much).
BOOK NOW Bolivia from $27,000 (P1,404,945.00) for 9 nights
50 DEGREES NORTH
The Aurora Borealis seen from northern Norway.
No natural phenomenon is as ephemeral as the Northern Lights. They can’t be coaxed with money, and they conform to no one’s schedule, though your odds go up the farther from civilization you get. Tour operator 50 Degrees North works with Norwegian cruise line Hurtigruten to guarantee success. They’ll take you into the Arctic Circle and put you in an igloo, the grandfather of pop-up dwellings. Yours will be an upgraded version, of course, with a glass dome, so you can catch the show of a lifetime from your bed.
BOOK NOW From $2,180 (P113,436.30)
This story appears in the April 2018 issue of Town & Country.
This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com.
* Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors.
Prices are based on the conversion rate of $1 = P52.04.