As the world grows smaller and the luxury hotel scene expands, it's becoming more and more difficult to find a corner of this planet to call your own — not to mention finding a hotel that doesn't look like a thousand others. That said, it's not impossible, as our list of extreme hotels proves.
In fact, we had a hard time choosing our favorites and even had to leave out some real treasures, including a sewer pipe hotel on the Danube River and a tree house hotel just 90 minutes outside Paris. But we think you'll agree that our selectivity has paid off.
By vacationing at one of the hotels in this collection, you're sure to have an experience that takes you to the limit and beyond.
Key Largo, Florida Jules' Undersea Lodge
There's no need to head ten thousand leagues beneath the sea for an underwater adventure. Instead, you can scuba dive just 21 feet below the surface of a mangrove lagoon in Florida and drift to your heart's content. Inspired by the fantastical world of Jules Verne, Jules' Undersea Lodge is an authentic research habitat and hotel for up to six people. Guests with dive certificates are invited to enjoy unlimited diving. As for novices, a three-hour course is required in order to reach the hotel, but this also allows newbies to dive in the lagoon with an instructor. Although the lodge is by no means a luxury retreat, it does offer a few creature comforts, including gourmet dinner prepared by a "mer-chef."
For more information, visit Jules' Undersea Lodge Farmington.
New Mexico Kokopelli's Cave Bed & Breakfast
Being at one with the earth takes on new meaning at Kokopelli's Cave Bed & Breakfast. Originally built as a geological research office, this manmade one-bedroom cave dwelling is carved into a cliff face 70 feet below the top of a mesa. Complete with a working "orno" fireplace, it is reminiscent of the nearby Anasazi cliff ruins ... with the exception of electricity, carpeting, a Jacuzzi, waterfall shower, flagstone hot tub and comfy Southwestern furnishings. While breakfast is not prepared for guests, the kitchen is fully stocked. Of note is the sunset view over four states, since Kokopelli's is located in the famous Four Corners region of the U.S.
For more information, visit www.bbonline.com/nm/kokopelli
Québec, Canada Hôtel de Glace
While most luxury hotels can expect a major upgrade every decade or so, the Hôtel de Glace is created anew each winter. This seasonal, ever-changing snow-and-ice sculpture is open from early January through the end of March and boasts a collection of über cool facilities. You can sip a chilled cocktail from an ice glass in the ice bar or even tie the knot in the ice chapel. The hotel usually contains 36 guest rooms and themed suites. Some of the latter feature their own fireplaces and spas, while all have beds atop foundations of ice, with arctic sleeping bags for keeping toasty warm all night long. Local activities include ice fishing on Lake St. Joseph, snowmobiling and dog sledding. And when you're ready to chill out — or rather, heat up — just head for the sauna and hot tub. For more information, visit www.icehotel-canada.com
Kerala, India Green Magic Resort
Surrounded by miles of coffee, cardamom and pepper plantations, Green Magic Resort is a dream come true for kids at heart. Consider this your own private playground, with just two tree forts to choose from. Accessed by an indigenous cane lift that uses a unique water counterweight, one of the tree houses perches 90 feet above the forest floor, while a double-decker accommodation, reached by a hanging bridge, soars a bit higher at 100 feet. Each lodging was built by Paniya tribesmen using local materials and traditional techniques, and although they're simple (prepare yourself for cold showers), they're loaded with charm. Because these sometimes swaying houses aren't for everyone, the resort also has an eco-lodge for those who want to keep their feet planted firmly on the ground. For more information, visit www.palmlandtours.net
Llandudno, Wales The Lighthouse
Built in 1862, this place is not your typical lighthouse. Departing from the expected circular architecture, the property resembles a medieval castle and is built of limestone and Canadian pitch pine. It operated as a lighthouse until 1985, and now functions as a bed and breakfast, with simple, traditionally decorated guest rooms. All have views over the Irish Sea, but for a spectacular panorama, book The Lamp Room, which features original glass-paneled walls. After a traditional Welsh breakfast in the Victorian dining room, you can head out to explore the surrounding Great Orme Country Park or take an invigorating two-mile walk to the historic seaside resort of Llandudno. For more information, visit www.lighthouse-llandudno.co.uk
Matera, Italy Le Grotte Della Civita
This series of ancient caves is not what most travelers envision in accommodations when planning their Italian hill town escape. But while the architecture may bring to mind Fred Flintstone, the décor is all about charm. The eighteen guest rooms are spread throughout a complex of ancient cave houses in Matera, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that dates back to the Paleolithic era. Each features a wrought-iron bed and simple furnishings made by local craftspeople, as well as candlelight tucked into natural stone crevices. The caves have been modernized for comfort (with running water and electricity), but the focus is on conservation and historical integrity, ensuring a truly authentic experience. For more information, visit www.legrottedellacivita.com
Sunninghill, England Dovecote
Rescued and lovingly treated to a five-year restoration, the Dovecote is a truly unique lodging. The centuries-old building resides on the private Buckland Estate, which dates back to the medieval period. Today, rather than housing thousands of pigeons, it hosts just one pair of guests at a time. Along with a lounge area, sauna and bathroom facilities, this romantic retreat features a glass-front balcony bedroom showcasing original details such as 1,000 brick nesting boxes. There is also a small but complete kitchen stocked with a welcome pack of eggs, bread and more. The Dovecote is less than a two hour's drive from London, and when you're not enjoying its charming atmosphere, you can stroll along the bridleway to the village of Buckland for a pint at the Lamb Inn. For more information, visit the-dovecote.co.uk
Weligama Bay, Sri Lanka Taprobane Island
Built in the 1920s by a self-appointed count and later owned by the expatriate writer Paul Bowles (who penned Spider House here), this two-and-a-half-acre private island boasts just one sumptuous, five-bedroom villa. Although guests can wade to their exclusive hideaway from the shores of Sri Lanka, it's more fun to ride in on an elephant. The concept behind the villa's design was to avoid closed spaces, which means that there are views of the sea from almost every point in the house. Adding to the sense of luxury is the island's attentive staff, which includes houseboys, stewards, security guards and a dedicated chef whose many specialties include Sri Lankan curries. For more information, visit www.taprobaneisland.com
Les Cerniers, Switzerland Whitepod
Accessible by shuttle, snow bike and ski lift — depending on the season — Whitepod delivers an exclusive Swiss Alps experience. Situated at 5,557 feet, the camp consists of just twelve pods designed to resemble igloos. These pods are in fact dome-shaped tents, pitched on raised wooden platforms surrounding a refurbished, nineteenth-century alpine chalet. Each well-insulated lodging is heated by a wood-burning stove and has its own private front terrace, and the chalet features a communal dining room, where the menu includes modern dishes and classic mountain cuisine such as fondue. Along with majestic views of the snow-covered mountains, the camp offers ice climbing, ski tours, guided and unguided snowshoe tours, back country skiing and dog sledding. For more information, visit www.whitepod.com
Cortes de la Frontera, Spain
The Hoopoe Yurt Hotel Usually, yurts are associated with the outer reaches of Mongolia, but Hoopoe has made these traditional tent-like accommodations more accessible by setting up five in the rugged Andalucian landscape of southern Spain. Situated within three hectares of olive groves and cork oak forest, each yurt at this fully solar -powered retreat has two rooms decorated with antique Mongolian furniture and textiles from around the world, along with a private bathroom. Breakfast is included in the rates, and four-course dinners and tapas are offered in the dining pergola and bar. Although drifting in a hammock is a tempting way to spend your entire holiday, the surrounding attractions are well worth a day trip, including ancient cave paintings, the Moorish town of Ronda and the sherry bodegas of Jerez. For more information, visit www.yurthotel.com
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