There are a lot of lists collating unusual properties, but they often roll out the same few choices. Audley specialists have looked past the fads to seek out some truly unique options. You can watch fish swim by your underwater room on Zanzibar or sleep in a glass-walled pod in the New Zealand bush.
Tree House Hideaway, Bandhavgarh, India
Tree houses have long been in vogue for those looking for something different, but few offer an escape in the wilds like the Tree House Hideaway. Each tree house — there are only five — is named after the type of tree it has been built around, including a thick-trunked peepal (fig) tree and a fiery-red flowered palash tree (often called the flame of the forest).
From your balcony you can look down across grasslands and bamboo thickets, watching for wild deer, birds and the occasional sloth bear. Each treehouse is carefully spaced in the sal forest so you feel like the only occupants and furnished with locally made wooden furniture. Each evening your butler will collect you for dinner, which is served under lamplight up in a large communal treehouse.
You can take game drives into the national park to seek out the Bengal tiger, accompanied by the kind of experienced naturalist who can sense a tiger’s presence from the flick of a branch. In-between game drives, you can laze on a private machan, a traditional platform originally used for hunting animals, which overlooks a well-populated watering hole.
Hoshinoya Fuji, Kawaguchi-ko, Japan
Tucked into a redwood forest on the shores of Lake KawaguChi, Hoshinoya Fuji calls itself a glamping resort, although the facilities would rival those of a top-class hotel. Looking like an ode to 1970s futurist architecture, a cluster of concrete cabins are set into a hillside, each one with a glass front facing the lake. Hidden under the surrounding trees is the Cloud Terrace, an outdoor space for dining and recreation.
Each cabin is minimally designed with white walls and bed linen, with a discrete en suite bathroom set off to one side. This allows the landscape, viewed through the great glass wall at the end of the cabin, to really sing. The balcony feels like an extension of the room, furnished with a sofa that overlooks the lake. At night you can get into the camping spirit — albeit very comfortably — with a fire on your balcony while you enjoy the views.
One of the main reasons you’re here is Mount Fuji, which rises up from the southern shores of the lake. On a clear day there’s an uninterrupted view of the volcano’s peak. This is the closest you’re able to get to Mount Fuji without actually climbing it. For the best views, visit in November or December when there’s less cloud cover and snow on the peak.
Dwarika’s Resort Dhulikhel, Nepal
Nepal isn’t just for those clad in walking boots and a functional backpack. A 45-minute drive — or short helicopter ride — from Kathmandu is Dwarika’s Resort. The focus here is on aligning your mind, body and spirit while surrounded by views of the snow-capped Himalaya. You can enhance the immune system in the Himalayan salt room, rebalance your chakra in a sound chamber or walk the meditation maze as the sun rises.
While Nepal isn’t known for luxury stays, at Dwarika’s you can retreat to a private suite, furnished with carefully hand-crafted furniture and antiques. The main restaurant, Nature’s Flavours, serves vegetarian fare grown in the resort’s organic garden while Mako’s Zen restaurant serves Japanese cuisine inspired by the food Buddhist monks eat while in training.
The rooms are set into the Himalayan hillside, topped with the Gol Lok Dham Lounge. This glass-walled sitting room is an ideal vantage to watch sunset, followed by a spot of stargazing using the polished brass telescope. There’s a library stocked with books on philosophy and Buddhist medicine, as well as documentaries and meditation CDs to be enjoyed in your room.
The Manta Resort’s Underwater Room, Pemba Island, Zanzibar
Set on the shores of Pemba Island in the Zanzibar Archipelago, The Manta Resort offers a spa, pool and thatched seafront villas. But look just beyond the white-sand beach and you’ll find a more novel accommodation option.
Floating in the turquoise waters above a reef teeming with fish is the property’s Underwater Room. Swedish-designed, the three-level structure is made of local hardwood and can be accessed via a two-minute boat ride. Here you have complete privacy, with all meals brought out to you at a time that suits you, and a mobile phone on hand should you require assistance.
Level with the sea is a lounge area with shaded seating and a bathroom featuring an open-air freshwater shower and an eco-friendly toilet. A ladder leads up to an open deck complete with loungers where you can sunbathe during the day and spot constellations at night. You’ll also have use of your own kayak and snorkeling equipment.
The real highlight, however, is the bedroom. Suspended 4 m (13 ft) below the waves, it has windows on every side, allowing you to gaze out at the kaleidoscopic marine life that lives among the coral. You might glimpse bat fish, trumpet fish, octopus and rays from your bed. At night, spotlights are lit beneath the windows, revealing more elusive species such as squid.
Fogo Island Inn, Newfoundland, Canada
Stepping onto Fogo Island — a remote shard of land off Newfoundland’s already remote north coast — it’s easy to see why people once believed this to be one of the corners of the Earth. Pockets of fir trees cling to rocks stripped almost bare from the last Ice Age, and whitewashed saltbox homes huddle to form tiny coastal villages.
It’s therefore a surprise when the modern, angular outline of Fogo Island Inn comes into view. Built entirely of whitewashed wood and set partially on metal stilts, the inn rises like a mirage from wave-battered rocks. Each of its 29 suites face out to the ocean. When sitting in your rocking chair (made from yellow birch by a local joiner), you can gaze out through floor-to-ceiling windows knowing that nothing but ocean separates you from Greenland.
In spring, icebergs float casually in the distance, visible from the rooftop hot tubs. And at any time of year you can follow the swoops and dives of seabirds through the binoculars supplied in your room. There’s also a small cinema where you can watch documentaries about the hotel’s construction and its role in supporting rural development on Fogo.
Your stay includes all meals, as well as a wide range of activities that give you an insight into the island’s natural environment and culture. You could hike some of the 14 trails with a local, take a boat trip out to an abandoned island, or visit some of the villages, originally established by 19th-century Irish settlers.
Conestoga Wagons at Capitol Reef Resort, Utah, USA
The Capitol Reef Resort is a gateway to the red rock cliffs, domes and canyons of Capitol Reef National Park, just 1.6 km (one mile) away. You can choose to stay in standard rooms, suites or cabins, but the more adventurous can sleep in the Conestoga Wagons set in the property’s grounds (available between June and September).
Styled on the horse, mule or oxen-drawn covered wagons used to carry heavy goods across the US during the 18th and 19th centuries, the wagons are made of wood with domed white canvas roofs. Their interiors are surprisingly spacious, with room for a large double bed and two sets of bunk beds, sleeping up to six guests. You also have your own separate bathroom just steps away.
The wagons are set around a communal fire pit. Guests gather here in the evening to share drinks and stories in true Western style, surrounded by the rust-hued rocks Utah is revered for. With very little light pollution, the skies are ripe for stargazing.
During your stay you can also make use of the resort’s facilities, including its outdoor heated pool, hot tubs, free Wi-Fi and The Pioneer Kitchen restaurant. Its meat-heavy menu includes braised ribs, steaks and burgers.
Away from the resort, you have easy access to the national park’s network of hiking trails, as well as ancient petroglyphs that are scattered around this area. Guided horse riding and 4×4 drives can also be arranged through the resort.
Airstream caravan, Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
Staying in this metal caravan is the only way you can stray overnight on Bolivia’s celebrated Salar de Uyuni salt flats. As you approach, it looms on the horizon like a space ship, and the feeling of being marooned in an intriguingly alien land is immediate: there’s nothing around you but salt pans. When they’re filled with water, they resemble one giant, unnervingly still mirror; dry, they’re like an endless-seeming grid of whiteish, immaculately-formed hexagons.
As isolated as you feel, in reality you’re within driving distance of a small village, Tahua, which is on the fringes of the flats and at the foot of Thunupa Volcano. A driver and chef accompany you out onto the flats, to cook your evening meal but also to toast Pachamama (Mother Earth) with you over singani (pomace brandy). The temperature drops dramatically at night, and you’ll find yourself huddling around a fire pit, before the darkness draws in for good. Your driver and guide then leave and park up a little way away (for safety’s sake), abandoning you to the solitude.
Make sure you’re awake for sunrise. At this altitude (3,656 m or 11,994 ft above sea level), the sky is often clear and awash with great streaks of gold and orange, and the sun bouncing off the salt crystals makes the whole landscape luminous.
Sal Salis, Cape Range National Park and Ningaloo Reef, Australia
From the confines of your tent (complete with shielded outdoor shower, and devoid of phones, TV or Wi-Fi), you might look out to the surrounding sandy scrub, and forget where you really are. The African Savannah? No, but that’s the feel that this safari-style camp is going for (and it boasts similar eco-friendly credentials, relying on solar power and providing chemical-free toiletries, to list just two examples). But look in the opposite direction, to the deep, squidgy golden sand of South Mandu Beach, the cyan slick of shallow sea, and the darker blue of Ningaloo Reef beyond. Dingoes howl in nearby Yardley Creek, and rock wallabies skitter in the bush: where else could you be, but Australia?
The camp staff are adept at helping you immerse yourself in the remarkable Outback-like environment the camp is so respectful of. The standout experience is the chance to swim with whale sharks, but it’s also possible to swim alongside humpback whales between August and November. (Yes, you read that right. Humpbacks.) The guided snorkeling trips are also excellent, while very hardy swimmers can head to the outer reef to spot hammerheads, leopard sharks and manta rays.
Back on dry land, we especially like the guided evening walks to the aforementioned creek as well as Mandu Mandu Gorge, a vast cleave in the area’s ancient limestone rock. You’re likely to see eagles circling above it, as well as those ubiquitous wallabies.
PurePods, various (secret) locations, New Zealand
It begins when you arrive at a pre-designated car park, via an unpaved road, but there’s no need to check in anywhere. Instead, there’s a sign bearing your name only, which points you down a path. You follow it, like Alice tracking the white rabbit, for 20 minutes or so, perhaps over farmland or through native bush or woodland. You come out into a clearing, and there, nestled on a gentle slope (but always with no other human development in sight), is your room for the night: a glass-walled cuboid on stilts, complete with underfloor heating, decking area, loungers and a view onto the surrounding countryside.
There’s no internet, TV or phone signal (although a satellite phone is there for emergencies). But nor do you need to do heaps of preparation before entering into the Wi-Fi-free wild: your PurePod fridge is ready stocked with fish, meat or a vegetarian option, plus side dishes, which you can cook yourself on the deck’s barbeque. A platter of cheese, crackers, fruit and chutney also lies in wait, as well as a breakfast of pastries and muesli — you need only provide any alcoholic drinks.
Then there’s nothing to do but sit back, listen to the birdsong, and drink in the isolation. At night, if you wish, you can pull blinds down over the glass walls, but the glass ceiling is left purposefully uncovered. You can lie back and observe the heavens without a hint of light pollution.