Great Luxury Adventure Hotels
The sun rises over 400-year-old limestone formations as you set out on a desert hike with your personal guide. Then you’re off to ride horses through red-rock canyons, or fly away for some heli-skiing. You return to your hotel for a spa treatment based on Thai and Indian traditions, then sit down to an organic meal before returning to your chic, modern suite with a private plunge pool and terrace open to the stars.
It’s just another day at the Amangiri, a 34-suite luxury resort set in southern Utah’s Canyon Country—one of several newer hotels in rugged locations. And these remote spots take full advantage of their location, offering a menu of adventures along with their luxurious digs.
Related: World's Top Adventure Trips
Why unique properties in such remote destinations? They cater to a new type of globe-trotter, says Paul Largay, a T+L A-List agent and adventure-travel expert: the exotic-pursuant. These thrill-seekers want to experience nature, but not at the expense of creature comforts. “After rolling around in the dirt or chasing a snow leopard,” he says, “these travelers want a fine Cabernet.”
The trend may also be an unexpected result of advances in technology, says Rachel Dodds of Sustaining Tourism, a consulting agency that specializes in sustainable tourism. Now that travelers are armed with more information about their next destination, they may be willing to journey farther afield and push their limits in new and different ways.
And to cater to these intrepid outdoorsmen, luxury hotels have opened from the Maldives to Mexico, from Switzerland to South Africa—each with a different level of adventure. At Anantara’s Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort, for example, a fortress outside of Abu Dhabi, guests ride 4 x 4s or sit atop camels en route to a watering hole for glimpses of Arabian oryx and mountain gazelle.
And at Shangri-La’s Villingili Resort and Spa on Addu Atoll in the Maldives, lucky jet-setters unpack in treehouse villas—all furnished with open-air showers and infinity pools—or relax in the 17,000-square-foot over-water bungalows set in the resort’s lagoon.
Of course, the adventure trend isn’t restricted to hotels; tour operators and cruise ships, too, are offering more soft adventures, like ziplining, kayaking, and nature walks—all things, says Dodds, that enhance the traveler’s experience.
In the words of the Adventure Travel Tourism Association, “adventure is becoming more luxurious and luxury more adventurous.” At these properties, you’ll get the best of both worlds. —Sarah Kantrowitz
QasrAl Sarab Desert Resort
Some girls wanted Barbie’s Malibu Dream House; I wished for a tent and camel. My wanderlust was first inspired by documentaries about the nomads who traverse the Rub’ al Khali, or Empty Quarter, outside Abu Dhabi. Which is why I was especially intrigued by the opening of Asia-based hotel group Anantara’s 206-room Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort (doubles from $462), in a sheltered wadi edged by ocher dunes. Trade-route artifacts sourced from local souks—bedouin jewelry; hammered-brass vessels—help to create a place for me to live out my childhood fantasy. —Shane Mitchell
This month, there’s another reason to head to the desert: Amangiri (doubles from $805) is pioneering hotelier Adrian Zecha’s second property in the United States. On 600 acres in arid southern Utah, the 34-suite hideout epitomizes the austere-luxe trend, with polished concrete walls and timber-and-rawhide furniture that allows the mesas, limestone formations, and a monochromatic valley near Lake Powell to serve as window dressing for the less-is-more crowd. —Shane Mitchell
Then there’s Swiss hotelier Reto Gurtner. Though he may look like a mad yodeler, this snowboard aficionado has shed traditional Tyrolean gingerbread for a rough-hewn Valais quartzite façade at Rocksresort (doubles from $171), a complex of shops, restaurants, bars, and 102 condos next to the slopes in Laax, Switzerland. —Shane Mitchell
WolganValley Resort & Spa
On another Aussie homestead, just beyond the Blue Mountains, is the 40-suite Wolgan Valley Resort & Spa (doubles from $1,950, including meals) owned by Emirates. There’s a 4,000-acre preserve out the back door. —Shane Mitchell
VillingiliResort & Spa
I’ve been to the Maldives several times in the past decade and seen the resort boom in this remote archipelago. Though I’m not a fan of all the overdevelopment, Addu Atoll, one of the islands south of the equator, has remained relatively pristine. On a sandy outcropping near a coral reef, Shangri-La has built Villingili Resort & Spa (doubles from $1,200), with 16 tree-house villas and 60 timber bungalows that hover over the aquamarine water. And better yet, British Airways launched nonstop service from London Gatwick to Male, which cuts the travel time in half. —Shane Mitchell
ChiliBeach Boutique Resort
A little closer to home, in Brazil’s unspoiled Jericoacoara, Chili Beach Boutique Resort (doubles from $422, including breakfast) lures castaways to four all-white suites and two casitas steps from the surf. —Shane Mitchell
KoaKea Hotel & Resort
After almost 20 years, it seems that Hawaii’s Poipu Beach has finally recovered from Hurricane Iniki. At Kauai’s Koa Kea Hotel & Resort (doubles from $445), 121 turquoise-and-coral rooms have private lanais and access to one of the state’s best snorkeling coves, plus a fusion restaurant that’s overseen by chef Ronnie Sanchez, who trained at El Bulli. —Shane Mitchell
Homestead at Phinda Private Game Reserve
Jumping continents, andBeyond, one of South Africa’s top safari operators, just added a new lodge, Homestead at Phinda Private Game Reserve (suite from $4,795 for four people). This worth-the-splurge wilderness villa in the woodlands is accented with Zulu crafts. A guide and tracker are also available to find rhinos, cheetahs, and elephants. —Shane Mitchell
And in India, Taj continues to focus on adaptive reuse by converting a Hyderabad sovereign’s estate into its latest palace hotel. Taj Falaknuma Palace (doubles from $750), at the crossroad of Moghul and Persian cultures, is an Italianate marble confection with 60 suites, a collection of paintings by European masters, and Louis XIV furnishings. Now that’s what I call a dream house. —Shane Mitchell
Coqui Coqui Coba,Papolchac Residence & Spa
Two other visionaries who favor views over lavish accoutrements are interior designer Francesca Bonato and architect Nicolas Malleville. They chose a heritage destination for Coqui Coqui Coba, Papolchac Residence & Spa (doubles from $210), in the Yucatán jungle next to a Mayan ruin. Facing a freshwater lagoon, these pyramid-style stone edifices have a wooden bridge connecting the third-floor suites. —Shane Mitchell
And Stewart Cranswick and Charles Carlow (Carlow is known for the upscale bush camp Bamurru Plains) selected southern Australia’s remote Flinders Ranges for a new outback experience, Arkaba Station (doubles from $790). This working sheep ranch includes a 19th-century residence overlooking a creek lined with red gum trees. —Shane Mitchell