Wild, Wonderful & Wicked Retreats

Opposites attract – we've paird up some of the world's most contrasting luxury boltholes for you to compare, from holistic to medical and city to wilderness

By Julia Buckley
Published 9 Jul 2013, 16:09 BST, Updated 30 Jun 2021, 14:04 BST

Transport yourself to some of the world's most secluded, stylish retreats. Each trip in this collection is paired with a contrasting experience, whether you want to detox or indulge, go rustic over high-tech, or wallow beside the birds rather than the beasts.


The outside comes in at Le Lodge Park, a chic cowboy-meets-Heidi hotel in one of the Alps' ritziest ski resorts, high up in the Rhône-Alpes in the shadow of Mont Blanc. High windows offer views towards the mountains and the bar has a patio dotted with fur-clad chairs.
Details: Doubles from €270 (£231) per night. 


There are thunderstorms, and there are tropical thunderstorms. And then there's this one — a storm so bad it's shaking the room when it wakes me in the middle of the night.

It's the kind of storm you really wouldn't want to be in a tent for, let alone a tent on a river. Yet here I am, in a tent, on a river, deep in the Cambodian jungle, in a thunderstorm. Yes, it's terrifying, but, in equal measure, breathtaking. As the tent bounces around on its wooden platform, the river pulling at us below, the wind whipping at our walls, thunderclaps exploding overhead, it's almost as if I'm feeling the earth's pulse. Staying on terra firma never feels as thrilling.

In northwestern Cambodia near the Thai border, Four Rivers sits amid remote jungle, a four hour drive from Phnom Penh, and then a boat ride from the village of Tatai.

The 12 tents — though 'tents' seems a mealy-mouthed description, since they're kitted out with double beds, chaise longues and ensuite bathrooms inside, terraces and sunloungers out — float on the Tatai River, jungle on one side, an island on the other.

In such a remote location — kayaks and boats are the only form of transport, and communication with the outside world is patchy — a stay here pulls you into the earth's rhythm. Monsoon season is approaching during my visit, so the water is too fast-moving for swimming, but we kayak over to the island, to eat juicy santol fruit straight from the tree and buy freshly picked durians from the farmers — it tastes tangy and sweet, unlike the notoriously rotten smell normally associated with it. Downriver, we kayak through labyrinthine mangrove forests, their brittle roots curling round each other like long fingers, as monkeys scuttle through the trees on the shore.

We take a boat downstream towards the Gulf of Thailand one day, to buy freshly caught crabs, picking them out from a bucket. Back at the lodge, the cooks (there's a top rate French-Cambodian restaurant on site) prepare them for dinner, steamed with Cambodia's famously sweet kampot pepper. It's unlike anything I've ever eaten.

The jungle teems with wildlife — deer, pythons, wild pigs and even small leopards have been spotted in the reserve behind the camp, while otters and dolphins may be found in the river, depending on the season. But the most extraordinary vision is something much less glamorous — the humble firefly. On my last night, after a sunset that had streaked the sky like a leaking highlighter pen, the staff take us downriver to see them lighting up the dark jungle with their sparks, twinkling on and off as if they're Christmas tree lights.

Back at my tent, gently bobbing as the water flows below, I look at the stars. Night time has never been so wild or so beautiful. Words by Ed Costa
Details: Doubles from $152 (£101). 


Wondering what to wear? Just check your in-room panel which lists outdoor temperature, humidity and wind speed. Rooms are stocked with a plethora of control panels and gadgets — your room phone is portable and functions around Tokyo.
Details: Doubles from ¥45,000 (£294). 


There are no bad views at Castello di Casole. Perched on the crest of a hill, deep in the rolling landscape of Tuscany, the estate — which dates back to the 10th century — is surrounded by a patchwork of open countryside capped with pretty hilltop towns (Siena lies to one side, San Gimignano to the other). Inside, it propels country simplicity to modern levels of comfort, with suites (all 41 rooms are suites) pitting squashy Simmons beds and rain-head showers against antique doors, iron bedsteads and rolltop baths. Outside lie 4,200 acres of estate to explore on foot or by hotel bike — including vineyards, olive groves and snaking lines of cypress trees. Then there's the dreamy infinity pool from which to observe your realm, a glass of estate wine in hand.
Details: Doubles from €630 (£539). 


Water, water everywhere — whether it's a seawater shower, algae-infused bath or massage under a mist of salt water, the thalassotherapy spa at the Blue Palace mimics the great blue sea outside. Make a circuit of the three thalasso pools, take an aqua aerobics class and swim alongside views of the Gulf of Elounda; or enjoy other local treatments, such as a Cretan olive oil massage.
Details: Doubles from €229 (£196). 


No gruel, colonics or harsh diets here; L'Albereta is a bona fide luxury hotel which just so happens to have a spa aiming to cure your ailments rather than give you a rubdown. The Espace Vitalité Henri Chenot practises the Chenot method, combining Eastern and Western medicine. Meals, hypoallergenic and low-gluten, are designed to purify tissue and restore body balance; and since Italy is champion of the side dish, the veg-heavy diet is far from bland. Treatments add a hint of spa luxury to medical procedures, with mud wraps, massages to release energy blockages, hydrojets — where you're blasted with water — and aromatherapy hydromassage. It all sounds loopy, but the proof is in the pudding: its greatest evangelists are past guests, who boast of not just weight loss, but health gains — even after a three-day retreat.
Details: Doubles from €260 (£223). 

Read more in the National Geographic Traveller – Luxury 2013 special issue

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