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Seven Holidays For The Off-Duty Agent

A remote retreat in Iceland or a heli-skiing adventure in Canada? Take your pick from these under-the-radar escapes

  • Photograph by Mr Bragi Thor, courtesy of Hotel Búðir

The spy of the popular imagination, informed as he is by generations of movies, from Bond to Bourne and beyond, might be expected to take his downtime in familiar locales: the casinos of Monte Carlo, the bustling bazaars of Istanbul or the palace hotels of St Moritz. But no. An agent on annual leave surely requires seclusion and discretion, a place to retreat and keep watch in casual attire while he enjoys the comforts to which spies so quickly become accustomed. Not so much martinis at The Ritz as single malts and a log fire in remotest Iceland. And he will, of course, need an activity or two to maintain his physique and indulge his high-octane tendencies. The following destinations have it all – luxury, seclusion, action and easy access back to civilisation when duty calls. No tuxedo required.

  • Photograph by Mr Tom Everett, courtesy of Skiary

There are no roads to this cottage on the edge of a loch deep in the northwest Scottish Highlands. Beyond the reach of cars, mobile phone reception or even mains electricity, Skiary offers a retreat that is as wild as it gets in Britain, a perfect hideout for anyone lying low, or seeking an escape from life’s relentless pace.

Visitors to the guesthouse on the edge of Loch Hourn are encouraged to walk along its edge from Kinloch Hourn, a tiny settlement where the road heading west comes to a stop, two hours from Inverness, or take the easier route aboard the cottage’s little motorboat.

A 200-year-old former mackerel fisherman’s house, Skiary stands alone where a tiny community once clung to the stuttering Highlands economy. Mr Tom Everett and Ms Claire Holmes now tend its three modest rooms and run the kitchen, which is happily not cut off from supplies of local sea trout. However you arrive, bring some sturdy boots. The house sits among meadows of wild orchids and rare butterflies, while heather and bilberry carpet the surrounding mountainsides. Deer roam the loch’s edge and golden eagles have been spotted overhead, where the stars produce the only light for miles at night.

What to pack

  • A.P.C. Milan Checked Cotton and Linen-Blend Shirt

  • Arc'teryx Bora GTX Waterproof Nubuck Hiking Boots

  • Photograph by Mr Ashley Barker, courtesy of Last Frontier

Ski resorts tend to be places to be seen rather than to get lost, but the quest for good snow means the sport also offers some of the world’s most remote destinations for those who want – or need – to go way, way off-piste. In the northern reaches of British Columbia, Last Frontier combines extreme wilderness with the thrill of heli-skiing. Based in the former gold-mining town of Stewart, 16 hours by road north of Vancouver (or a flight and four-hour drive from the smaller city of Terrace), the company occupies a ramshackle but comfortable inn during winter, significantly boosting the town’s population of loggers, miners and off-gridders. Mobile phone reception arrived last year, but you won’t see many being used in the town’s two bars. There is little to do but drink, or take a stroll down the road across the border to Hyder, an American ghost town that makes Stewart look like Calcutta. You go in winter to ski, and there are few better places to do it. Last Frontier’s twin helicopters have exclusive access to a mountain tenure, including steep Alpine descents and endless tree runs, that is 25 times the size of the Three Valleys, the vast network of resorts in the French Alps.

What to pack

  • Moncler Drake Quilted Shell Hooded Down Jacket

  • Aztech Mountain Jackpot Panelled Fleece Half-Zip Sweater

  • Photograph by Mr Bragi Thor, courtesy of Hotel Búðir

On the westernmost tip of Iceland, an imposing hotel perches alone between lava fields and the rough seas of the North Atlantic. Its only company is a small church down a track, clad in dark grey, next to a tiny graveyard. Hotel Búðir has 28 rooms with no competition for views, and an atmosphere of lived-in luxury that belies its recent history (it was rebuilt after the original burned down in 2001). Step outside onto the Snæfellsnes peninsula and Reykjavik, only two hours away by road, feels as if it must be on a different continent. The 62-mile spit of land is home to Snæfellsjökull, the volcano that inspired Mr Jules Verne to write Journey To The Centre Of The Earth. It looms menacingly over fjords, towering crags and golden beaches. In March, the Northern Lights are a fixture in the night sky.

Ice climbing, hiking, caving and safaris by Jeep or horse are available to the adventurous, or else retreat even further into a leather wingback inside the hotel’s bar and listen to the waves crashing on the beach with a tumbler of Flóki, Iceland’s own single malt.

What to pack

  • Polo Ralph Lauren Quilted Cotton-Jersey Shirt Jacket

  • Moncler Gamme Bleu Cable-Knit Virgin Wool Bobble Hat

  • Photograph courtesy of Aman

There is only one road in or out of Sveti Stefan, an old fortified fishing village perched on a rocky isthmus on Montenegro’s stunning Adriatic coast. It acts like a natural drawbridge linking the mainland to the island-like collection of terracotta-roofed cottages, which rise among oleander, geraniums and mimosa flowers. During the Communist period it was a state-owned village-hotel, and an unlikely stop on the 1960s celebrity circuit in Yugoslavia. Mr Richard Burton and Ms Elizabeth Taylor argued on the terrace, beyond the gaze of peering paparazzi, and Princesses Margaret visited what Paris Match named as one of the 10 best hotels in the world.

In need of further fortification by the turn of this century, Aman Resorts swept in after Montenegro declared independence, halving the room count as it turned the island into a luxury resort like no other. Steep steps and cobbled alleys link the 50 rooms and suites that once made up the village, while, on the mainland, Aman’s understated luxury extends to the eight palatial suites of the 1930s Villa Miločer, once home to Serbian royalty before former Yugoslavian leader Marshall Josip Tito turned it into a summer residence. In between the two lie secluded golden beaches with views across to Italy on a good day.

What to pack

  • Missoni Mid-Length Printed Swim Shorts

  • Illesteva Leonard Round-Frame Tortoiseshell Acetate Sunglasses

  • Photograph by Mr Alan Keohane, courtesy of Kasbah du Toubkal

There isn’t much you can’t see coming from the lofty seclusion of one of Morocco’s remotest hotels. The Kasbah du Toubkal clings to rock like a Berber fortress almost 2,000m up in the Atlas Mountains. Commanding views of three valleys, it sits at the foot of Jbel Toubkal, north Africa’s highest peak. The road from Marrakesh, less than two hours away, ends in the village of Imlil, where guests watch their luggage being lashed to mules for the short trek up to the hotel. Exertion thereafter can range from sipping mint tea and drinking in the views from one of several roof terraces to guided treks that can go as high as Toubkal itself, at more than 4,000m. The Sahara unfolds to the south when skies are clear, while Les Mouflons refuge offers respite and basic lodgings for trekkers on itineraries of more than a day.

The less intrepid may stroll among walnut orchards to the villages that surround the Kasbah, stopping for tea and Berber hospitality along the way. And if the hotel itself does not offer sufficient seclusion, the Kasbah also owns the Azzaden Trekking Lodge, which brings the same level of comfort to four suites a half-day trek from the hotel.

What to pack

  • The Lost Explorer Traveler Boiled Cotton and Wool-Blend Field Jacket

  • Massimo Alba Boavista Slub Linen Henley T-Shirt

  • Photograph by Mr Matthew William Ellis, courtesy of Mashpi Lodge

A machete-wielding trekker slashing a path through rainforest between Quito and Ecuador’s Pacific coast might be startled to stumble upon Mashpi Lodge. Dropped into thick jungle as if by very large helicopter, the luxury hotel defies all expectations of a forest retreat. Acres of glass bring the trees into its 23 minimalist suites and rooms and a vast, double-height dining room with floor-to-ceiling windows. The reserve of old-growth forest had been due for logging until Mr Roque Sevilla, an orchid enthusiast and former mayor of Quito, stepped in. He bought it and envisaged an ecotourism idyll on the site of an old sawmill that would be capable of sustaining the jungle as well as its community. No trees were felled in the construction of the lodge and the result is a secluded paradise for the well-heeled birdwatcher or lepidopterist. More than 30 species of hummingbird alone have been recorded and 10 times as many butterflies and moths. Take it all in from the lodge’s terraces or, in the finer suites, from your own Mr Philippe Starck bath, or venture into the private reserve to trek to one of the surrounding waterfalls. Quito, among the finest Latin American cities, is three hours away.

What to pack

  • James Perse Slim-Fit Stretch-Cotton Poplin Cargo Shorts

  • Eastpak Macnee Leather-Trimmed Camouflage-Print Canvas Backpack

  • Photograph courtesy of The Brando

Mr Marlon Brando bought this tiny atoll 30 miles north of Tahiti in 1965 during the notoriously fraught filming of Mutiny On The Bounty. He later described its necklace of verdant, sand-fringed islands as “beautiful beyond my capacity to describe”. It became a retreat from his professional and romantic travails in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and, by the time of his death in 2004, he had hatched plans to turn it into a luxury resort. Finally opened 10 years later and named in his honour, The Brando can only be reached by helicopter or tiny plane and offers the highest levels of barefoot luxury on the same white sands which Tahitian royalty stepped on centuries ago. The remnants of ancient marae, or temples, built by the first Polynesians survive today alongside 35 thatched beachfront villas, each with its own outdoor bathroom and pool. Guests navigate the island by bicycle – as slowly as possible – and can channel a slightly calmer Captain William Bligh at Les Mutinés, the island’s restaurant, which is overseen by Mr Guy Martin, chef at the two-Michelin star Le Grand Véfour in Paris.

What to pack

  • Thorsun Titan Slim-Fit Mid-Length Printed Swim Shorts

  • Borsalino Grosgrain-Trimmed Straw Panama Hat