On The Road
The Best Places To Recharge
No concierge, patchy Wi-Fi and a wood-burning stove. What’s more luxurious than a retreat in the middle of nowhere?
Unyoked, New South Wales, Australia. Photograph courtesy of Unyoked
Work-life balance. Three little words that are so easy to say, yet so hard to achieve. City life can mean working insanely long hours, weekends lost to deadlines, evenings lost to schmoozing. You permanently feel like you’re one martini away from burning out. In other words, the personal part of your life ends up as an afterthought, leaving precious little time to just breathe.
There’s no time like the present to take yourself off-grid, albeit temporarily, far from the madding crowd and incessant bings of emails. Over the past few years there has been a mini boom in escapes that might just save your sanity: tiny houses in remote locations, ensconced in woods and overlooking lakes. If you choose wisely, there will be no room service, no concierge, no bar staffed by world-class mixologists. Just you, a view and a few comfortable basics – a wood-burning stove, a blanket and slippers, say. Tempted?
Here are eight retreats designed to facilitate a complete mental and physical detox, where you can heal body and soul without even trying.
15 Fiscavaig, Isle of Skye, Scotland
Photograph by Mr Andrew Lee, courtesy of 15 Fiscavaig
Set snugly into the landscape overlooking Loch Bracadale on the west coast of Skye, 15 Fiskavaig (affectionately known as The Hen House) is the perfect place to quite literally have your stresses blown away. Ecologically low-impact, the building is heated by a single log burner and cleverly insulated so that it stays warm and cosy, no matter how wild the wind outside. There’s an open-plan kitchen/dining/sitting area, with a double-height window filling one entire wall to make the most of the morning sun and the spectacular lochside views.
But it’s exploring the rugged surrounds that’s really going to restore your equilibrium. There are spectacular coastal walks straight from the door, or you can hike for four hours or so across the hills to the poetically named Fairy Pools for a refreshing wild swim. There are also enough boat trip options to keep you busy for weeks. Visit the neighbouring isles of Rona and Raasay, or the World Heritage Site of St Kilda and spot seals, dolphins, whales, basking sharks and sea eagles along the way.
Eat freshly shucked oysters with a view at The Oyster Shed, an hour-and-a-half’s walk away (or a 15-minute drive if you’re really hungry) in Carbost. You can always stop at the Talisker distillery just down the hill for a tour and a warming dram to help power you home again afterwards.
What to pack
Seascape, Annandale, New Zealand
Photograph courtesy of Annandale
If Calvin Klein did secret retreats, they’d look a lot like this incredible seafront villa. Seascape, on New Zealand’s South Island, with its vast windows, natural wood and exposed stone walls, leather deck chairs and outdoor fireplace, is more of a lair than a retreat. It also has a private pebble beach, where you can spot dolphins and seals playing in the gin-clear Pacific. It’s hard to imagine a more restful – or romantic – place to get away from it all.
It may be on a working sheep and cattle farm, but there’s nothing remotely rustic about this place beyond the six miles of unspoilt coastal walks and bike tracks. Nor about the service you can expect on arrival. Have your meals prepared to order by a chef in your own kitchen, or have pre-prepared meals (all fresh local ingredients) delivered straight to your door. You can also have treatments in the privacy of your villa. And if you really don’t want to see or be seen, arrive by chopper at your own private helipad. Yes, definitely a lair.
What to pack
Treehotel, Harads, Sweden
The 7th Room. Photograph by Mr Johan Jansson, courtesy of Treehotel
If you like your retreat with a few extra luxuries – someone else doing the cooking and a two-storey sauna, perhaps – then the pine forests of northern Sweden are calling. The Treehotel has been a fixture on travel and design magazine hot lists for years, and with good reason. Each of its rooms is a towering treehouse (names such as The Bird’s Nest, The UFO and The Mirrorcube give you an idea of what to expect).
The latest, The 7th Room, is a spectacular suite suspended 20ft above the ground, complete with a netted “terrace” where the truly hardy can sleep out under the northern lights. Indoors, there’s a log burner to thaw your toes and beds for four, all of which have uninterrupted forest views through the floor-to-ceiling windows.
When you’ve finished meditating over the extraordinary landscape, it’s a short walk to the sauna and Pensionat, the central area of the hotel where hearty home-cooked food (think moose stew and foraged berries) is dished up and activities planned. For the middle of nowhere, there’s no shortage of ways to clear your cluttered mind. Choose from dog-sledding, fat biking (the bikes come fitted with wide tyres to make cycling over snow easy), moose safaris, kayaking, hiking, fishing, white-water rafting, even speedy skijoring (horse-pulled skiing). Aren’t you starting to feel better already?
What to pack
Pioneer Cabin, British Columbia, Canada
Photograph by Mr Sven Boecker for Form and Forest
If it’s true wilderness you yearn for, nowhere does a secluded cabin quite like Canada. But forget the classic log-built hideaway and instead lose yourself in Form & Forest’s Pioneer Cabin, deep in the heart of the Rockies. There’s no chance of getting a splinter here. It’s all sheet glass and sleek contemporary style, with double-height windows so you can drink in the extraordinary mountain views and watch deer wander by. The cathedral-like open-plan living space is flooded with natural light. Where better to reboot your system with a few daily sun salutations?
Outside there’s hiking (watch out for bears – The Revenant was filmed nearby), canoeing, white-water rafting and skydiving to refresh your jaded soul. Alternatively, you can go fishing on the Blaeberry River right on your doorstep and catch a monster bull trout to cook on the barbecue for supper, before falling asleep to the sound of the river rushing by. If that’s not enough activity for you, in winter there’s always skiing at the nearby Kicking Horse ski resort and there are five national parks within driving distance.
What to pack
Table on Ten Studio on the Hill, New York State, US
Photograph by Paola + Murray
This converted artist’s studio makes a light and airy retreat from the world, surrounded by the wooded hills of the western Catskills in Upstate New York. The set-up is simple: two small double bedrooms, bathroom, an open-plan living space with a small kitchen and a log burner, and lots and lots of windows. Most of the furnishings – beds, tables, kitchen counters – were handmade for the space using reclaimed wood, and are complemented by antique pieces, such as the roll-top bath.
But the real draw here, apart from the view and the natural light, is that it’s just eight minutes’ drive from Table on Ten, a tiny local café in the little town of Bloomville that’s as remote as it is rhapsodised about by locals and visitors alike. Most of the food is locally produced, grown by friends of the owners on small-scale farms or foraged (you can sign up for a class). It’s all good soul-saving comfort food: wood-fired sourdough pizzas, homemade soups and pies, ice-cream sandwiches. No one said reclaiming your sanity has to be slimming.
What to pack
La Casa Pequeña, Oaxaca, Mexico
Photograph courtesy of Boutique Homes
Ask any surfer and they’ll tell you that watching the horizon and waiting for that perfect wave is the best kind of meditation you can get. And ask anyone who meditates and they’ll tell you that there’s no better way to soothe your mind and rebalance your emotions. So, where better to escape to than one of the world’s best surfing destinations, Puerto Escondido, on Mexico’s southern coast?
La Casa Pequeña is just a 30-minute drive from Zicatela beach, where the waves roll in 24/7. It’s tucked away down a dirt track and stands alone at the edge of its own stretch of wild shoreline (you can take a night swim in the bio-luminescent water). The house itself is a striking two-storey concrete structure, designed to be open to the landscape, with only bi-folding wooden shutters between you and the outside world.
The spectacular kitchen space takes up almost the entire ground floor of the tiny building and is designed as a single indoor/outdoor space, with a central concrete table that stretches straight out into the garden, where there’s a plunge pool and hammock. There’s also an open-air bathroom and the shutters over the mezzanine bed open across the full width of one wall so that you’re (almost) sleeping under the stars. With nothing to see but scrub and sea for miles, there’s nothing about this house that isn’t restful. It’s a monument to the healing powers of minimalism and simplicity.
What to pack
Stadl Altenbach, South Styria, Austria
Photograph by Pures Leben, courtesy of Urlaubsarchitektur
This remarkable conversion of an old kellerstöckl, a traditional Austrian vineyard workers’ cottage with a large cellar dug into the hillside for making and storing wine, is hidden on a working vineyard in southern Austria, close to the Slovenian border. One half of the house is a straightforward conversion of the original building, while the other is a striking modern extension in wood and glass, with spectacular views over the surrounding hills.
The house comes with its own sauna (with a view), a small swimming pool and a pond with a plunge pool, and inside the blend of traditional and modern gives it a stylish but comfortable feel. A particular highlight is the building’s original wood-burning oven, which is in full working order in what is now the bedroom – perfect for those chilly nights atop a mountain.
To unwind, take a tour of the surrounding vineyard, walk in the hills, or visit one of the many local taverns. The vineyard has its own restaurant, which serves restorative comfort food – lots of smoked and roasted meats, sauerkraut, pickles, apple strudel – and plenty of local wines. As an added bonus, a basket is delivered to your door each morning, filled with wonderful fresh breakfast ingredients, including eggs, cheese and bread rolls, so all you need to worry about is whether to eat it inside by the fire or out on the terrace in the crisp morning air.
What to pack
Unyoked, New South Wales, Australia
Miguel cabin. Photograph courtesy of Unyoked
The name says it all. What could be more freeing than spending time deep in the rainforest of the Southern Highlands of New South Wales, with nothing but trees, sky and the occasional wombat or kangaroo for company? Talk about having space to breathe. This is the escape that mindfulness invented.
There are two cabins, in separate locations, but both on private land less than two hours’ drive from Sydney and so far from modern life the exact location is not revealed until a couple of days before you arrive. More cabins are planned, with the next set to open within two hours’ drive of Melbourne in November (there’s already a waiting list).
The cabins are immaculately well-designed, all natural wood and picture windows, with not so much as a poorly positioned light switch to stress you out. There’s a solar-powered shower (the pipework is aesthetically pleasing copper), composting loo, gas-fired cooker, fan and bar fridge. Basics such as bedding, towels, crockery, coffee, milk and firewood are provided, as well as board games and a stack of Penguin books. And when you venture outdoors, there’s a fire pit fit for an evening feast and, further afield, hiking trails, waterfalls and swimming holes to discover.
What to pack