When you visualise a business hotel suite, you think sycamore wood panelling, beautiful garden or sea views, furnished balcony, kitchenette and marble bath with jetted spa tub, high-speed Internet connectivity, a built-in bar or perhaps an in-room massage chair that soothes the body. But what if the luxurious bed was replaced with a slab of ice matted with fur, and instead of the garden, you saw dolphins swimming above your head each time you looked out of the window?
In an effort to make travel more interesting for the business traveller as well as the adventurous traveller, hotels across the world have come up with unique concepts to make the experience of a hotel stay more memorable.
Unusual hotels in each country are often reflective of their climatic properties or their popular culture while offering world-class amenities to the knowledgeable traveller. The Ariau Amazon Towers offers a walk on the wooden catwalks as high as the treetops and the Iglu-Dorf at Davos features, among other things, a whirlpool and a sauna.
So what makes people want to stay in unusual hotels? Architects and owners of these hotels feel it’s the human desire to escape everyday life. “It’s a desire for emotion and for creating new memories. To be honest, I have never looked for such places while travelling. I might even say they found me just as much as I found them. Those places have always been inspiring, and we try to recreate such an experience,” says Michael Grugl, architect of the unconventional Pixel Hotel, Austria.
And if you are looking for an unusual experience this year, here’s what you can find in each continent.
The Five Elements
While each hotel stands out in its uniqueness and adds to the experience of the traveller looking for something different, most accommodations can be broadly categorised under five categories:
The point of eco lodges, whether it’s in the jungles of Africa or on treetops in India and America, is the same – conservation. The hospitality and tourism industry across the world is coming out with innovative concepts to charm the avid traveller as well as educating them about the environment. Some of the popular hotels are:
Ariau Amazon Towers, Brazil: The eco-friendly Ariau Amazon Towers is dubbed the “largest treetop hotel in the world.” Situated in Brazil, Manaus, this hotel sits atop the lush Amazonian canopy, and is constructed entirely on stilts and connected by wooden catwalks.
The Mirrorcube: The Mirrorcube is a mirrored cubicle, which allows the hotel guest to have an unhindered 360-degree view of the forest and wildlife without letting anyone know about his or her presence. The structure, designed by Tham and Videgard Architects, is a lightweight aluminium 4 x 4 x 4 box, coated with mirrored glass panes on all sides and hung around a tree trunk.
The first Ice Hotel at Jukkasjarvi, about 17 km from Kiruna, Sweden was a novelty in 1989. Soon, ice hotels became a rage and several versions of ice structures came up in Norway, Romania and Finland. Other popular ice hotels are:
Iglu-Dorf: The igloo hotel in Engelberg, Switzerland and other places in Switzerland, Andorra and Germany, is the brainchild of Adrian Günter, who built his first igloo in 1996. It is open from the end of December to mid-April. All igloo villages are completely rebuilt every year and it takes about 2,700 hours to construct each.
Hotel & Igloo Village Kakslauttanen: The open midnight skies visible through the glass igloos at Hotel Kakslauttanen in Lapland, Finland, is perfect for watching the brilliant Northern Lights, also called Aurora Borealis. At this hotel owned by Jussi Eiramo, there are 20 glass igloos, which are open from August to May.
When Jules Verne wrote in his classic science fiction novel ‘20,000 Leagues Under The Sea’, “Ah, sir, live in the bosom of the waters! There alone is independence. There I recognise no masters! There I am free,” he probably had no idea that his story would inspire the first undersea hotel in the world. Jules’ Undersea Lodge, named after the author, was originally built in the early 1970s as a research lab and was relocated to Key Largo, Florida. It has been open to the public since 1986. Other popular underwater accommodations are:
Poseidon Undersea Resorts, Fiji: World’s first sea-floor five-star resort, Poseidon, rests 40 feet underwater on the seabed near the Fijian Lagoon. The upcoming resort will also offer luxury accommodation with a great marine view.
Utter Inn: In Västerås, Sweden, artist Mikael Genberg has come up with Utter Inn, an underwater Inn. Utter Inn, lies three metres below the surface of Lake Mälaren, and has a single room with twin beds and a table.
UNDERGROUND AND CAVE HOTELS
If you want to go underground or retreat into a cave without compromising on comfort, these hotels are your best resort. While the first underground hotel was dug in South Australia in 1988, two decades later, cave and underground hotels have become a popular trend.
Gamirasu Cave Hotel: Gamirasu is a cave house with 30 furnished rooms in Ayvali village in Cappadocia, Turkey. What was originally a 12th century monastery has now been renovated into a hotel. The carpets, furniture and bed are carved with Middle Eastern motifs with a curvy uneven stone ceiling.
Cave Hotel, Coober Pedy: Dug in the sandstone expanses of South Australia, the Coober Pedy Desert Cave hotel is a backpacker’s dream come true.
Capsule Hotels, Japan and Netherlands: A Capsule Hotel in Japan comprises reinforced plastic capsule units designed like a cockpit. The hotel has two sections: a public lounge with a bathroom, and a space for sleeping rooms (capsules). At the Capsule Hotel in Den Haag, guests live in a floating orange survival pod, which was once used on an oil rig. The “pods” are unaltered apart from a lock and an emergency chemical toilet.
Flush Hotel, South Korea: This toilet bowl costs $1.6 million. The hotel shaped like a toilet was built by Sim Jae-Duck to raise awareness about cleaner sanitation around the world.
Airplane Suite : At the Teuge airport near Apeldoorn, Holland, a 1960 Ilyushin 18 plane has been converted into a luxury airplane suite for two.
Propeller Island City Lodge: The 31 rooms and their interiors at the Propeller Island City Lodge in Berlin, Germany, have been created by artist and musician Lars Stroschen. They have Upside Down Room, Flying Bed Room and The Mirror Room.
The Old Jail Mount, Mount Gambier
On top of the list of unusual stays in Australia is The Old Jail Mount. Located at Mount Gambier, this old prison has been transformed into a hotel with all the facilities of a hardened jail. Visitors coming in here have to enroll at the jail barracks and are provided food at the common mess hall. Entrants at the Jail Mount are assigned jail cells to spend the night in and sleep next to a toilet seat to complete the experience. This former South Australian State Prison opened in 1866 is known for authenticity in its approach to a jail life.
Woodlyn Park Motels, Waitomo, New Zealand
Is it a plane, a train or an underground hotel? Well, Woodlyn Park is a combination of all the above. Visitors coming in can choose to stay in the Bristol fighter plane that has been refurbished to make way for a double cabin room complete with space-age gizmos and switches. Also on offer is the 1950s model train-car, which has been transformed into a self-sustained hotel room. To complete the feel, the hotel also has dedicated attendants to take care of one’s needs. Also on rent are Alice in Wonderland feel rooms, which has burrows into the ground, reminiscent of a hobbit hole, where guests are invited to rear farm animals and share a fun time with pigs and bears.
Architect Tuhein Roy says, “I never knew that such unusual places existed on the globe. I am particularly impressed by the Old Jail Mount and the Woodlyn Park Motel and marvel at the idea and execution that went into bringing them to life. I would particularly like to visit the place to experience the atmosphere, the confinement and interact with fellow ‘prisoners’. I also appreciate the efforts of the promoters of Woodlyn Park. The fighter plane, the train-car or even the hobbit holes are subjects of adventure.”
Hôtel De Glace, Quebec
The inspiration behind this hotel began in a small Swedish village of Jukkasjärvi, and it soon made its way to Quebec, Canada. Opened for only three months, between January and March, the award-winning Hôtel de Glace can easily be considered to be the winter postcard of Canada and North America, drawing many tourists. The entire hotel is made from ice and snow with the help of stainless steel moulds. Ice blocks are used for interior structures, such as columns, the bar counter, furniture, and sculptures. Home to 36 rooms, and themed suites, some of the features of this hotel also include an Ice Bar, Ice Café and an Ice Chapel among others.
Salt Hotel, Bolivia
Built by a salt artisan in 1993, the only salt hotel in the world is located near Uyuni salt mine in Bolivia. The hotel, made up of blocks of salt, has 15 bedrooms, a dining room, a living room and a bar. The blocks of salt are cemented with a particular mixture of salt and water. During the rains, the walls are strengthened with new blocks.
“The time frame and weather conditions are a challenge while building this hotel. It takes six weeks to build the hotel from scratch, and this year we have used 15,000 tonnes of snow and 500 tonnes of ice. We change the designs every year keeping in mind the feedback we receive from our overseas guests. Our core team is made up of my art director, technician director and myself, along with our architect firm. The winter climate is, in a sense, an exoticism, and we are constantly pushing the envelope to reinvent winter. At Hôtel de Glace, we bring winter to guests and not the other way around. ”
– Jacques Desbois, CEO
Bird’s Nest and UFO, Sweden
When architect Bertil Harström was assigned the project to create a room at Treehotel, he asked himself, “What could be the most natural thing to find in the forest?” The answer was a bird’s nest. The Bird’s Nest is a vertical cylinder based on two rings of massive wood connected to the trees with adjustable fittings that will allow the tree to grow. The isolated wood construction is covered with branches, making it look exactly like a real bird’s nest. Then, Harström asked himself the opposite – What is the strangest thing you can find among the trees? In a child’s perspective, that could be a UFO, showing your fantasies moving in other directions. The UFO is a plastic construction like a boat made in four pieces fitted together. “It hangs from thin lines strung from five surrounding trees. To enter it, you have to activate an electric stair hidden inside the buildings with a remote control.”
The Icehotel located 200 km above the Arctic Circle in the village of Jukkasjärvi in northern Sweden is considered the original ice hotel. The hotel has around 80 rooms, which varies from year to year. The ice beds in the rooms are covered with an insulating sheet and reindeer skins; the indoor temperature never falls below 8 degrees. The Icehotel is constructed from 1,000 tonnes of ice from the nearby Torne River and 30,000 cubic metres of snice. In March and April, 4,000 tonnes of ice are harvested from the Torne and kept in cold storage facilities over spring, summer and autumn. Construction begins during November, where around 100 artists pitch in and build the hotel. The hotel opens in December and remains so until mid-April when the ice begins to melt. The future plans of the Icehotel includes being carbon-negative by 2015.
(left) Bird’s Nest © Treehotel (below) Icehotel © Leif Milling (photographer) and
David Luxembourg & Jens Dyvik (artists)
“Sometimes we need something unusual to make our trip to a city special or to surprise our beloved people. Propeller Island has rooms for different tastes and situations in life. This, in combination with music and sound sculptures composed by Lars Stroschen and nature sounds he recorded on his travelling tours, make staying in this hotel an absolutely unique experience,” said Valentina from Propeller Island City Lodge, Berlin.
Kumbuk River Resort, Sri Lanka
At the Kumbuk River Resort, you get to sleep in the elephant’s belly while dining under the behemoth. The resort is a mammoth 40ft elephant standing majestically in a heavenly habitat. Sri Lanka’s Kumbuk River Eco Extraordinaire won the coveted travel Oscar as the world’s leading eco-lodge at theWorld Travel Awards.
The Elephant Villa showcases sustainable construction in its entire splendour. Dead trees sourced out from burnt-out chena cultivation (shifting agriculture practiced in Sri Lanka) form the basis for this elephantine structure. The trees are harder than concrete and serve as an alternate for concrete pillars. “It required about 20-30 people to push these massive dry logs through difficult terrain, as we strived not to deploy mechanised equipment. The rest of the structure consists of wood and other material sourced out from the jungle in a very responsible manner. Getting the blueprint into shape was a massive challenge as the shape of the structure defied all conventional wisdom,” says Dinesh Watawana, owner of the resort.
At this hotel in Kenya, it is quite a common sight to be sharing breakfast with Rothschild giraffes that put their long necks in through the open windows. Located outside Nairobi, the hotel built in 1932, and modelled after a Scottish hunting lodge, is reportedly the only place where humans can interact with giraffes at such close quarters. The 140 acres of native forest in the vicinity and the variety of bird species, warthogs and Bush Buck are other attractions of the Giraffe Manor.
Architect Ashok Contractor says, “I have been amazed by the Burj-Al-Dubai and the Swedish Icehotel. I have visited the Gamirasu Cave Hotel in Turkey, which has been an experience of a lifetime. The sculpturing of rocks to render rooms takes precision and guts, and makes every stay an unforgettable experience.”
I Dream A Dream
With travel reducing geographical boundaries, the world has become a small place to live in. The jet-setting corporates talk about their experiences and share their fantasies on their dream hotels.
Sushant Arora, Director of Agri Natural Seeds India says, “The emergence of adventure tourism has definitely caught up with today’s times. The inquisitive traveller of today is not content with travelling the beaten path and wants excitement in his trips. I would prefer an out-of-the world experience along with someone special. Given the resources, I would definitely like to visit the The Galactic Suite Space Resort. If I had to design an unusual and exotic hotel, it would be a submarine hotel made out of plexi-glass that takes one on an underwater tour across the five oceans of the world. And with a see-all outer shell, one would have a ‘whale’ of a time discovering the exotic sea-life of the world.”
Kamal Kishore, owner of Mircheeze restaurant, comes up with his version of a dream hotel, “My dream hotel would be straight out of a period-drama set. I would like to set up a hotel based on the Mughal period, with the food, ambience and cultural presentation reminiscent of the Mughal Dynasty. The hotel will be one that never has been experienced before. Talking of hotels, the most unusual hotel that I have come across is the Das Park Hotel in Linz, Austria, which has been made out of sewer pipes. Visitors to this drain hotel actually stay in the drainpipes-turned-hotel, which has all amenities like bedroom, dining hall, drawing room inside the pipes. The sanitary amenities are in the open spaces outside the drains.”