Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

August 22, 2017

Richard Branson's Necker Island is secluded, gorgeous and extremely pricey — running at $26,600 per couple per week.

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Escape artists

Thirteen specialty lodgings that are pictures of paradise

I first realized that where you stay sometimes matters more than where you go during a visit to Château de Tennessus 15 years ago. The location in France’s Poitou-Charentes was lovely, but once I crossed the drawbridge into that 14th-century castle-cum-B&B, I had little interest in leaving. While such spots appeal to history buffs like me, other specialty lodgings fuel different travel fantasies. Read on for dream digs in every price bracket.

Safari camps

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Lavish camps seem to have replaced lodges as the ne plus ultra for vacationers on the African safari circuit and some of the finest are operated by andBeyond (andbeyond.com). The company (formerly CC Africa) has 10 in a quartet of countries, making it easy for you observe exotic creatures without scrimping on creature comforts.

At Nxabega (nxabega.com), a private 7000-hectare wildlife concession in Botswana’s Okavango Delta, you can you view giraffes, zebras and lions on bush walks, Land Rover rides or mokoro canoe outings by day, and sleep in one of nine elegant safari tents with en-suite shower by night. Combining crisp linens with teak and leather, they have a vintage vibe and look like a homage to Hemingway. Bed, board and scheduled camp activities cost US$570 to US$1145 per person a night, depending on the season.

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Choosing the least expensive dates is an obvious way to save, but bear in mind they’re reduced for a reason and bad weather conditions or migratory patterns might mean you’re less likely to spot all the wildlife on your wish list. Another strategy is to choose a camp with a lower nightly rate such as Kichwa Tembo (kichwatembo.com) on Kenya’s legendary Masai Mara Reserve, where tents are US$310 to US$450 per person a night, including meals and safari activities. A third alternative for independent souls is to forgo private camps in favour of national parks.

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At South Africa’s Kruger National Park (krugerpark-direct.com) two people can bed down in a basic tent for about $45 or upgrade to one with a bathroom, kitchenette and veranda for $88, then sign up for à la carte game drives.


For more safaris: go2africa.com. For more low-cost lodgings in South African National Parks: sanparks.co.za.

Jungle tree houses

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Ask children what the optimal way to see a rainforest would be and they’ll likely say “from a tree.” Inkaterra Reserva Amazónica (inkaterra.com), on the banks of the Madre de Dios River in Peru’s Amazon Basin, seems to agree. In addition to 35 eco-luxe cabañas, it boasts a tree house that sleeps two (for US$300 per person a night) and promises a literal birds-eye view. Accessed by a suspension bridge that’s part of a 344-metre canopy walkway, the thatched structure sits 27 metres above the jungle floor. Aesthetically, it takes minimalism to the max (think kerosene lamps and cots covered with simple white bedding). The presence of a dedicated butler with whom you communicate via walkie-talkie, gives it a Tarzan-meets-Earl Greystoke appeal.

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Not everyone is willing to spend $600 a night to sleep in a tree — even if the rate covers cocktails, dinner, breakfast, a private guide and a ground-level room in case you need to come down. Tree Houses Hotel (treehouseshotelcostarica.com) in Costa Rica achieves the fine balance between cost and comfort. In fact, TripAdvisor ranked it among the country’s “Top 25 Bargain Hotels” for 2013, and rightly so. Each of the six air-conditioned tree houses feature “warm-water” showers and cost US$85 to US$140 a night, double occupancy, including breakfast. Most have bunk beds or lofts, which are especially good for kids. And the property the houses sit on is ringed by a wildlife refuge in the popular Arenal Volcano area, which boosts the family-friendly rating.


For more tree houses: glampinghub.com.

Over-water bungalows

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French Polynesia is ground zero for over-water bungalow aficionados, which is understandable given that the idea of erecting thatched bures above a sleepy, cerulean-blue lagoon originated there back in the 1960s. Since the leading brands in high-end accommodation are well represented in the region (the Four Seasons, Le Méridien, Sofitel and St. Regis have over-water properties there), you can expect a Bali Ha’i ambiance coupled with amenities that include glass-panel floors and breakfast delivered by outrigger canoe. So what’s not to love? Well, the rates. On Bora Bora and Mo'orea $600 per night is a great deal — $800 a more realistic one. Prices are comparable in the Indian Ocean, particularly the Maldives, where business has boomed since the first over-water resort was introduced in 2002.

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The good news is you can shave a substantial amount off your bill by heading to an area where the over-water concept is just taking off. At Malaysia’s Golden Palm Tree (goldenpalmtree.com), for instance, 392 over-water “villas” branch out, in palm frond-fashion, into the Strait of Malacca. All have thatched roofs, glass doors that open onto private decks and a decor that mixes modern lines with traditional Malay touches. On-site you’ll find the usual perks, including an infinity pool and spa. What’s unusual is that a couple can stay there for $249, two breakfasts included (guests are strictly forbidden from any outside food into the villas). As a bonus, the resort is 45 minutes by car from Kuala Lumpur International Airport, so getting there is relatively easy.

For more over-water options: overwaterbungalows.net.

Classic castles

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England is castle country and, in terms of both quantity and quality, the selection is vast. Choices range from imposing Amberley (amberleycastle.co.uk) in West Sussex, which has hosted countless royals over its 900-year history (classic double rooms including breakfast from £315), to St Briavel's (hihostels.com), a 13th-century Gloucestershire castle that was built as a hunting lodge for King John and now serves as a hostel. Prices vary accordingly, from upward of $1000 a night for a sumptuous suite to $27 for a Spartan dorm bed. Happily, there are alternatives that hit the sweet spot between them.

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Thornbury Castle (thornburycastle.co.uk), near the Welsh border, is a remarkably-preserved 16th-century beauty where Henry VIII and wife number two tarried in 1535. Its oak panelling, heavy tapestries and requisite suits of armor are so beautifully time-burnished that Downton Abbey seems nouveau riche by comparison. Each of the 27 guest rooms have original features, a fireplace here, an arrow slit there. Classic double rooms start at £170, breakfast included, while the tower room Henry and Anne Boleyn slept in (the Duke's bedchamber) starts at £430. If you prefer self-catering, Britain’s Landmark Trust (landmarktrust.co.uk) — a charitable organization that rents out historically or architecturally significant properties to fund preservation work — lists realistically-priced apartments in several regal residences.


For more castles throughout England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland, plus a few in France: celticcastles.com.

Fantasy islands

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The Caribbean is home to many of the world’s most sybaritic resorts — and über-exclusive ones often occupy private islands. Necker Island (neckerisland.virgin.com), for example, part of the BVI chain and the personal playground of Virgin mogul Richard Branson, features six Balinese-inspired bungalows and two heavenly “temples.” Island activities include tennis, kite surfing and submarine rides. Privacy, though, is the main lure: the 30-hectare island is a half-an-hour boat ride from Tortola, so undercover A-listers don’t have to play hide-and-seek with paparazzi. But you pay a premium to vacation in a TMZ-free zone. During Celebration Weeks (when you can rent a room rather than the whole island) all-in, seven-night stays start at US$26,600 per couple.

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By contrast, Cayo Espanto (aprivateisland.com), five kilometres off Belize’s Ambergris Caye, is a bargain. Its guests can settle into one of seven stylish one- or two-bedroom villas, all of which come with personal butler service and some of which have a private plunge pool. All-inclusive prices start at US$1495 per night, double occupancy. Further south, Glover's Atoll Resort (glovers.com.bz) attracts travellers with something more Survivor-esque in mind. Don’t be misled by the “resort” label: this is a backpack-y, bring-your-own-towels type of place where composting toilets are shared and cabanas set you back US$249 per person per week. Yet having the chance to swim, dive and kayak in a UNESCO-designated marine reserve is, as they say, priceless.


For more private-island rentals, including North American ones costing under $500 a night: privateislandsonline.com.

Glamping down under

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Australia’s Longitude 131° (longitude131.com.au), a staple in national tourism brochures, helped launch the global glamping craze 11 years ago. The fact that this Outback resort faces iconic Uluru — better known as Ayers Rock — is clearly the big selling point and its 15 canvas-topped units have glass fronts that maximize the view. They also have a “pampered-pioneer” decor (just ask Oprah) and give guests access to activities that are both culturally- and ecologically-sensitive. All-inclusive prices start at $2125 per couple per night (two-night minimum required), which includes meals and entrance to Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. For a more down-market experience, check out Ayers Rock Resort Campground (ayersrockresort.com.au/arrcamp), a sister property with DIY tent sites starting at $35.


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If you’d rather enjoy Australia’s famed beaches, consider Wilson Island (wilsonisland.com), a tiny coral cay on the Great Barrier Reef, 72 kilometres off Queensland’s north coast. With only six sublimely simple tents, it’s the sort of off-the-grid spot Robinson Crusoe might have retired to if he’d won the lottery. Those who blanch at the idea of paying about $1100 nightly for a double tent, meals included, can head to Cable Beach, on the opposite side of the country, near Broome. That’s where you’ll find The Billi (thebilli.com.au). You’ll sacrifice the complete quietude and you won’t be right on the water (in this case, the Indian Ocean) but, you’ll get an airy chic tent (cow-hide rugs, rattan accent pieces and electricity) that’s large enough to include a kitchenette and en-suite bath. Moreover, you’ll get it for about $120 to $250 per night.


For more on glamping: glampinghub.com and goglamping.net.

This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.

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