Image: Winvian
Opened late last year in Litchfield, Conn., Winvian can set you back close to $2,000 a night. At that price, you get to stay in one of 18 cottages designed by 15 different architects, each inspired by a Connecticut theme, such as the helicopter (Sikorsky builds them in Stratford, Conn.), beaver lodge, camping cottage, and secret society, a reference to Yale’s Skull and Bones.
updated 8/16/2007 4:11:20 PM ET 2007-08-16T20:11:20

Tired of staying at posh Four Seasons or Ritz-Carlton hotels? Looking for accommodations that are wonderful but slightly wacky?

You’re in luck, whether you’re visiting New England, Paris or the wilds of Costa Rica or Turkey: Each has an over-the-top hotel offering accommodations that will no doubt exceed your wildest dreams.

Settings range from the bucolic to the exotic: Among the former are the Pitcher Inn and Winvian, luxury hotels in Vermont and Connecticut developed by the same Merrill Lynch executive; guest rooms in each are unique, such as a cottage at Winvian built around a 56-foot-long decommissioned Coast Guard helicopter.

Unusual hotels in more exotic destinations include the Ngong House, outside of Nairobi, Kenya; this overlooks the Ngong Hills in the outskirts of the city, and offers accommodations in luxuriously-furnished treehouses. Then there’s the Al Maha Desert Resort and Spa, built 45 minutes outside of Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, in a 225-square-kilometer desert conservation reserve inhabited by rheem gazelle, scimitar-horned and Arabian oryx, and Arabian fox.

Those who prefer vacationing in the mountains will no doubt enjoy the Anatolian Houses, a suite hotel built in five adjoining volcanic caves in Turkey’s Cappadocia region.

Other hotels have an aquatic theme: Jules’ Undersea Lodge — named after Jules Verne’s “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” and located in Key Largo, Fla. — is an underwater hotel in a lagoon that is accessible only by scuba-diving. The ICEHOTEL in Swedish Lapland is newly constructed each winter from 30,000 tons of snow and 10,000 tons of crystal-clear ice from the Torne River.

You’ll also find ice at Paris’ Kube Hotel in the city’s 18th arrondissement. Its reception desk occupies a large, transparent cube — reminiscent not only of ice, but also of I.M. Pei’s pyramids at the Louvre — in the courtyard of a 19th century building. The hotel also houses France’s first ice bar, made up of 22 tons of ice and sponsored by Grey Goose vodka. Water is also important at Baron Island, one of four volcanic islands off the southern Spanish Mediterranean coast; this is a 220-acre nature reserve whose accommodations include a 1950’s watchtower designed by famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

If beachfront accommodations are your thing, you might enjoy the Tree House Lodge on Punta Uva beach on the Caribbean Sea, in Costa Rica’s Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge. The tree house has two guest rooms and a bathroom with a shower built around a 100-year-old, living sangrillo tree.

Image: Ngong House
Ngong House
Located on ten acres in the outskirts of Nairobi near the coffee farm of Karen Blixen, author of “Out of Africa,” the Ngong House is run by a former Belgian diplomat. Accommodations are in treehouses, a private cottage and log cabin; elevated 15 feet off the ground, the treehouses offer gorgeous views of the bush and Ngong Hills.
Says Jody Bear, a high-end travel agent at Bear and Bear Travel in New York, unusual hotels like these are perfect for seasoned travelers who “have been around and want to experience something new and different. Sometimes you’re bored going to the same type of hotels. If people are experimental or risk-takers, they want to tell their friends about their trips, how novel they were, what they experienced.”

“If someone is into aviation, or was in a war, or is a helicopter pilot and has a lot of money, Winvian would really appeal to them; it’s kitschy,” she added.

Betsy Donley, a travel agent who specializes in luxury adventure travel at Camelback Odyssey Travel in Phoenix, finds that exotic hotels often appeal to younger travelers, “who are looking for off-the-wall kinds of experiences that take them to really unusual places.”

Image: Costa Rica Tree House Lodge
Costa Rica Tree House Lodge
The Costa Rica Tree House Lodge is built of sustainable hardwoods taken from trees that fell in the rainforest; the treehouse has two rooms that sleep up to six. Views of the rainforest surround guests, who also have access to a 300-meter private beachfront. Surfing and white-water rafting are available.
One of her clients, Linda Stafford, a retired dental hygienist from Greenville, Mich., had a memorable stay at the Ngong House a while ago after being out in the bush on safari. “I had a treehouse to myself, it was like going from the ridiculous to the sublime,” she said. “The décor was classy rustic, a lot of wood and a big stained-glass window in the kitchenette, and the food was fantastic. We ate out on the lawn, under a beautiful tree, at a long table.”

Besides the “keeping up with the Joneses” aspect of staying at unusual properties like these, experts say a visit to them can even provide spiritual benefits.

Anne Morgan Scully, president of McCabe World Travel in McLean, Va., has stayed at Turkey’s Anatolian Houses and found the experience “incredible.”

“You see stars like you’ve never seen them before. You’re out in an extraordinary land, and also look at the heavens differently. It’s very unique. You won’t have an opportunity to do that anywhere else,” she said.

Staying at an exotic hotel can be “about fulfilling dreams, making your trip exciting,” suggests Bear. “You don’t want the routine, for that you can stay at home. If you want something memorable and exciting, these hotels can fit the bill.”

Check out these unusual properties — found everywhere from New England to Nairobi—for a trip that you won’t soon forget.


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