Image: Lake Tanganyika, Tanzania
www.greystoke-mahale.com
Located on the jungle-clad shores of Lake Tanganyika in Tanzania, Greystoke Mahale literally erases the boundary between untamed nature and civilized luxury.
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updated 6/24/2008 3:44:03 PM ET 2008-06-24T19:44:03

Most of us really enjoy the concept of camping — sleeping under the stars, becoming one with nature, toasting marshmallows over the campfire — but it’s the reality of the situation that keeps the masses from pitching their tents (think showerless days with dirty feet, slurping down lukewarm beverages, and having to answer nature’s call, well, in nature). But what if there was a way to redefine roughing it — to head out into the wild in style?

Fortunately now there is, thanks to a new batch of luxury camping (or, “glamping” — glamorous camping) outfits that have recently emerged at amazing outdoor locations around the globe.

Serving to fine-tune a blend of convenience, comfort, and pampering in the great outdoors, rustic luxury is no longer an oxymoron. So go ahead and trade in those tin-can baked beans for chef-prepared filet mignon and musty sleeping bags for luxurious tent accommodations (mattress and fine linens included) — now if only the camp butler could do something about those pesky mosquitoes (who sadly do not discern between luxury and regular ole campsites), we'd all be happy campers.

1. Abercrombie & Kent, Jordan
Jordan, home to the biblical realms of Gilead, Moab, and Edom, not to mention the ancient red-stone city of Petra (believed to have been inhabited as long ago as 1200 B.C.), is one of the most historically fascinating countries in the world. One of the best ways to explore these legendary lands is to set out directly into the Wadi Rum desert, following in the footsteps of military strategist, writer, and hero to the masses, T.E. Lawrence — aka “Lawrence of Arabia.” Abercrombie & Kent makes the journey as comfortable as it is enlightening – sticking to certain Jordanian traditions like traveling in camel caravans and bedding down in resilient, hand-made Bedouin tents, while making sure that guests are taken care of with prepared meals, private toilets, and an inviting atmosphere of Arabian rugs, pillows, and candles. Along the way, you'll explore historic fortresses and monasteries, hike Bagher Mountain (Lawrence's desert lookout), admire Petra's pink architecture, swim in the Dead Sea, and enjoy homemade meals in a local village.

2. Banyan Tree Maldives Madivaru, The Maldives
Marking a departure from the sleek over-water bungalows that typify most Maldivian resorts, the new Banyan Tree resort brings the tented camp experience to the Indian Ocean. Located on the edge of the North Ari Atoll and accessible only by seaplane, Madivaru comprises six unique villas, each a cluster of three specialized tents (devoted to living, sleeping, and bathing areas) and a private pool. Set against an emerald jungle skirting a translucent blue lagoon, the clean-white-canvas tents are equipped with teak desks, timber flooring, and leather folding chairs. The sense of seclusion doesn’t end when you leave the compound — a maximum of 18 guests are permitted on the tiny coral island at one time. Get even further away from civilization with oceanic outings like dolphin-watching cruises, night-fishing excursions, catamaran trips, and snorkeling safaris. As you dine under a star-filled sky on your own private sandbank, you’ll never think of “camping” the same way again.

3. Clayoquot Wilderness Resorts & Spa, Canada
This luxurious outpost in the remote wilderness of British Columbia, a 60-minute floatplane ride from Vancouver, offers a flawless mix of sumptuous safari style and soft adventure. Located in the Clayoquot Sound Biosphere on the banks of the Bedwell River, the eco-resort comprises 20 canvas-tented rooms and suites with touches like wooden floors, Adirondack-style beds, remote-controlled propane wood stoves, and even heirloom china. An adjacent private cedar bathhouse comes with a shower, sink, and toilet, with off-site generators providing hot water and electricity. The entire complex — tents, lounge, and spa — is connected by cedar boardwalks set beneath the forested canopy. Even cooler than the primo tents are the range of rough country pursuits, from bear- and whale-watching to fishing and horseback riding. After a day in the wild, guests return to the opulent enclave for a four-course gourmet meal by acclaimed Chef Timothy May, and for relaxation at the riverfront spa compound’s wood-fired cedar hot tubs and seawater baths.

4. Eco Camp, Chile
Chilean Patagonia is synonymous with wilderness adventure — hard to reach and largely untouched, it's a dream destination for lovers of virgin jungle, granite Andean peaks, blue glaciers, and rushing rivers. As Eco Camp shows, however, communing with nature doesn't have to mean roughing it.

The campsite's igloo-shaped tents at the base of the Andes in Torres del Paine National Park were inspired by the indigenous Kawésqar nomads, who once lived in similar dome-like shelters in the region. Constructed to withstand the sometimes-extreme Chilean weather, the tents provide a safe, yet eco-friendly, retreat after a day spent trekking, kayaking, horseback riding, or wildlife-spotting. Best of all, you get to bypass the traditional rigors of camping (leave the tent-pitching manual, the water-purifier, and sleeping bag at home) — here, you can gear up for your next adventure with real beds, excellent food, and spacious digs that you can stand up in.

5. El Capitan Canyon, California
Situated just 20 miles north of Santa Barbara, this premier luxury camping resort unfolds on some 300 acres of pristine Pacific coast-fronted landscapes. Whether you hear the call of the wild on the beach or in the forest, both are easy to answer from El Capital Canyon, with plentiful activities on hand from kayaking to hiking, and mountain biking to horseback riding. The 26 cream-colored canvas tents here stand on wooden platforms and feature fine touches like hand-woven willow beds, bedside lanterns, and individual outdoor fire pits (for which you can purchase ready-made barbecue kits — complete with s’mores — right through the resort); guests also have the option to bunk down in one of 108 cedar cabins. Summer concerts, massage treatments, and yoga classes demonstrate more of a reason to stick around, but should you wish to venture outside of this natural paradise, wine tasting trips to Santa Barbara are just outside your grassy doorstep.

6. Global Expeditions, Arizona
Run by a husband-and-wife team for two decades, this well-reputed organization (with ties to Abercrombie & Kent) specializes in custom-tailored luxury camping excursions throughout the American West. Providing guests with their “own personal dream of adventure and solitude,” trips are catered to the whims of a well-to-do clientele who can afford the price tag of rugged refinement (from $2,500–$4,500 per person for a basic three-night trip). Bunk down in white canvas tents replete with knotted-pine furnishings (including a queen bed) and carpeted floors, and leave the tin pots behind — your own personal chef will serve up tableside multi-course meals (think entrees like Pacific black cod in pineapple-tamari sauce) — on fine china, of course! Extras like guided outdoor activities or live musical entertainment by your campfire are yours on command. While campsite possibilities are numerous, we’re keen on their 20,000-acre Arizona ranch near the Grand Canyon, set under the snow-capped mountains of the San Francisco Peaks and home to a herd of wild elk.

7. Greystoke Mahale, Tanzania
Located on the jungle-clad shores of Lake Tanganyika, where Henry Morton Stanley uttered the infamous words “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?” and where Jane Goodall conducted her groundbreaking primate studies, Greystoke Mahale literally erases the boundary between untamed nature and civilized luxury — its six thatched bandas (huts), set on the forest line overlooking the lake, are missing a fourth wall. So instead of traffic (there are no roads within 62 miles of camp and access is by plane) you’ll hear the morning wake-up call of chimpanzees. Following breakfast, head out with trackers into the tropical forest that covers the slopes of the mountains, home to no fewer than nine primate species, including the chimp. In the afternoon, go fishing or kayaking on the lake (full of tropical fish, it’s the second deepest in the world) and enjoy a sundowner on the resort’s dhow before retreating to the upstairs “chill-out deck” in your bandas. Relaxed, we presume?

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8. The Resort at Paws Up, Montana
Experience the same legendary wilderness of Montana — lush greenery, rolling hills, and teeming rivers — that once awed Lewis and Clark. Situated along the Blackfoot River, guests at The Resort at Paws Up are free to indulge in all of the outdoor adventure that this pristine landscape has to offer, while not skimping on world-class accommodations and amenities. After a full day of horseback riding or fly fishing, unwind in a hot tub, sign up for a spa treatment, and then snuggle between 300-count linen sheets. While there are a number of lodging options to choose from — secluded Big Timber Homes, the historic Farmhouse, and Tent City — we prefer the latter, which exemplifies the authenticity of camping in the great outdoors without need to sacrifice any of the luxury that defines the resort. Expect tent-side butler service and chef-tailored dining experiences where local and regional ingredients are combined to create mouthwatering combinations (think Rocky Mountain trout sautéed with fresh herbs).

9. Voyages Longitude 131, Australia
In Australia’s remote desert outback, one of the world’s most renowned luxury camps sits on the sand dunes bordering Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. After a brushfire completely burned down the place in 2003, the rebuilt camp now offers 15 elevated tents with white dome roofs, private decks, and unrivaled views of Uluru, aka Ayers Rock, the world’s largest geological monolith. The complex can only accommodate 30 guests at a time, deeming the experience intimate and the service excellent. All units are outfitted with air-conditioning, CD players, and mini-bars (as well as a new emergency sprinkler system). Raise the electric blinds to reveal the morning sunrise over Uluru — from the comfort of your bed! While tours of the surrounding area can easily be arranged, the best views of the oft changing gray-to-red hues of Uluru are best seen from your own tent. All meals, drinks, tours, and return airport transfers are included in resort rates.

10. Whitepod, Switzerland
When planning a camping trip, snow isn't usually part of the equation. However, when tents are replaced by dome-shaped pods, and fishing by snowshoeing and dog sledding, the idea of cold-weather camping becomes quite intriguing. Nestled nearly 6,000 feet high in the Swiss Alps, Whitepod offers breathtaking views and a unique experience for skiers, snowboarders, and nature enthusiasts alike.

Skiers and boarders can spend the day carving out Whitepod's private ski slopes, and relax afterwards with a massage at the luxurious spa pod, or with a fireside meal in the main lodge. If all this pod talk sounds a bit futuristic, it's because the resort prides itself on using the latest technology to help safeguard the environment. The result is that each pod is individually heated by wood-burning stoves, can withstand winds up to 130 mph, and can be taken down at any time, without leaving a trace. Now that's covering your tracks.

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