Image: ICEHOTEL, Jukkasjärvi, Sweden
Every November in the little Arctic town of Jukkasjärvi, Sweden, a hotel is made entirely of ice and snow. Igloo residences are "furnished" with ice beds with thermal sleeping bags and reindeer skins. Rooms at the ICEHOTEL start at $200.
updated 12/17/2008 4:39:34 PM ET 2008-12-17T21:39:34

Travelers looking for a memorable winter vacation might skip the Four Seasons Nevis and head to the Ice Hotel in Jukkasjärvi, Sweden.

This month the resort is furnishing guests with igloo residences complete with ice beds (don't worry, the hotel provides guests with a thermal sleeping bag and reindeer skins) $200 a night and up. Visitors receive a hot cup of lingonberry juice when they awake before going to thaw in the outdoor sauna.

Truly brave souls can embark on an all-day wilderness camp, in which they explore the outdoors on dog sleds, cook their own meals over campfires and sleep in cozy log cabins. Those staying on-site can take ice-sculpting classes, tour the surrounding area on ski or snowshoe and wind down with a drink at the Absolut Icebar.

But you don't have to put your vacation on ice to enjoy a once in a lifetime experience. With leisure travel flat for 2008 and forecasted to decline in 2009, according to the Travel Industry Association, hotels and resorts are finding they need to lure travelers not only with packages and deals but with madcap amenities as well.

And those in the travel industry say now is perhaps a perfect time to sample the strange.

"There's one reward in traveling now, and that's escapism," says Juliet Kinsman, editor in chief of Mr. and Mrs. Smith, a boutique luxury hotel company that also specializes in travel books. "People would rather spend two nights somewhere really special than a one-week holiday somewhere less expensive."

Sweet spots
Whether occupying a room in which Judy Garland stayed or sitting next to Catherine Denueve at the hip Hotel Costes in Paris, there are plenty of one-of-a-kind ways to vacation.

Few experiences, however, are more escapist than a stay at a super-secluded destination hotel.

To get to Estancia Colome, an expansive Argentine ranch that sits 13,125 feet above sea level, you must fly into Salta City and endure a bumpy five-hour car ride through the Andes. But the end result, devotees say, is worth it: nine spacious suites with heated floors and high ceilings and verdant 150-year-old vineyards surrounded by a view of snow-capped mountain peaks. Visitors can explore the Andes through jogging and hiking trails, tour the winery and vineyards or just relax at the spa. And now that the hotel is adding an art museum, designed by American artist James Turrell, more travelers will likely make the trek.

Those with the means to travel to destination hotels, however, may choose to stay closer to home this year.

"People don't want something too lavish," says Syl Tang, chief executive of HipGuide, which tracks trends in fashion and travel. "They don't want to be seen as extravagant."

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Instead of heading off on an African safari, Americans might choose the Caribbean.

There, they will find the Goldeneye Resort. This 18-acre Oracabessa, Jamaica, retreat is where writer Ian Fleming penned 14 of his James Bond novels, and the thatched-roof villas are named after some of the fictional spy's love interests. But stay at the writer's personal three-room house for a real treat: it features an outdoor claw-foot bathtub, sunken garden and mini movie theater. A floodlit tennis court and snorkeling on the nearby coral reefs give visitors plenty to do.

Another way luxury consumers can feel less guilty: going green.

Tang says that regions like Asia and Mexico have had green hotels for years, but now, as Western consumers grow more and more concerned about the environment—or as it gets cooler to become so—luxury lodges are following suit.

Image: Goldeneye Resort, Oracabessa, Jamaica
Courtesy Goldeneye Resort
The Goldeneye Resort in Oracabessa, Jamaica, is where Ian Fleming wrote 17 of his Bond books. Though the smaller thatched-roof huts are indeed beautiful (and have clever names like the Romanov, Solitaire and Vesper), the Fleming House is the place to stay. Rooms start at $660 a night.
One example is Post Ranch Inn in Big Sur, Calif., an unpretentious, eco-friendly hotel with just 30 rooms—some in wooden tree houses nine feet in the air and standing on stilts. Its buildings and furniture are made of sustainable materials, it uses reduced-wattage lighting and passive solar heat, and 90 of its 100 acres are protected for their rare, threatened and endangered species.

But whether exotic, socially conscious or just star-studded, cool is still an elusive, slippery thing, somehow managing to stay ahead—or above—the curve without succumbing to trends.

"Trendy is one thing, cool is another," says Ken Scrudato, traveling contributor to the cutting-edge culture magazine BlackBook. "Cool is something that's actually cultivated over time."

Which is probably why one of Scrudato's favorite hotels is the over 100-year-old Gore Hotel in London, where the likes of Judy Garland, Charles Dickens and 19th-century soprano Dame Nellie Melba once slept.

"The Gore, with its extravagant, aristocratic-bonkers-uncle decor, absolutely perfectly epitomizes London-British eccentricity and bohemianism," he says.

He's not alone: The Rolling Stones and Oasis are also fans. Now that's pretty cool.

© 2012


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