Stress getting the best of you? Drs. Rachel and Stephen Kaplan, professors of psychology at the University of Michigan, might say you're suffering from Directed Attention Fatigue. Not to worry, there's an easy prescription: Take a vacation somewhere picturesque.
In the Kaplans' research, they found that just looking at natural scenes through a window relieves exactly the kind of fatigue caused by multiple demands on your attention (e.g., meetings, spreadsheets, kids, your BlackBerry). By engaging what the Kaplans call "fascination," a form of attention where you just can't help but notice everything around you, a short nature break restores the capacity to pay attention when effort is required.
There's just one catch: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so the same natural scene won't restore every person. But going on the recommendations of several frequent travelers and travel experts, we found 10 different hotels around the world, each providing jaw-dropping views. Among them are jungle scenes, ocean vistas, and massive displays of ice, rocks and valleys — all in some of the most unique locations in the world.
Sunset buffs won't be able to tear their eyes from what George Grafakos, hotel manager of Dreams Luxury Suites in Santorini, Greece, calls "the most famous sunset on earth." The tiny hotel, containing only four luxury suites, sits on the west-facing wall of the Santorini caldera, a geographical anomaly in which the rocky remnants of an ancient volcano soar above the Aegean Sea. (Legend has it as the location of Atlantis.)
The enormous Foivos and two-story Armonia suites in particular offer commanding views of the water from multiple balconies, porches, and outdoor pools. Says Edgar Figueroa, a Londoner who chose the Foivos suite for his 10th wedding anniversary: "The view to the caldera is unobstructed and the sunsets are amazing. I had heard that the sunsets in Santorini were the most magnificent in the world. I always thought that must be a bit of an exaggeration ... until I visited. I had to pinch myself from time to time to make sure I was awake."
For travelers more inspired by land than by sea, Oberoi Resorts Wildflower Hall near Shimla, India, offers a different sort of sunset altogether. Perched on a hill 8,350 feet above sea level, the hotel offers a dizzying vantage point over the Himalayas. Guests enjoy vistas of the 23 acres of virgin cedar forest from their rooms, or even a private spa pavilion where they can get a massage after a tough hike or horseback ride through the surrounding valleys.
Diane Hilliard, president of Minnesota-based travel agency Hilliard and Olander, recommends a room on one of the higher floors. "I could not shut my curtains day or night," she says. "The views of the mountains, valleys and villages under the sun and moon were a never-ending miracle."
One particularly stunning option is the hotel's signature Lord Kitchener Suite. Located on the fourth floor, it offers multiple floor-to-ceiling windows for drinking in that view.
For some, true communion with the outdoors requires more than just a beautiful location. Smack in the middle of Namibia's 445-acre NamibRand Nature Reserve, you get the sense that you are utterly alone in the world. In fact, the only hotel for miles is the cozy Wolwedans Resort, whose every room has a panoramic view of the stark desert dunes, rolling savannahs and vibrant rock-scapes. Guests can check out the pristine, fully sustainable private reserve from luxuriously outfitted tents on raised platforms set atop dunes and boulders.
Of course, there's no requirement that a relaxing vista need be still and silent. When Richard G Edwards, a Costa Rica travel specialist from GreenSpot.travel, visited Lapa Rios for the first time in 1999, his breakfast was attended by a dozen spider monkeys, a toucan and a pair of scarlet macaws, all safely enjoying their own breakfasts on the tree branches outside.
The rain forest eco-resort, located in a nearly 1,000-acre nature reserve on Costa Rica's Osa Peninsula, is comprised of luxury suiita-thatched bungalows (suiita is a rare palm) completely open to the Pacific Ocean and surrounding tropical vegetation — with only a thin screen of mosquito netting between the guest and the rain forest. Hotel staff particularly recommend bungalows three through eight, which are situated on a high hill, offering the widest angle over the teal ocean and surrounding forest.
Of course, no list of nature views would be complete without the obligatory paean to clear tropical waters and powdery white sand. Although overwater bungalows have become increasingly popular in recent years, the Grand Water Villa at One & Only's Reethi Rah Resort in the Maldives remains the apotheosis of the form.
Its location has seen a recent surge in popularity, according to Albert Herrera, vice president of Hotels and Resorts for travel service Virtuoso Ltd. The rooms feature large windows, 33 meters of covered decking, and a private outdoor pool, all with unimpeded views of a practically uninhabited paradise.
Says Herrera, "[This hotel] attracts those looking for untouched beauty and a natural surrounding that can only be found in that particular destination."
So let nature move you however it will. Scientists agree, just a few hours spent looking at the great outdoors may improve attention and emotional health and make you more environmentally conscious. Just do yourself a favor and leave the BlackBerry at home.