"Roughing" It In Style
Outdoors and camping enthusiasts in the know have quickly embraced the latest trend: overnight stays in a yurt. The yurt comprises a circular wooden latticework frame draped with canvas -- a design that historians say was developed thousands of years ago by Asian nomads. Yurts allow people to remain close to nature in an ecologically friendly environment, without the typical discomforts of traditional camping (ever sleep on pebble-strewn ground?). Here are a few modern luxury resorts around the world that have perfected the theme.
Rockwater Secret Cove Resort
Where: Halfmoon Bay, British Columbia
Locals call the westernmost edge of continental Canada the "Sunshine Coast" for the way huge mountains on Vancouver Island shield this region from rain clouds. The yurts at Rockwater, are a great way to enjoy this weather first-hand.
Rockwater calls the accommodations "tenthouse suites," and each yurt offers all the comforts of a regular hotel room: king-size bed, soaker tub, pullout sofa and wet bar. Some suites even have multiple rooms. Nestled among arbutus trees, all the suites are connected by a boardwalk. In this regard, the place resembles an upscale Ewok village.
The scenery in these parts is breathtaking. Most of the yurts sit in a verdant forest on a rocky promontory that overlooks Malaspina Strait. Some - including the honeymoon suite - are positioned right on the water's edge, and are considered oceanfront. Everywhere, bald eagles, salmon and killer whales abound.
An on-site restaurant provides dinner entrees such as smoked Alaskan black cod and steamed Pacific mussels. Work off the biggest meals by using the resort's kayaks to explore the nooks and crannies of Secret Cove, or rent a bike in the nearby town of Sechelt and follow the 17-kilometer dirt trail around Lyon Lake.
Hoopoe Yurt Hotel
Where: Near Cortes de la Frontera, Spain
Relaxation comes easily at the Hoopoe Yurt Hotel in Spain's southern Andalucia region. After an afternoon of bird-watching (a "hoopoe" is a kind of bird) or lounging in a private hammock, watch the sun set over the Grazalema Mountains and fall asleep on a plush and luxurious bed to the sound of crickets.
Guests can choose between yurts decorated in very different styles: Mongolian, Afghani, Jaipur and Safari. The accommodations are set up as a double room with comfy beds, private bathrooms and pieces of Mongolian furniture. Because the camp runs on solar power, yurts have overhead and bedside lights as well.
Each yurt also boasts an acre of private meadow with a seating area from which it's easy to gaze upon oak and olive trees, colorful butterflies, and wildflowers and orchids. Other options to pass the time: an on-site spa and an on-site, al fresco restaurant that serves 3-course dinners 4 nights a week.
Outside the resort, Cortes de la Frontera, a typical Andalucian "white village," is a 20-minute walk away. Farther along the road to Ronda, a series of caves called the Cueva de la Pileta hide age-old cave paintings and underground galleries with stalactites and stalagmites that serve as timekeepers of this ancient spot.
Where: Pescadero, CA
In the 1700s, when Spanish explorers found the Ohlone Indians on the land south of San Francisco, they called them "coast people." English speakers changed the name to Costanoans. Today, at this resort with a lodge, cabins and more than 40 luxury yurts, the name remains.
Yurts at Costanoa are considered "tent bungalows": instead of the round shape that yurts frequently assume, these are rectangular, like little cabins with canvas walls. Each "room" boasts a queen-size bed, electricity, sliding windows, locking doors and heated mattress pads. Some are large enough to sleep a family of four.
One thing the yurts lack: restrooms. Instead, guests have three dedicated comfort stations with toilets, indoor hot showers and heated concrete floors. There's also a 24-hour dry sauna, hot tub, outdoor fireplace and an on-site restaurant named Cascade. Just be sure you have a flashlight to help you find your way to these places after dark.
During daylight, spend your time marveling at the beauty of the California coast. Costanoa connects with miles of hiking trails on both sides of Highway 1. Also nearby: Ano Nuevo State Reserve, a natural rest stop for hundreds of migrating elephant seals every winter, and Butano State Park, where giant coast redwoods are a common sight.
Three Camel Lodge
Where: Ulaanbaantar, Mongolia
For many travelers, simply getting to Mongolia's Gobi Desert is a fantasy. Once they get there, however, the fantasy only improves with the comforts of a yurt at Three Camel Lodge. The resort, which is owned by Nomadic Expeditions, sits inside Gurvansaikhan National Park, a park the size of Connecticut. It is the only sign of civilization or development for miles.
Yurts here are called "gers," and each of the spacious accommodations was hand-made and covered with layers of felt. The gers - 30 in all - are heated with wood stoves and furnished with wood-framed beds. While the accommodations lack Western-style bathroom and shower facilities, guests can find such amenities in a main lodge building a few hundred feet away.
Not that guests will want to spend that much time indoors. With a commanding view of the Gobi-Altai Mountains, Three Camel Lodge begs visitors to explore its environs. Popular activities include hiking, camel trekking and photographing indigenous wildlife such as ibex, griffons and vultures. Ancient petroglyphs behind the lodge also are a big attraction.
Visitors receive perhaps their biggest dose of culture at mealtime. All meals include a variety of traditional Mongolian dishes, and are served in an oversized ger similar to ones used by the great Khans centuries ago. After dinner, Mongolian throat singers come by to perform Hoomi, a haunting type of throat singing.