Driving for hours through an empty and snowy landscape to reach a remote hotel in a quiet corner of Iceland is a restorative experience. Not seeing another single soul heading in that same direction gives a sense of calm. The same feeling can happen while taking three different boats to get to a secret, tiny, Greek island, home to just four people and approximately 300 goats. I should know – I have spent the past decade in pursuit of the world’s most unexpected and remote hotels, where distraction is minimal and human presence is scarce.
In this turbulent age of disruption and noise, it’s becoming more and more crucial to disconnect and slow down. The tourism rat race is exhausting, beautiful cities and islands flooded by bus or shiploads of tourists looking to share their geotagged destinations with the rest of the world. Can the free-spirited traveller still have a genuine and singular experience without having to share it with too many unwanted strangers? Just 10 years ago, a TripAdvisor comment stating that a hotel “was very remote and far from town” might have come across as rather negative. Today, it sounds positively appealing. That very same hotel may even be using its remoteness as a selling point.
The trick is to head for out-of-the-way places where it is still possible to go off-grid and reconnect to the essentials of life – not in pursuit of the perfect Instagram selfie but in search of silence, calm, dark skies and open spaces, things that are fast becoming luxuries in modern-day life. As the mobile phone signal starts to fade and the “no internet service” message pops up, the true adventure begins. Some remote places are only accessible by foot, others by mountain train, boat or bush plane. What they all have in common is a very strong sense of place.
Remote hotels often leave the honour to the landscape and the natural surroundings, even disappearing into a decor that feels other-worldly. From the Arctic north to the desert landscapes of Africa, a peaceful retreat in the Himalayas to a secret village in the heart of Italy, the following places truly inspire and spark a state of wonder.
1. Wolwedans Private Camp, Namibia
The 500,000-acre NamibRand Nature Reserve is an unspoilt slice of Namib desert made up of red dunes dotted with mysterious fairy circles, impressive mountains and granite stone formations. Wolwedans Private Camp, hidden deep in this wilderness, is surrounded by nothing but an unearthly desert landscape.
The camp may be remote but you will still enjoy the luxury of an on-site butler and personal chef. You can spend days exploring the area without ever encountering another human – only a gemsbok or a leopard might cross your path.
• Doubles from £1,130pp, all inclusive. (00264 61 230 616; wolwedans.com)
2. Tierra Patagonia, Chile
Don’t assume that this hotel’s cutting-edge architecture makes it hi-tech. Staying here means zero mobile phone signal or Wi-Fi in the smart-looking bedrooms filled with handcrafted furniture – and a very poor connection in the lounge. Consider it a benefit rather than a drawback. It allows you to focus completely on the stunning Patagonian landscape and the Torres del Paine peaks in the distance.
• Three-day package from £2,360pp. (0056 2 2929 6700; tierrahotels.com)
3. Lekkerwater Beach Lodge, South Africa
De Hoop Nature Reserve is one of the most beautiful and remote stretches of Indian Ocean coastline. It takes a bit of effort and driving to get to the Beach Lodge, perched on a small cliff overlooking the often misty sea. There are only seven rooms, hovering above stunning fynbos vegetation. All have views of endless, white sandy beach. On the menu: long walks, reading on the balcony, a glass of local wine in the evening and the sleep-inducing sound of ocean waves at night.
4. Briol, South Tyrol, Italy
The only way to reach this delightful inn is by foot (your luggage will follow in a speedy four-wheel drive Fiat Panda, which can also take you up if necessary). Thankfully, no other cars are allowed on the mountain. Johanna Fink, the eccentric owner of Briol, has cleverly preserved the inn’s ancient character by not adding any modern luxuries. Instead, she puts the focus on reconnecting with nature, such as startling views of the Tyrolean mountain peaks from your private balcony.
• Rooms from £74pp, half-board. (0039 471 650125; briol.it)
5. Jack’s Camp, Botswana
Unusually for Africa, this classic tented camp owned by legendary Africa guide Ralph Bousfield does not have Wi-Fi. It is blissfully remote, located deep in the Kalahari salt pans. Just use binoculars to wildlife watch, and post those cute meerkat photos on Instagram when you get home.
• From £750pppn, all inclusive. (naturalselection.travel)