[FoRK] ICEHOTEL: meet rooms of mud, grass, stone, and *salt*!

Rohit Khare khare at alumni.caltech.edu
Fri Jan 22 15:44:41 PST 2010


As part of our series on inspiring places to stay, Adam Roberts unearths hotels built of nature’s raw materials and little else ...

>From INTELLIGENT LIFE Magazine, Winter 2009

The hotel chains that stretch their tentacles around the globe may succeed in giving their guests reliable standards, but often they display a sameness that seems to defeat the whole point of travelling. Surely a hotel should reflect its surroundings and have a sense of place? Today you are as likely to find Balinese-style interiors in the Caribbean or the Serengeti as you are in Indonesia. Even the exquisitely tasteful and much-imitated Amanresorts group, which does a deft line in cleaned-up versions of vernacular style, is far removed from the real thing.

For travellers who prize the authentic above all else, there are some one-off hotels that are built out of local materials to the point where they are literally part of their locations. Here are five that use building materials which have been processed as little as possible. Each is in its element, and also made of it.

STONE Le Grotte della Civita Matera, Italy
The sassi of Matera, in southern Italy, are prehistoric caves which have been lived in for the past 9,000 years, and where Pasolini filmed his “Gospel According to St Matthew”. Recently opened, Le Grotte offers the most intense troglodyte experience in town, with rough rock walls and chunky furniture made of reconditioned iron and reclaimed wood. The 18 rooms are lit, in part, by candles, and one is inside a deconsecrated church carved from the rock. There are no televisions or telephones, and it’s all the better for that. Rooms from €225 per night.

VEGETATION Kizingo Lamu, Kenya
Hunkered in the sand dunes at the southern tip of Lamu island, the eight rooms at this laid-back hotel are built of local mangrove poles and woven palm leaves, with roofs of palm thatch that let the warm trade winds in under the eaves. Each banda (hut) has a large double bed, shower, loo and verandah with hammock, and is powered by its own solar panel. It’s as Crusoe as you can go while still having sanitation, hot water and lighting. Rooms from $390 per night, full board.

SALT Hotel Palacio de Sal Uyuni, Bolivia
In the dazzlingly beautiful salt plain more than 3km above sea level in the Bolivian Andes is this quirky hotel which has become a destination for travellers exploring the plateau. Slabs of salt are stacked to make walls, tables, chairs, beds, pillars, everything. It has a sauna, steam room and a pool filled with, yes, salt water. Bring your shades to fend off salt-blindness, and don’t lick the walls: the salt crystals are big and rough. Rooms from $180 per night, half board.

MUD Hotel Djenné Djenno Djenné, Mali
Anyone tired of Timbuktu should head to Djenné, also in central Mali, to see a town majestically crafted from mud. It rarely rains, otherwise the great mosque, much of the town centre, and this stylish little hotel would soon be washed away. Opened in 2006 by an adventurous Swede, it has interiors decorated with Malian bogolan fabrics—guests can even take a course in this traditional mud painting in the studio next door. Rooms from $55 per night.

ICE Icehotel Jukkasjärvi, Sweden
Each year 3,000 tonnes of ice are cut from the frozen Torne river near the Swedish village of Jukkasjärvi, 200km north of the Arctic Circle. From that, during November and December, the Icehotel is built, with several dozen rooms. An outer layer of snow stops it melting on sunny days. You bed down on a slab of ice draped with reindeer skins, rooms contain ice sculptures and cocktails are served in the cold stuff too (drink fast, wear gloves). Inside the temperature never drops below a balmy -8°C. So it’s just as well you wake to a sauna and hot lingonberry juice. Hurry, though—the hotel melts back into the river each April. Rooms from $540 B&B.

(Adam Roberts is news editor of Economist.com, and a former Johannesburg correspondent of the Economist)

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