If you’re the kind of traveller that seeks out new and unusual accommodation, allow us to present some really far out suggestions. From ice hotels to underwater boltholes, here’s some of our favourite wacky hotels around the world, taken from Make The Most Of Your Time On Earth.
Troglodyte villages, Tunisia
When Tunisia gained its independence in 1956, its then president, Habib Bourguiba, proclaimed a new nation in which “people will no longer live in caves, like animals”. Visit the troglodyte villages today, however, and you’ll see they’re enjoying a new lease of life – some even offer tourist accommodation. Many are stunningly sited. At Chenini, Douiret and Guermessa, set in a jagged prehistoric landscape, you’re confronted by mountainsides riddled with cave dwellings and guarded by rugged stone forts. At nearby Ghoumrassen, three folds of a rocky spur are studded with caves, under the gaze of a whitewashed mosque.
But the big centre for troglodyte homes is Matmata, whose people live, to this day, in pit dwellings. Signs outside some invite you to visit, and for a few dinars you can descend into a central courtyard dug deep into soft sandstone. Better still, Matmata has three hotels in converted pit dwellings, including the Sidi Driss, which was used as one of the locations in Star Wars – here you can dine where Luke Skywalker once did.
Troglodyte accommodation ranges from Matmata’s de luxe Hôtel Diar el Barbar (00 216 75 240 074) to simple guesthouses in Douiret and Toujane.
Jules’ Undersea Lodge, Florida
Jules’ Undersea Lodge – named after intrepid aqua-explorer Jules Verne – began life as a research lab off the coast of Puerto Rico in the 1970s; it was moved to the Florida Keys and converted to its current use in 1986 by a pair of diving buffs and budding hoteliers. A pod that sits a few feet above the lagoon floor, the lodge has just two smallish guest bedrooms, fitted out with TVs, VCRs, phones and hot showers, plus a fully equipped kitchen and common room. All very ordinary – except, of course, that you are 21 feet below the sea.
Guests – or “aquanauts” as the lodge-owners call them – must swim down to reach the lodge, which, shaped like a figure of eight, has a small opening on the base in the centre. Your first point of arrival is into a wet room; the disconcerting sensation is much like surfacing from a swimming pool, except, of course, that you’re still under water. The lodge is anchored in the heart of a mangrove habitat, the ideal nursery for scores of marine animals, including angelfish, parrotfish and snapper; meanwhile, anemones and sponges stud the sea floor. There’s also a chef on hand who can scuba down to prepare meals; or, for late night munchies, a local takeaway joint offers a unique delivery service – perfectly crisp, underwater pizza.
Jules’ Undersea Lodge, Key Largo Undersea Park, 51 Shoreland Drive, mile marker 103.2, Key Largo (+1 305/451-2353, www.jul.com).
Ljubljana’s Hostel Celica, Slovenia
Fancy being banged up for the night? Well, be Celica’s guest. Born from the gutted remains of a former military prison, Ljubljana’s Hostel Celica (meaning “cell”) possesses a dozen or so conventional dorms, but it’s the twenty two- and three-bed rooms, or, more precisely, cells, that makes it so unique.
Diffferent designers were assigned to come up with themes for each one, resulting in a series of funky and brilliantly original sleeping spaces – one room features a circular bunk bed, for example, and in another a bunk is perched high above the door. The hostel stands at the heart of a complex of buildings originally commissioned for the Austro-Hungarian army and which later served as the barracks of the former Yugoslav
Despite repeated attempts by authorities to regulate, and even demolish, the site, the community has stood firm as the city’s alternative cultural hub, with club nights, live music (everything from punk and metal to dub-techno) and performance art all part of its fantastically diverse programme.
Hostel Celica is located on Metelkova ulica. See www.souhostel.com for more information.
Jjimjilbangs, South Korea
Although the word “sauna” may have certain connotations, the family-oriented Korean subspecies represents one of the most distinctive and cheapest to spend a night in the country, as almost all are open 24 hours a day.
Your jjimjilbang journey starts at the reception desk. After handing over some cash, you’ll receive nightclothes and a locker key, then be directed to the single-sex changing areas; these are commonly accessed by lift and on separate floors, populated by Koreans in varying states of relaxation and undress. Your own clothing sacrificed and locked away, you’re free to head to the pool area; here you’ll find several pools and steam rooms.
On exiting the pool area you’ll find a towel and a free-to-use array of hairdryers, cotton buds and scents on the way back to your locker. Head to the large, unisex common area; these usually contain televisions, internet terminals, water dispensers, massage rooms and snack bars. A cushioned mat will serve as your bed, and though you’re free to sleep pretty much wherever you want – like cats, the Koreans can nod off anywhere, in any position – you’ll usually be able to track down a sensible little corner, and can doze off with the knowledge that you’ve just enjoyed a quintessentially Korean experience.
There are several jjimjilbang in every Korean city of note; any tourist office or taxi driver can direct you.
The cells of Liepaja, Latvia
Being incarcerated in a foreign country is usually the stuff of holiday nightmares. Unless you want an insight into Latvian history, that is, in which case you’re advised to buy tickets in advance. The best place to book yourself in for a bit of rough treatment is the former naval prison in Karosta, the Russian-built port that stretches north from the seaside city of Liepāja. Built by the Tsarist Empire in the nineteenth century, Karosta subsequently served as a submarine base for the USSR, and is nowadays an enduring symbol of the half-century of Soviet occupation.
Formerly used as a punishment block for unruly sailors, the grim-looking red-brick prison is now the venue for “Behind Bars”, a two-hour interactive performance that involves being herded at gunpoint by actors dressed as Soviet prison guards, then interrogated in Russian by KGB officers. Dimly lit and decorated in floor-to-ceiling shades of black, the prison interior is enough to dampen any hopes of resistance. Sign up for one of the “Extreme Night” performances and you may well find yourself mopping the floors before bedding down in one of the bare cells, only to be brutally awoken by an early morning call.
Both “Behind Bars” and “Extreme Night” can be booked through Karosta Prison (www.karostascietums.lv), with prices ranging from 7–10Ls per person depending on how many take part.
Tucked away between rolling hills and vast stretches of tundra in northern Quebec lies a series of igloos. These domed shelters were built by sealskin-clad Inuit elders, who carved snowblocks from windswept snowdrifts, using home-made snow knives and skills passed on from their ancestors.
To enter an igloo, you crawl through a narrow tunnel leading to the large domed enclosure. Here, you sit back, remove your heavy parka and take it all in. Children giggle and play with a husky pup, while an elderly woman tends to the flame of her qulliq, a crescent-shaped lantern carved from soapstone and fuelled by seal blubber. A short while later you join the others around a plastic bag placed on the igloo floor where dinner is served. On the menu tonight: caribou stew and frozen Arctic char, eaten raw and considered a delicacy in this icy corner of the world.
After dinner and a round of cards you lie back in your sleeping bag and stare up at the spiralling blocks of snow while listening to muffled laughter and chatter from the elders. Within minutes the sounds of the kids throat-singing and the gentle flicker of the burning qulliq lull you to sleep.
The Icehotel, Sweden
The Icehotel is the only upmarket establishment in the world where you’re guaranteed a frosty reception. Every October, huge chunks of crystal-clear ice are cut from Sweden’s River Torne and pieced together, jigsaw style, in the village of Jukkasjärvi, on the river’s northern bank. From December through to late spring, the designer igloo opens its frozen doors to intrepid visitors, who travel deep inside the Swedish Arctic Circle for a night in this exceptionally cool hotel.
Pretty much everything in the entire complex, from the sculpted beds to the hotel’s own chapel, is made out of ice; even the lights – intricately carved chandeliers – were once flowing water. With room temperatures hovering at a balmy -5°C, the interior designers have wisely gone for reindeer pelts and expedition-strength sleeping bags instead of crisp linen and home-brand hand lotions. You won’t get a wink of sleep, of course, but then if it’s a cosy night’s kip you’re after you’ve definitely come to the wrong place.
Jukkasjärvi is 17km from Kiruna, the nearest domestic airport. Double rooms start at 1250kr. You can book online at www.icehotel.com.
Have you stayed anywhere really unusual? Let us know below.