The best hotels in Europe for immersing yourself in nature
Privacy, big spaces and views are three common features of luxury travel. All can be found in abundance in our pick of five European hotels located in the very heart of nature, from an Alpine summit to a serene desert and the greenest of green Ireland. Tourism – the modern descendent of the ancient roadside hostel – has extended beyond the city in many of Europe’s 600,000 hotels. Currently, around a third of guests choose nature tourism, and this kind of break is growing three times faster than others, according to the World Tourism Organization. What’s more, it’s also more economically sustainable, with 65 per cent of what tourists spend going into the destination itself.
1 3100 Kulmhotel Gornergrat | Switzerland
Few places in the world can boast that their terraces have a view of 29 mountains with 4,000m peaks. Two astronomical observatories top off the towers of a building absolutely free of light pollution: the Kumhotel Gornergrat, in the middle of the Swiss Alps and facing the iconic Matterhorn. Getting there is part of the experience: a 40-minute trip via rack railway from Zermatt through snow-covered pastures and sturdy, fragrant pines, depending on the time of the year. If you desire great design alongside highland landscapes, your destination is the 7132 Hotel in Vals, which won the Pritzker Architecture Prize and boasts stunning outdoor swimming pools in the snow.
2 Malhadinha Nova | Portugal
The tranquillity and ascetic character of the Alentejo region is concentrated in this hotel, a 450-hectare herdade (farming estate) made up of different scattered houses that were used for living and working in. While still part of a working farm, the property has been repurposed as a hotel – with luxury as the landscape. Its restaurant is headed by chef Joachim Koerper, the man behind Michelin-starred Eleven in Lisbon.
3 TreeHotel | Sweden
Because the polar circle is just 60km away, you can see the Northern Lights from March to November by just raising your eyes, and you can enjoy the midnight sun all summer long as you sleep in a tree! Sweden’s Treehotel boasts seven treetop cabins built on wooden pillars in the forest near Harads.
4 Aire de Bardenas | Spain
A landscape filled with clay, gypsum and sandstone sculpted by the wind until it was disguised as a desert (actually, it’s a vast steppe) that is so photogenic that it was used both as a dragons’ nest in Game of Thrones and as a setting for countless car adverts. This is Bardenas Reales, the astonishing protected space that is also the location of the Aire de Bardenas hotel, which has been designed to make the setting even stranger with its cubic shapes, bubble rooms and rocky gardens. In this multi-award-winning accommodation, the blissful solitude of the environment creeps into your room. What are you going do with it?
5 Castlemartyr | Ireland
The Irish countryside is strewn with dense emerald forests and dramatically rugged coastlines dotted with castles, some of which visitors can sleep in. A case in point is the five-star Castlemartyr in East Cork, where a garden of symmetrical hedges and extensive green areas protect the ruins of a Templar castle dating from 1210 and a 17th-century manor house, where guests enjoy a palatial stay.