If You’d Rather Social Distance Forever, Head to These Off-the-Map Luxury Hotels
A mountain chalet only accessible by helicopter, Marlon Brando's private island and other seductive, far-flung destinations
Chances are COVID-19 has altered your travel plans in one way or another during the pandemic. And somewhere between “it’ll be over in two weeks” and “here we are two years later,” it’s likely your relationship to travel in general has been altered, too. Thanks to months of social distancing, you might now be used to having a little more elbow room and a lot more time alone. Today, the thought of a crowded Vegas casino, a popular beach hotel or a busy ski resort just hits different.
But just because the crowds of pre-pandemic life have all but returned, that doesn’t mean they need to return to your travel plans. As a travel writer with a long-standing affection for far-flung hotels, I’m here to share five of the world’s best escapes where luxury, adventure and relaxation are served with a substantial dose of social distancing.
You’ll need to go the extra mile to reach them, but once you do, you won’t regret it. Trust me, I’ve experienced the first three firsthand and the last two are at the very top of my must-see list.
Nimmo Bay, British Columbia
Nestled deep in a labyrinth of tidal bays and surrounded by the Great Bear Rainforest, Nimmo Bay is the definition of a hidden gem. After your flight to Vancouver, then another to Vancouver Island’s Port Hardy, you have two options to get to Nimmo Bay: helicopter or seaplane. Choose the seaplane for an exhilarating water landing and memorable arrival at their newly constructed floating lodge. Here, you’ll be greeted with a welcome cocktail and the realization that no subsequent vacation may ever compare.
Home to just eight cabins, six of which are built on stilts and become the Canadian version of overwater bungalows during high tide, Nimmo Bay also features one-of-a-kind wellness offerings and a world-class culinary program. Activity-wise, you’ll have plenty of options like boat-based viewing of grizzly bears and killer whales and a plethora of helicopter adventures (like touching down on the shore of an alpine lake for a picnic and stand-up paddleboard session). And last but not least, reach peak social-distancing status with a trip to their floating sauna or floating hot tub.
Deplar Farm, Iceland
Far removed from the country’s overcrowded tourist track and hidden in the remote mountains of the Troll Peninsula, Deplar Farm will have you believing you have the island nation to yourself. To get there, land in Akureyri via Reykjavik, then complete the journey in Deplar’s tricked-out, 4×4 Sprinter van from Arctic Trucks. If the conditions allow, you’ll reach the property by a backroad mountain pass that’ll have you thinking, “Where the hell are you taking me?”
Once on site, you’ll find a discreet, grass-roofed lodge hiding an ultra-luxurious handful of rooms and a sleek, semi-subterranean spa level fit for a Bond villain. Outside, adventure abounds. Want to take a helicopter to an unspoiled beach and go surfing? Sure. How about touching down at a remote stream to fly fish? Easy. What about heli-skiing in the surrounding mountains? Deplar Farm has an in-house heli-skiing program that takes off from the front yard. After a day of experiencing the best of backcountry Iceland, sans people, relax in the glass-walled sauna or indoor/outdoor geothermal heated pool with swim-up bar.
Pikaia Lodge, Galapagos Islands
There are few places that feel as remote and unspoiled as the Galapagos Islands. But if there’s beauty, you can bet large groups of camera-wielding tourists will follow. So if you want to experience all of the natural wonder social-distancing style, Pikaia Lodge is for you. When you land, Pikaia guests are whisked away from the crowd to the airport’s VIP entry hall to take care of the required arrival paperwork. From there, you’ll go from private van to private ferry to private van and drive 45 minutes to the top of an extinct volcano — home of the 14-room Pikaia Lodge.
When it comes to getting up close to wildlife on both land and sea (the reason you came), you’ll be guided in small groups by Pikaia’s in-house guides. And when it comes to water-based excursions, Pikaia goes even further to avoid crowds by utilizing its own private adventure yacht. Back at the hotel, enjoy a shamanic massage at the spa or take a dip in the infinity pool and think about all the things you’ve done right to wind up here.
Sheldon Chalet, Alaska
When it comes to choosing a destination to escape from society, there’s remote and then there’s “you’ve gotta be kidding me.” Sheldon Chalet — built on a mountaintop, surrounded by a giant glacier, at the center of an amphitheater of even bigger mountains, in the middle of Denali National Park — falls confidently into the second category. It is, without a doubt, where you’d want to be during a zombie apocalypse.
Accessible only via helicopter and available exclusively for private buyouts, this five-bedroom hut brings a level of luxury never-before-seen in this untamed swath of wilderness. Once here, you’ll spend your time partaking in various glacier- and mountain-based activities like rappelling, snow-cavern spelunking, glacier trekking and rock climbing. During down time, you can relax in the sauna with views of the Denali summit, watch the Northern Lights or just sit and stare in awe at the view around you.
The Brando, French Polynesia
Marlon Brando’s old private island is now one of the most exclusive and luxurious eco resorts in the world. Located deep in the South Pacific, and seriously far from wherever you live, you have to really want to get there — and you should really want to get there. To do so, fly to Tahiti then make the 20-minute flight, via the resort’s private plane, to the private airstrip. Once you’ve arrived, pick up your jaw, proceed to your oceanfront bungalow, look out to sea and breathe in the isolation.
As a guest, you’ll be in good company. Barack Obama spent a month here writing his memoir and celebrities like Margot Robbie, Leonardo DiCaprio and Ellen DeGeneres have visited too. But perhaps The Brando’s most notable recent guest was Kim Kardashian, who famously social distanced here during the height of the pandemic when she rented out the entire island and flew her party in on a chartered 777.
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