They say half the fun of a holiday is in the planning, so in case you’re stuck for ideas and looking for your next grand adventure, consider these six destinations with an off-beat twist: a Mediterranean resort in Wales, a tropical beach in Germany, a nostalgic Baltic sea resort, a yurt in Sussex, the Von Trapp family in Vermont, or surreal concrete gardens in Mexico.
Off-Beat Holiday #1 – Port Meirion, Wales
The Italianate resort village of Port Meirion is magnificently located in Gwynedd, on the rocky coast of Wales surrounded by Snowdonia National Park. This extraordinary folly – largely built from reclaimed fragments of demolished buildings – was conceived and designed by Sir Clough Willams-Ellis. It’s a fanciful architectural bricolage in homage to the Italian Mediterranean (don’t scoff – the resort is said to have influenced the development of post-modern architecture).
Port Meirion offers everything you might hope for in a coastal Italian town – except, perhaps, the balmy weather. Beautiful landscaping and decorative outcrops set off the ornate buildings to perfection, with a series of walkways through the wilderness-garden setting. Guests can also venture further afield along the coast. There’s a range of accommodation from decadent hotels and quirky cottages to the medieval Castle Deudraeth. And yes, fans of the iconic BBC show “The Prisoner” will recognize this setting as The Village. Be seeing you.
Off-Beat Holiday #2 – Tropical Islands, Berlin
A tropical rain forest just 60km south of Berlin?? Yes!
Tropical Islands offers rain forest in a naturally maintained biotope and boasts Europe’s largest spa and sauna complex. It’s an unbelievable haven of lush tropics and beach-side entertainment. As the website says, “watch the palm trees sway in the gentle breeze, feel the sand between your toes on our tropical beach. At Tropical Islands, the dream of creating a tropical island in the heart of Europe has become reality.” Indeed.
Built in a former aircraft hanger, Tropical Islands is 360m long, 210m wide and 107m high. The Bali Lagoon features a grotto and waterfall, with romantic evening lighting for you to enjoy a tropical barbecue or dinner at the Borneo Cafe. You can even stay overnight and camp on the beach in a tent, or relax in the hot tub of your Cambodian or Balinese-style lodge before a morning swim in the waves. Return to the frozen streets of Berlin and hit the nightclubs and bars. It’s the best of both worlds, really. (Hot tip: Tropical Islands offers free entry on your actual birthday, so celebrate!)
Off-Beat Holiday #3 – Neringa, Lithuania
If you’re feeling nostalgic, or have a yen for the Baltic, head north to the jewel of Lithuania’s coast: the UNESCO World Heritage site of Neringa. It’s located on the peninsula of the Curonian Spit, nestled between the Baltic Sea and a quiet lagoon. It does get busy during summer, but don’t expect the nightclub scene, this is where you go for serious relaxation.
There are no noisy highways, railway stations, or municipal transport like in other cities and towns. But there are dunes, forest, seasides and small fishing villages rolling in sand. The very charming tourist site promises a veritable oasis from the world: “I am your hope and your beacon, your longing, nostalgia and soul cry. I will be here for you when you need me, and will fold you in mists and love. I am your Nida…. forget your troubles, give yourself to the waves and wind and they will carry you to my shores… and the sun will always show up after the storm.”
Off-Beat Holiday #4 – Glamping in a Yurt
You may remember camping as an uncomfortable enterprise, walking for hours into the woods and trying to make yourself comfortable on hard ground laced with sharp rocks. Well, now there’s a glamour camping option, for those intrepid campers who yearn for a taste of the wilderness, yet still want to be able to sleep soundly in a soft bed.
Goglamping is the Rolls Royce of camping experiences: they arrange luxury camping holidays from yurts perched on a mountain in southern France; to geodesic-domed tents in Patagonia, Chile; to nomadic tents in the desert of Morocco. Or maybe you fancy a comfortable taste of the gypsy life? Well then, try the romantic caravans in Herefordshire, at the Wriggles Brook Gypsy B&B.
Off-Beat Holiday #5 – Von Trapp Family Lodge, Vermont
Experience a taste of Austrian mountain life in America, with a trip to the Trapp Family Lodge and ski resort, looking out over 2,400 acres of mountain views. Clearly when the Von Trapp family left Austria and first gazed on the sweeping mountain vistas of Stowe, Vermont, they knew immediately they had found their new home. Nowadays you can enjoy a range of activities including wine tasting, cross-country skiing, maple sugaring, mountain biking, yoga, arts and crafts….
Simply relax in the charming Austrian-style lodge while you contemplate the hills, or choose the ‘Meet the Von Trapp’ option for an insight into the lives and history of the family who inspired The Sound of Music (which is screened weekly in case you feel the need to revisit the original story).
Off-Beat Holiday #6 – Las Pozas, Mexico
Las Pozas sculpture garden is a surrealist wonderland in the jungle of Mexico, near the town of Xilitla. This bizarre Xanadu is the work of art patron and eccentric millionaire, Edward James, who “abandoned the intellectual, social and artistic circles of London, Paris, New York and Hollywood for the jungles of Mexico.”
Legends say a vision – of a cloud of butterflies – inspired him to buy the property in the semi-tropical highlands of the Sierra Madre Mountains, 8 hours from Mexico City. James started the enterprise in 1945 with an orchid garden that was wiped out by a freak snowstorm. Bloodied but not bowed, he created concrete orchids and gardens over the next 20 years.
The sculptures include a bamboo palace, orchid-shaped cement totem poles, obelisks, pavilions, bridges going nowhere and a spiral stairway to the sky.
The guest house El Castillo is the former home of the owner/artist and offers grand bedrooms in a dramatic and whimsical mix of Mexican, English and Moorish architecture. Make sure to visit the Parrot Cave and spectacular waterfalls in the surrounding area.