Thursday, May 14, 2015

Daydream about dream destinations

By Michael Hartigan
Article appeared in the Wicked Local papers in May, 2015

There are hotels and then there are hotel destinations. Maybe you stay at one on your honeymoon
or you walk through one on vacation (but you're staying at the economy chain hotel down the
street). Maybe you just stumbled upon it online while booking your next trip but almost choked
on your keyboard when you saw the cost per night. However you know about it, there is a
resort/hotel out there that you'd visit without delay if money were no object.
With summer vacation season upon us, it can’t hurt to daydream about these dream destinations.
Castles, for example, have always been at the top of my list.
I was fortunate enough to get a small taste of medieval living (albeit with every modern luxury
possible) when I spent two nights at the 7,000 acre Banfi vineyard estate in Italy. At its center
soars Castello Poggio alle Mura, or Castello Banfi. The castle’s 8th century charm and whimsy
remain after intelligent renovation transformed it into a 14-room hotel of the most lavish sort.
The Tuscan countryside sprawls in every direction like a massive green patchwork quilt dotted
with ponds and forests.
But the castle itself is the temporary home to so few guests that it is impossible not to feel at least
some of the communal camaraderie that the 8th century inhabitants must have felt – minus the
plague, of course.
On my castle to-do list, however, remains Ashford Castle in Country Mayo, Ireland. It checks all
the boxes: a castle in the majestic Irish countryside, surrounded by historic and archaeological
spots with individually designed guestrooms, dripping with the comforts required for no one less
than royalty. Oh, and they have falconry. Yes, falconry. In the shadows of the ancient castle, you
can learn how to launch a bird of prey from your arm.
If castles aren’t your thing, perhaps Remote Island living is. I’ve had friends rave about over-
water huts in Bora Bora, French Polynesia, at places like the Intercontinental Bora Bora Resort.
Imagine waking up to the soft sound of water lapping against the side of a paddle as your
breakfast is delivered by outrigger canoe. As you sit to eat your breakfast, you look around at the
crystal blue surrounding you on all sides; the sky melting into the azure waters of a quiet lagoon.
The rooms, luxurious and opulent, wade offshore in a horseshoe, proudly beckoning to travelers
seeking the ultimate in relaxation and indulgence.
Not remote enough? Check out Explora, Rapa Nui, Easter Island. Five hours off the coast of
Chile, the luxurious facility is built with rounded architecture, mimicking the curves of the island
and emphasizing the already mystifying aura of Rapa Nui. The famous Easter Island statues may
be the impetus for most travelers’ trek to this secluded Pacific rock, but staying at Explora comes
with your choice of adventure or relaxation.
The top spot on my list of dream hotels gives me chills, literally. But that is a good thing atop the
world at the Ice Hotel in Jukkasjarvi, Sweden. This structure’s eponymous building material
transports its lucky patrons to a world far beyond anything we encounter in our daily hullabaloo.
It is the stuff of fantasy, myth and Nordic legend. The building is completely made of ice,
including your room, the furniture, the art – you name it, it’ll freeze your tongue if you lick it.
There are warm accommodations but what’s the point in that?  If I’m traveling 200 km above the
Arctic Circle, I better sleep on a bed made of ice. And if you time your trip right, the shimmering
green and purple waves of Aurora Borealis (the Northern Lights) haunt the outline of the snow
palace. Ice Hotel is the ultimate in dream hotels because at the end of each season, it’s gone
These are just a few of my dream destinations and I encourage everyone to pull together their
own list. If nothing else, searching around for the world’s creative, unique lodgings can inspire
creative and unique travel ideas, and give us somewhere to aspire to.