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HotelChatter's Guide to Glamping: Out of Africa-Style

March 23, 2010 at 4:00 PM | by | ()

Let’s be honest, we’re not outdoorsy people here at HotelChatter; we spend all day at our computers dorking out about hotel properties around the world.

The only way you’ll get us into a tent (apart from one that morphs into a jacket) is if it has WiFi, a deep soaking tub, chilled champagne, and, okay, maybe a few artfully arranged animal prints. Lucky for us, these sorts of luxury tent digs actually do exist, thanks to the "Glamping" trend. Yes, Glamping--glamorous camping.

All this week, we’ll be trekking across the globe on a trendspotting tour of the more intriguing properties we’ve come across where those in the know will be "roughing it," starting with Africa.

However, we must warn you that our version of glamping is far more toned-down that fashion designer's Dsquared. There will be no see-through rain coats with hot-pink piping here or ballgowns paired with fishermen hats. Of course, you could always pack them in your suitcase if you like.

If we had to pinpoint the origins of Glamping, it would have to be the African safari with all those nattily dressed imperialists parading through the savannahs on a sort of rustic, big-game garden party. So we’ll start with a classic safari package, gussied up with a little Hollywood patina, because the only thing we like stalking more than big game are big celebrities.

Redford Reminiscing in Kenya
The "Out of Africa" Anniversary package at Kenya’s Sanctuary Olonana is part of the eco-conscious (and award-winning) Sanctuary Retreats, a collection of luxury lodges and camps in Tanzania, Botswana, Zambia, Kenya and Uganda. Olonana is located on the banks of the Mara River near the huge Siria Escarpment, close to where the last scene of the famous movie starring Robert Redford and Meryl Streep was filmed. The canvas "tents" they use for rooms have four-poster beds, parquet floors, and scenic verandahs overlooking the river.

The special package runs from June 1-December 15, celebrating the 25th anniversary of the movie, and includes accommodations in one of their 14 luxury tents, game drives to see the "Big Five" species and many others, a cultural visit to a Maasai villagem all meals, an "Out of Africa" picnic and alfresco spa treatment (you remember that sensual hair-washing scene from the movie?), and a screening of the film under the stars. Plus, anyone who books four nights or more this summer receives a free hot air balloon ride over the savannah, and a champagne breakfast. All-inclusive rates start at $389 per person per night.

Trendy Tanzania
Another option is Sanctuary Swala in Tanzania’s Tarangire National Park which has recently undergone a complete, eco-friendly rebuild, and the chic, modern décor in its 12 tents, and stilted tree house dining area and library, looks fab. You can check out the new look here. Rates start at $440 per person per night.

Swanky South Africa
We came across a few other safari glamping destinations that we thought we’d mention. One is The Homestead Phinda, in South Africa’s private Phinda Game Reserve. It’s part of the &Beyond Africa family of lodges and camps in seven countries, though Phinda is a sole-use villa (meaning it's just you and your friends) with all-inclusive rates ranging from $4,781-$6,694 for all meals and snacks, butler service, a chef, laundry, private scheduled safari drives, nature walks with experienced trackers, emergency medical evacuation insurance, and transfers to and from the airstrip nearby.

The rooms are done up in neutral, natural tones with indigenous touches like Zulu crafts. There’s also a small outdoor pool and sitting area for whiling away the afternoons watching nearby wildlife, though all the rooms have huge sliding windows for the best vistas.

Greystoke Mahale lies on the eastern shores of Lake Tangayika in Tanzania, where "the water is as clear as gin, the air scented, and the living very easy indeed." Sounds like heaven to us, and it is here that chimpanzee enthusiasts should come to hang out with the largest known population of the creatures, including a group of 60 that lives in the forest near the lodge.

The accommodations in the camp are exotic wooden "bandas," which are kind of like beach chalets, and they are decorated with colorful African fabrics and patterns. They each have open-air showers, lounging decks. Rates run from $450-865 per person per night, though there is currently a 25 percent "Nomad Discount."

Mozambique's Castaway Chic
Africa’s not all about safari, though. For some "Castaway Chic" in the vein of Robinson Crusoe (or Lost for you Matthew Fox fans), we found the breathtaking Vamizi Lodge on Mozambique’s Indian Ocean coast. The lodge’s 13 villas (both one- and two-bedrooms) are all on the beach and include over 1,700 square feet of floor space, timbered floors, marble bathrooms and sun-decks. Sorry, no TV’s or A/C here, but with the rolling surf and cool ocean breezes, you won’t need it.

For meals, there’s fresh seafood, which you can enjoy in the main lodge’s dining room, the new restaurant, or on a "shipwreck picnic" on a deserted beach. For more active vacationers, there are sea activities like diving, fishing and kayaking, though there is also yoga instruction, and a full range of spa treatments using products made from local ingredients and recipes. Rates range from $390-850 per person per night.

We Could Have A Bedouin Romance
Finally, let’s not forget the vast reaches of the Sahara in the north of the continent, and the far-flung trade routes that spawned caravan culture. Capturing the exotic ambiance of a mid-desert oasis is Tunisia’s Pansea Ksar Ghilane, where guests can live like Bedouins…albeit extremely pampered ones. To get there, guests must take a 4X4 three hours from the nearest town, Djerba, to the tiny private oasis where 60 spacious linen-tented rooms huddle around a swimming pool amidst groves of palms.

Rooms are decorated with simple Bedouin linens, but there is air conditioning and heating, gourmet desert food in the dining room, a panoramic viewing tower, and even a hammam where guests can steam out the grit of their desert journey and relax with a massage. Arranged activities include camel rides to nearby desert forts, and other springs and oases. Rates start at about $150. But bring cash. While the hotel accepts credit cards for the reservations, they are not accepted while at the hotel.

These were just a few Glamping options we came across during our research for Africa, but there are plenty of others to explore on your own. As for us, we’re taking you to Australia tomorrow for some high-end cattle ranching and beach living down under.

Got your own suggestions or questions about Glamping? Send 'em to us!

[All photos courtesy of the hotels and resorts listed here]

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