Rustic Elegance

Roughing it was the "in" thing to do not too long ago.

By: By Christopher Batin

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To see more examples of luxurious glamping accommodations, check out our Rustic Elegance photo tour. 

Roughing it was the "in" thing to do not too long ago. Tourists took pride in getting back to nature to slug it out with mosquitoes, huddle in leaky tents during driving rainstorms or replace a mattress with the cold, hard ground.

But in the world of travel, innovation is the trigger that can ignite new trends and economic prosperity for agents. Select operators in the tourism industry have found that the affluent segment of the baby-boomer generation and their offspring are growing ho-hum with standard cruises and people-packed resorts. Now, boomers are searching for the thrill of exploring remote destinations, but without the physical discomfort or hardships of "roughing" it.

The Cook House at Paws Up Ranch // (c) Paws up
The Cook House at Paws Up Ranch 

It’s easy to understand why.

While it once took five days of sweaty slogs through brushy swamps to get to remote camps, today’s adventurers can helicopter into an existing tent camp with Persian carpets, heated baths and a waiting, eager-to-please butler and chef within minutes. The associated bragging rights can’t compare with the old way. Access is hip, cool, easy and, most of all, decadent fun.

Such glamour camping for the elite, otherwise known as "glamping," is becoming a runaway trend and a source of profit for agents.

Technically, glamping is elegant camping with a support staff of a personal butler and chef. But the term is often used to describe rustic but elegant lodges, cabins and safaris, located in remote, often inhospitable environs, with a degree of comfort limited only by what your clients want to pay and do. Some top-end glamping adventures with all the trimmings can start at $8,000 per person.

"It’s always about keeping up with the Joneses," said Jim Bailey, who has operated deluxe lodges and camps in the Alaska wilderness. "Everyone likes to have the best, but it costs big bucks to offer luxury in the wilderness, as everything has to be flown or packed in."

Here is a sampling of some favorite glamps, rustic elegance lodges and cabins located around the world, at a variety of budgets.

Thailand Cowboy Boutique Camping
An hour’s drive from the glitter of Bangkok’s five-star resorts is a common sight in an uncommon land — a working farm that satisfies the Far East’s hunger for the American West. This is the theme of Farm Chokchai Boutique Camping.

"People come to our agrotourism farm to escape from the city, and get a new idea of nature," manager Kusira Punyaratabandhu told me on a recent tour. "In the process, they enjoy a sampling of the American West, complete with cowpokes and ranch hands, yet with a Thai flavor."

Clients can expect to camp in luxury-laden tents outfitted with superb comforts such as wall paintings, desks, fine carpets and electricity. I marveled at toilets with Oriental garden views through private picture windows. The grounds are superbly groomed and kept immaculately clean. Optional activities range from hands-on experiences of milking cows and making ice cream from fresh milk to riding horses, feeding animals, viewing cowboy shows and many other aspects of farm and ranch life.

A three-day, two-night camping package is $200.

Canadian Plush
The epitome of glamping, perhaps, is located 30 minutes by boat from Tofino, British Columbia. There rests the super-deluxe, eco-safari themed Clayoquot Wilderness Resort. It’s easy to understand why this resort has been featured in national news stories. Each of the 20-plus tents offers its own escape into hedonistic indulgence. Tents have Persian carpets, down duvets and electricity. Aside from your personal tent, there’s a sauna, a hot tub, massage, aromatherapy, lounge and relaxation tents. Dining is nothing but gourmet cuisine. Day trips include fishing, horseback riding, kayaking, hikes and wildlife viewing.

You may need to advise your clients to readjust their expectations and raise their credit-card limit here for full-service glamping. A three-night package starts at $4,100 per person, based on double occupancy.

African Safaris
Affordable solitude is important to some glampers, and Tandala Ridge Wildlife Lodge in Namibia offers individually packaged tours to meet the need.

"We do not mix our guests with strangers," said co-owner Tim Osborne. "We offer relaxed schedules instead of rushing from place to place."

Osborne is a retired wildlife biologist who is one of the top birders and bird ringers in Namibia. His outfit’s small size has attracted a following who appreciates comfort, solitude and value.

According to Osborne, the lodge offers a superb view from a ridge veranda overlooking a watering hole that attracts a variety of large African species. Personalized service is two or three to one. He only offers two rooms for four people at any one time, perhaps making Tandala the smallest lodge in Namibia, and one of the most remote, since it is located 60 miles from the nearest restaurant.

Tandala Ridge also offers tent-based safaris focusing on natural history, mammals, birds, plants and geology and cultural and historical trips. Big-game hunting safaris are offered at nearby Windpoort Farm. Prices begin at $900 for birding tours to $3,500 for safaris.

Abercrombie & Kent Mobile Camping Tented Safaris
One of the most opulent and costly tent safaris in the industry combines glamping with a luxurious, mobile camping style bearing the name Abercrombie & Kent (A&K).

Clients picnic in the bush with A&K. // (c) Abercrombie & Kent
Clients picnic in the bush with A&K.

According to media relations manager Jean Fawcett, camps are strategically located in the heart of the game-rich areas of East Africa, far removed from civilization. Yet, each one still adheres to the safari romanticism of the Hemingway and Roosevelt eras.

A&K glamps consist of veranda-fronted tents furnished in a blend of ethnic African and colonial European styles. Hand-woven cushions and Egyptian-cotton sheets cover solid-frame beds. Expect a washbasin, shower and fully flushing toilet.

Skilled chefs offer their finest creations, which are hand-delivered to each guest’s candlelit dining tent. Wine or cocktails are served in the light of a roaring campfire. While your clients are at dinner, tent attendants turn down each bed, draw the mosquito nets and, on those chilly nights, slide hot water bottles beneath the covers.

When motor touring, the camp is moved to a new location and tents are set up exactly as they were left in the morning.

The Kenya Hemingway Safari is the quintessential African glamping experience. Wherever the camp is, A&K says your clients and their guides can expect to be the only humans in the general vicinity. A 12-day safari runs about $8,080 per person, double occupancy. The Hemingway-style tent safari in Tanzania and Kenya runs 14 days from $11,925 per person, double occupancy.

Glacier Bay Country
Glacier Bay Country Inn offers Alaskan adventure with options for adventure or relaxation. From finely appointed cabins to gourmet meals, Glacier Bay indulges, delights, mesmerizes and pampers all the senses, from watching moose in the field, to fly-out fishing and whale watching.

The main lodge houses five specially themed guestrooms, a "keeping room" (family room), library and game/television room on the second floor. While the lodge offers several hundred videos for your viewing pleasure, most take in the endless opportunities to view Nature outside. Clients can choose their own private cabin as I did, and delight in the solitude each offers. Each day, the lodge staff fine-tunes the cabin with fresh linens, towels and other creature comforts, so it’s always ready when needed.

Here, the scenery and adventure take care of itself. The food is what makes it superb. From the tempting smell of freshly baked breads to platters brimming with local delicacies, Glacier Bay Country Inn offers an extraordinary dining experience. During my week there, I feasted on succulent Alaskan salmon, halibut and Dungeness crab and savored wild berries plucked from the surrounding rainforest. Appetizers include blackened shrimp or delectable crab cakes with chipotle aioli. The dishes I relished most were salmon en croute with green peppercorn sauce, and smoked breast of duck over rice vermacelli. Sweet finales include Glacier Bay raspberry cheesecake, rich cinnamon creme brulee or flaky nectarine tart.

Glacier Bay’s cuisine has been featured in Food & Wine, Saveur and Bon Appetit, a distinction few Alaska lodges can claim.

Two days of guided saltwater fishing, four nights lodging with meals, gear, license, fish packing for one, 50-pound box of fish and a Baranof Wind Glacier day cruise runs $1,880 per person. Fly-fishing or sightseeing packages are also available.

Affordable Family Getaways on the Eastern Shore
Virginia’s Eastern Shore offers great adventures at affordable prices for multi-generational family vacations. Here, full-sized lodges are available for kids, grandkids and parents to spend a week together.

Lodges on Virginia’s Eastern Shore are big enough for the whole family. // (c) Christopher Batin
Lodges on Virginia’s Eastern Shore are big enough for the whole family.

"The cabins are centrally located to outdoor recreation that allow large families to spend a week together, without the expense typical of such an outing," said Donna Bozza, executive director of Eastern Shore of Virginia Tourism Commission.

At a recent visit to one of these lodges, I enjoyed an evening sitting in a spacious living room with a gas fireplace. On the back porch, I listened to songbirds in an undeveloped meadow.

Some lodges are handicapped-accessible for elderly clients in wheelchairs. Covered porches and outside grills add a nice touch. The largest lodges offer six bedrooms with room to sleep 16 comfortably. The cost is $2,340 per week for the entire lodge during peak summer season.

The Eastern Shore Birding Festival in September is a popular attraction, plus Williamsburg, Va.; Yorktown, Va.; and Chincoteague, Va., are all within 1½ hours of these rental lodges. The Eastern Shore of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center — one of the country’s top-five visitor centers — is three miles away. I enjoyed the quaint waterfront towns and fishing villages such as Cape Charles, with its historical museum, art gallery, restaurants and harbor. Check out the nearby Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge and the Assateague Island National Seashore for great wildlife viewing. Of course, the swimming and fishing can’t be beat along the Chesapeake Bay coast, too.

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Full-Service River Camp
Nestled in the wilderness of Montana’s Blackfoot River, the Paws Up River Camp’s western-style luxury camp offers opulent tents furnished with king-size beds, hardwood heated floors, artwork, electricity and even a private master bath and a camp butler, who serves up to three gourmet meals a day. The massage therapist in the Spa Tent makes roughing it in the outdoors something to look forward to at the end of each day.

What makes River Camp so sought after over "glamps" available elsewhere?

"River Camp is our newest luxury camping accommodations" says Terre Short, general manager at The Resort at Paws Up. "Due to the popularity of our original Tent City ‘glamping grounds,’ we turned away nearly 200 room nights last year. We decided to expand on this concept and built an additional six tents at River Camp. River Camp is right on the Blackfoot River, and two of River Camp’s tents are "tent suites" that can accommodate four people.

"What makes it so special compared to other glamping resorts or tour operators is location and the quality of our staff. People are discovering the beauty of Montana. Paws Up is on 37,000 acres of pristine wilderness and we provide what we like to call ‘nature on a silver platter,’" he said. "River Camp also has a dedicated ‘camping butler’ and one of the top reasons people return is our staff."

Expect to pay about $700 per person, per day.

Glamping and rustic elegance camps allow clients to enjoy the creme de le creme of some of the world’s most remote destinations, but there’s something more. With a simple look up from a tent on the plains of Africa or from a mountain peak in the High Sierras, it will be obvious to clients that five-star resorts can’t compare with the celestial rating system of countless stars overhead. No matter what the price, the trips don’t get much finer — or more remote — than that.