Led by social media, the craze for unique, unrepeatable experiences is fuelling the trend for pop-up holidays.
Hornstrandir in Iceland’s remote Westfjords is not the end of the earth. It’s the end of the end of the earth – a dramatic land of jagged, grassy cliffs rising sheer from the Greenland Sea. By the water’s edge is a most unexpected camp equipped with igloo-style tents, fur-lined sleeping bags, linen and silverware, plus staff to cater to every whim: an astronomer to guide curious eyes through the Arctic constellations; a chef from Reykjavík’s first Michelin-starred restaurant, Dill, to stoke the appetite; and a documentary-maker with tips on how to best capture Iceland’s ethereal landscape.
This extraordinary camp is accessible only by kayak – or was, because it doesn’t exist any more. It was conceived and briefly made real by custom-travel designer Black Tomato. The company’s clients were a group of friends who wanted to see Iceland but not its tourists, the number of which now exceeds residents by seven to one. The camp was created just for them and disappeared when they did.
With enough time and money, Black Tomato’s Blink camps can crop up almost anywhere on the planet – from the Atlas Mountains to the Andes – to satisfy the whims of extreme (and extremely wealthy) travellers. But Black Tomato is not the only operator offering such exclusive experiences; around the world, elite agents are outdoing themselves to surprise the rich and restless.
In industry jargon it’s known as the “experience economy”, a new trend in ultra-luxe travel that shuns the accessible and embraces the phenomenal. True luxury is no longer about marble bathrooms and bellboys. Today, the ultimate travel trophies are one-off occasions beyond the reach of ordinary mortals. Here’s our pick of eight extraordinary pop-up experiences in 2019.
Shifting sands in Oman
It’s camping but not as you know it. On the edge of Oman’s stunning mountainous dunes, Swiss-based Amazing Escapes creates lavish sandcastles for well-heeled adventurers. In the cooler months (November to April), a fixed camp springs up at Wahiba Sands with proper bedding and catering, and only a few Bedouin and black camels in the vicinity. For those seeking even more freedom, Amazing Escapes can organise high-spec encampments – with Arabian-inspired interiors, private bathrooms and gourmet meals – anywhere in Oman. The company also operates in South-East Asia, the Andes and the Maldives and, from February 2019, will debut in Finnish Lapland with a temporary yurt camp positioned for prime Northern Lights viewing.
Glamping in Antarctica
Unless you’re a scientist, it can be tough to find accommodation in Antarctica. But each summer (November to January), a camp crystallises on the ice at Union Glacier, about 1100 kilometres from the South Pole. The world doesn’t come much more remote than this; access is by air only. Operated by Antarctic Logistics & Expeditions, the Union Glacier camp houses a maximum of 70 guests in double-walled, Antarctic-proof tents and there’s a mess where fresh Chilean produce is served buffet-style. This is a popular base for those intending to launch an assault on the South Pole or Mount Vinson, Antarctica’s highest peak. Conveniently, the company also erects seasonal camps at the base of Mount Vinson and the South Pole. Antarctic camping doesn’t come cheap – prices range from $US25,000 to $US89,000 (about $35,100 to $125,000) per person – but the 24-hour daylight is free.
Great Migration wild card
When hordes of humans throng the Serengeti each dry season to witness the fight for survival that is the great migration, smart safari wallahs go mobile. In the peak months (June to November), Asilia erects its Olakira North camp just 300 metres from a major wildebeest crossing point on the Mara River, giving guests ringside seats to the greatest show in Africa. The nine timber-floored tents have ensuites, campaign-style furnishings and, new this year, mesh-enclosed decks for bed-based stargazing. In the winter months (December to March), the camp heads to the southern grasslands to witness the joy and heartbreak of the wildebeest calving season.
Flat white salt flats
Even cruise lines are buying into the pop-up phenomenon. Guests on board Silversea’s 254-passenger Silver Cloud can now sign up for a 10-day excursion to the Bolivian Altiplano. The adventure begins with charter flights to La Paz then 4WD transfers to Sajama National Park to camp, in typical Silversea style, at the base of Bolivia’s highest peak among hot springs and alpacas. From there, the show goes on to Salar de Uyuni, a vast salt lake almost 4000 metres above sea level, touching the sky. Silversea’s yurt camps come with all the trimmings, including coca tea to aid altitude adjustment, all meals, heating and house wines (not a good idea at that elevation).
Splendid isolation in Mongolia
Like a mirage, The Pavilions Mongolia camp shimmers into view each summer from June to September to cosset New-Age nomads in the rugged isolation of the Mongolian steppe. Set on a rise above the picturesque Orkhon River, the 20 stove-warmed gers are outfitted with fine linen, cashmere blankets and French-press coffee makers. With a ratio of almost two staff members to every guest, this is a luxe caravanserai for the fortunate few. Camp activities include horseriding, hiking and polo lessons, and massages with the resident shaman. What the location lacks in wi-fi (there’s none), it makes up for with mountain picnics and Naadam, the annual festival of Mongolian culture, in July.
The Wandering Hotel
Brazil's location for the 2019 700,000 Heures "wandering hotel"
Visionary hotelier Thierry Teyssier – whose Dar Ahlam (House of Dreams) in Morocco is revered by the famous and fabulous for its capacity to arouse the most jaded jetsetter – recently launched 700,000 Heures, a “wandering hotel” that materialises in a different country every six months. This ephemeral travel concept – the name refers to the average human life span – involves Teyssier taking over private homes in desirable locations and converting them into short-lived hotels. It debuted in September in Puglian hotspot Salento, at a frescoed palazzo where gilt-edged guests were treated to wonderful surprises, including breakfast at the mouth of a cave and a lunch of urchins, plucked from the sea, on a painted gozzo (traditional timber boat). The nomadic hotel then went to Cambodia and offered special access to Angkor. From June 2019, the extravaganza will unfold among the other-worldly dunescapes of northern Brazil’s Lençóis Maranhenses.
Glamp out in Kenya
Upscale outfit Abercrombie & Kent has permanent properties in Africa but bolsters its safari options with mobile camps across the eastern states. Expect an Out of Africa vibe in canvas tents with a wardrobe, ensuite, verandah and butler service, positioned in wildlife-rich regions such as Kenya’s Laikipia Plateau and Amboseli National Park, famed for its elephants. Available to private groups only, these solar-powered camps come with the full retinue of a cook and waiters, plus a bar tent and lounge – yet they can be dismantled to leave no trace of what has transpired. Prime touring times are June to October and December to March; days tend to revolve around game drives, hot air balloon rides over the Masai Mara and visits to villages.
Chill in an ice hotel
In the Canadian province of Québec, the notoriously brisk winter temperatures (lows hover around -15°C) provide a fleeting opportunity for a unique stay. Québec City’s ice hotel, Hôtel de Glace, is constructed anew each year, its builders and sculptors toiling for a month to marshal snow and ice into 45 rooms, a bar, spa and even a giant slide. Suites might be decorated with carved images of a snowy owl or a huddle of walruses; the Premium suites come with a fireplace and some have a private spa and sauna. The hotel receives guests from early January until late March, when the spring thaw begins and Canada’s ice castle melts away.