|by Sean O'Neill||Islands, Spain, Hotels||18|
Sleep in a cave house. Thousands of residents of the cathedral town of Guadix, Spain, live in cave houses, carved out of the surrounding sandstone mountains. These cave homes feature all of the standard modern conveniences, as you can tell by the TV satellite dishes that most of the cave dwellers have stuck above their doors. Curious? Then try renting one of these cave homes for a short stay. One agency, Cuevas Pedro Antonio, offers 19 rental units, each with a kitchen, a terrace view of the Sierra Nevada, and access to a pool. Room rates are about $120 a night, assuming a four-night stay. Details here. Guadix makes a convenient stop on a typical circuit of the popular destinations in Mediterranean Andalusia. (Hat tip to the Times of London)
Sleep inside a windmill. On the Greek island of Zakynthos, two cape-top windmills are romantic places to stay, says Eleni Gage, a Budget Travel contributor. From the balconies of either of these windmills you can take in glorious views of the Ionian Sea. Rates vary by date, but expect to pay about $200 a night per family. Details here. The owners also offer small boat tours of the area's most popular attractions--including the Blue Caves, which are unusual rock formations over the Ionian Sea--at times of day when larger tourist boats aren't disturbing the scenery. Trips cost about $14 per person, and you don't have to stay at a windmill to take the trip. Details here. (On a related note, you can read about the secret hotels of the Greek Isles by clicking here.)
Stay on your own private island in the South Pacific for about $200 a night....
This is a tip that's been passed along by an Australian real estate broker, Cheyenne Morrison, who travels four months a year by helicopter, seaplane, and occasionally boat to sell and inspect private islands. Since 2000, he's been Coldwell Banker's only international private island broker, with the whole world as his sales district. His islands fetch prices ranging from $67,000 to $75 million. Morrison brokers one island a month an average. And like everyone else these days, he blogs.
Morrison recommends you consider visiting One Foot Island, a 5,000-square-foot islet in the Cook Islands in the South Pacific. One Foot Island (a.k.a. Tapuaetai Island) offers a single lodging option, called the One Foot Island Hideway, for merely $200 a night. "Almost nobody knows that you can rent this house and have your very own island at night," says Morrison.
During the day, sailing cruises of nearby islands drop anchor and daytrippers stroll One Foot Island. Besides its quintessential tropical views, the island's lone attraction for tourists is a post office that is called the "smallest post office in the world." (The daytrippers generally come from nearby New Zealand and Australia, and visit on tour boats that stop at islands throughout the Aituitaki atoll.) At night, the sailing cruise ships shut down. With sunset, you become sole occupant of the island, commanding its 360-degree views.
Morrison explains the island's personal appeal: "As a teenager, I read a great book called An Island to Oneself. It was written by Tom Neale, who lived 16 years alone on the remote Suwarrow Atoll. No amount of trying allowed me to say on privately-owned Suwarrow, but at least I can have the pleasure of having One Foot Island all to myself."
Andrew McBirney and his wife Moyra rent out the two-story house. The seaside lodgings are Spartan, featuring a modern shower and flush toilet, kerosene lamps, and a gas oven and a BBQ grill. You need to bring your own food supplies from Rarotonga or you can order food supplies from Aitutaki Lagoon Adventures for next-day delivery. Unless you're intrepid enough to hire a local boat from Rarotonga, you'll probably rely on Aitutaki Lagoon Adventures to also provide your transport back and forth to One Foot Island for about $50 each way per couple. As already noted, rates start at $200 a night. (For booking information, click here or here.)
Morrison has been to One Foot Island three times -- most recently last year. He says, "I remember waking up early one morning thinking the house was on fire. The walls were bright red and orange. Half-asleep I went outside to investigate, and I saw that the most magnificent tropical sunrise had painted the skies with a palette of blazing colors. The dazzling fire show lasted only 15 minutes, but--sitting on the veranda of my own tropical island--that was a perfect moment."
Off the island's shore is one of the best places in the Aitutaki atoll, which the island belongs to, for snorkeling. "You can spend hours drifting through the shallows over the coral gardens, watching the fish dart around. It's like having a life-sized aquarium on your doorstep." Among the available day-long cruises of the area islands, Morrison recommends Paradise Islands sailing tours (aitutaki.net; $53 per person).
Among restaurants on nearby islands, he recommends Tauono's Garden Cafe in Upper Amuri. "It's not a real restaurant in the proper sense," he says, "but actually someone's house. If you let her know in advance, the owner will serve you up a 'catch of the day' fish dinner with fish caught straight of the lagoon you were snorkeling in that day. You can dine out in the garden behind her house on one of a pair of picnic tables. This is real local style cooking, and a great chance to mingle with real locals." (Phone, 011 (682) 31-526)
Before leaving the Aitutaki atoll, be sure to stop at "Island Night" at Samades Beach Bar because the local dancers insist they're the best in the Pacific, and they very well may be. (See Morrison's cool blog on private islands here. His recent blog post on One Foot Island can be found here.)