Farms, monasteries and more places to stay for the adventurous traveler
From an Amazonian lodge to a Bedouin hut, these immersive experiences deliver on charm and authenticity.
For travelers looking for somewhere to stay, hotels and vacation rentals are the obvious choice. But being constantly surrounded by camera-toting tourists can make you feel cut off from the community around you. Leave your comfort zone and high-thread-count sheets behind and try one of these culturally immersive accommodation options instead.
1. Try the farming life on for size in the United States
You don’t have to travel far to find a culturally immersive retreat; farmers and ranch owners all across the U.S. are increasingly opening their homes to curious travelers who want to reconnect with rural life. Depending on the particular farm you choose, you might share the main farmhouse with the owners, stay in a separate suite or cottage, or even sleep in a yurt or tent on the back forty.
Farmstays are particularly popular among urban and suburban-dwelling individuals and families. Little wonder why; farm lodgings give insight into a way of living that contrasts sharply with typical city life. You might find yourself holding a baby lamb, feeding a calf a bottle of milk, grooming a donkey, collecting eggs from the coop or – should you choose a vineyard – learning the ins and outs of viticulture. “There is a connection to the natural world in the sights and sounds and smells of a farm that appeals to visitors used to the white noise of the city and the constant companion of an IT device," Scottie Jones, founder of the U.S. Farm Stay Association, told From the Grapevine. "Time to unplug, maybe get a little dirty, play, relax, breathe deep, reconnect with each other, eat some good food.” The Farm Stay U.S. website has a large directory of farmstays across the country from which you can take your pick.
2. Experience Bedouin hospitality in Israel
The Hanokdim Village allows travelers to learn about the lifestyle of the Bedouin people, a semi-nomadic tribe who roam the region. You’ll sleep in woven goat-hair tents under the stars and wake up to the striking silence of the surrounding environment. Spend your time sipping sweet herbal tea with Bedouin community members and observing traditional coffee ceremonies. At mealtime, you and the other guests will sit down for lavish family-style feasts of succulent meats served with a generous spread of salads, dips, fatir (a type of Bedouin-style pita bread), rice and vegetables. Larger groups can even arrange to eat lamb that’s been cooked in a Bedouin “zarb” (an underground earth oven) that renders meat juicy and meltingly tender. The tents at Hanokdim are outfitted in typical Bedouin style with colorful patterned rugs and mats, though you can expect a few welcome 21st-century concessions: the tents are, for instance, rain-proofed and heated during winter, and electric sockets can be found throughout.
3. Kick back in an Iban longhouse
The Iban longhouses of Sarawak, Borneo, are the antithesis of generic chain hotels. These wooden structures were not designed with tourists in mind, but built as permanent living spaces for local tribes. You’ll share the communal longhouse with the resident families and interact with the Iban people, who were once famous for their headhunting practices (not in the corporate sense but for literally hunting and preserving the heads of animals). Tour company Borneo Adventure can arrange a stay at the Menyang Tais longhouse, a stilted riverside structure surrounded by rainforest. During this stay, you’ll get to hang around with the Iban people on the common area, exchange anecdotes, enjoy dinner and perhaps even some rice wine or rice whiskey, before bedding down for the night on a mattress. Amenities in the longhouse are basic, though the warmth of the Iban hosts and the opportunity to observe a fascinating way of life more than compensates for the lack of luxury. The following day, after a wake-up call courtesy of the local wildlife and resident animals, you’ll get to set off on a trek into the Tinting Empeliau forest where, if luck is on your side, you may even spot a wild orangutan.
4. Search for serenity in an Italian monastery
Many of Italy's monasteries double as accommodation – perfect for tourists looking for something a little out of the ordinary. Medieval monasteries and centuries-old convents – still occupied by robed monks and habit-clad nuns – can be found tucked away in Italian towns, cities and remote country locations, boasting the kind of romantic views that would ordinarily put a traveler out of pocket. Guest rooms are usually relatively modest and simple, though the accompanying chapels are often fresco-filled and opulent, and the ambiance of the grounds tends to be wonderfully quiet and peaceful. Some provide home-cooked meals where you can chat with other lodgers over dinner, and you are welcome, though not obligated, to attend services. They aren’t for everyone, however; night owls should be aware that many monasteries impose curfews. Booking site Monastery Stays provides a directory of Italian monasteries, guesthouses and convents.
5. Explore the Amazon with locals
The Amazon rainforest is an astonishingly diverse and intricate ecosystem, and who better to introduce you to it than those who know it most intimately? In this case, the people whose ancestors have lived here for generations upon generations. There are several community-run ecolodges dotted throughout the Amazon, such as Madidi Jungle Ecolodge, an indigenous-run resort in Bolivia’s Madidi National Park. Native guides who know the labyrinth of forest trails like the back of their hands take guests on treks, sharing their extensive knowledge of the flora and fauna of the region. Come dinner time, you’ll have the chance to sample traditional Amazonian dishes as well as seasonal fresh juices. Later, hit the sack in your cabin, built from locally sourced materials and using traditional construction techniques.
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