From a wolf watcher's lair in the Carpathian Mountains to an eco dome in puma country, Richard Madden picks six lodges to lust after
For the most ardent wildlife enthusiasts, where they stay is never as important as what they see. Nonetheless, it can make a huge difference to the overall experience if the accommodation is as spectacular and inspiring as the scenery and animals you have come to see. Sustainability and genuine conservation credentials should always be top priorities, of course, but that doesn't mean you have to slum it. Supreme comfort, excellent locally sourced food, innovative design and world-class guides can all be on the menu. These lodges tick all the boxes and should be put on the wish list for future travels.
Ecocamp Patagonia, Chile
The world's first geodesic dome hotel is located within Torres del Paine National Park in the far south of Chile. Surrounded by the park's trademark "pillar" mountains and turquoise lakes, the camp is solar-powered, has compostable lavatories and is constructed according to the sustainable principles and "leave no trace" designs of the nomadic Kaweskar people. There are three grades of dome (standard, superior and suite), with the latter offering a substantial 300sq ft of space, including a private bathroom and a low-emission wood-burning stove. Pumas, condors, armadillos, nandus, guanacos, Geoffroy's cats and Magellanic woodpeckers can all be spotted in the park.
Alladale Wilderness Reserve, Scotland
One of the most high-profile rewilding projects in the UK, the 9300-hectare Alladale Wilderness Reserve, in the Scottish Highlands north of Inverness, is home to otters, red squirrels and mountain hares, with Scottish wildcats being bred for eventual release. Birds of prey include golden eagles, white-tailed sea eagles, ospreys, buzzards and peregrine falcons. If Paul Lister - Alladale's owner, and an evangelical conservationist - has his way, wolves will one day be reintroduced as well. The main lodge (sleeps 14) is a Victorian manor house refurbished by Laura Ashley with sweeping views over the ancient Caledonian pine forest. There are also three private cottages deep in the glens. In 2020, Alladale won two Scottish Green Energy Awards, and it has just launched an aquaponics food centre.
Amfiteatrul Hotel, Carpathian Mountains, Romania
Location, location, location. Nothing quite beats a mountaintop lodge surrounded by high-altitude meadows and forests. Romania has 250,000 hectares of virgin forest, mostly in the southern Carpathian Mountains, with a huge number of indigenous species, one third of all European plant species and the largest European population of large carnivores including bears, wolves and lynx. The lodge is a restored and reimagined combination of two 200-year-old houses furnished in the traditional Romanian style with more than a hint of the fairy-tale school of design about it. According to its creators, the Amfiteatrul (Amphitheatre) combines "everything that nature offered us: stone, water, wood and fire". en.amfiteatrul.ro
Lapa Rios Lodge, Costa Rica
Perched high above the rainforest, the 17 palm-thatched units of Lapa Rios Lodge look out over the Pacific Ocean at the tip of the Osa Peninsula on the west coast of Costa Rica. The villas, premier villas and deluxe bungalows line three ridges with wide terraces, wooden floors, bamboo furnishings and four-poster beds. Its design and principles of local conservation, sustainability and community support have been much-copied but never bettered. The lodge protects 400 hectares of Central America's last remaining tropical lowland rainforest, home to more than 300 bird species (lapa is Spanish for scarlet macaw), multicoloured frogs, white-faced capuchins and howler monkeys.
Bisate Lodge, Rwanda
Seeing mountain gorillas in the wild is one of the world's most unforgettable wildlife experiences (just ask Sir David Attenborough). One of the two remaining critically endangered groups lives in the Virunga Mountains of Rwanda, the location of Bisate Lodge. Looking like giant birds' nests high up in the forest trees, Bisate's six luxury villas have epic views over Bisoke and Karisimbi volcanoes. Spherical and completely covered in thatch - echoing the design of the palace of the traditional ruler - each has a tipped roof with walls of woven grass matting and a bamboo balcony. Interiors include furniture and fabrics based on traditional designs, as well as log-burning fires.
Sonora Resort, British Columbia, Canada
A wilderness wildlife "resort" seems a contradiction in terms. Who needs swimming pools, tennis courts, cinemas and gourmet restaurants when you are here to commune with nature? But with the vast sense of space surrounding this Relais & Chateaux property - on a remote island off Vancouver, on Canada's west coast - the marriage of opposites is no problem. All the rooms have floor-to-ceiling windows and interiors of local cedar wood in traditional Canadian design decorated with indigenous artwork. The mountains and forests are home to golden eagles and grizzly bears, while the adjacent estuary teems with salmon, orcas and sea lions. Outdoor and wildlife activities include grizzly bear tracking with local indigenous guides.
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— Telegraph Media Group