World

12 Epic off-the-grid escapes

12 Epic off-the-grid escapes

With wifi now a given in most destinations, and access to power and running water non-negotiable, it’s becoming harder to disconnect from the world.

You’ll note we said hard – it's not impossible. We’ve travelled to some of the most remote corners of the globe – from the Amazon to the Arctic – to find locations, tours and lodgings that still qualify as off-grid. While some definitely boast more creature comforts than others, they all have few things in common: they’re super isolated, cut off from civilisation and there’s absolutely no chance of posting an Insta update. Buckle up. Your expedition into the wild starts now.

Head For Higher Ground
FRANCE

If you’ve hiked through Corsica’s Ospedale Forest you may have spotted an odd sight on the cliffs. Suspended on the side of the ridge are three cocoon-like structures and a giant snow globe. Or at least that’s what it looks like from a distance. Get closer and you’ll discover those hanging bubbles and translucent dome are designed to house humans. This is Cocoon Village. No electricity and no running water means these unique accommodations aren’t considered extravagant, although a solar shower and lights are appreciated additions. Although who needs light when you’ve got the moon and stars to illuminate your stay?

The cocoons are accessed by navigating a swinging wooden plank, and they dangle more than 10 metres above the forest floor, so this isn't a great option if you suffer from acrophobia. Once you make it inside, a basic yet comfortable set-up awaits. There’s a double bed, linen and towels, which is all you need really, considering you’ll likely spend most of your time gawking at the view of the Gulf of Porto-Vecchio and Sardinia in the distance. When you’re done with the vistas, hike the trails through lush Ospedale. Or you can simply embrace your aerial sanctuary and settle in on your private terrace.

It’s the ideal spot to knock back a bottle of Corsican wine and bask in the peace and quiet that comes with being so far removed from the modern world.

CLOSEST TOWN Porto-Vecchio, 20 minutes away
HOW TO GET THERE Drive
WHEN May to September
ACCOMMODATION Eco pods
glampingcorsica.com

Luxury On Wheels
TANZANIA

It’s hard not to do a double take when you spot the Bush Rover Company’s luxury mobile suite.

Yes, we repeat, a luxury mobile suite. Forget canvas tents or basic cabins, the Bush Rover Company is determined to provide an African safari experience that’s far removed from the norm. It all begins with an impressive go-anywhere LandRover, which, when not traversing the vast plains of the Serengeti, trundling through the Ngorongoro Highlands or attempting crossings of the mighty Grumeti River, transforms into the coolest rooftop set-up we’ve ever laid eyes on.

This extravagant abode is a palace on wheels, and folds out gracefully to reveal a spacious, elevated bedroom, spiral staircase, wood-panelled bathroom (complete with bath) and awesome balcony. Better than that, though, it allows you to safari with no limitations. You don’t need to head back to base camp at the end of each day and you can run a flexible itinerary taking a different track if the spirit moves you. The set-up offers the opportunity to cover so much more of the landscape than a traditional safari, and head into isolated pockets of the wilderness that aren’t normally visited. Most importantly, you leave no trace. Everything is packed up with the vehicle (don’t worry, you have help) and carried to the next destination, which, as mentioned, could be anywhere along the Tanzanian migration route. It’s the closest thing to joining roaming lions, elephants and wildebeest you may ever experience.

CLOSEST TOWN Changes depending on your location
HOW TO GET THERE Four-wheel drive
WHEN Open all year round
ACCOMMODATION TYPE Rooftop tent
tentwithaview.com

Away With The Fairies
SWEDEN

Like something out of a fairy tale (albeit one that’s more Brothers Grimm than Disney), the charcoal burners’ huts and cabins of quirky Kolarbyn Eco-Lodge will have you convinced you’ve landed the lead role in an adaptation of Snow White.

Located in the Swedish wilderness just outside Skinnskatteberg, Kolarbyn is hidden in a spruce forest, with just 12 huts scattered among the trees. Considered one of Sweden’s most primitive accommodation options, there’s no running water, no electricity and the kitchen amenities extend to a couple of barbecues and an open fireplace.

You’ll be expected to chop your own firewood, cook using the basic utensils found in the kitchen storage hut and BYO everything you’ll need for a couple of days off the grid. Want a wash? Just take a dip in nearby Lake Skärsjön, although if it’s really cold your best bet is heating water in the floating sauna. When you’re not busy lighting fires or picking blueberries, Kolarbyn offers an impressive range of activities: fill your days with fishing, cycling, kayaking, horse riding and wildlife spotting.

It’s survivalist meets off-grid here, and if you can get over the fact it looks like a place goblins or witches would build their lair, you’re in for a pretty cool time.

CLOSEST TOWN The town of Skinnskatteberg is four kilometres away
HOW TO GET THERE Drive
WHEN Open all year round
ACCOMMODATION Charcoal burners’ huts
kolarbyn.se

Life’s a Beach
TIMOR-LESTE

As soon as Timor-Leste starts figuring in your plans you’re already treading an unusual path. But for those who want to go off-grid in a part of the world that is already a tourism blind spot, head east.

Just off the tip of the country is tiny Jaco Island, an uninhabited dot in the ocean. This is where to get your Chuck Noland on – for a day, at least. The locals believe it’s sacred because it sits where the Banda and Timor seas meet, so unfortunately you and Wilson will have to return to the mainland before the sun sets.

Deserted beaches and coral drop-offs metres from the sand make for a perfect day in blissful isolation. Local fishermen will ferry you across the narrow passage from Tutuala Beach and pick you up later for about AU$15. You’ll need to make sure you’ve got everything with you – water, a picnic, sunscreen, snorkelling gear – because there is absolutely nothing once you arrive.

Planning to get to Jaco is essential. It’s about a seven-hour drive from capital Dili to Tutuala, then another eight-kilometre judder down a road accessible only by four-wheel drives to the beach. There you’ll find two basic guesthouses – Valusere and Lakumorre – right on the sand. Need to disappear for fair reasons or foul? You could do a lot worse than strand yourself here.

CLOSEST TOWN Tutuala
HOW TO GET THERE Four-wheel drive then boat
WHEN Year round, but the dry season is May to December
ACCOMMODATION TYPE Guesthouses
visiteasttimor.com

Under the Northern Lights
USA

When it comes to off-grid accommodation, there’s remote then there’s helicopter-access-only remote. Alaska’s Sheldon Chalet happens to fall into the latter category. At 1828 metres and situated just 10 metres from the summit of North America’s highest mountain, Denali, this is about as isolated as a hotel can get.

With Sheldon Chalet’s extreme seclusion comes quite a few welcome perks though. First is the aforementioned helicopter trip from the tiny Alaskan outpost of Talkeetna. It’s 40 minutes of adrenaline-fuelled bliss, as you soar over forests, snow-capped mountains and glaciers, until you finally reach Sheldon Chalet perched on a rocky nunatak.

With five suites catering for just 10 guests at a time, you’ll be one of the lucky few treated to incredible Alaskan-inspired cuisine (courtesy of famed chef Dave Thorne), snug rooms complete with faux-fur blankets, and an expert team of staff and guides working to ensure you have a good time. While there’s no wifi or phone reception, between glacier treks, mountaineering ropes courses, sledding, natural history lessons and crevasse explorations, we’re pretty sure you wouldn’t have had time to update your status anyway.

Sheldon Chalet’s locale also happens to make it one of the best places to view the northern lights. Light the fire pit on the chalet’s deck, pop a bottle of champers and settle in to watch one of nature’s greatest performances. After all, who said going off-grid had to be hard?

CLOSEST TOWN Talkeetna, 40 minutes away
HOW TO GET THERE Helicopter
WHEN Open all year round
ACCOMMODATION Luxury chalet
sheldonchalet.com

A Quiet Place
ITALY

While it’s easy to equate off-grid experiences with flimsy shelters, extreme weather, basic supplies and a location even Google Maps would struggle to find, it doesn’t have to be that way.

Take Italy’s Eremito, for example. Built to resemble an ancient monastery, this hotel turned spiritual retreat ticks all the right boxes for a remote escape. Located deep in the forested hills of Umbria, surrounded by nothing but 3000 hectares of natural reserve, it’s about as far away as you can get in the Italian countryside. To reach it requires a four-wheel-drive journey across rivers, down dirt tracks and up steep inclines – a cruisy Sunday outing this ain’t. When the trees clear you’ll be greeted by a looming structure – Eremito was constructed using 130,000 stones and took five years to complete.

Inside, the decor is sparse and simple, the only embellishment coming from ornate candelabras that illuminate every room in the absence of electricity. All meals are vegetarian, and dinner is eaten in silence. If you’re worried the quiet might drive you bonkers, Gregorian chants and classical music are played over a loudspeaker during the day. There’s no phone service, wifi is non-existent and you’ve more chance of spotting a unicorn than you do a TV, minibar or laptop.

Aside from morning yoga, checking out the walking trails, pottering around the veggie garden or relaxing in the wellness area, you’re going to have to master the art of doing nothing since that’s what Eremito is all about. If your quest for a remote retreat was born of a desire to digitally disconnect and spend time free from contemporary distractions, this might be your key to success.

CLOSEST TOWN 20 kilometres from the Umbrian town of Fabro
HOW TO GET THERE Four-wheel drive
WHEN Open all year round
ACCOMMODATION Monastery style
eremito.com

The Hills are Alive
SWITZERLAND

The 310-kilometre route kicks off in Dielsdorf, just outside Zurich, and quickly leaves the city behind. The Jura Crest Trail offers the best of both worlds, dipping in and out of civilisation (handy when you need to sleep and eat), but mostly ensuring you’re surrounded by nothing but endless mountain peaks.

Classified as an easy hiking track – OK, there are a few inclines that will get the heart pumping – the trail requires no specialist equipment, which means anyone who’s relatively fit, able and enthusiastic can give it a crack. The distance covered each day changes depending on which part of the route you’re on, with the shortest stage stretching only 14 kilometres and the longest a whopping 32 kilometres. The latter passes through the Creux du Van – Switzerland’s version of the Grand Canyon – but with views this beautiful, you won’t even notice the kilometres ticking over. Other highlights of the track include the Swiss Alps, Rhine Valley, Black Forest and the medieval towns of Baden and Brugg. With each stage finishing in a village, your sleeping options vary from hotels and inns to B&Bs.

By the time you’ve reached Nyon, near Geneva, you’ll have crossed valleys, cliffs and ravines, not to mention a language region. It’s an adventure for those who want to stray away from beaten track, but not all the way off it. 

CLOSEST TOWN The Jura Crest Trail runs between Zurich and Geneva 
HOW TO GET THERE Hike
WHEN May to September
ACCOMMODATION Various hotels, inns and B&Bs
schweizmobil.ch

Just Keep Paddling
CANADA

Take to the water on an overnight voyage that will have you exploring some of Nova Scotia’s best-kept secrets.

Traversing this rugged countryside doesn’t come easy. Along with a four-hour guided kayak tour, you’ll also snorkel the dazzling hidden bays of Blue Rocks and cycle scenic coastal trails. It’s an action-packed itinerary, but all the hard work is worthwhile.

Once you’ve finished paddling, cycling, exploring small fishing towns in the Lunenburg region and making friends with the local seal colony, all that’s left to do is kayak a short distance to your very own private island. The overnight component of Pleasant Paddling’s tour takes place on a tiny isle that’s home to a clear-ceilinged yurt.

It gets quite luxurious from here (you deserve it after a day of physical exertion), with an open fire, handcrafted bedding and linen, and a ready-to-prepare dinner featuring locally sourced produce and enough goodies to create a mouthwatering charcuterie board. An evening of stargazing through the roof of your yurt awaits – if you can manage to keep your eyes open – and you’ll awake to the wafting smells of a tasty brekky being prepared. If that doesn’t convince you an active escapade to Nova Scotia is worth it, we don’t know what will.

CLOSEST TOWN Lunenburg, 10 minutes from the Blue Rocks
HOW TO GET THERE Kayak
WHEN Mid-June to mid-September
ACCOMMODATION TYPE Yurt
pleasantpaddling.com

Desert Safari
MOROCCO

Searing temperatures, sweaty bodies, a sea of sand… If that sums up your desert touring experiences, we’re here to tell you you’ve been doing it very, very wrong.

It’s time to rectify rookie mistakes and embark on a mind-blowing desert safari like no other. La Route du Sud is a seven-day voyage that traverses more than a thousand kilometres of Moroccan desert, from the lush Souss Valley, home to millions of argan trees, to Legzira Beach on the Atlantic coast and inland again to the dry lake of Iriki and the southern edge of the Sahara Desert. It’s a journey you’ll undertake in comfort and style in a luxury four-wheel drive with guide and personal butler.

No day is wasted, with an incredible array of activities organised for guests, including a gourmet picnic atop a medieval fortress, wine tastings, traditional massages, cooking classes and a dromedary ride. Accommodation on tour ranges from opulent private houses and the exclusive Dar Ahlam Hotel (ranked one of the best in the world) to a nomadic desert camp nestled in the sand hills – it’s glamping, but on steroids. And don’t even get us started on the food. The ridiculously high standards continue at mealtime, so whether it’s a candlelit dinner in the dunes or a delicious morning spread of locally baked treats, there’s no chance you’ll go hungry. Suddenly a jaunt in the desert doesn’t sound too bad.

CLOSEST TOWN The first stop in Azrarag is a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Marrakech
HOW TO GET THERE Four-wheel drive
WHEN Mid-September to mid-May
ACCOMMODATION Private houses, hotels and desert camps
darahlam.com

Roaming with Reindeer
NORWAY

When it comes to travel, the phrase “once in a lifetime” gets thrown around like compacted ice in a snowball fight. Occasionally, however, an experience lives up to the hype, like this six-day Sami Reindeer Spring Migration tour with Visit Natives.

In the far-flung Norwegian town of Alta, you’ll be collected and driven to meet the Sami family who will become your companions for the following week. From there, say goodbye to wifi, throw the itinerary out the window and expect the unexpected – you’re now on Sami time and anything goes. Days consist of herding the semi-domesticated reindeer, both on foot and by snowmobile, across frozen Arctic plains. As the reindeer are known to stop and start as they please – they often refuse to move from one location for days on end – guests are kept occupied with ice fishing and Sami skiing.

Accommodation on the trek includes wilderness cabins and traditional lavvu tents, which you’ll share with the family. The tour offers an intimate insight into the Sami’s fascinating, age-old way of life, and helps guests understand why preserving traditional practices is so important.

Think you can handle a couple of days spent trudging through the snow? There’s little chance you’ll ever regret joining the Sami on their annual spring reindeer migration. It really is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

CLOSEST TOWN Alta
HOW TO GET THERE Drive to join the Sami family
WHEN April and May
ACCOMMODATION Wooden cabins and traditional tents
visitnatives.com

Ice Palace
INDIA

Ever wondered what it would be like to sleep in an igloo? Dreamed of exploring the highest peaks of the Himalayas? As the saying goes, ‘Why not have both?’

If you want to combine a true off-grid experience with one of the coolest (literally) accommodation options on offer, now is your chance at the newly opened Himalayan igloo camp. The closest settlement to the icy digs is Manali, a high-altitude town in India’s remote Himachal Pradesh region in the country’s north. From there, the igloo camp is a 45-minute four-wheel-drive trip through thick pine forests and along steep mountainous roads, followed by a 30-minute hike through the snow. It can be an arduous journey (heavy snowfall can make the voyage even longer), but your chance to stay in one of the camp’s five frozen abodes will make it all worthwhile.

Each igloo sleeps four, and while temperatures outside can drop to an incredibly chilly –15ºC, you’ll be warm and toasty with a hot water bottle, alpine sleeping bag and thick foam mattress. Your one-night stay involves a slew of activities, with snow trekking, skiing and tubing all available to try out. There’s even the opportunity to build your own igloo, which, thankfully, you’re not expected to sleep in. After a hearty meal and free-flowing hot drinks, you’ll spend the evening around the bonfire listening to music.

It may only be a 24-hour reprieve from civilisation, but one frosty night under the Himalayan stars is all you’ll need to experience life off the grid.

CLOSEST TOWN The Himalayan township of Manali is 18 kilometres away
HOW TO GET THERE Four-wheel drive
WHEN January to March
ACCOMMODATION Igloo
keylinga.com

Treetop Oasis
PERU

Despite the challenges the developing Amazon basin is facing, there are still pockets that remain untouched by the modern world.

Tucked away at the confluence of the Yarapa and Cumaceba rivers is this hidden gem offering outsiders the opportunity to experience the magic of this sacred area. Surrounded by 140 hectares of protected rainforest, Treehouse Lodge is about as deep in the Peruvian Amazon as you can get. With no connecting roads to the lodge, a two-and-a-half-hour boat journey is the only way to reach this jungle paradise.

The lodge comprises 11 sky-high treehouses, ranging from the Casa Grande, which is only 10 metres off the ground, to the vertigo-inducing Casa Alta, which sits 20 metres in the air. It’s here, suspended in the lush canopy high above the heat and humidity of the jungle floor, that you can best appreciate the Amazon’s unspoiled beauty.

A stay at Treehouse Lodge is all-inclusive, so along with your nest in the branches (it comes with king-size bed, mosquito net and private bathroom), food, non-alcoholic drinks and excursions are also covered. The excursions – jungle walks, piranha fishing, sunset cruises to spot Amazon dolphins, a blowdart workshop – highlight the best of this remote region. You may also want to simply hang out in your treehouse, with only the macaws, squirrel monkeys and sloths for company. The choice is up to you.

CLOSEST TOWN Two and a half hours from Iquitos
HOW TO GET THERE Boat
WHEN Open all year round
ACCOMMODATION Treehouse
treehouselodge.com

July 2019 from issue 60

Tags: Alaska’s Sheldon Chalet, Corsica’s Ospedale Forest, desert safari morocco, Eremito ITALY, her reindeer norway, ice palace india, igloo accommodation india, Jaco Island Timor, Kolarbyn Eco-Lodge, Luxury On Wheels Tanzania, off the grid escapes, peru treehouse, Porto-Vecchio. Northern Lights USA, Skinnskatteberg

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