We picked some of our favorite, most unusual places to sleep in Brazil, Japan and Turkey and want to show you how to enjoy them as a family.
Sometimes in our travels we encounter a perfect place to sleep, one so in sync with its cultural and physical environment that our journey is transformed. The very adventure of 'living like the locals' is enough to dispel our family's usual demand for wired, boxspring'ed, air-conditioned comfort. These places are often small, family-run, very simply furnished in the local style, inexpensive and scenically situated off the beaten path — rarely in a town we thought we'd visit for very long. That's what makes them such a find, and to be there, wherever there may be, is enough of a reason to come.
Let's take a look at what Brazil's Pantanal, Japan's Takayama and Turkey's Cappadocia regions have to offer in the way of environmentally sensitive, culturally specific resorts.
Brazil: Pantanal Welcomes Families
The Ministry of Tourism likes to describe the Pantanal of central Brazil in deserved superlatives: it is the most bio-diverse region in the world, with 4,000 miles of beach-lined coast free of hurricanes or earthquakes. As the world’s largest tropical wetland, Pantanal is home to more than 700 species of birds, reptile, wild cats, deer and monkeys.
At its heart in the Caiman Ecological Refuge is the Caiman Lodge (+55 11 3706 1800; fax +55 11 3706 1808), where families can explore the region by horseback, canoe, small motorized boat, by foot, or on a photo safari, or fish for any of the 260 species populating the surrounding waters. Caiman Lodge was established in 1985 and its main goal is to offer visitors a way in which to get close to Panatal’s nature, wildlife and culture. The resort features two lodges-Cordilheira and Baiazinha-which have fully independent operations and are 14 miles away from each other.
The resort features a schedule of activities, some regular and some optional activities. Among the regular activities are photographic safaris, walking in the trails, horseback rides, and nocturnal spotlight. All excursions are led by Caimaners, bilingual (English and Portuguese) and natural science graduate guides, all of whom have a deep knowledge of the local nature and culture. The resort also caters to thrill-seekers of the family, with intense, made-to-measure activities, such as cattle drives, biking or boating on the Aquidauana River.
December through March are rainy and buggy; the dry months of July through September can be cold at night, but are ideal for wildlife viewing. Since staying in this wildlife resort is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, this translates to a pretty steep price: the cost per night is US$983 in the Standard Superior room and US$1,176 in the suite accommodations.
Japan: Takayama's Ryokan Fits the Bill
On our maiden visit to Japan, eager to understand the culture and partake of things uniquely Japanese, we were determined to spend at least one night in a ryokan;(a traditional inn with woven tatami floors and futons for bedding) and eat kaiseki, the multi-course feast of artistically prepared, locally grown foods. Resisting high-priced Kyoto, we planned a weekend at a mountain town in central Honshu known as "Little Kyoto."
This town, Takayama, is popular with young Japanese celebrating their heritage and tourists interested in religious festivals. The century-old Ryokan Sumiyoshi (+81 0 577 32 0228; fax +81 0 577 33 8916) is situated on the bank of the gurgling Miyagawa River. At check-in, a kimono-clad hostess waved to the shoe rack with slippers for everyone in the family. Our second floor room boasted a low teak table for tea, a few Ming blue vases, rice paper lanterns for reading, a view of the river, and three rolled-up futons covered in red silk. For 2011, the rate for one room for one night is approximately US$145, which includes tax, dinner and breakfast.
Our adventure was time travel: to hike the neighboring hills in search of old temples, dine cross-legged on the floor, sample roots and vegetables carved into flowers and animals, bathe in a custom-drawn onsen each evening where father and son splashed in one room while Mom soaked in hers.
We rented bicycles for a daytrip to the fascinating Hida Folk Village, where we toured historic homes from the 1600s-1700s and read about their occupants. We tried many sushi places, got lost often, visited several restored merchants homes along San-machi Suji, and bought some highly coveted Hida Shunkei lacquerware from craftsmen who used age-old techniques.
For more information about adventures in Takayama and the Hida region, visit the Hida Tourist Information Office website, or call +81 0577 32-5328.
Turkey: Cave Dwellings in Cappadocia
When it comes to unusual regional architecture, few countries can match Turkey, where Ottoman caravanserai and historic palaces are often remodeled into chic, Oriental rug-draped abodes. In a similarly indigenous style, but in a more remote locale frequented by hikers and archeology buffs, is the Esbelli Evi Cave Inn, cut into the soft volcanic tufa of Cappadocia.
Family travelers might reach this part of central Anatolia after a climb up Mt. Ararat (where Noah's Ark was said to land), or a performance of the Whirling Dervishes at Konya, or a tour of the area's fine Selçuk architecture, or some fun on Antalya's Aqua Park waterslides.
Like us, you'll come to tour the dripping sand-castle-like cities hidden in ancient Cappadocia, now the Goreme National Park. Many are said to date from 4000 B.C., others were built by Christians out of fear, and if you can stand the valley's heat, the region guarantees days of exploration. That is, as long as you sleep within their midst in a hand-carved dwelling shaped from pockets of soft stone along the cliffs.
Although there are mod-cons in your cave hotel, rest assured that the facade is totally in sync with its ancient environment. For the deluxe cave suites such as the Fantasy Cave, rates are US$300 per night, and the other rooms range from US$125-US$300, making it as affordable is it is unforgettable. For more information, visit the Esbelli Evi Cave Inn website.
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