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BEFORE THE DOOR closed behind me, I was transfixed. As I stepped into my cabin at Piaule, a new hotel in New York’s Catskill Mountains, I faced a floor-to-ceiling, edge-to-edge wall of glass. It revealed an uninterrupted view of forest, thick with oak, hickory and maple trees—my own private IMAX-scaled nature epic.
When I finally turned away from the vista, I scoped out the cabin interior—pale, unfinished oak walls adorned with nothing more than delicate ceramic wall sconces; a pair of Danish folding chairs and a platform bed topped in white linens. The luxury was conspicuous enough to justify the premium hotel price ($399 a night), but not so conspicuous that it distracted from the view.
With 24 cabins on 50 wooded acres centered around a former bluestone quarry in the town of Catkill, Piaule (French slang for “crib,” pronounced pea-awl) is a prime example of the emerging class of “landscape hotels” popping up on our shores. Even if the name of this emerging lodging category is not familiar, the aesthetic might be: If you’ve seen “Ex Machina,” the 2015 sci-fi psychological thriller, you’ve seen Juvet, arguably the first landscape hotel and indisputably the one that defined the genre. Roughly a seven-hour drive northwest of Oslo, Norway, and set in a river valley, Juvet served as the cinematic home (along with a nearby house by the same architect) of a reclusive tech mogul on an ill-fated quest to create sentient androids.
The original proposal for Juvet was spare in the extreme, said Knut Slinning, the hotel’s owner. Cabins were envisioned as little more than container-shaped, hard-sided tents on stilts with a big window which would act “like a telescope pointing to interesting places.” Amenities would include a futon and little else. But while Mr. Slinning wasn’t seeking extreme luxury, he did think that his guests would at least need a warm bed and a shower.
The formula that Juvet established when it finally opened in 2010—clean-lined, modernist cabins with luxuriously appointed but spare interiors, and at least one scenically aimed wall of glass—has become the category’s de rigueur design language. “When you have this big window, you have this feeling that what is in front of you is part of the room.” The effect his architect sought, Mr. Slinning said, was “the largest hotel room on Earth.”
That combination of immersive nature views and luxury hotel-grade amenities is what distinguishes Juvet, Paiule, and roughly 70 other landscape hotels around the world, a figure provided by Daniel Mayo Pardo, founder of Landscape Hotels World Congress and the architect behind Vivood, a landscape hotel near Spain’s Costa Blanca.
At Piaule, that means access to a main “house” with expansive valley-wide views from its restaurant and patio. Carved into the quarryside beneath the restaurant is a spa with a pool, sauna, cold plunge and yoga studio. The most remote cabin is a little over a quarter mile from the main house. The need for such a trek, said Piaule’s co-owner Nolan McHugh, is a feature, not a bug. In a regular hotel, he said, “you may never interact with nature. You may never feel the rain drops, never smell the wet leaves, never feel that little bit of fear when you’re walking to your room and it’s pitch black. Those central connections to nature are what make a landscape hotel experience.”
Pitch blackness is also a plus at Ambiente, a landscape hotel slated to open in Sedona, Ariz., this winter. The hotel sits in a “dark sky” zone, and each of the 40 cabins (called atriums) has its own rooftop deck where guests can light a fire pit, stargaze and even sleep under the night sky on a daybed.
Landscape hotels like Piaule and Ambiente are notably well-suited to this moment, when travelers are looking to be close to nature, while exerting some control over their proximity to other guests. Rather than a deliberate response to the pandemic, it’s a quirk of timing—both projects have been in the works for nearly five years. More are on the way: In West Virginia, Italian architect Peter Pichler has been commissioned to create a collection of geode-shaped, anthracite black “treehouses” overlooking Dawson Lake.
Over brunch on Piaule’s patio, after a hike at the nearby Kaaterskill Falls, I thought about how long urbanites have found new ways to commune with nature in the Catskills. In 1824, Catskill Mountain House—considered to be America’s first grand resort hotel—opened on a bluff above the falls. The site, now empty, except for hikers taking in the view, was visible in the distance from my table. Someday Piaule might be just another wild hiking destination with a memorial plaque, but for now there was french toast to be eaten, and a scenic walk back to the cabin to be had.
Four other landscape hotels
Juvet, Valldal, Norway
The Landscape: Deep in the dramatic Valldal valley next to the wild Valldøla river.
The Hotel: Seven “landscape rooms,” two miniscule “bird houses,” and a two-bedroom chalet style “writer’s lodge,” all have access to the Juvet’s bath house with steam sauna and hot tub. Meals are served in a hundred-year-old barn on the property. From about $230 a night, juvet.com
Ambiente, Sedona, Ariz.
The Landscape: High desert with views of towering red rock formations. More than 200 miles of hiking and biking trails are accessible directly from the hotel grounds.
The Hotel: Scheduled to open this winter, the 40 elevated “atrium” cabins clock in at a spacious 576 square feet each. With wraparound bronzed glass windows and amenities like wine on tap, you may never want to venture out to the spa or restaurant. From about $1,500 a night, ambientesedona.com
Hotel 48 Nord, Breitenbach, France
The Landscape: Meadows with views of a forested Alsatian valley
The Hotel: Fourteen Scandinavian style “hytte” cabins, with a full spa, and a restaurant whose ingredients (except for coffee and tea) all come from within 30 miles of the hotel. From about $150 a night, hotel48nord.com
Vivood, Benimantell, Spain
The Landscape: An olive tree dotted hillside in the Guadalest Valley, on Spain’s Costa Blanca
The Hotel: Twenty-five suites, some with pools, and 10 villas, all with pools (and yes, they will bring you breakfast on a floating tray there). There’s also a spa and a restaurant that adheres to a “slow food” philosophy. From about $280 a night, vivood.com
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