Five of the best mountain-top escapes
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Plying the pinnacle of Patagonia
Torres del Paine national park in Chile is a fever-dream landscape of black granite peaks and blue-white glaciers, torrents that rush through gorges and glimpses of evergreen forest. Explora has always been top of the game in these parts, as has Explora Torres del Paine, its lodge right at the edge of the Salto Chico waterfall that cascades into Lake Pehoé.
The team in charge describe it, aptly, as an extension of the landscape: walls of windows, sheer panes of glass and wide terraces abound, so you’re never without an opportunity to have your breath stolen for a moment by the severe grandeur of the mountains. There are high mountain ascents for the aspiring; guided walks on sections of the park’s famous W circuit for the wilderness- and wildlife-curious (expect condors, huemul deer, perhaps even puma); and more than a dozen stunning trails to ride on one of the hardy crossbreeds from Torres del Paine’s own stables. From $496, three-night minimum stay, explora.com
Massif views and minimalism in the Dolomites
The Dolomites: in summer, you come for the wild glacier-pond swimming, the lung-renewing clean air, the spa treatments, the long scenic hikes (and the moreish local sausages, pastries, and bodacious wines justified thereby). But at the end of the day you want a view to sigh over too, particularly at sunrise and sunset. Enter Forestis, the one-time sanatorium turned Small Luxury Hotel member that sits at 1,800m above sea level, just southeast of Brixen.
Every last one of the 62 rooms has a larger-than-life panorama that directly faces the Geislergruppe massif. There’s an excellent full-service spa, with the emphasis on Alpine botanicals in the treatments. Guided hikes, of course, and hot outdoor plunge pools. Local stone and pine commune with sexy low sofas and tables, in spaces conceived to flatter and frame the vistas (from which no design could likely have distracted for long, in any case). From €720, forestis.it
Raj style and Himalayan views in Shimla
Shimla, the capital of Himachal Pradesh state, was a mainstay of British India – a high-altitude, low-temperature hill station to which, after the mid-19th century, the Raj took to moving operations more or less in their entirety during the scorching summer months. In the southwestern ranges of the Himalayas, surrounded by deodar cedar forest, it’s home to a curious, charming mix of temples, tudorbethan cottages and neo-gothic churches. Wildflower Hall, in slightly higher (and historically much smarter) Mashobra nearby, has its own rich heritage – built on the estate owned by Lord Kitchener, before it came into the hands of first the Indian government, then Oberoi Hotels, which invested significantly in the construction of the hotel.
A snooker and billiards room, library and bar are embellished with a snazzy spa and several fine-dining venues. The views over the forest sanctuary and to the Himalayas from all points – spa terrace, private pool suite – are, like the history, cinematic stuff. From about £260, oberoihotels.com
The ultimate Alaska exclusive
If you want to take the private mountain remit just about as far as it can go (and possess a formidable disposable income to underwrite the endeavour), there’s Sheldon Chalet, which opened in 2018 in the Don Sheldon Amphitheater on Ruth Glacier, just 10 miles from the peak of Denali, Alaska’s tallest mountain. You buy the five-bedroom, two-and-a-half bath chalet out in exclusivity. You arrive and depart by helicopter; you enjoy the ministrations of a staff that includes a chef and guides; you sleep under plush eiderdown and drink fine wines; all the expedition kit you’d need is already to hand, in your size.
At the height of summer, there’s still snow (though temperatures may climb to 60ºF and the daylight never disappears); in winter, the aurora borealis viewing is some of the finest in North America, and you can glacier trek under a full moon. The rates are, predictably, out of this world; but then, so are the views. sheldonchalet.com; exclusive use for three nights from $47,000 for two people, pelorusx.com
Charming Thailand at the top
North of Chiang Rai in Thailand is as Golden Triangle as it gets – steep hills and gorges forming a seemingly impenetrable jungle wilderness like a series of Song-dynasty watercolour views that go on for days. Phu Chaisai Mountain Resort was joined in 2016 by Jason Friedman, a New York-born Asiaphile who’s lived in Thailand for almost 30 years (he’s the man behind countless wilderness hotels here, including the original Four Seasons Tented Camp and Shinta Mani Wild in Cambodia’s Cardamom Mountains). It’s owned by ML Sudavdee Kriangkrai – aka Mom Da, one of Thailand’s most esteemed interior designers.
The suites, cottages and family houses enjoy 800 private acres of mountaintop and slopes, scattered among Phu Chaisai’s tea plantation, orchards, reservoir and vegetable gardens (the terraced lettuce garden alone occupies half a hillside; Mom Da puts major stock in sustainability). The design is rustic and charming, with bamboo walls and handmade wood and bamboo furniture dressed in bright Thai silks. Guided treks are the thing here – long hikes ending at villages or temples for merit-making ceremonies. It’s as authentic and atmospheric as Thailand gets in 2022. From about £115, phu-chaisai.com
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