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Kicking back on a yacht off St. Barth’s may seem a mite pedestrian for holiday makers who’ve circled Antarctica aboard a Russian icebreaker. And sipping mulled wine on a terrace in Gstaad just won’t offer the same buzz after vacationers have tracked snow leopards in the Ladakhi Himalayas in India. Remote wilderness destinations are poised to become the ultimate in bragging rights for today’s luxury tourists. But while an increased awareness of the environment is fueling the trend, well-heeled travelers aren’t sacrificing luxury. These crampon-wearing, but caviar-eating, travelers are bundled up in lavish reindeer skins aboard dogsleds, being whisked over Antarctica in private helicopters or relaxing in cliff-top cabins overlooking the Arctic Sea.
“We’re at the forefront of a new type of tourism,” declares Björnar Björkhaug, owner of The Other Side, a luxury cabin hotel complex on a white-capped plateau overlooking the Barents Sea in Neiden, Norway. “It goes beyond ecotourism—it’s green luxury tourism.”
Expected to open next summer, The Other Side offers husky-led sledding expeditions, Northern Lights spotting, sea kayaking and king crab safaris. For other local delicacies, The Other Side of the Moon, the hotel’s restaurant, will serve up specialties such as reindeer, moose, salmon or elk. “It’s an esoteric experience—they want to be a part of the land and a part of nature in remote and never-been-to-before destinations,” adds Björkhaug.
Skiing also is moving to extremes for those tired of endless chairlift lines. The private Swiss ski resort and spa Whitepod in a village at the foot of the Dents du Midi range offers the ultimate exclusive wilderness experience. Made up of dome-shaped tents or “pods,” the tiny eco-friendly resort welcomes a maximum of 24 guests and boasts a private ski run.
A trip to the top of the world via the Northwest Passage (which connects Europe and Asia) has become the ice-seeking tourist’s ultimate journey, though. The trek has become possible due to record-high temperatures, which have created an ice-free passage. “Demand is continuously increasing, but supply is limited. There are only a number of vessels that can make the trip and the season is only open November through March,” says Jonathan Brunger, adventure coordinator at tour operator Adventure Life.
To cater to adventure-seeking clientele used to creature comforts, luxury cruises boast suites with private bathrooms, pools and saunas during a two-week tour for around $15,000. Or take the 38-day trip aboard the Kapitan Khlebnikov, a Russian icebreaker. The trip can range in price from $33,000 to $45,600 for more upscale suites. The icebreaker makes various stops along the way for voyagers to admire the local wildlife, which includes penguins, seals and whales, and also provides Zodiac and helicopter trips to reach more remote destinations.
“It’s captivating, and people are willing to pay the price to be in one of the most remote places in the world and, above all, to see geology in movement,” says Brunger.