Wanted: A yurt with a view

Vacation lodging used to mean a room with four walls in a hotel or motel. Today, travelers are increasingly seeking — and easily finding — accommodations that allow them to be more in tune with their surroundings, be it a forest, a beach or a house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. 

Airbnb’s booking data for the beginning of this year suggests that more travelers are interested in spending their vacations in what the short-term rental site calls “nontraditional” spaces, particularly those that allow travelers to be or feel closer to nature. Bookings for nature lodges and ryokans (traditional Japanese inns) have skyrocketed since last year. Reservations for yurts and recreational vehicles (RVs) have also spiked.  

These are hardly new or nontraditional forms of shelter. The ryokan is centuries old. Yurts have been used by nomads for decades. Yet it seems interest in such lodgings has prompted more places to not only offer them but also reimagine them. The latest iterations have modern comforts and deluxe trappings even as they aim to retain some of the minimalism and spirit of their predecessors.  

This year, Lakedale Resort at Three Lakes, an 82-acre property with cabins and cottages on San Juan Island in Washington state, is opening Lakedale Yurt Village, a wooded area by Fish Hook Lake with seven “luxury yurts” (rates start at $325 a night), each with a pillow-top king bed and en suite bathroom, a flat-panel television, refrigerator, sleeper sofa and private deck with a hot tub, barbecue, dining set and Adirondack chairs.  

Interest in yurts and RVs, be they rustic or ritzy, isn’t surprising given the resurgence of camping, which Kampgrounds of America, one of the largest privately owned networks of campgrounds, has said is being driven by millennials. Today, companies like Tentrr allow would-be campers to book acres of private land and a fully equipped campsite with a few taps of an app or clicks on its website. And sites like Hipcamp make it easy to book lodgings like tree houses, yurts and RVs.  

Even more so than in the case of RVs, new interpretations of the ryokan are at once a departure and an homage to the original.  

Consider the Nobu Ryokan on the Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu, California. Perched on the sand along the ocean, the low-slung hotel has 16 teak and ipe wood rooms (including teak soaking tubs) with tatami mats and sliding doors that bring the outdoors in. Rates are from $2,000 a night during peak periods. (The property is currently accepting reservations for stays beginning after Feb. 9.)  

In Tokyo, there’s the nascent Hoshinoya Tokyo resort, which at first blush looks like a high-rise. Yet behind the patterned metal lattice that veils the 17-story tower is a contemporary ryokan or rather, several: Each floor in the tower is designed to be like a six-room ryokan with a tatami hall and common lounges (ochanoma) where guests can find books, sake, teas and treats. In the rooms, there are kimonos and shoji screens. The property also has an indoor hot spring bath (rates from about $480 a night).  

Other brands are taking a similar approach, blending old and new, East and West, resisting characterization as a single style. The Hiramatsu Hotels & Resorts, which has opened what it calls European-style ryokans — like the 13-room Atami on Sagami Bay in Shizuoka, Japan, which takes its inspiration from both ryokans and French auberges.  

The Vipp hotel in Europe bills itself as an “untraditional hotel” because it’s really more a collection of properties in different locations. Vipp shelter, for instance, is a sleek steel-and-glass box inspired by industrial design (think submarines and airplanes) at Lake Immeln in Sweden (600 euros a night for up to two adults, or about $745), while Vipp loft has two queen beds with a kitchen, dining and living area at the top of a 1910 printing factory in the Islands Brygge area of Copenhagen (1,000 euros a night for up to four adults). This year, Vipp is opening Chimney house in a landmark brick building, a former water-pumping station, also in Copenhagen. All of the spaces are self check-in, and there is no daily housekeeping, and no amenities such as a gym or restaurant.  

Additionally, new apps and websites are making it easy to discover properties that go beyond the everyday.  

Take, for instance, PlansMatter, a free site that last year began offering vacation rentals and hotel rooms selected primarily for their architectural merit, with properties ranging from under $100 to more than $1,000 a night. Users can search by rentals or hotels and also by architect — including Wright, whose artful marriage of home and landscape is as in vogue as ever. The site is simply a place to browse properties; to book, you click a link that takes you to the website of the property owner or manager, or his or her rental site page. 

For example, PlansMatter has photos of and information about Wright’s 1950s Kinney House in Lancaster, Wisconsin, a three-bedroom, more than 1,700-square-foot house that can be rented for $395 a night (two-night minimum stay required). If you decide to book, a link will lead you to the listing for the house on Airbnb. Other Wright houses on PlansMatter include the 880-square-foot Seth Peterson Cottage at Mirror Lake, Wisconsin (from $250 a night, plus a $30 handling fee), Still Bend, the Bernard Schwartz house, with four bedrooms, in Two Rivers, Wisconsin (from $295 a night), and Palmer House, a three-bedroom home, in Ann Arbor, Michigan (from $350 a night).

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