We’re a little nostalgic for sleepaway camp, a place where the afternoon’s only dilemma was whether we’d have enough time to canoe across the lake and make it to arts-and-crafts hour before dinner. This collection of hotels around the world channels that carefree feeling, showcasing outdoor playgrounds where the activities options are abundant enough to keep everyone in your squad happy. (A reminder: Soaking up summer in Southern Hemisphere spots of course means traveling during the Northern Hemisphere’s winter.) This time around, though, we’re trading the bunk beds for turndown service. And yes, there are s’mores – they just come with artisanal cocktails now. That’s the grown-up summer-camp spirit.
During the Gilded Age of the late 1800s and early 1900s, Rockefellers, Vanderbilts, and the rest of Manhattan’s elite relocated upstate every summer to host elaborate parties and sporting competitions at sprawling lakefront estates – the Adirondack Great Camps. One of those original camps, Lake Kora, is now an exclusive-use retreat for travelers. Only available from July through October, Lake Kora hosts up to 24 guests in accommodations across the 1,000-acre estate, from cottages with stone fireplaces to private rooms in the main timber-walled lodge.
The self-catered pursuits leave little room for boredom: There are canoes, kayaks, sailboats, and electric wooden boats for enjoying the 500-acre lake; a field for ball games; a tennis court; and badminton, croquet, and volleyball equipment. Activities continue indoors, with a squash court, Ping-Pong and casino tables, and even a vintage two-lane Brunswick bowling alley. A culinary team handles all meals, including lunch barbecues, daily cocktail hours, four-course dinners served at the original table in the Great Hall Dining Room, and twilight s’mores at the lake’s edge. Anything else guests want – a massage, a babysitter, live musicians, fly-fishing guides, yoga instructors – is a quick request away.
Summer vacations get the Wild West treatment at the 44-room Lodge & Spa at Brush Creek Ranch, a 30,000-acre working cattle ranch in southwestern Wyoming. Dude ranch dreams come true during morning horseback-riding excursions and cattle drives, and there’s even a Lil’ Wranglers program for kids. Guests can turn up the adventure on one of the ranch’s 38 sport-climbing routes or on an ATV in the adjacent Medicine Bow National Forest. (For those who prefer the adorable over the adrenaline-inducing, the spa added goat yoga to its calendar this summer.)
Ranch activities will keep everyone busy, but the lodge rooms and log cabins – some with antler chandeliers in open-air kitchens, fur throws tossed over king-size beds, and fireplaces – make winding down easy. Carve out at least one afternoon to visit The Farm, Brush Creek’s sustainable culinary complex with a restaurant, bakery, distillery, greenhouse, and more. Guests can take a cooking class, tour the distillery, or, for an all-ages treat, play with Alpine goats and learn to churn butter at Medicine Bow Creamery. Like all good summer outings, this one ends with ice cream.
Call this self-care summer camp: At Lake Austin Spa Resort, a 40-room, adults-only retreat 30 minutes west of Austin, the activities list is long, and the spa-treatment menu is even longer. Guests check in for wellness-focused, fitness-minded experiences – many of which revolve around the resort’s eponymous body of water – that range from classic favorites (yoga, stand-up paddleboarding) to Goop-esque pursuits (a floating meditation session in the pool with a soundtrack of Native American flutes).
The food is healthy, but not horribly restrictive (there’s wine!), and the shabby-chic cottages, many with outdoor soaking tubs and gardens, exude calm. Lake Austin champions the Blue Mind philosophy that spending time near the water is essential to sustained happiness – in the summertime, when Texas temps are on the rise, it’s a good rule to live by.
For a tropical spin on summer camp, we’re dreaming of Song Saa, a lush private-island resort off Cambodia’s southern coast. Instead of cabins, guests settle into one of 24 jungle, beach, or overwater villas, made from reclaimed timber; and instead of ghost stories by the bonfire, there are late-night swims in bioluminescent bays.
Daily activities include scuba diving and snorkeling, Khmer cuisine cooking classes, kayak tours to nearby mangroves, and nature-themed treasure hunts for kids. Bonus: Song Saa is a sustainability champion, protecting the 650-foot reef offshore from the resort (it was Cambodia’s first marine reserve) and supporting the local community on neighboring Koh Rong. Guests can visit Prek Svay Village’s community school and help local kids practice their English skills during a guided tour.
It’s love at first sight at Huka Lodge, a 20-suite, two-cabin retreat on New Zealand’s North Island. (Some might say all of New Zealand is love at first sight, TBH.) The lodge, fronting a manicured lawn on the banks of the Waikato River, first opened as a trout-fishing camp in the 1920s; today, fly-fishing on nearby Lake Taupo is still one of the most popular diversions for guests, along with tennis, yoga, and scenic helicopter tours.
Staff can arrange private outings, from soaking in geothermal pools and learning about Maori culture in Rotorua to biking across suspension bridges in Pureora Forest Park. At a property beloved for its seclusion (suites are tucked within lush gardens), slowing down is welcome: Guests can play a round of croquet, book a massage, and linger over a long meal at one of 20 private-dining spots across the property. The ideal nightcap: a soak in your bathtub, perfectly positioned beneath a picture window framed by a canopy of ferns.
There are only 14 rooms and two villas at Bushmans Kloof, an 18,000-acre wilderness reserve in South Africa’s Western Cape province (a three-hour drive north of Cape Town), which gives just a few dozen travelers unfettered access to an expansive corner of the Cederberg Mountains. Guests can head out on game drives to spy the 200-plus species that call the reserve home, including the Cape mountain zebra and the African wildcat; sign up for hiking or canoeing excursions; and see some of the 130 ancient San rock paintings found in caves and on rocky overhangs across the property.
The nomadic San people lived on this land between 2,000 and 10,000 years ago, and the lodge preserves their art and other relics. Everything at this sustainable property is deeply inspired by its surroundings: The four restaurants source organic produce from on-site gardens, and spa treatments feature products made from local plant extracts.
Near the Virginia-North Carolina border at an elevation of 3,000 feet, with 51 rooms, suites, and cottages, Primland Resort makes an excellent base for exploring the Blue Ridge Mountains – but with all there is to do at the 12,000-acre Auberge property, you don’t have to go far to find adventure. Guests can swim, fly-fish, kayak, stand-up paddleboard, or try out archery or tomahawk throwing; there are yoga and meditation classes, an 18-hole golf course, and plenty of opportunities to hike, bike, ATV, and ride horses across the property’s forested grounds.
Guest rooms in the main lodge are spacious, while families and bigger groups love the resort’s cottages, which sleep up to 12 and have full kitchens, outdoor dining areas, and stone fireplaces. A trio of ultra-private tree houses overlooking the Dan River Gorge each sleep two and elicit some very #cozycabin vibes. Primland’s four restaurants all champion a farm-to-table ethos, and s’mores by the firepit are a given. A stargazing session at the resort’s observatory is the best way to end the day.
Summer in the Scottish Highlands may not call for swimsuits and snorkeling, but longer, brighter days give the region’s mountains, lochs, and glens extra sparkle. At the 208-room Cameron House, a seventeenth-century baronial mansion on the shores of Loch Lomond, all the expected simple Scottish pleasures await, including falconry, fishing, golf, clay pigeon shooting, pony trekking, and off-roading through the estate’s 400 wooded acres in a house Land Rover. Guests can slurp Scottish oysters at The Boat House lounge before boarding the hotel’s motor yacht, the Celtic Warrior, for an afternoon on Loch Lomond. (Does nearby Doune Castle look familiar? It’s Winterfell from Game of Thrones.)
The hotel also has its own seaplane – scenic flights over the Highlands are an in-demand summertime experience. Rooms are cozy, decked out in tartan and plaid wools, and because this is Scotland, the best nightcaps are in The Great Scots’ Bar. Our advice? Sip a dram of one of its 300-plus whiskies on the terrace overlooking the loch.
Over the past few decades, José Ignacio has gone from a sleepy coastal enclave to one of South America’s most beloved summer vacation spots, luring travelers with its windswept coastline, trendy design and cuisine, and laid-back vibe. Estancia Vik José Ignacio, set a mile inland on a 4,000-acre working ranch, captures everything travelers love about this corner of the world. Past the hotel’s white adobe facade, a labyrinth of covered walkways and open-air courtyards connects the 12 guest rooms, each of which is named for and furnished with the work of a contemporary Uruguayan artist. The decor is bold: sexy murals over king-size beds, gorgeous wood soaking tubs, and private patios with expansive views.
And while the scene is museum-worthy cool inside, time outdoors embraces the estancia lifestyle: Guests can shadow a gaucho for the morning, then ride horses across the pampas for a swim in the José Ignacio Lagoon before an asado (Uruguayan barbecue) lunch. Other activities include polo and surfing lessons, tennis, canoeing, and touring neighboring Punta del Este. One highlight: the stunning new Museo de Arte Contemporáneo Atchugarry, Uruguay’s first contemporary art museum, just 20 minutes from the hotel.
This is summer camp with a Provençal spin: soufflé classes in a picturesque farmhouse. Wine workshops and rosé pours overlooking vineyards that have been planted with grapes since Roman times. Late-afternoon swims and field trips to Saint-Tropez. The French countryside dream is just a typical week at the 34-room Château de Berne, a 2,500-acre winery near the village of Lorgues. Most of the action is focused on culinary interests (there’s also an olive oil operation, and the restaurant, Le Jardin de Berne, has a Michelin star), but a fleet of mountain bikes and e-bikes, plus more than 60 miles of hiking trails, make exploring the grounds in between winetasting sessions easy.
Inside the eighteenth-century château, farmhouse-chic guest rooms drenched in natural light charm with vaulted ceilings and clawfoot tubs. A pair of villas with pools provide a little more space and privacy, but for the ultimate group trip, book the seven-bedroom Château, with a movie room, vegetable garden, and full kitchen.
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