advertisement

When I was a kid, I couldn't imagine a cooler place to stay than Barbara Eden's cushy world inside a bottle on I Dream of Jeannie. Right in the middle of Larry Hagman's Florida living room was this miniature piece of someplace very far away, like a favorite souvenir that you could actually hang out in. With its miniature curved walls, plush sofa, and beaded velvet walls, it was equal parts snug, exotic, and, of course, make-believe -- the ultimate escape, but with all the comfort and security of home.

I'm sorry to say that Cocoa Beach, Florida, developers have yet to model lodgings on a genie bottle, despite the popularity of the street in town called I Dream of Jeannie Lane (where, strictly according to legend, the sitcom took place). But plenty of other novelty hotels do exist, making for their own strange, compelling little worlds apart, away from home and the norm. In this month's editors choice, we recommend accommodations on blimps, in churches, caves, former jails, and lighthouses; underwater, underground, and in inns shaped like drainage pipes, teepees, and dogs. For even more options, check out www.unusualhotelsoftheworld.com, which lets you book reservations in ice hotels, treehouses, and other unconventional habitats around the globe.

We also list some lodgings that are singular for the way they save you money: We show you how to cut costs on hotels in Iceland, an otherwise pricey icy destination, by bringing your own sleeping bag; scoring free room and board around the world by working on cooperative farms; and combining hotel and transportation expenses by sleeping in camper vans. So, whether you're seeking novel digs or greater savings, you should find imaginative shelter from the elements amid this roundup of our favorite alternative accommodations. -- Maureen Clarke

Pipe Dreams in Austria

In the snoozy, riverside town of Ottensheim, Austria, they have seen the shape of things to come -- and they are cylindrical.

What began as a pipe dream for architect Andreas Strauss became a concrete reality in 2005, when he built Das Park Hotel (no phone; www.dasparkhotel.net/index.php?lang=EN) -- three 9-ton, cement drainage pipes that function as private rooms in a public park on the banks of the Danube River, just 30 minutes upriver from the historic city of Linz.

Granted, at first the idea of an overnight stay in an SUV-sized drainage section may seem bizarre. But think about it: They're cool in summer, soundproof, and secure. Once guests close the circular door, they have absolute seclusion. The interiors are spartan chic (they've been featured in design-driven publications such as Wallpaper), and Strauss invested a lot of thought into the smart use of storage space.

Ironically, these sewer-pipes have no toilet facilities. They are equipped with 21st-century essentials such as charging stations and Internet access, however, and toilets, showers, food, and a bar are within walking distance.

Guests make reservations online and then receive an access code via email to open the door upon arrival. Reservations are good from 3pm until 11:45am the following day from May through October; it's best to book at least a day in advance.

And the cost of spending the night in a sewer pipe, you ask? Whatever you feel like paying -- a price that compensates for the hike to the WC. -- Andrew Murphy

Leviathan Vacations in the Persian Gulf, South Pacific & U.S.

So much for the old saw that you should invest in real estate because they aren't making any more of it: Submarine engineer Bruce Jones and His Highness the Crown Prince of Dubai are breaking new ground underwater. If their plans go according to schedule, 2009 will see the opening of the two largest undersea vacation destinations in the world.

Hydropolis (no phone; www.crescent-hydropolis.com), a $580 million 220-suite hotel, will rest 66 feet below Persian Gulf waters owned by the prince of Dubai. The resort, which resembles a cross between a jellyfish and an amoeba, will encompass 240 acres of submersed retail stores, restaurants, and guestrooms with sleeping-area walls and bathtubs made of clear glass. They are not yet accepting reservations, but double rooms are estimated to cost $1,500 a night.

In the South Pacific, Jones's Poseidon Undersea Resort (no phone; www.poseidonresorts.com) promises to be even more spectacular. This $105 million hotel will lie submerged 40 feet below the coast of Fiji, in one of the world's most active coral reefs -- visible from the rooms, with 270-degree floodlit views. The resort will also feature a rotating restaurant, library, wedding chapel, and spa. They're taking reservations for 2009 as soon as March 2008. The cost: a measly $15,000 per week per double.

If you can't wait another year to dip your toe, consider Jules' Undersea Lodge (tel. 305/451-2353; www.jul.com; $375 per person per night), 30 feet below the ocean surface in Key Largo, Florida. The lodge began in 1972 as a research lab in a mangrove lagoon, and guests still have to dive to their rooms and can train for scuba certification during their stay. The underwater habitat has two bedrooms, a common room with dining and entertainment facilities, a "wet room" with moon pool, and 42-inch windows to the abyss, teeming with nurse sharks, parrotfish, lobster, or barracuda, depending on the season. -- Emil Ross

In the Doghouse in Idaho

Last spring, on a road trip from Seattle to South Dakota, I stopped in towns such as Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, and Cody, Wyoming, in search of roadside architecture and other small-town American charms lacking in my home base of New York City. I stayed at some lovely bed and breakfasts, but unfortunately I didn't learn of Dog Bark Park Inn (tel. 208/962-3647; www.dogbarkparkinn.com; $92 per night for the whole dog, including breakfast) in Cottonwood, Idaho, until I'd returned to New York. I'm an avid dog lover, and so I think I would've adored this pine guesthouse shaped like a giant beagle, in the prairies of north central Idaho, within barking distance of numerous sites along the Lewis & Clark Historic Trail.

At 35 feet tall, the Dog Bark Park Inn is "the world's biggest beagle," according to its owners and creators, Idahoan chainsaw artists Dennis Sullivan and Frances Conklin, who also carved some of the furnishings and dog art throughout the inn. The place has just one unit, accessed via a second-story deck. With a queen bed, a large bath, and a kitchenette, it spreads out from the dog's rump through the belly. The dog's head houses a loft-style bedroom as well, with a sleeping alcove in the snout. Additional canine touches include dog-shaped cookies placed on the pillows and sculptures of various breeds for sale in the gift shop. And of course, pets are welcome -- "provided they're well behaved," says Conklin. -- Jennifer Reilly

Keeping Costs Down on the Farm

How would you like to travel around the world, hitting every continent but Antarctica, without spending a cent on food or accommodations? In exchange for some manual labor and an open mind, such a far-flung adventure is possible, through World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (no phone; www.wwoof.org).

A non-profit organization with branches in 34 countries, WWOOF compiles lists of organic farms that extend free room and board to volunteer workers. If the only thing appealing about all this is the word "free," however, then skip to the next review. Participating farms are run by people committed to organic food and an organic way of life, and they anticipate their volunteers will cultivate an open mind too, and be willing to work.

Your lodgings will be very basic, on a farm that's individually owned, rather than industrial, and organic or transitioning to be so. Your meals will be completely local, comprised of the food grown onsite, and shared with fellow workers and hosts. Your days will be spent working in whatever capacity is most needed: You could end up crushing tomatoes in Italy, raising sheep in Ireland, or growing medicinal herbs in Mexico. More likely than not, every aspect of your life on the farm --from your meals to your bathroom -- will be organic and geared toward sustainable, low-impact living.

For a small membership fee (they vary according to country but rarely exceed $30), you can access the full, extensive list of participating farms and arrange your trip. Volunteers are expected to donate a substantial amount of their time; stays of less than two weeks are highly uncommon, so the program is best suited to travelers who plan to linger in an area for a while. They can often accommodate guests traveling in pairs too. -- Melinda Quintero

Savings in the Bag in Iceland

With the price of a basic double room in Iceland averaging $150 per night, an increasing number of savvy visitors are saving 30% to 50% on lodgings by opting for svefnpoka gisting, otherwise known as "sleeping-bag accommodations." For example, at Kirkjubaer (tel. 354/475-8819; www.simnet.is/birgiral; 3,500kr per person per night), Iceland's only accommodation inside a former church, you can save 29% if you BYOB (that last "B" is for bedding). The church's altar and pulpit are intact, pews are arranged around a dining table, and a guest kitchen is nestled under the loft, which cozily sleeps ten people. Although normal rates are 3,500kr (US$45) per person, you dish out only 2,000kr (US$32) with your sleeping bag in tow.

Outside Reykyavík, many Icelandic hostels, guesthouses, and farm stays slash rates for travelers who pack their own bedding (sleeping bags are most popular, for their portability and warmth). These guests are entitled to the same amenities as full-paying visitors, save for maybe complimentary breakfast and access to a private bathroom -- an easy sacrifice in a destination where a main course averages $35 and can skyrocket to $90 at nicer restaurants. -- Alexia Travaglini

Beam Me Up in Croatia

Croatia is famous for its rugged, rocky coastline, and for its increasingly packed pebble beaches. But it is still possible to find solitude, and if you're interested in a seaside experience without the hordes of sun worshipers who descend on Croatia's shores every summer, consider renting a lighthouse. Yes, a lighthouse.

There are 11 of them, built from stone in the 19th century, available for rent along the Adriatic. Each has one or two spare apartments that sleep two to eight people. All have solar-powered hot water, bedding, and fully equipped kitchens. Guests must bring everything else, though most of the lighthouses are active, with full-time keepers who can prepare meals for visitors.

Some are farther from civilization than others. Sv. Peter is a 20-minute walk from busy beaches at Makarska, while St. Ivan's is better for a Robinson Crusoe-like adventure, with shallow shores, ideal for skin diving and swimming. For extreme isolation, try Susac -- accessible via a 90-minute boat ride, 23 nautical miles south of the beach resorts at Hvar. On a cliff above crystalline waters, it's on an island lined with hiking trails and pristine beaches. Besides the lighthouse keeper, who will catch and cook fresh calamari, lobster, and fish for you, the only other person you're likely to see is a shepherd stopping by to tend his sheep. No other land is visible, and you'll drift off to sleep in silence punctuated by crashing waves.

In July and August, guests must rent by the week (Sat-Sun). From September to June, you can often book just 2 or 3 days. Reputable agencies such as Adriactic Sunshine Travel (tel. 800/247-5353 or 773/561-7444; www.adriaticsunshine.com) and Adriatica (tel. +44/20/718-30437; www.adriatica.net) will help you choose a location, reserve boat transfers, and plan for provisions. Reservations are $790 to $1,300 per week, depending on the season. Boat transfers are an additional $178. -- Linda Barth

Van-tastic Vacations in Maui & California

I'm a spoiled traveler. I like hotel perks, room service, and Pratesi sheets. But every once in while, I like to mix it up, and the next time I do, it's going to involve a good friend, a road trip, and a camper van. I've wanted to try one since I watched tanned surfer buddies in college speed off to conquer distant waves in their VW bus-cum-hotel. At $90 to $125 per day, this room on wheels is less than the price of a standard rental car, and it allows you to sleep amid the country's finest national parks or near its most dramatic beaches -- stopping when you like to prepare your own meals, or perhaps have a seaside barbecue.

Companies throughout the country rent reconditioned VW buses and Westfalia camping vans, but I've focused on those in destinations with the most camper-friendly climates and scenery. California Campers (tel. 650/216-0000; www.californiacampers.com) near San Francisco and Aloha Campers (tel. 808/268-9810; www.alohacampers.com) on Maui rent Volkswagen Westfalia Campers that sleep four, with two double beds; a kitchenette with gas stove, sink, and refrigerator; a pop-up roof with skylight; large windows for sightseeing; and plenty of cabinet space.

In California, both Free Campgrounds.com (no phone; www.freecampgrounds.com) and Go Camping America (no phone; www.gocampingamerica.com) proffer helpful advice on places to park for the night -- ranging from Wal-Mart parking lots where your overnight presence is tolerated, to manicured campgrounds in Big Sur where you'll have access to hiking trails and hot showers. On Maui, overnight options include Haleakala National Park (www.nps.gov/hale/), where you can watch legendary sunrises and explore fragile ecosystems, or Waianapanapa State Park (www.hawaiiweb.com/maui/beaches/WaianapanapaBlackSandBeach.htm), with its campsite near a rare black-sand beach with hiking trails weaving along the ocean. It's not the Four Seasons, but in its way, it's a world beyond. -- Marc Nadeau

Cave Hideaway in Turkey

Turkey's Cappadocia region is commonly described as a lunar landscape, with its surreal "fairy chimneys" rising from the barren earth. Sculpted by centuries of wind and rain erosion in the midwest of Turkey, these conical spires are made of tufa stone, a soft, porous rock that's vulnerable to the elements and easy to mold. With nature's help, tufa gave rise to Göreme National Park and the Rock Sites of Cappadocia, which has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Over the centuries, local residents have sculpted it to create homes, churches, underground towns, and, more recently, hotels.

If you're curious to know what it's like to live in a cave, head to Anatolian Houses (tel. 0384/271-2463; www.anatolianhouses.com). The hotel's 19 suites are constructed within five cave formations. The accommodations are geared toward those with far more luxurious tastes than your average caveman. Most suites include an LCD TV, minibar, Jacuzzi, and fireplace, and the property features a spa, indoor/outdoor swimming pool, Turkish bath, and wine fountain built into a wall. Rooms are beautifully decorated with stone carvings and antiques, and one suite is even built into a fairy chimney. Whether you want to hide away in a cave or be completely pampered, this property will indulge your fantasies. -- Jamie Ehrlich

Five-Star Zeppelin

This novelty hotel concept will likely be a set for a future James Bond action sequence: blimp hotels. It's the next generation of cruising, without the sea spray: gigantic white orbs floating cross-country (and eventually cross-continent), outfitted with restaurants, bars, casinos, gyms, climbing walls, and upper sun decks.

Several vehicles are in the works, scheduled to be ready as early as 2010. All will operate with huge pockets of helium -- which, unlike hydrogen, doesn't burn. Several electric propellers and turbo-jet engines will aid with flight, at speeds up to 170mph. As with the blimps and hot-air balloons of the past, the living quarters are proportionally very small, but they're tucked inside some mighty stylish vessels.

If you spot what looks like a giant white whale in the sky, for instance, don't check your medication prescription; wave at the revelers on the beluga-shaped Manned Cloud, a French vehicle with an eco-friendly luxe lounge vibe and space for only 40 passengers and 15 crew members. The larger Aeroscraft (tel. 818/344-3999; www.aeroscraft.com) sounds more populist, with room for 250-plus passengers spread out over a space the size of two football fields. This one has the casino, several bars, and looks like a bloated NASA vehicle (it's made by the Aeros company).

My favorite is the Strato Cruiser ; this is the one that is begging for a remake of View To A Kill. Designed by Tino Schaedler, a German art director who has worked on several Hollywood blockbusters, it looks from the outside like a floating iceberg, as rendered by Nintendo. It bills itself as a "lifestyle zeppelin," complete with restaurants, a pool, a spa, mini-offices for traveling businessmen, and -- in place of the island steel drum bands -- a "resident DJ." Someone check Grace Jones' movie schedule. --Stephen Bassman

Round the World in Wigwams, Grottoes, Jails & More

As someone who edits a number of travel guides each year, I often find myself wishing I could stay at a particularly interesting or unusual accommodation. From our MTV Roadtrips USA book, I fell in love with the idea of staying in a 1940s-era concrete teepee just off Route 66 at the Wigwam Motel, in Holbrook, AZ (tel. 928/524-3048; www.galerie-kokopelli.com/wigwam; doubles A$54 per night) -- which is, in fact, just one of several vintage motels offering teepee or wigwam-style rooms along the Mother Road. And in Holbrook, you can do it for just.

I'm currently editing Australia for Dummies and have already earmarked a couple of places where I'd like to spend the night, including two underground motels: The Underground Motel (+61/8-8672-5234; www.theundergroundmotel.com.au; doubles A$100 a night) in South Australia's Coober Pedy (an opal-mining town) and the White Cliffs Underground Motel (tel +61/8-8091-6677; www.undergroundmotel.com.au; doubles A$100 a night) in New South Wales. In White Cliffs, you can take your meals in an underground dining room. On the island-state of Tasmania, I'd go even farther offshore to Maria Island, where I would stay in hostel-style accommodations in an old convict settlement in Darlington (tel. +61/3-6230-8235; www.discovertasmania.com.au; doubles A$25). Coming up this year, I'll be editing books about San Francisco and the South Pacific, among others, so no doubt, I'll soon have a few more additions to my wish list. -- Kathleen Warnock

Share your favorite offbeat hotels with fellow travelers on our Accommodations Message Boards.