The history books are riddled with intrepid explorers whose tales of darring-do inspire us to this day. These adventurous travellers discovered the world and blazed a trail for us to follow. Some, like Christopher Columbus, are celebrated perhaps more than they ought, while others, like the intrepid and forward-thinking Mary Kingsley have been reduced to a footnote.
Canvassing the list of colourful and inspiring explorers who merit discussion would take much longer than a single article. Instead, I’ve selected seven of my favourite intrepid explorers (a couple of them fictional!), along with holiday homes located in the places they explored. Amongst all the back stories and holiday options, I hope you’ll find something to inspire your next travel adventure .
1. Alexandra David-Néel and The Sherpa Villa
Photo: PREUS MUSEUM
In 1912, Alexandra David-Néel, in what would be a busy year for her, visited Kathmandu, Nepal. Already a famous traveller, that year she became the first Western woman to have an audience with the Dalai Lama – and would go on to become one of the most widely travelled women of her time, and a foremost expert on Tibetan culture.
David-Néel was particularly interested in the occult aspect of Buddhist practice, which she documented famously in her bestselling 1929 book “Magic and Mystery in Tibet”. Those eager to follow in the fearless footsteps of this adventuress should check out The Sherpa Villa in Kathmandu. A modern white building with traditional touches, it has three bedrooms, two bathrooms and is comfortably furnished with oriental textiles and patterns in a distinctive Nepalese fashion.
At just £17 a night (minimum three night stay), you can experience Kathmandu’s culture and colour for next to nothing.See the Sherpa Villa here.
2. Thomas Cavendish and the Villa Esperanza
Photo: THE MAN IN QUESTION
Famous explorer and privateer Thomas Cavendish, although not the first man to circumnavigate the globe, was the first to announce his intentions before making good on them. Along the way, he visited an impressive list of exotic locales, including Cape San Lucas (Cabo San Lucas) in Baja California. There he stalked, before famously overtaking and plundering, the 600-ton Spanish galleon the Santa Ana.
Today, ‘Cabo’, as it’s commonly called in America, is a well-known holiday resort that delivers a level of luxury worthy of Cavendish himself.
The palatial Villa Esperanza is beyond decadent: sleeping up to 18, with seven beds and eight baths and an outdoor hot tub connected by waterfall to a swimming pool, its highlight is nonetheless the grand living room, pictured above. Of course, living like Cavendish doesn’t come cheap: £1,310 a night, with a minimum 3-7 night stay. But the perks are considerable – the villa even comes with the services of a personal chef!See Villa Esperanza here.
3. Bilbo Baggins and Lexington Park Cottage
In talking about famous explorers and travellers, I’d be remiss to limit myself to non-fictional characters only. The loveable, furry-footed protagonist of The Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, deserves a seat at any hypothetical table of famous adventurers .
In Hamilton, New Zealand – just a jaunt from Hobbiton, which featured in the LOTR movies as ‘The Shire’ – you can stay at the idyllic Lexington Park Cottage. Located on a 32-acre farm in the middle of equestrian country, thecottage offers extensive gardens, tennis courts, croquet and patanque and a children’s play area. The five-bedroom farm cottage will set you back £76 a night with a minimum two-night stay.See Lexington Park Cottages.
4. Hiram Bingham III and Villa Runa
PHOTO: LIBRARY OF CONGRESS
Hiram Bingham III, an American lecturer on South American history at Yale, and later Connecticut senator, was debatably the first Westerner to document the majestic Incan mountain metropolis of Machu Picchu. This renowned wonder of the world is situated in the Cusco region of Peru, where globetrotters will also find Villa Runa, a one-of-a-kind holiday home that would make a perfect respite for any weary adventurer.
The villa has three bedrooms, as many bathrooms and a plush den. Traditional Andean building techniques and building materials such as stone and unfinished, lightly worked wood beams give the villa a sense of having sprouted from the mountainside of its own volition! The property’s owner bills it as the perfect base for a trip to Machu Picchu and they would be right.
For details on the price and availability of this charming mountain villa, holidaymakers are asked to contact the owner directly.See Villa Runa.
5. Hazel, Fiver and co. and the Armadilla of Winchester
PHOTO MR ABSURD
It wasn’t until I was already well into my twenties that I finally got around to reading Adams’ classic Watership Down, about the dark times of a pastoral clan of rabbits. It became an instant favourite, and I reread it regularly to this day. What makes the book singular, and so moving, is how it takes a setting as anodyne and conventionally pretty as the English countryside and uncovers a world of dramatic conquest, as seen through the eyes of the animals that inhabit it.
In hilly Hampshire, not far from the actual Watership Down, you’ll find the singular Armadilla of Winchester. An ingeniously designed mini-cabin, the eco-chic Armadilla, although it might appear to have been built for rabbit-sized guests, is surprisingly spacious inside.
It contains two creamy sofas that convert into two single beds or one double and has its own kitchenette, bathroom, entertainment centre and underfloor heating. Located in a private access garden, the Armadilla is priced at just £10 a night on weekends, with a two-night minimum stay generally required.See Armadilla cabin rental.
6. Mary H. Kingsley and Leyden Loft
PHOTO: JULIAN FELSENBURGH
Mary H. Kinglsey, my favourite explorer, is most famous for her detailed exploration and subsequent memoirs of West Africa – a former best-seller that astounded Victorian readers as much for its wry humour as for Kingsley’s death-defying adventures. She once famously fended off a crocodile by herself with a canoe paddle; another time, falling into a spike-lined hippopotamus trap, she narrowly escaped doom on account of the thickness of her skirts.
Kingsley’s final act was to head to Cape Town to volunteer as a nurse in the second Boer War. There she succumbed to typhoid, but her love for the continent she’d adopted never wavered. While she was in South Africa, Kingsley didn’t have much leisure time, but if she had, given the famous circles she was accustomed to running in, she would have appreciated a place of real quality – like Leyden Loft.
Its clean minimalism would, I think, have agreed with Kingsley’s no-frills attitude. The impeccably furnished loft has two bedrooms, each with private bathroom, and boasts views of Table Mountain and Devil’s Peak. Leyden Loft costs £126 a night, with a minimum five-night stay.See Leyden Loft.
7. Isaac Davis and the Sunset Beachfront Oasis
PHOTO: JOEL BRADSHAW
Isaac Davis, the story goes, began his Hawaiian tenure as the sole survivor of an attack on British trading ship The Fair American, mounted by Chief Kame’eiamoku. Nursed back to health by another American living on the islands, Davis went on to integrate himself into Hawaiian society, becoming one of the chief’s closest advisers, and eventually attaining the status of high chief himself.
He married into Hawaiian royalty, and came to own properties on several islands, before dying in 1810 after ingesting poison meant for a rival chief. Although his death was tragic, in life Davis enjoyed the perks that came with belonging to the Hawaiian elite. Worthy of the elite is the Sunset Beachfront Oasis, on Oahu’s North shore.
At £600 pounds a night it costs a pretty penny, yes. But when you consider that the lavish property is more window than wall, has a wraparound lanai porch, astounding ocean views (you may see any/all of: humpback whales, sea turtles, seals, dolphins), four plush bedrooms and two baths (including a jacuzzi tub in the master bath), the price begins to make sense. Expect a five-night minimum stay.See Sunset Beachfront Oasis
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