HOTELS AND THE GREAT DISCONNECT
It is literally impossible, in 2017, to take a stroll through the blogosphere and its surrounding landscape without tripping over another thinkpiece about disconnecting from the digital age. Whether it’s a Twitter hiatus, email-free weekends, or—God forbid—abandoning the internet entirely, there is a growing urge for us to return to the connectionless paradise that’s stored in a rose-tinted corner of our minds.
Of course, a single message to a WhatsApp group beats hours spent on a landline trying to organise something as simple as a night out, and streaming HD video beats waiting patiently for … ‘images’ … to load up line-by-line, but the very real issue of the ‘digital disconnect’—of diminished emotional awareness and declining societal empathy—and the subconscious push that’s leading us all to the edge of a cliff called workaholism, has to be recognised. The omnipresence of the internet’s eerie spectre is capable of great adverse effect; complicit or not, we are adding to it.
What’s more is that constant connection might not just be an issue for the mind—a nine-year study by psychologist Brooks Gump found that men who skipped vacation for five years on the trot were 30% more likely to suffer heart attacks than those who took at least one week away from work. And Gump means vacation, not a week at a hip hotel with super-fast WiFi and a lobby cum co-working space. Sorry. There is a proven link between cardiovascular reactivity and alertness; finding time to be truly disconnected might be better for the heart than giving up cakes. (NB: I am not a doctor.)
‘In today’s rush,’ writes spiritual author Eckhart Tolle, ‘we all think too much; seek too much; want too much; and forget about the joy of just being.’ It’s a reference to the psychological concept of mindfulness—a notion that is deeply-rooted in Buddhism. It is counter-multitasking, the simplest form of meditation. It is returning to the childlike state of living in the moment, and it is a path toward creativity. Which is why writers, artists and musicians have been seeking retreat as long as there has been writing, and art, and music. From Orwell holing himself up on the Scottish island of Jura to write his topical novel, 1984, to Bron Yr Aur—a cottage with neither running water nor mains electricity, overlooking the Dyfi Valley in mid Wales—providing the stimulus for Led Zeppelin’s folky third album, contemporary culture is littered with tales of seclusion as a source for inspiration.
Norwegian composer and musician Håvard Lund clearly had this in mind when he founded Fordypningsrommet on the bracing Arctic archipelago of Fleinvær. There are few places more evocative of getting-away-from-it-all than north of the Arctic Circle—where unspoilt scenery can act as the muse for artistic talents in search of their mojo. You can imagine yourself as Justin Vernon, scribing Bon Iver’s debut album during a winter spent solitary in his father’s remote hunting cabin—though imagining his ramshackle confines is all you need do: Lund’s is a very modern hideaway.
Designed by young architects TYIN Tegnestue, Fordypningsrommet (which means ‘room for deeper studies’) is a beautiful series of sustainable huts that blend seamlessly into the archipelago’s dramatic landscape; amenities and aesthetics are minimal but contemporary, allowing modern creatives the escapism so needed fused with a familiar sense of style. Up to 12 guests can occupy the entire complex—available for a week at 3,200€—those creatives, meanwhile, can apply for a complimentary stay; a committee of musician Nora Taksdal, director Katrine Strøm, and Lund himself, approving talent who will be invited to showcase the outcome of their residence at a public event.
Not far north, in the middle of the Grøtøya strait, is Manshausen—a paradisiacal world of its own, 55 acres of that bracing Norwegian landscape, and home to more creatively-considered huts; four Snorre Stinessen-designed sea-cabins jutting out from the natural terrain. And further towards the North Pole, on the archipelago of Lofoten, avant garde architects Snøhetta are at work on the Lofoten Opera Hotel—expected in 2020, the sweeping architectural form hugs its rocky surrounds and confirms the demand for a design-conscious reconnection with nature.
Initiated by artist Bobby Niven and architect Iain MacLeod, The Bothy Project is an expanding network of handsome off-the-grid boltholes that offer artist residences. With the traditional ‘bothy’ (a basic shelter, usually left unlocked and free to all; typically for farm labourers or used as a mountain refuge) as a starting point, Niven and MacLeod have collaborated with artists and architects to conceive contemporary hideaways that fire the creative spirit. Deep within the Cairngorms National Park; clinging to the stirring topography of the Isle of Eigg; sat on the lawn of Edinburgh’s Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art … The Bothy Project’s new-wave shelters corroborate the assertion that contemporary creatives demand a little more class than Orwell or Led Zep might have.
Naturally, it is not just artists who need to practice the art of mindfulness—our daily digital dance is tiring for even the hardiest of souls, and whilst the luxury retreat is a firmly-established concept, there is a growing trend toward creatively-informed spots for disconnection. Architect Luís Rebelo de Andrade is the visionary behind the eco- and tree-houses of Pedras Salgadas; an hour from Porto, deep in the Portuguese countryside. Indigenous raw materials have been used in the construction of sweeping modular tree-houses that plug you right back into Mother Nature; raw environment literally engulfing you.
In Ibiza, La Granja is a members-only retreat launched by Design Hotels in collaboration with arty agriculture outfit Friends of a Farmer—with communal farming, slow-food workshops, and yoga, it’s a back-to-basics living experience for the creative classers who don’t like it that back-to-basics. Agrotourism, eco-tourism, organic-this and organic-that …. these are not new concepts; like the upgraded artist’s retreat, though, they’re well overdue their creatively-aware upgrade.
Channeling hippie ‘happenings’ like Colorado’s 1970s art experiment Drop City, Marfa’s El Cosmico is a back-to-basics camp of teepees and converted trailers that values quality time and traditional pursuits over mod-cons—it’s a bout of sheer escapism that captures the imagination and the soul; and, as Instagram-friendly as it is, screams at you to reassess your social media obsessions. Creative workshops, crafts, live music and communal cooking should distract you from refreshing your feed; soothing the alertness that puts your heart’s health at risk, promoting introspection through mindfulness.
And out in Jackson, Wyoming, Brooklyn design studio Studio Tack (also behind Barcelona’s go-to example for creative class hotel done to a turn, Casa Bonay) have drenched a classic western lodge in the sort of hipster-leaning design that has become synonymous with gentrified ‘hoods—ironic, given that Anvil Hotel is slap-bang in the middle of the sort of robust outdoors Americana that has leant its look to Williamsburg artisans. Deep hues and custom-built furniture are accented by design details like custom Woolrich blankets; a designer-stocked ‘general store’ and artisan coffee counter remind us that being in touch with life-affirming nature no longer needs to cost us our creature comforts.
Which acutely reflects what is at play here: an increasing desire to remove ourselves from a constant connection that threatens our mental and physical wellbeing is coupled with an insatiable appetite for the culturally-conscious conveniences that are becoming a requisite part of our lives. It’s why Bali is rife with designer co-working spaces and why we search for third wave coffee joints the second we land in an unfamiliar city—we want to find ourselves barefoot in the jungle, we want to rediscover the primal joy of travel, the unrestrained soul-juice of adventure, but we want it with a flat white. #disconnected