4 hotels offering authentic cultural encounters

4 hotels offering authentic cultural encounters

Tempt travel clients with meaningful pursuits in far-flung destinations, says Yolanda Zappaterra 

More and more travellers are looking for connection when they travel – and I don’t mean fast Wi-Fi. The desire to explore local culture and make a genuine connection with local people is one of 2022's biggest travel trends. Here are four hotels that offer clients just that – from indigenous art workshops in the Australian outback to Berber bread-making in Morocco.

1. Maasai life at Cottar's 1920 Camp
Where: Masai Mara, Kenya
The hotel: As one of just nine accredited Global Ecosphere Retreats in the world, this family-run safari outpost takes sustainability and local engagement seriously, supporting initiatives, including a school, medical facilities, water supply and ambulance service. Its setting, across Maasai-owned land and 7,608 acres of the Cottar’s-owned Olderkesi Wildlife Conservancy, is stunning, and the safari camp’s classic canvas tents have a beguiling vintage feel with en suite bathrooms and large verandas, while the Bush Villas are elegantly contemporary.
The experiences: The Explorer’s Tent, which was added to the property last year, is a mini museum focusing on Maasai culture and the history of safari in the region. Guests can hear talks here on biodiversity, conservation and Maasai life. Numerous experiences (some of which are included in the cost) enable guests to engage with the community, such as sessions with in-house Il Torobo hunter-gatherer Letilet Ole Yenko, whose impressive knowledge of the conservancy’s 300-plus plants and their uses from medicine to poison is sure to engage. 

Jewellery lovers can try creating their own pieces with Mamma Naishuro Batian, an expert Maasai beader who leads one-hour classes in making bracelets and longer sessions on more-intricate pieces. 

Guests can also visit a local school to sit in on lessons or join in with a game of football, head to a Maasai village market, turn their hand to Maasai spear-throwing, or watch traditional Maasai singing and dancing while sipping a cocktail.

Food Ayers rock resort

2. Art in the Outback at Lost Camel Hotel
Where: Uluru, Northern Territory, Australia
The hotel: There are seven different accommodation options across the Ayers Rock Resort and guests at each can take part in hotel-based activities as well as resort-wide ones, many geared towards supporting the local community. The Lost Camel Hotel is a cute boutique, with colourful rooms styled in a mix of urban and Aboriginal decor set in an appealing low-slung modernist building centred around a pool.
The experiences: More than 100 activities are on offer to guests of the hotel and the wider resort, many of them included in their stay. Try a Bush Food Experience, a didgeridoo workshop or guided garden walks. There’s a daily Maruku Arts Dot Painting Workshop led by a local elder who teaches participants about the symbols used to create art depicting Tjukurpa stories about the beginning of time. There are also plenty of excursions to choose from, including a visit to Bruce Munro’s Tili Wiru Tjuta Nyakutjaku (Field of Light) exhibition, which illuminates the desert with 50,000 tiny orbs.


3. Living off the land at Borgo Pignano
Where: Tuscany, Italy
The hotel: As a founding member of Beyond Green, a hotel group that’s committed to environmentally friendly practices that go beyond the basics, this 750-acre organic estate in Tuscany is a model of regenerative agriculture. Views from its infinity pool (carved from an ancient limestone quarry) stretch far across Tuscany’s iconic landscapes, while the 14 rooms and suites in the 18th-century villa feature marble and travertine bathrooms with toiletries made from estate-grown plants and flowers. Original architectural details, Italian fabrics and billowing white curtains above antique desks add to the vibe. 

The “zero-kilometre” cuisine is produced using estate-grown ingredients, from free-range eggs, honey and heritage vegetables to cold-pressed olive oil, bread, pasta, cereals and even beer among the produce.
The experiences: Beekeeping is just one of the Borgo’s regenerative agriculture practices, and guests can engage in a range of activities centred around it, including making honey and extracting beeswax. In the grounds, they can join the in-house herbalist to gather wild herbs and flowers and learn how they’re used in products, spa treatments and cuisine at the hotel. Other activities include learning how to produce organic cosmetics and wellness treatments, and cooking and painting classes. A recently opened art gallery shows work by local artists.


4. Berber tradition at Kasbah Tamadot
Where: Atlas Mountains, Morocco
The hotel: Sir Richard Branson bought this multi-award-winning resort after flying over the area in a balloon, though the driving force was his mother, Eve. The pair bought it with the idea that it could give something back to the local Berber community, and it does so through a range of education, training, employment and healthcare initiatives. All the staff are from the local area, much of the food is produced on the hotel’s grounds (including a whopping 24 varieties of tomatoes) and 30% of the revenue from the gift shop funds projects supported by the Eve Branson Foundation. 

Kasbah Tamadot has all the pizzazz and luxury you’d expect of a Virgin Limited Edition property, with 28 rooms and suites filled with antiques and individually decorated to reflect the architecture of the building. An outdoor infinity pool and indoor heated pool, plus spa, gym, tennis courts and rooftop restaurant create the most perfect sense of wellbeing.
The experiences: Sitting under the stars watching a movie – Casablanca, maybe? – during the twice-weekly movie nights is a treat. Other activities include a range of Berber-inspired experiences with a focus on food, such as a rooftop tagine cookery lesson, with Berber bread-baking and Moroccan tea in the courtyard. 

Out in the community, a tapestry lesson in the Eve Branson Foundation craft centre is a must.

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