Action stations: the best hotels for outdoor pursuits

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Action stations: the best hotels for outdoor pursuits

Sometimes our sense of adventure extends beyond the minibar, so here are the places that encourage you to embrace the great outdoors (and maybe even get a little competitive)

Team Smith

BY Team Smith17 November 2021

While we’d never judge the flyers and floppers, there are times when you want a getaway with a little more…get-up-and-go. So, with adrenalin-seekers in mind, we’ve sought out six of the sportiest spots in our collection for skiing, surfing, riding and more.

Forestis, Italy

For skiers looking to combine slopeside adventure with high-altitude wellness, Forestis is the new address to know. This ski-in, ski-out hotel is perched high in the dramatic Dolomites and was originally built as a sanatorium for sufferers of TB. Now, it serves up more modern cures from its sprawling spa complex: saunas, facials with forest-grown ingredients and a form of Celtic-inspired yoga called ‘Wyda’.

Every stylishly minimalist wood-panelled bedroom has dramatic views of the surrounding Unesco-protected Geislergruppe massif through floor-to-ceiling windows. After days carving tracks on the miles of trails that make up the Plose ski resort, you can kick off your boots and revive yourself with pine- and spruce-infused cocktails in the Eagle’s Nest bar (which holds the honour of being the highest cocktail bar in the world) or hyper-local cuisine in the restaurant, all served with a side of spectacular pink- and purple-hued sunsets.

FOR A SUPERLATIVE SURF BREAK

Noah Surf House, Portugal

When ‘surf’ is in the very name of a hotel, there’s an implicit promise that you’ll find more than a mere nod to a theme. And so it is with Noah Surf House, a barefoot and wave-buffeted lodge right on the beach in Santa Cruz, Portugal (just an hour north of Lisbon), that lives and breathes wave culture. Surfers being a low-key bunch, there isn’t much in the way of fuss at this sustainable stay, just the essentials done right. The decor is minimal and no-frills with organic textures, earth tones and upcycled wood, letting the panoramic views of the Atlantic breakers below steal the focus. Salt-crusted adventurers on more of a backpacker budget can bunk up in the eight-person rooms, hostel-style; families and groups can commandeer one of the cantilevered bungalows – each a glass-and-concrete pod with a fully-equipped kitchen.

And then there’s the sport – Santa Cruz is sandwiched between some extreme surf destinations: Ericeira, Peniche and the totally terrifying Nazare, home to the biggest surfable waves on the planet. But, you don’t have to be able to summit the supertubos to feel safe here, you’ll find user-friendly small and medium waves gentle enough for even little Smiths to bounce around on a boogie board. The hotel has its own surf school, plus a boutique selling everything from big-brand gear to hippie-chic hoodies. When you’re not in the waves or feeding a whale-sized appetite in the communal kitchen, swim laps in the outdoor pool (there’s a muscle-reviving jacuzzi, too), take a re-aligning yoga session or sip a fortifying cocktail on the rooftop deck.

FOR REVVED-UP RIDING

The Ranch at Rock Creek, US

There are plenty of places where you can trot around in tranquility but for some serious equine adventures you need some serious ranch. And ranches don’t come more, well, ranchy than this A-list example in middle-of-nowhere Montana where you can play out all those cowboy/cowgirl fantasies in full high-definition widescreen. And, yes, its prices may be more thoroughbred Andalusian than pleasure-beach pony but it’s truly an equine experience like no other. If you’re sure in the saddle, you can ride along with the resident ranchers, learn rope skills and master Montana horsemanship, spend days on exhilarating trail rides and, in summer months, get up close and personal at the ranch rodeo. The on-site store, the Mercantile, means you can be appropriately kitted out for your adventures, too.

Once dismounted, you can enjoy plenty more outdoor escapades – nature walks, shooting, fly-fishing, archery, ice-skating, hiking, mountain biking, even skiing in the winter – and when you need a little respite, there’s a bowling alley, a private movie theatre (where Westerns are encouraged), and an all-important spa.

FOR GRANDE-DAME GOLFING

Rusacks St Andrews, Scotland

Rusacks is to golf tournaments at St Andrews as the Grand Hotel is to the Monte Carlo grand prix: yards from the action and the backdrop to every famed bit of footage since the dawn of Technicolour. Although technically Rusacks predates even that, opening on prime St Andrews real estate in 1887 under the stewardship of one Johann Rusack – 123 years after the 18-hole game was formalised on the links just outside. The hotel’s blend of sophisticated service and unrivalled views over the course’s final hole was a big draw, luring golf-loving stars like Bing Crosby, Bob Hope and numerous prime ministers.

In more recent history, Rusacks spent a period well below par but now – in a manner befitting one of those back-to-reclaim-the-title movie montages – it has been restored to its former glory. And what glory: there’s an entire new wing to afford more guests the prized views of course and beach, two first-class dining destinations (and a basement pub for post-putting pints), richly decorated rooms, and plenty of classy nods to golf-godfather Old Tom Morris and the town’s sporting legacy. You need a decent handicap to grace the fairways out front but no matter how your game goes, at this repurposed Rusacks you can rely on hole-in-one hospitality every time.

FOR VINTAGE VENICE SKATEBOARDING

Venice V Hotel, US

Cruising down Venice Beach boardwalk is like taking a trip into the heart of West Coast counterculture. Developed in 1905 as an upmarket resort town, this stretch of California coastline has boomed, bottomed out, then scrubbed up again. Waves of change have rolled through with passing generations. In the booming Fifties, for instance, all-American families collected on its pleasure piers. By the Sixties and Seventies, the piers were crumbling into the sea and counterculturalism ruled the roost.

For skateboarding, the movement’s posterboy pastime, the Seventies were key. In Venice, a group of surfers known as the Zephyr Surf Team were catching waves beneath the derelict Pacific Ocean Park Pier, a dangerous and jealously guarded surf spot. When the water was flat, the Z-Boys took to the streets of Dogtown instead, using skateboards to do dry runs of their surfing moves. When a record-breaking drought emptied the local swimming pools, they started skating those too, riding the walls and catching air. A new era of skateboarding was born.

Right by the boardwalk and skatepark, the Venice V Hotel has been there for the whole story. Built in 1915 as the Waldorf Hotel, the building was a hangout for Hollywood stars in the Twenties. In the Sixties, you might have spotted Jim Morrison or Dennis Hopper over drinks. Some rooms channel Hollywood lore or the hippie movement, but you’ll want one of the Dogtown rooms, decorated with boards and vintage photos of skaters.

FOR TOURNAMENT-LEVEL TENNIS

Puente Romano Beach Resort, Spain

You’ve just hit the perfect serve, the ball rocketing past your opponent. The crowd goes wild. For most of us, that latter part only takes place in our heads – the ‘rapturous applause’ is more likely to be the sound of rain drumming against the roof of your local court. But at Puente Romano Beach Resort in Marbella, roofs aren’t needed and the fantasy isn’t all that far-fetched. Opened in 1979 by Bjorn Borg, the Puente Romano Tennis Club has hosted legends like Boris Becker and John McEnroe, who’ve battled it out on its 2,500-seat central court. International tournaments are still held here every year, but the club has just as much to offer if you’re yet to pick up a racquet.

Famed for its programmes, the club has ten courts and a team of multi-lingual coaches who work with players of all levels, from complete beginners to stars. And the best part? Once you’ve hung up your racquet for the day, you’ll only be getting started. Top up your tan on the sandy beach, swing by the Six Senses spa for a shoulder-soothing massage, then toast the sunset with sake at Nobu. Oh, and one more thing: whether you’re on or off the court, rain rarely stops play…

Got a taste for the wild side? Explore more of our most adventurous escapes