Why hotels are embracing nature

Added health benefits are just one of the many perks found in the biophilic designs at these forward-thinking hotels.

Looking to elevate the wellness experience above and beyond your garden-variety spa and wading pools, a growing number of high-end hotels have integrated biophilic design into their properties. Based on Harvard researcher Edward O. Wilson’s biophilia hypothesis, the design nods to the idea that human beings have an innate affinity for nature.

“We know from talking to neuroscientists, psychologists and endocrinologists that biophilic elements can lower a person’s heart rate, blood pressure and cortisol levels,” says Bill Browning, partner at sustainable architecture firm Terrapin Bright Green, which develops designs for Google’s offices around the world. Browning found that biophilia explains why fires and waves captivate us; why a garden view can enhance our creativity; why shadows and heights instill fascination and fear; and why strolling through a park has healing effects. “The higher-end hotel brands are starting to pay attention to this connection with nature,” he says.

With spring rejuvenation and Earth Day in mind, consider a trip to one of these seven relaxing retreats that use biophilic design to help bring eco-deprived urbanites back in contact with Mother Nature’s restorative mojo.

Amangiri, Big Water, Utah
Part of the chain of Aman Resorts worldwide, the exclusive Amangiri (“peaceful mountain” in Sanskrit) has peace-seeking travelers and celebrities (Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie and Natalie Portman have all stayed here) flocking to the desert. The luxurious property pays homage to Southern Utah’s sandstone cliffs and Navajo culture, and was designed to blend seamlessly into the dramatic landscape—the pool and pavilion are wrapped around a rock escarpment; indoors, natural materials (stone floors, concrete walls, blonde wood) and textures (rawhide, raffia) help retain the area’s majestic color palette. The 34 rooms and suites—which, from the outside, resemble minimalist bunkers—sweep out from the main building towards the desert and deliver panoramic views of dunes, plateaus and mesas. Book it >

Auberge du Soleil, Rutherford, California
Originally opened as a fine dining restaurant in the 1980s, this Provence-inspired destination is set on 33 acres of vineyards and olive groves perched on a tree-covered hill overlooking Napa Valley. Today, the resort boasts a commitment to wellness through multi-sensory encounters, and takes a cue from its surroundings with greenery lined walkways and babbling brooks outside, and custom-wood furnishings, flower motifs and soft yellow terra cotta inside. You'll also find 52 rooms featuring fireplaces, picturesque verandas and bathrooms stocked with a bespoke line of products made from locally sourced, all-natural ingredients. Book it >

Juvet Landscape Hotel, Norway
Situated on a 500-year-old piece of farmland-turned-nature reserve five hours outside of Oslo, the Juvet is a woodland-lover’s dream that showcases “how little is needed to create a sense of well-being,” especially when Mother Nature serves as the backdrop. Norwegian architecture firm Jensen & Skodvin was determined to conserve the area’s topography when building the hotel, so it designed nine wood cabins built as independent structures—essentially boxes on stilts—that compliment the landscape and the position of trees. Cabins are small and sparsely decorated (only a few pieces of furniture and minimal lighting), but the panoramic glass walls allow visitors a birds-eye view of the river, the mountainside or the gorge below. Book it >

The Setai, Miami Beach, Florida
Although it’s located smack in the center of South Beach, this serene, Far-East-inspired retreat transports guests worlds away from the party scene going on in the 'hood. Designer Jean Michael Gathy married Miami Beach’s Art Deco design aesthetic with Asian minimalism at The Setai (which recently underwent a multi-million dollar refresh), including Burmese teak walls, brickwork flooring salvaged from Beijing and a bronze Balinese fireplace in the lobby; and guestrooms with Chinese jade pieces, fine silks and black granite bathtubs. The hotel’s lush, open air central courtyard has a serenity pond with an illuminated fountain, tall palm trees and lily pad-like seating areas that serve as a tranquil place to breathe in the ocean air during the daylight hours, or to sip a crafted cocktail at night. Book it >

Marina Bay Sands, Singapore
Dubbed “City in a Garden,” Singapore has long believed that enhancing the greenery and flora in a city can improve the quality of life of its residents. The Marina Bay Sands takes that mantra to another level—literally. Its Gardens by the Bay is a park adjacent to the marina’s reservoir has two massive gardens, two conservatories and a grove of “supertrees” (80 to 150-foot-high solar-powered vertical gardens that house an array of ferns, vines and orchids). But the real standout at the cutting-edge resort is the SkyPark, a green oasis atop the hotel’s three 626-foot tall buildings that hosts another 250 trees and 650 plants, and a spectacular infinity pool. With a 478-foot long vanishing edge, it’s the longest elevated swimming pool in the world, where your morning swim comes with a thrilling view of the city’s skyline. Book it >

Athenaeum Hotel, Westminster, London
This whimsical property is minutes from Buckingham Palace and London’s most visited museums and shopping destinations. But the owners of Athenaeum were particularly inspired by their proximity to Green Park, the smallest and most peaceful of the three Royal Parks of London known for its mature trees and grassland. So the hotel called upon Patrick Blanc, botanist and inventor of the vertical garden, to echo the park's landscape along the side of the eight-story building. The result is Living Wall, a haven of biodiversity home to trailing tendrils, flowers and native plants. As for accommodations, park view rooms and suites come with floor-to-ceiling windows that offer spectacular natural light and views of the park, and the hotel offers an award-winning Afternoon Tea served in the Garden Room, which also features floor-to-ceiling glass walls that look out onto a wall of nettles. Book it >