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Glamping: Rough it in style

By Liane Membis, Special to CNN
updated 9:36 AM EDT, Thu September 29, 2011
At Sal Salis Ningaloo Reef safari camp in Western Australia, tents are tucked among the dunes in Cape Range National Park. At Sal Salis Ningaloo Reef safari camp in Western Australia, tents are tucked among the dunes in Cape Range National Park.
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Sal Salis Ningaloo Reef
Sal Salis Ningaloo Reef
Sal Salis Ningaloo Reef
The Resort at Paws Up
The Resort at Paws Up
The Resort at Paws Up
Lakeside Yurt
Lakeside Yurt
Lakeside Yurt
Casa de Laila
Casa de Laila
Serengeti Migration Camp
Serengeti Migration Camp
Serengeti Migration Camp
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Camping doesn't have to involve sweaty sleeping bags; try "glamping"
  • A new breed of glamorous camps offer beds, plumbing and more
  • Some luxury outfitters have butlers and chefs

(CNN) -- Endless cans of insect repellent, swigging water out of a canteen and the underlying thought of grizzlies creeping up: They aren't the most delightful aspects of camping, but these dramatic elements make for what some would consider a true plunge into the wild.

But try bedazzling that image with a king-sized mattress, a steamy spa and catered eats under a fiery sunset and the natural camping experience is amped up with edge and luxury. This kind of camping is not an irreconcilable fairy tale; it's a lodging style that's literally gone global.

Glamorous camping, or what's become known as "glamping," emerged in Africa and the coastal areas of Thailand in the early 1990s with tourists' growing interest in safari camps. But the roots of luxurious camping go back a lot further; comfortably outfitted tents date back to at least the sultans of the Ottoman Empire.

Glamping has more recently become popular in the United States and Europe, with glamping sites popping up from Ohio to London.

It's a wilderness experience without all the extra work. Cooking by campfire, sleeping in dark cramped tents and not bathing are remedied issues in the glamping world, which provides vacationers with spacious designer-outfitted tents complete with soft sheets instead of sweaty sleeping bags.

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Making steamy s'mores over a campfire in these snazzy locations can carry a pretty hefty price, more than $1,000 a night in some uber-chic places.

While glampers won't get "roughing it" credentials from hard-core backpackers, there is an environmental benefit to this style of staying outdoors because sites are pre-set and maintained so there's no stirring up the environment with unpacking a tent or leaving waste near a campsite.

In the United States, The Resort at Paws Up in Greenough, Montana, invites campers to enjoy the wilderness around the Rocky Mountains in style. Travelers enjoy sweeping views of the ranch and the Montana countryside from the resort's 24 luxury tents, which are offered in one- or two-bedroom configurations, many with en suite bathrooms. Guests will have a camping butler and a chef who might create recipes from huckleberries picked from the mountain slopes or fresh Rocky Mountain trout.

Spa treatments are available in a cluster of white tents called Spa Town, and guests can participate in outdoor activities from horseback riding to hot-air ballooning. A tent stay at this hidden jewel starts at about $800 a night for two guests, including meals. The resort also rents luxury cabins.

Five rustic retreats worth a splurge

For a more modest and affordable experience in England, campers can try The Lakeside Yurt, a single round tent situated on the shores of a fishing lake near the Cotswolds village of Beckford. The circular accommodation has been fitted with a kitchen complete with a dishwasher, an intimate dining area, a shower and sink and a veranda overlooking the lake. Guests also have a private hot tub next to the yurt and may arrange use of the owner's rowboat and swimming pool.

The yurt also includes under-floor heating to protect against England's notoriously shifty weather. A full week's stay in the winter starts at about $360, with higher rates in the summer.

Another casual and more affordable glamping location lies in the heart of Andalucía, Spain, at Casa de Laila. This site is on a hillside overlooking the Guadalhorce Valley near Malaga. Five canvas bell tents with Moroccan accents are spread through an orange orchard. Breakfast and Wi-Fi are included and travelers have access to a pool and lounge, a basic outdoor kitchen and hot showers.

Spa treatments and bike rentals are available at an additional charge and a nearby village and the city of Malaga offer plenty of dining and sightseeing options. The cost is about $40 per person, per night, including a continental breakfast.

In Africa, numerous elaborate safari camps have expanded upon travelers' desires for comfortable exploration and adventure. Tanzania's Serengeti Migration Camp features 20 luxury safari tents with hardwood floors, private decks, power and hot water.

A lounge, dining room, sun deck and open-air swimming pool overlook the rugged landscape in which gazelle, zebra and other African mammals roam. Hippo line the Grumeti River, which can be seen from the 360-degree decks that line the lounge spaces. Rates start at $730 per person, per night, including game drives twice a day and all meals and drinks.

Other far-flung corners of the world offer the glamping experience, too.

For an adventure Down Under, Sal Salis Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia gives glampers a taste of the beach with nine tents set up in the white sand dunes of Cape Range National Park. At this ecologically savvy glamping site each Sal Salis accommodation is solar-powered and water usage is carefully managed to lower each visitor's environmental footprint.

Kangaroo and wallaroo take the place of raccoon and bear in this luxurious location, and vacationers may hear the sound of a humpback whale breaching beyond the reef. In addition to comfortable beds and en suite bathrooms, there's chef-prepared Australian cuisine and water sports and excursions galore. The cost is about $720 per person, per night for double occupancy.

So if you're not a fan of insects and grime, try glamping for a comfy fresh-air alternative. No tent poles to knock into or dirt caught under your nails -- only king-sized beds, fine cuisine and endless adventure.

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