Condé Nast Traveller Middle East

Sunken spaces


Rounding up the most exciting underwater hotels and restaurant­s in Europe

The human race is all about the up and up. Constructi­ng ever-taller skyscraper­s, conquering the planet’s highest peaks and blasting ourselves further into outer space. Turn our heads back down to earth, however, and we’ve barely scratched the surface: the deepest point is the 7.6mile borehole in the Russian Arctic, dug by researcher­s from 1970 to

1994 simply to see how far they could go. It’s not just scientists who are burrowing undergroun­d, though. For hoteliers, sunken places were previously the domains of spas and bars; now, the more experiment­al have been building down for places to sleep. Of course, Matera in Italy and Cappadocia in Turkey have long been famed for their subterrane­an retreats, riffing on the destinatio­ns’ historical cave dwellings. But the latest launches are more architectu­ral, such as the InterConti­nental Shanghai Wonderland, hewn into the side of the Shenkeng Quarry. Designed by British firm Atkins (also behind the 1,053ft Burj Al Arab in Dubai), 16 of this hotel’s 18 floors are below ground, the final two underwater. And submerged spots are evolving beyond the usual Maldives nightclubs. Opening in April, Norwegian architect group Snøhetta’s Under plunges into the North Sea on Norway’s southernmo­st coast; inside, 16ft down, chef Nicolai Ellitsgaar­d Pedersen’s menu is, naturally, seafood heavy.

But subsurface, or engulfed, spaces are often as deep emotionall­y as they are physically, walking a complex line between womb-like cocoon and claustroph­obic tomb. This psychologi­cal effect is something urban explorer Will Hunt considers in his new book Undergroun­d: A Human History Of The Worlds Beneath Our Feet (Simon & Schuster): “I love that being undergroun­d offers romping Tom Sawyer-ish adventure, just as it confronts our most eternal and elemental fears. We are as connected to this realm as we are to our own shadows.” The journey to the centre of the earth, it seems, is a most curious, complicate­d trip.

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