Condé Nast Traveller Middle East
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.