The thriving cultural hub has its own unique auditory landscape: honking horns, screeching subway cars, bucket drummers, sirens, construction noise, hip hop blaring at full volume and the ever-present hum of all the noises that are too far away to decipher. This cacophony of sound does little to calm the senses, but, just outside the city, nature escapes offer something all New Yorkers crave – silence.
For both permanent city dwellers and visitors who are just passing through, jumping in a car (electric, preferably) and driving out of town for a weekend can be an incredibly restorative experience. That’s why eco retreats are right at the top of our NYC must-visit list. From a passive solar glass dome house to an elevated wooden cabin perched among the trees, these bucolic destinations are made for relaxation. Plus, their environmentally friendly design features will also help minimise the impact of your stay.
Whether you’re ready to book that trip or simply looking to escape the office for five minutes, here are our six favourite retreats to get you attuned with the soothing vibrations of nature.
Ex of In House
Ever wondered what it would feel like to stay inside a modernist work of art? This is your chance. The Ex of In House was designed by architect Steven Holl as an antidote to the sprawling, energy-hungry suburban home. The compact space is masterfully executed with clever design tricks on display everywhere you look. Sparse furnishings show off the intersecting geometric shapes that dominate the interior, including large circular windows that throw light across the split-level living area.
The home runs off-grid on solar power and is fossil fuel–free thanks to its geothermal heating system. There are two bathrooms, one bedroom with a single futon bed and a sofa for extra guests. Located in the small town of Rhinebeck, approximately two hours north of the city, this getaway offers a rare opportunity to spend time inside a brilliantly designed building.
Shou Sugi Ban House
For yogi couples or solo travellers seeking the full spa experience, Shou Sugi Ban House is the spot to visit. The Goop-approved destination offers a full menu of wellness treatments including massages, facials, yoga classes and nutrition consultations. There is a saltwater pool, an infra-red sauna and a restaurant serving food grown on the property’s own biodynamic farm. EV charging stations are also available for guests with electric vehicles and there’s even a house Tesla that provides a complimentary pick-up and drop-off service within the local area of Water Mill.
The calm, minimalist lodgings are inspired by Japanese wabi-sabi design. Guests can choose to stay at one of the studios located in the main house, each of which is equipped with a private patio, a deep soaking bathtub and organic bedding and towels, or the five-bedroom Shou Sugi Ban Inn. All buildings operate on a geothermal heating and cooling system that is powered in part by solar. The retreat’s considered approach to every detail of your stay will ensure that you leave completely refreshed – mind, body and soul.
Perched among the pine trees, this surprisingly spacious wood cabin will make you feel as if you’re sleeping in the forest canopy. The architect-designed home is located in the small hamlet of Willow, just over two hours north of NYC, and boasts an open living space, a loft bedroom and a wood-fired hot tub, all with magical views of the surrounding wilderness.
The use of sustainably sourced natural materials throughout, like local cedar, adds warmth to this beautiful space. Take a walk around the onsite pond to spot hummingbirds and frogs (just keep an eye out for bears) or pick a cosy nook inside to read by. With its indoor wood burner and hot tub, this one is perfect for a romantic winter weekend away.
The Shell House
Architecture nerds will feel like they’ve died and gone to heaven when they step inside this sun-soaked home. With its curved walls and beautiful wood panelling, the interior of this house is just as enticing as the unspoiled wilderness beyond. The outdoor terrace overlooks the rolling green Catskill Mountains, an ideal view to enjoy while eating dinner and watching the sun drop behind the hills.
The Shell House was built by American architect Seymour Rutkin in the late 90s. Its dome shape and eco-friendly design features were part of his utopian vision to build a family home that responds to the landscape. It runs on passive solar heat that minimises its ecological impact despite its size (three beds and two and a half baths). It’s been featured in the pages of Dezeen, among other publications, and is our pick for a group getaway or low-key family vacay.
The Rockaway Hotel
When you’re in the middle of the city, it’s easy to forget that Manhattan is surrounded by water. In the summertime, locals pack up their beach umbrellas and pile into crowded subway cars headed for the city’s most popular swimming spot: Rockaway Beach. It takes less than an hour to get there by train and, when you arrive, you’re greeted by a long stretch of sand and a buzzing local community.
For more than a day trip, the best place to soak it all up is at The Rockaway Hotel, a sleek boutique hotel and spa overlooking the ocean. Its bright rooms and private bungalows are fitted out with sustainable wood and chic second-hand furniture. In between swims, you can enjoy a cocktail on the rooftop bar which comes complete with a green ceiling and views of the New York skyline. The hotel is a big supporter of local events, so make sure you ask the staff what’s on – you won’t want to miss poolside screenings of classic films like Blue Crush.
The Glass House
Tiny homes are known for their energy efficiency, small environmental footprint and, of course, mobility. But they are never really celebrated for aesthetics alone. So, when we learned Forbes had called this place “the world’s most beautiful tiny house”, our interest was piqued. With its oversized windows and stylish wood and steel exterior, this tiny home looks like something out of a mid-century architecture coffee table book.
The solar-powered house sits on a hillside in Marlboro and is only 90 minutes from NYC by car. It features a fire pit for chilly nights, blonde wood interiors and a fully equipped kitchen. If you want to de-stress with a no-frills city escape, this is the place for you.