The past year has seen a flourishing of overwater villas in places they weren’t hitherto found.
Mexico now has its first such suites at El Dorado Maroma, which now has 30 palafitos, the Spanish term for houses on stilts over water, on the Caribbean coast of the Yucatan peninsula, 40 miles south of Cancun. Meanwhile in Jamaica, Sandals Royal Caribbean has opened five one-bedroom overwater bungalows near Montego Bay, reportedly the most expensive-to-build hotel rooms in the region (and at $2,700 some of the most expensive to stay in too).
Of course the trend for such accommodation goes back to the early 1960s, having originated in French Polynesia at the Club Bali Hai Moorea and gained popularity at what is now the Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in February. In the Maldives, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a hotel without them.
You can even find them in Switzerland. Indeed the first such villas in Europe have just celebrated their 15th birthday.
Palafitte overwater villas CREDIT: FABRIC RAMBERT
Located on the northern tip of Lake Neuchatel, about 18 miles from the French border (80 minutes by road from Geneva airport, 100 from Zurich) on the edge of the Jura mountain range, Palafitte (from £360 including breakfast) is a far a cry from the conventional image of a Swiss hotel du lac insofar as it consists of 38 contemporary wood-and-steel pavilions, designed by the Lausanne-based architects Hofmann+Gailloud. And 24 of them sit on stilts over the water, with ladders from their spacious yacht-like decks into the water so that you can swim, though even during a summer as hot as this one has been in continental Europe, the temperature doesn’t creep far into the 20s°C. (Paddle boarding and water skiing can also be arranged, as can boat trips.)
Bathroom in one of the villas
The rooms have been designed to take advantage of the glorious outlook across the lake towards the Alps whether you’re seated at the desk, standing at the basin, reclining against the pillows or in the bath, though privacy can be effected in a moment thanks to a wall of movable partitions that separate the bed from the bathroom.
The palpably French-influenced town of Neuchatel lies a couple of miles southwest along the lakeside, and is worth a visit. Alexandre Dumas, when he visited in 1832, noted its “resemblance to a toy carved from a block of butter”, so picture perfect are its 17th- and 18th-century yellow-sandstone buildings.
View from Palafitte villa
But for anyone interested in design, a trip to La Chaux-de-Fonds, an hour’s drive north, is the real reason to come here. Celebrated for its art nouveau architecture, it was also the birthplace of Le Corbusier, the great modernist architect and, appropriately, a pioneer of buildings on stilts or piloti as architects know them.
His early, unexpectedly fanciful, though earthbound Turkish-influenced Villa Turque (1917), which for the past 30 years has belonged to Ebel watches, still stands at 167 rue du Doubs, and whose first project, the Villa Jeanneret-Perret or Maison Blanche (1912), he built for his parents, can be visited at weekends.