From Sonoma Magazine: Be a happy camper

  • Chanell Adamson and her daughter, Tilly, 3 (photos by Chris Hardy)

It’s camping for lightweights who like the sensation of sleeping in nature without sacrificing creature comforts like a real bed and available running water.

Forget the bedroll and mummy bag. Bring on the Tempur-Pedic mattress and Egyptian-cotton sheets.

Over the past few years a proliferation of glammed-up tents, cabins and vintage travel trailers have given rise to a new, upscale class of camping. Already codified in the Oxford English Dictionary, “glamping” is bringing pampered urbanites closer to nature and providing relief for midlifers and seasoned baby boomers who love the crackle of a campfire on a still night in the forest, but can no longer bear the thought of packing all that gear, pitching a tent and fighting for sleep on the cold, pitiless ground.

Safari West, the 400-acre exotic animal preserve northeast of Santa Rosa, was one of the first tourist destinations to offer tent cabins with heated blankets and designer furnishings, handcrafted by owner Peter Lang.

Before the term “glamping” caught on, Safari West didn’t know how to explain to prospective guests wary of roughing it that the heavy canvas tent cabins, made in Botswana for safaris and outfitted with lamps, African art, heaters, bathrooms and hardwood floors, are not the typical straight-wall, polyester family camping tents.

“That word finally helped me to identify our tents. We used to say ‘rustic’ but still would get people not wanting to spend the night,” said Aphrodite Caserta, who does marketing for the preserve. “Since the word came into use, it’s helped me identify our accommodations.”

The spacious cabins are set on platforms. From the front deck you can savor coffee at sunrise while gazing out at nuzzling giraffes. No need for mom to boil hot dogs on a Coleman stove: Just herd the family down to the Savannah Café for a buffet dinner feast served around an African boma-style firepit, then retire to the Flamingo Terrace for wine and pink-bird watching.

“There’s no TV, no nothing. You’re there with each other,” said Mary Packard, an avowed noncamper who came from Palmdale for a “safari” with her family. “You can talk and not worry about your
cellphone going off. You’re just there with the animal sounds.”

The bathroom, with mesh vents, can be cold in the morning. But the sounds of exotic birds cawing, cooing and screeching in the night creates a soothing symphony by which to fall asleep.

With summer/fall rates at Safari West ranging from $240 to $335 a night, glamping is not necessarily a budget option. But cost savings isn’t what appeals to glampers.

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