Not a houseboat but a RIBA award-winning building constructed to look like two upturned boat hulls, this imaginative beach house overlooking Poole Harbour packs an aesthetic punch inside and out.
A veritable Escher painting of staircases and stepped bridges connects split-levels with lounges and seating areas, creating a large internal void into which natural light pours from the glazed, sea-facing side. A restrained nautical theme is limited to the occasional vintage toy boat and striped cushion (no naff driftwood affirmations here) and there is something glamorously 70s about the lounges, with jewel-toned sofas.
Owner-architect Roger Zogolovitch calls this his “analogue retreat”, where free time can be given to enjoying the quiet luminosity of the coast.
Sleeps 10, from £1,208 for three nights, thehouseboat-poole.co.uk
This fine example of a mid-century modern house has a unique twist – its location, in the walled garden of a grand, 18th-century mansion which belongs to the family of travel and history writer William Dalrymple, whose ancestors have lived on the Leuchie House estate for centuries.
The Californian-style glasshouse is in the spirit of Mies van der Rohe but designed by the highly regarded Scottish architect James Dunbar-Nasmith, its stark form set against the traditional brickwork. A free-flowing living area clad in timber is stuffed with antiques and portraits from the grand house, and from the garden a gate leads to woodland, beyond which is stunning Seacliff Beach, with views to Bass Rock.
Sleeps 12, from £900 a night, leuchiewalledgarden.com
Drawing on threads of philosophy and history as inspiration, this restorative and nature-driven retreat displays handcrafted furnishings by artisans, and is part of a collection of cabins and cottages called Hide at St Donats.
With the whimsicality of a settlers’ cabin in the woods, Walden Lodge is a light-filled space attuned to American transcendentalism, with its belief in the inherent goodness of nature. Walden, the classic book by the movement’s key proponent, Henry David Thoreau, was a source of inspiration.
A plump green sofa beside a woodburner invites guests for a cwtch, while the terrace has views across a flower-filled meadow to the Quantock Hills and Bristol Channel.
Sleeps four, from £140 a night, hide.wales
Like a Welsh answer to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater in Pennsylvania, Ty Hedfan, meaning “hovering house”, is perched above the River Ysgir near the Brecon Beacons.
A spectacular, box-like wing clad in slate cantilevers over the river, among mature oak and ash trees, and houses a living space overlooking the black water passing beneath.
The interior is a soothing haven of slate and timber, with tasteful wooden furniture and thick Welsh blankets. Most of the surrounding landscape has been left wild, with a stream forming pools as it tumbles towards the river and beds of vibrant lupins, foxgloves and bamboo.
Sleeps six, from £1,100 a week, ty-hedfan.co.uk
Set 500ft above the River Wye on the steep slope rising to Symonds Yat Rock, this red timber Nordic chalet is a scene-stealer. It featured in an Ideal Homes Exhibition after being shipped to England from Norway as a flat-pack house in 1912, and was a location for the Netflix series Sex Education.
A top-to-toe consultation with Farrow & Ball informed the latest revamp, creating a colour-saturated interior with a wonderful Smoke Green conservatory and pinky-brown attic. From the wraparound deck with hand-built pizza oven and wood-fired Swedish bath, steps lead down through the garden to a summer house with a secret cinema, then to the river.
Sleeps 10, from £2,995 for four nights, thechaletsymondsyat.co.uk
There are amazing sea views from every window and water borders the property on two sides at this historic cottage on the north coast of Devon. Whether storms roll in, thrashing the sea walls with powerful waves, or sun bathes it in heavenly warmth, it provides a ringside seat for the drama and beauty of nature.
Starting life as a flour mill powered by a water wheel in the 1560s, it later became a smuggler’s hideout, a bakery, general store, sweet shop and a tea room. Now the airy interiors feature “an eclectic mix of old and older” with flagstone floors, lanterns and antiques and a little drawbridge.
Sleeps eight, from £770 a night, themillhousedevon.co.uk
Hot tub – check; en suite – check. Alpacas? Yes! Few holiday boltholes can offer a herd of cuddly South American animals among their facilities, but at this charming cottage/cabin on a country farm on Bodmin Moor they’re part of the appeal, along with the unbelievable stargazing.
A shepherd’s hut containing the bedroom and a free-standing copper bath is connected to the living space, painted black to echo the area’s famously dark night skies, which have made it an officially recognised Dark Sky Landscape.
The sunken courtyard has a Japanese ofuro hot tub for watching pipistrelle bats at dusk, until the inky heavens stage a glittering celestial show.
Sleeps two, from £850 for three nights or £1,150 a week, uniquehomestays.com
Far out in design and location, this compact aluminium hideout’s elliptical form is inspired by a submarine control tower, making it a unique base for exploring the remote Sound of Mull.
Every detail has been thoughtfully executed to create a space that feels ergonomically designed. An upside-down arrangement of rooms gives the main living space views to the colourful town of Tobermory and a wraparound balcony has a 360-degree outlook on sunsets, storms and wild seas.
On the same site is AirShip 002, following the design characteristics of airships, plus the Captain’s Cabin, another elliptical building on the flat roof of an old chapel.
Sleeps two, from £160 a night, outoftheblue.uk.com, airbnb.co.uk
What could be more lavish than having your own moat? This picture-postcard 17th-century pink thatched cottage is surrounded by water, adding to the sense of privacy and peace, as well as a little wooden bridge, rowing boat and moat-side deck with hot tub.
All around are wildflower meadows, sheep fields and rewilded land belonging to Wilderness Reserve, an 8,000-acre country estate with other luxurious manor houses and farmhouses available for holidays.
Guests can paddleboard and swim in the lake, borrow Pashley bicycles, then – as the sun goes down – let the estate team organise an alfresco bar, with hay bales around a campfire.
Sleeps 12, from £1,216 a night, wildernessreserve.com/moat-cottage
Looking at first like a tumbledown barn, this bewitching 16th-century cottage within the remains of an ancient fruit farm in the Malvern Hills retains many original features, to create a cosy and timeless interior.
Owners Mervyn and Niki have been slowly and sympathetically restoring it since the 1990s, preserving original wattle-and-daub panels, exposed beams and a fabulous brick floor. Hiding within thick stone walls tangled with tendrils of foliage is a nest of snuggly blankets, plump sofas, upcycled furniture and a woodburner, the perfect place to retreat to after a day’s walking.
Sleeps two, from £995 for four nights, uniquehomestays.com
This is an edited extract from Extraordinary Escapes by former Guardian travel editor Gemma Bowes, published by Quadrille on 17 February (£20) and available from guardianbookshop.com for £17.40. The second series of Extraordinary Escapes, presented by Sandi Toksvig, is currently on Channel 4