Unplug, Escape and Leave the Digital World Behind With Slow Cabins

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Slow Cabins: Your exclusive hideaway with a rainwater shower and spotty cell service awaits. (Photo: Jonas Verhulst/Slow Cabins)

More and more, resort-style bells and whistles are less of a deciding factor when choosing a spot for a quick escape from the grind. The same goes for close proximity to touristy diversions. Seclusion, simplicity, and being immersed in unspoiled natural surroundings are increasingly top draws — and the more far-flung the better.

But at the end of the day, there will be hell to pay if said isolated getaway doesn’t involve blazing fast Wi-Fi and three bars of cellular service, minimum.

Belgian lodging startup Slow Cabins isn’t in the business of letting solitude-seeking urbanites have their cake and eat it too. You want to escape the city to connect with nature in the middle of the woods or hide out on some remote beach? Then don’t bring your laptop or plan on taking business calls.

Taking a cue from the slow movement (see also: food, TV, fashion and on and on), an Italian-born movement that celebrates patience, thoughtfulness and sustainability in a society reliant on zippy, mass-produced convenience, entrepreneur Xavier Leclair founded Slow Cabins as a means of providing burnt-out city-dwellers with a way to truly unplug — there’s nary a mention of wireless internet, Apple TV or Bluetooth connectivity on the Slow Cabins booking website — and at the right speed. No rush.

Man reading, relaxing in a self-sufficient vacation rental from Belgian startup Slow Cabins
Bring a good book or three ... and don't even think about reaching for that smartphone. (Photo: Jonas Verhulst/Slow Cabins)

Located in the Belgian countryside, Slow Cabins' collection of rentable tiny houses — or "eco cabins" — are ideal venues for ditching the digital world to embrace, explore and zone out in nature. These are tailor-made spaces for blissed-out downtime; restorative experiences that are less expensive than hiding out at a spa and less labor-intensive than communing with nature while camping.

"Maybe our society needs 'Slowify' more than Spotify," says Leclair. "Nature, time, and attention to each other have become the most precious thing in our fast society."

Slow Cabins offers two types of for-hire hermitages. "Time For Two" is a dainty one-room cube-hut with a cozy-looking bed and oversized windows that's ideal for single, solitude seeking Thoreau-types and couples looking to reconnect with minimum distractions — a high-end love shack, basically. Standard nightly weekend rates for a sojourn in this 365-square-foot hideaway start at about $212. And although the cabin comes stocked with plenty of spring water, there's also an optional "basket filled with slow food delicacies for breakfast or dinner" that’s "prepared by local farmers and delivered to the cabin."

Interior of a minimalist vacation rental from Belgian lodging startup Slow Cabins
Pretty enough for a photoshoot ... or a long weekend of relaxing and recharging. (Photo: Jonas Verhulst/Slow Cabins)

For families or foursomes that aren't necessarily up for camping but want to go off the grid for a long weekend, there's the "Time For Family" option, which offers much of the same as "Time For Two" but with a larger (420-square-foot) two-bedroom cabin. (The company also has a "Time For Focus" option geared toward non-sleepover corporate retreats and team-building experiences.)

Both overnight rental options are spartan yet stylish, seemingly ripped straight from a spread in Dwell magazine. They're also totally self-sufficient and rely on "autonomous energy generation." Rooftop solar arrays power the units, the toilets are of the dry variety and the water tank for the shower is filled with filtered rainwater. Wood-burning stoves keep things nice and toasty inside while outdoor fire pits are ideal for snuggling around under a brilliant, star-filled sky.

The most tech-y part of the Slow Cabin experience is the presence of a smart display that shows how much energy and water you've consumed during your stay. "By actively seeing your energy usage throughout your stay, you become aware of your impact on the environment and what a positive and ecological footprint might look like," reads the website.

Guest enjoying campfire outside an off-grid vacation rental from Belgian startup Slow Cabins
Slow Cabins' escapes are more about showcasing nature than hanging around inside. (Photo: Jonas Verhulst/Slow Cabins)

Maintaining an element of mystery

Aside from the whole internet and cell phone-eschewing thing, the most notable — and perhaps anxiety-inducing — element of the Slow Cabins hospitality model is that the company doesn’t tell you where you’ll be heading when you book. No clues, no hints, nada. Although clear that the cabins are "hidden away from the humdrum of city life," their exact location remains a mystery during the reservation process.

You're pretty much left in the dark up until two weeks ahead of your booking date at which point the company emails you directions to the cabin's exact location along with instructions and a list of nearby amenities, activities and dining recommendations.

Leclair seems confident that the secret location aspect will prove attractive to adventurous travelers who don't mind not having to fuss over time-consuming trip-planning particulars like, well, geographic location. After all, the whole point is to show up, take a deep breath and unwind. Does it really matter where you are, so long as it's beautiful, quiet and remote?

Interior view of a minimalist vacation getaway from Belgian lodging startup Slow Cabins
Slow Cabins' glamp-y hideaways are solar-powered and lack indoor plumbing. (Photo: Jonas Verhulst/Slow Cabins)

This book-now-disclose-location-later arrangement isn't entirely unique, however.

Getaway, a lodging concept launched in 2015 as the inaugural project of Harvard’s Millennial Housing Lab, revolves around a similar model that targets young urbanites with pint-sized, self-contained retreats situated in woodsy locales that aren't too far away from major cities. The exact location of the cabins are kept under wraps until booking is complete. But since Getaway operates in the vicinity of three large East Coast metro areas, it does give potential guests a general idea of where the cabins are before they commit.

Getaway's New York cabins, for example, are about two hours north of the city in the Catskill Mountains, while the company's Boston area cabins are "tucked away in the sleepy forests of southern New Hampshire." For Baltimore and Washington, D.C., residents looking for a chance to chill out while surrounded by Mother Nature's finest handiwork, Getaway offers "handcrafted hideaways" near Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. Presumably targeting harried New Yorkers unwilling to journey to the Catskills, Getaway even partnered with the National Park Service last summer to install pop-up micro-cabins on the Staten Island shoreline.

A snowy, secluded getaway from Belgian lodging startup Slow Cabins
Unless requested, Slow Cabins doesn't immediately reveal the location of the booking. (Photo: Jonas Verhulst/Slow Cabins)

Slow Cabins is, of course, different in that it's catering to an entire country and not individual metro regions. While Belgium boasts numerous pristine nature preserves, fairy tale-esque forests, a small but beautiful coastline and a single stunning national park, it's still a tiny and densely populated country roughly the size of Maryland. It's safe to assume that many guests will reserve a cabin having a vague idea of which general direction that they'll be heading to.

(I do wonder, however, if Belgium’s unique linguistic and political situation complicates matters given that the kingdom's two largest regions speak different languages. With the company being based in Antwerp and the the Slow Cabins website being in Dutch, I'm inclined to think that this is a strictly Flemish affair and that the cabins are limited to the north of the country and not the French-speaking south, which is heavily industrialized but also includes some spectacular and rugged natural areas such as the Ardennes. But I could be wrong.)

To keep things lively, the boxy cabins are also shuffled around on occasion to maintain the element of surprise for returning guests. "Residence time of the cabins depends on several indicators, but we plan to move the cabins to or incorporate new locations regularly," a rep with Slow Cabins recently told Co.Design.

With Belgium (or at least the northern half of Belgium) in the bag, the company plans to expand and offer secret, sustainability-minded mobile cabins in other European countries.

Whether you're looking to simply ditch electronic screens (and traffic and noise and everything else) for a weekend, rekindle a fading spark or frolic nonstop in the great outdoors, would you be game to book a quick getaway even if you didn't initially know where it is?