6 Totally Surreal Outdoor Dining Experiences

by  Katie McElveen | Sep 19, 2016
Rock Bar
Rock Bar / Ayana Resort Bali

Whether it's Champagne and caviar on a Parisian terrace, or a bag of marshmallows around a campfire in the Berkshires, there’s something intensely satisfying about eating outside. But these six outdoor restaurants take dining al fresco to the next level.

A meadow in the Swiss Alps

Swiss Alps brunch

Day-trippers from Pontresina and St. Moritz often fuel up for (or recover from) the 90-minute hike to nearby Morteratsch Glacier with brunch at family-owned cheesemaker Alp-Schaukaserei. We prefer the recovery option, because what's homemade cheese without a little vino? In a wine-induced haze, you'll sit under the sun, surrounded by tall hemlock trees and snow-capped mountains; floppy-eared rabbits hop around outside the wooden chalet, and a wicker basket of brown eggs sits next to a miniature stove for DIY omelets. But the main attraction is the cheese buffet, which has more than a dozen varieties -- from brie to goat -- displayed like a work of art.

A treetop in the jungle

Tree pod dining, Soneva Kiri / Paul Raeside

Think back to your childhood dream treehouse -- with wine and gourmet food, and without having to climb up or down. The elegant dining treepods at Thailand’s Soneva Kiri resort are suspended in the jungle and look out to sea. A system of ropes and pulleys (that do not harm the tree) transport each pod up and back down -- safe transportation for a meal that will likely include more than one toast. Once you’ve ordered, your food is delivered by waiters who swoop in, Peter Pan-style, via zip-line.

A thatched hut with your toes in the sea

When you board the wooden skiff to Pinel Island -- a tiny nature reserve off of French Saint Martin, home to the six-suite Le Karibuni resort -- you might feel like a castaway. But Crusoe never ate as well as you will at the resort's overwater dining huts. At the end of a boardwalk that hangs over the water, each shady hut is a private, rosé-sipping paradise. Cooks turn out perfectly charred fish, lobster, shrimp, and burgers over an open grill, and accompanying salads are cool and fresh. Spend the day here, or, after lunch, rent a lounge chair, hike around the island, or snorkel. Pinel offers some of the best fish-spotting in Saint Martin. (Note: The resort closes between August and October.)

A cliff over the Indian Ocean

Rock Bar / Ayana Resort Bali

Rock Bar sits on a rocky precipice high above the Indian Ocean at AYANA Resort in Jimbaran, Bali. Getting there is half the fun: take the stairs that lead down the rock face or hop on the tiny funicular, which chugs up and down the cliff on a narrow railway. Though the view is breathtaking at all hours of the day, you'll want to arrive in time to take in one of Bali’s mesmerizing sunsets, which paint the sky in neon shades of pink, blue, and yellow. Don’t forget to grab a black golf umbrella near the entrance: Not only will it offer a bit of much-needed shade, it may also keep you from getting drenched by waves crashing into the cliff.

Beside a fire pit in the buff (sort of...)

Grove Park spa firepit

Nothing breaks a magical massage-induced spell like getting dressed; at the Omni Grove Park Inn, in Asheville, North Carolina, you don’t have to -- at least until after dinner. Schedule a late afternoon treatment (try the Mountain Honey Wrap, which uses local sourwood honey to smooth and soften skin), slip on your robe, and make your way to the spa’s outdoor firepit. There, you'll get the same mountain views as you would at the resort's Sunset Terrace, but in total privacy. Order room service to the deck, and dine as you watch the sun set behind the Blue Ridge Mountains.

In the ruins of an 18th-century sugar mill

Caneel Bay / Dinner in Ruins

Long before the island of Saint John in the U.S. Virgin Islands became a resort destination, it was filled with plantations that grew and processed sugarcane. Today, the estates are long gone, but the vestiges of the industry remain in the form of rocky ruins, which are scattered about the island. Some of the most picturesque, best-preserved ruins lie within the Caneel Bay Resort, which sits on a 170-acre peninsula of beach and marine forest within Virgin Islands National Park. Open to the starry sky, these artfully crumbling structures are transformed with candles, lanterns, and elegantly set tables into romantic private dining rooms. The resort closes annually between the end of August and the beginning of November, so now is the perfect time to get ahead on reservations.

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