Home is where the heart is…

February 15, 2013



The place which each of us calls ‘home’ is an extension of ourselves: private hidey-holes for escaping the surrounding world. From the outside, living spaces may look similar, but inside a person’s true affinities can be unlocked for all to see. It is always interesting to visit others’ homes; sometimes thoughts are laced with feelings of surprise (”I’d never have thought your house would be like this”) or approval (“what a beautiful home!”). Dwellings are often not only filled with possessions but also pride, attachment and memories.

The diversity of culture can be plain to see from the traditional housing practices of different nations, countries and even towns – making the definition of a house hard to pin down. Unfamiliar set-ups can sometimes seem outlandish and impractical, but also intriguing to anyone who is used to another way of living. At times, the single best way to be exposed to authentic custom is by viewing the most untouched features of a society – how its people live.

Here I’ll count down five striking and, I think, desirable traditional housing set-ups from around the world, and suggest how you can experience these iconic homes for yourself.

5. The houses on Santorini’s caldera, Greece
Coming in at number five are Greece’s renowned white-washed houses. These painted villas in Santorini are perched on the ancient volcanic ‘caldera’ – spectacularly reflecting sunlight and radiating a sense of wellbeing. Inside, the houses glow with authenticity, seemingly carved straight out of the cliff face. The natural rock is perfect for the climate as it insulates in winter yet keeps the buildings cool during hot summer days. These houses have remained the same for centuries, conventionally small and with ocean-facing windows to encompass the stunning views. Sunvil Holidays offers trips to Santorini.

4. The beach lodges of Chumbe Island, Zanzibar, Africa
At number four are the coastline lodges of tiny Chumbe Island in Zanzibar, located six miles from Zanzibar City. The people of the island believe that nothing should go to waste, and therefore traditional houses are made from fallen coconut-palm fronds and local stone. Their thatched roofs stretch down to the ground, protecting the internal construction during heavy monsoon seasons. It’s customary in these homes that the first part of the structure made and erected is the front door; wealthier owners possess larger and more intricately-carved wooden doors as a sign of affluence.  Chumbe Island can be visited with Expert Africa.

3. The riads of Morocco
The ‘riads’ of Morocco are my number three. First came about in the 10th century, these inward-facing houses contain rooms, a central courtyard and garden areas yet don’t divulge their beauty to the outside world – they normally possess plain entrance doors in narrow alleyways. There are high windows – to allow in light, but not strangers’ gazes.  Inside, a beautiful mosaic quad and fountain area is typically flanked by arched walkways and salons which give way to ornately-furnished rooms. Due to the structural containment of these desirable buildings, riads are unexpectedly quiet and perfect for secluded retreats from the city buzz. The riad pictured, along with many others, is available through Lawrence of Morocco.

2. The townhouses of Japan
I’ve always loved the minimal style and functionality of Japanese homes, so these are my number two choice. In authentic houses, visitors pass through a genkan (hallway) where shoes are left, before accessing the rest of the home. This somewhat formal entry represents the psychological disparity between the outside world and the home. The notion of sitting seiza-style on the floor means that armchairs and sofas are rarely seen in these traditional homes. Instead, cushion futons are used and floors are made out of tatami (thick straw mats) for maximum comfort. Another unique feature of these townhouses is the use of sliding doors which, when opened, create a spacious quality. Experience Japan – including the chance to stay in a traditional home – with InsideJapan Tours.

1. The palafittes of Kompong Phluk, Cambodia
They may not be the most conventionally beautiful homes but, coming in at my number one, are the stilt houses, or palafittes, of Cambodia. The settlement of Kompong Phluk lies on the Tonlé Sap lake in Cambodia, the largest freshwater body in South-East Asia. This, and the other local communities, form unique ‘floating villages’ with houses built on tall wooden stilts and transportation options limited to boats. The elevation of the homes also keeps out vermin and allows families to fish in the water below. These floating properties integrate shops, farmyards and domestic homes – undoubtedly, for me, some of the most unique traditional housing in the world. The stilt houses can be visited on tailor-made itineraries arranged by ABOUTAsia Travel.

(Polly Kemp-King)