Founded in 1988 to campaign against light pollution, the International Dark-Sky Association has given two areas in the UK an International Dark Sky (IDS) status as a park or reserve. One is Exmoor National Park, which was designated a Silver Tier reserve last year. The other is Galloway Forest Park in south-west Scotland, an IDS park since 2009.

Description: Galloway Forest Park has been named the first Dark Sky Park in the UK

Galloway Forest Park has been named the first Dark Sky Park in the UK

Set within the latter, just outside the town of Newton Stewart, is Kirroughtree House, a grand 18th-century mansion that us now a 17-room country-house hotel. It regularly hosts Stargazer Weekends, which include both lectures and an after-dinner excursion in a four-wheel-drive to observe the skies in the darkest part of the park. These are led by Steve Owens, who used to run the planetarium at Glasgow Science Centre and was the UK coordinator for the International Year of Astronomy in 2009.

Two-night Stargazer Weekends cost from $299 per person, including dinner and breakfast;


The first private observatory in North Africa, SaharaSky, was the brainchild of the German hotelier Fritz Gerd Koring. It is set on the edge of the desert, 240 miles south-east of Marrakech, overlooking the dunes of Tinfou.

In the 1990s Koring built a faux Kasbah outside the village of Tamegroute, near Zagora (which has an airport with flights to Agadir and Casablanca), and opened it as a hotel. A keen amateur astronomer, he was struck by the remarkable night skies of the area, which are cloudless for about 300 days a year, and was determined to make a centre for astronomy by opening the observatory on the roof of the building.

Description:  Kasbah Hotel SaharaSky in Zagora

Kasbah Hotel SaharaSky in Zagora

The Kasbah Hotel, as it’s known, is a simple three-star and not the sort to win plaudits for the design of its rooms. But its location in the Draa Valley, with views towards the dunes, is superb. And Koring has amassed an impressive, ever-expanding collection of telescopes, among them a Meade RCX 400, a Schmidt-Cassegrain, a Ritchey-Chretien and one through which to observe the sun. Doubles from about $54, half-board;


The Observatorio del Teide was established in 1964 more than 7,545ft up the slopes of Teide, which at 12,198ft is the third highest volcano in the world and the highest point on the Canary Islands. The observatory was set up because the almost complete absence of light-spill in Teide National Park means the stars shine brighter here than anywhere else in Europe.

The accommodation is reserved for scientists, but there are open days during the summer (see for details), and it is possible to arrange visits between April and December, although not at night. (Research is currently focused principally on the sun)

Description: the Canary Islands

the Canary Islands

A 20-minute drive away, however, is the inexpensive, unpretentious Parador Hotel Canadas del Teide. It is the only hotel on the slopes of the volcano’s mighty, often snow-capped cone, and has its own Dobsonian telescope. The scenery is every bit as stupendous by day and the desert landscapes and extraordinary rock formations rival the best in the south-western USA.

Doubles from $150;


 Known to cycling enthusiasts as one of the most punishing stages of the Tour de France, the road that traverses the Col du Tourmalet in the Pyrenees also leads to the Observatoire du Pic du Midi de Bigorre. At an altitude of 9,439ft, it dates back to the 19th century but acquired global importance in 1963 when NASA installed a 42in Gentili Dome telescope to photograph the moon in preparation for the Apollo missions. There are currently six telescopes at the site with mirrors up to 6.5ft wide.

Description: the road that traverses the Col du Tourmalet in the Pyrenees also leads to the Observatoire du Pic du Midi de Bigorre

the road that traverses the Col du Tourmalet in the Pyrenees also leads to the Observatoire du Pic du Midi de Bigorre

It’s a working observatory, but amateur astronomers can stay in one of the eight simple double rooms: not that you’ll want to waste time sleeping when you could be observing the sky through its 15in Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope in the company of a professional astronomer. Doubles from $419, including an observatory tour, dinner and breakfast;

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