Close to home
Just north of the town of Sonoma, in Glen Ellen, Beltane Ranch's 105 acres are filled with fruit trees, vegetable and flower gardens, a vineyard that sells grapes to nearby winemakers, and an olive orchard yielding oil that guests snap up for $15 a bottle. No wonder, then, that L.L. Bean and Victoria's Secret have shot their catalogs here: The location is downright idyllic. The yellow, gingerbread-trimmed lodge features five rooms and a two-story wraparound porch. The best rooms are on the second floor, where hammocks and porch swings overlook the vineyard and Sonoma Mountain beyond. (Ask for Room 1, which has a wood-burning stove and a separate sitting room.) Alexa Wood is Beltane Ranch's third-generation owner. Her great-aunt and great-uncle bought the property in 1936 to raise cattle, sheep, and turkeys. Breakfast, which may include sweet-potato latkes or buttermilk pancakes with homemade raspberry syrup, is made with ingredients from the gardens. Second helpings are basically mandatory. You can burn off extra calories on the property's tennis court (the front desk loans out rackets and balls) and by exploring the 20-plus wineries within a five-mile radius. 707/996-6501, beltaneranch.com, from $150, breakfast included.
For more than 100 years, people have flocked to Calistoga for its natural hot springs and mineral-rich waters, which have been said to cure everything from arthritis to chronic fatigue syndrome. The stucco bungalows at Hideaway Cottages were built in the 1920s and '40s to cater to wellness seekers and still serve as a home base for such guests today. Scattered on two and a half acres planted with sycamores, elms, and the oldest cork oak tree in the Napa Valley, the 17 cottages are all configured differently—some have a sitting room in addition to a bedroom, a bathroom, and a kitchen; others have a private patio—but all are located a few steps from a swimming pool and a hot tub filled with Calistoga's legendary water. The property is just two blocks from Calistoga's quaint main street, and a short stroll from the 56-year-old Dr. Wilkinson's Hot Springs Resort (owned by the same family as the Hideaway Cottages). There, for $129, guests can get The Works: a soak in a mineral mud bath, a lavender mineral whirlpool bath, time in the steam room, a blanket wrap, and a 30-minute almond-oil massage. 707/942-4108, , from $185, no guests under 18. Closed December and January.
The Loft Hotel
Lisa and Pascal Nicolle opened their first South Beach hotel in 1992 when they bought an apartment complex at Collins Avenue and 14th Street and transformed it into the Villa Paradiso. In 2001, the Nicolles purchased a second apartment complex five blocks south and converted it into The Loft Hotel, a younger, hipper sibling. Located in the midst of the Collins Avenue action, the Loft's 20 apartments sit in a two-story line perpendicular to the street (the farthest—and quietest—rooms are the highest-numbered ones). Even the rooms near Collins seem serene on the inside, however, with tile or blond-wood floors and wrought-iron headboards. All have full kitchens and cute breakfast nooks with a round café table. Throughout, Lisa has placed bouquets of dried milky-white flowers that she and Pascal brought back from France. "Sometimes people call up and want to know which hotel is better," Lisa says. "How do you choose? It's like having two kids! I say the Villa is a little more Key West, while at the Loft I feel like I need to put on lipstick." 952 Collins Ave., 305/534-2244, , from $90.
Amansala's Casa Magna
In the mid-1970s, Colombian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar built two 14,000-square-foot houses at the southern end of Tulum. The buildings were abandoned after Escobar died in 1993, and nature—in the form of hurricanes and vegetation—began to reclaim them. They caught the eye of Melissa Perlman, one of the owners of the Amansala resort up the beach. She opened Casa Magna in 1996, after transforming the concrete houses into 22 enormous, minimally furnished guest rooms.
The structures retain a hint of bunker flavor, but that's offset by vibrant orange and pink fabrics and pillows in the chic lounging areas, beds draped with mosquito netting, and decorative mosaics that liven up the bathrooms. Many Casa Magna guests choose to participate in the Bikini Boot Camp program, a combination of exercise, yoga, and massage that became popular at the original Amansala property. The on-site restaurant emphasizes healthy choices such as grilled fish and fresh fruit. 011-52/1-998-185-7428, , from $180.
It's easy to see why Leonardo DiCaprio stayed here with his girlfriend—the hotel has only four rooms, which guarantees privacy. Each bungalow is filled with Balinese teak furniture, including intricately carved armoires and antique four-poster beds. At night, guests are encouraged to open all the windows—and one wall of doors that lead to a private veranda—to let in the warm breezes. In the morning, noise from howler monkeys in the trees may provide a comic wake-up call. The bathrooms are private and semi-alfresco: The toilet and sink are under the roof's eaves, but the shower is open to the sky. A seven-table restaurant looks out over the pool, past a well-trimmed lawn, and down to the beach where there's a bamboo massage hut ($65 for an hour). The American chef, James Kelly, draws from Asian influences and makes great use of local seafood. He also plays another role: owner Caroline Marot's fiancé. 011-506/640-0023, , from $185, breakfast included.
Villa Beach Cottages
The hour and a half ride from St. Lucia's international airport to the Villa Beach Cottages in a standard taxi is $70, but you'll save $10 if you let one of the Villa Beach drivers do the honors. He or she will also chat you up and buy you a cold Piton—St. Lucia's local brew—along the way. The special treatment is one of the reasons why owner Colin Hunte's 20 suites welcome so many repeat guests, some having visited regularly for decades. The operation dates to 1958, when Hunte's grandfather bought two former U.S. naval barracks and had them moved to a 40-foot-wide beach on the island's northwestern tip. New buildings have gone up since Colin took over 18 years ago, but he's tried to keep the feel of the originals, incorporating cathedral ceilings, jalousie shutters, and gingerbread woodwork. Most rentals have a private patio with ocean views (on a clear day you can spot Martinique). When you get hungry, head next door to The Wharf, which makes an exemplary roti, the spicy Jamaican wrap filled with vegetables, chicken, or beef. For true relaxation, hit one of the hammocks slung at the water's edge and drift off to the sounds of the waves crashing.758/450-2884, , from $190.
Seclusion isn't easy to come by in the party town of Negril, but that's exactly what Rockhouse delivers, primarily to hip couples and families looking to avoid a spring-break experience. Rockhouse's rounded thatched villas are strung atop a low cliff carved with stairs that lead to the warm waters of Pristine Cove. The 20 private units peeking out of the jungle, right at the cliff's edge, start at $325 in winter, but the long buildings set a bit farther back are easier to pull off. Five studios with sea views ($150) and nine standard rooms with garden views ($125) all have minibars, safes, A/C, mosquito netting around four-poster beds, and furniture constructed from local timber. Guests can chill out at the 60-foot infinity pool, take yoga classes, or stroll along the property's serpentine paths and stepping stones, which inevitably lead to quiet nooks, isolated beach chairs, and what most people say are the best sunset views in Jamaica. 876/957-4373, , from $125.
Andros Island, Bahamas
Most of Andros Island is uninhabitable marshland, choked by mangroves and shot through with so many lakes and channels that from the air it looks like a doily. The Seascape Inn, on Andros Island's Mangrove Cay, is within minutes of a 120-mile-long barrier reef (the third largest in the world), making it perfect for diving, fishing, or just dropping out for a week. Each of the property's five cabanas has a small deck facing the white-sand beach. Pass the hours bonefishing from the flats in front of your bungalow (catch and release), exploring the reef by kayak, or pedaling along Mangrove Cay's lone road (bikes and kayaks are free for guests). You'll typically find Brooklyn-born hosts Mickey and Joan McGowan at the inn's bar and restaurant; gracious and friendly, they're clearly thrilled with their choice to move to the Bahamas 12 years ago. Joan likes to garden and bake, whipping up muffins and biscuits at dawn and tempting desserts—sometimes pies made with coconuts from the yard—in the afternoon. 242/369-0342, , from $110, continental breakfast included.
Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, French Riviera
Les Deux Frères
Go up—past the crowds, past the noise—to the tiny cliff-top village of Roquebrune-Cap-Martin. Stop to gasp at the panorama from the tiny town square, and notice the lovely dining terrace to your right. It's attached to the restaurant of the intimate Les Deux Frères, in a 19th-century stone building that was once a school. A mahogany bar fills the lobby; a narrow staircase leads up to the nine small, pretty rooms. Each has a name indicating its theme: Provençal, African, Marine, and so on. Views range from lovely to stupendous; depending on your room's orientation, you might look out on the town square, the rugged hills, or—if you get the full frontal—the cliffs, the sea, and, in the distance, Monaco. 1 Place des Deux Frères, 011-33/4-93-28-99-00, , from $148.
Hotel de l'Atelier
Spare yourself the agony of trying to find high-season lodgings in Avignon—there's a great little hotel across the river in Villeneuve, just a five-minute bus ride from the City of Popes. Each of the 23 rooms is a different shape and size—the building was built in the 16th century as a silk workshop—and there are exposed beams and stone walls, as well as painted niches, art deco dressers, Chinese end tables, and antique photography. A few rooms look a bit like they're from a 1940s movie set. The garden terrace is livened up with modern sculptures; hallways showcase paintings by local artists. The new owners are redoing a couple of rooms in Provençal style—let's hope their taste is as refined as that of their predecessors. 5 rue de la Foire, 011-33/4-90-25-01-84, , from $83.
Monte San Savino, Tuscany
Castello di Gargonza
On the crest of a mountain enveloped by forest sits a fairy-tale castle, with a 13th-century hamlet curled around the base of a crenellated tower. The hilltop village is Gargonza, fought over for centuries by the Florentines and Sienese, host to an exiled Dante in the early 1300s—and now entirely for rent. Gargonza's 35 houses, which like the castle are built of pale stone, serve as apartments, and most feature working fireplaces, kitchenettes, and 17th-century-style furnishings. There are also eight simple rooms (no kitchens or fireplaces). Converting the place into lodging for tourists was the only way Count Roberto Guicciardini—whose ancestors have been lords of the castle since 1700—could save the decaying village after the last of its farmers and artisans abandoned Gargonza in the 1960s. The central courtyard, with an old well and geraniums spilling from arcaded balconies, is a sort of open-air living room for guests. Likewise, the old olive-press building functions these days as a common room with sofas, a TV, and the breakfast buffet. Just outside the town's medieval walls is a swimming pool surrounded by fragrant rosemary and olive and cypress trees, and the excellent restaurant. Owner Neri Guicciardini, one of the count's sons, adds innovative flair to Tuscan classics. West of Monte San Savino, less than a mile off the road between Arezzo and Siena, 011-39/0575-847-021, , from $170; from $230 in B&B and apartment; from $1,091 weekly apartment rentals.
Positano, Amalfi Coast
Maria Cinque makes a point of chatting with every one of her guests. She's particularly delighted to meet Americans, as she and her husband, Antonio, lived in the Bronx for nine years. They returned to Italy in 1974 to run a family hotel a five minutes' walk from the center of Positano—and to teach their children "what it means to be Italian," in Maria's words. Six of the 15 guest rooms are in the original 1777 Palazzo Bruno, including four upstairs rooms with 18th-century ceiling frescoes. Many regulars prefer ground-floor rooms 51 to 55, however, because they open directly onto the magnificent, long entrance terrace and enjoy postcard views of Positano framed by ivy trailing off the shady trellis. Rooms without sea views (they actually look out to a wall) cost $65 less—an option certainly worth considering, since all guests have access to the terrace. Each of the California's rooms is spacious and seems even more so owing to minimal furnishings. At sunset, small groups gather on the terrace to sip wine, plan the next day, and pinch themselves, realizing that they've got the same view as the chichi Le Sirenuse hotel down the street for one third of the price.Via Cristoforo Colombo 141, Positano, 011-39/089-875-382, , from $223, breakfast included. Closed mid-November to mid-March.
The hotel with the best combination of style and value in all of Sicily is on a coastal road in Siracusa's historic center of Ortigia. Gutkowski's owner, Paola Pretsch, converted a pair of powder-blue houses overlooking the Mediterranean into a 25-room hotel. She decorated the properties along minimalist lines, enhanced by traditional touches, with mod furnishings near old stone doorways. In the main building, the rooms with direct sea views are 3, 4, 8, 9, and 15—the last reached via a terrace. In the annex up the road, the views are best from second-floor rooms 24 to 26. (From the first floor, only the sea horizon is visible above stone fortifications across the road.) The scrumptious breakfast consists of homemade cakes and cookies, fruits and cheeses, organic marmalades and honey, and fresh-squeezed orange juice.Lungomare Vittorini 26, 011-39/0931-465-861, , from $163.
Mount Haven Hotel
Orange Trevillion was drawn to Penzance, at the west end of Cornwall, because of the town's proximity to St. Michael's Mount, an ancient craggy island that looks a lot like a lopsided volcano. "It's a sacred place," says Trevillion, an eccentric with carrot-colored hair (of course) who believes that four of the Earth's energy lines come together there. Formerly the site of a Benedictine priory and rumored to have once been home to a giant, the island got its name when a fisherman claimed to have seen the archangel Michael there many years ago. Trevillion and her partners bought Mount Haven in 2001. They knocked down walls and reconfigured the old coach house to maximize views of St. Michael's Mount and the ocean. Most of the 18 rooms look out on the water. They have a distinctly Asian feel, with silk bedspreads and throw pillows covered in embroidered fabrics from Trevillion's frequent trips to India. (Room 6 is the quietest, away from both the front desk and the terrace.) Even the restaurant—where many dishes are flavored with curry and lemongrass—has views of the mount from one end. But the best seats are on the terrace: You can see the island rising steeply out of the water, with a medieval castle on its tip-top. (Owned by The National Trust, the castle is open to the public.) At low tide, when people stroll across a granite causeway to visit, it appears as if they're walking on water. Farther west beyond Mounts Bay and Penzance—the city made famous by Gilbert and Sullivan—is Land's End. 011-44/173-671-0249, , from $88, breakfast included.