Overseas escapes from the September sizzle

SEPTEMBER IN Dallas. Do the light breezes floating through the city carry a hint of the approaching winter? Do autumn leaves crunch underfoot? Do we while away our evenings carelessly strolling through the park with woolen sweaters tossed over our shoulders to guard against the night’s chill?

No, as a matter of fact, the only breezes that pass through the city are dusty, warm and dry. The autumn leaves are still green and, thankfully, still on the trees, guarding us from the blistering sun. Evening strolls are generally short and pointed in the direction of the nearest ice-cream parlor. Sweaters are still in mothballs. T-shirts and gym shorts are getting old.

September in Dallas? Well, it’s not unlike August, July or June. The only difference is that by September, the novelty of long summer days has worn thin, and we want a change. Now’s the time to take a vacation-or at least to plan one. But not Houston or Kansas City or San Diego. Someplace different, where we’ll be able to wake up and say, “I’ve never seen anything like this in Dallas.” Someplace far away.

We’ve chosen three such destinations. They’re all quite different, but they have one thing in common: They’re nothing like Dallas in September.

HAWAII IS laden with images-some inviting, some overworked. One persistent picture is, ironically, of tourists: he with an In-stamatic, a loud luau shirt and plastic lei: she with fistsful of macadamia nuts, matching loud luau shirt and plastic lei. Fortunately, the image of Tourist-Trap Hawaii is confined to a few areas of Waikiki. In the “real Hawaii,” plastic leis are about as common as vinyl cowboy boots.

The “real Hawaii” is anywhere that the island heritage remains untainted by commercialism. And there’s no better way to get a feel for the real thing than to go to the place that the natives call The Big Island: the island of Hawaii. Twice as large as the other islands combined, The Big Island is a study in contrasts-orchids and dry brush, cowboys and hula girls, white-capped peaks and black sand. It has many of the things you think of when you think of vacationing in Hawaii: beautiful beaches, golf courses designed by Robert Trent Jones, Polynesian-flavored foods. But it also has more: big-game hunting and fishing, snow skiing, the potential of viewing a real live volcano and a resort that rivals any other resort in the world.

It’s tempting to skip over the facts of getting there to the part where we walked into the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel for the first time. But details first. Getting to Hawaii is a lot easier than it used to be. American Airlines now has direct eight-hour flights to Honolulu that leave D/FW airport every day. Somehow, not stopping for any reason gets a vacation off to a good start. Once in Honolulu, it’s easy to transfer to one of the inter-island commuter airlines, like Aloha, which, contrary to popular misconception, fly wide-bodied 737s-not shaky little prop planes. In the time you usually spend grinding away a day at work, you can be transported to paradise.

This is not one of those travel columns that sprinkles the word “paradise” through descriptions of places decidedly un-Edenlike. And your first view of Hawaii will be more evocative of a landscape in hell than The Garden. But the coastal resort area where we headquartered-the Kohala Coast-is a testament to the will of man and the powers of water, soil and sun. Everything that can grow does grow in fertile splendor amidst desert plains and jagged lava fields.

The Kohala Coast didn’t have much to recommend it before it was discovered in 1960 by Laurence Rockefeller. Having scoured the Pacific Basin in search of a site for a link in the super-deluxe RockResorts chain. Rockefeller fell for Kohala’s combination of rugged coastline, towering mountains, ranch pastures and pure silver sand. Five years and hundreds of thousands of dollars later, the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel was born. Now owned by UAL, Inc., the parent company of United Airlines and Westin Hotels, the Mauna Kea has been a favorite of travel connoisseurs ever since.

The drive from the Kona airport is a shock. Once you pass the popular, remote, thatched-roof villages of the Kona Surf Hotel, there is little that resembles Hawaii. The Pacific is nowhere in sight. On one side of the road is a desolate-looking Held of black lava rock. On the other is a stretch of terrain dotted with kiawe (mesquite) trees and prickly pears. For a few disheartening moments, you may believe that you have just spent 10 hours’ travel time to relive the drive between El Paso and Lubbock.

Soon, however, civilization reappears in the form of a trio of luxury resort hotels. The first two that you pass are newcomers to the area: the Sheraton Waikoloa, built a couple of years ago, and the recently completed Mauna Lani. The Mauna Lani is very impressive, very luxurious and so spanking-new that it still has that virtually deserted look and feel. Obviously, a lot of money has gone into the making of the Mauna Lani.

Finally, a long, winding drive marked by the distinctive Mauna Kea logo-an orange plumeria-signals your arrival. And the minute you step into the Mauna Kea lobby, you feel you have arrived. In the style of a Greek temple, the lobby opens directly to the outdoors. As you walk through the elegant entry, you stare straight into the sea.

World-renowned architects Skidmore, Ow-ings & Merrill created a building that is, as one guidebook describes the Mauna Kea, “a stunning prophecy of architectural form.” A full-height, open-air atrium with trickling waterways and tropical plants runs the length of the original building (a second beachfront wing was added later) and is the pathway to the rooms on each side. Gentle trade winds eliminate the need for air conditioning and establish an immediate sense of tranquility. Here and there, you can hear the fluttering wings of a sparrow or the padding of bare feet on their way to the beach.

Everything at the Mauna Kea is first-class. The rooms are simple and elegant with cool tile floors, beautiful native koa wood, louvers for natural ventilation and a lanai with a view of either the ocean or the nearby Mauna Kea (“White Mountain”).

The hotel operates on a modified American plan (MAP); i.e., your nightly room rate ($230 to $300 for a double) buys you two meals a day in your choice of three restaurants-all of which are lovely places to dine. Breakfast is temptingly diverse, offering selections that vary from mahi mahi (a local fish) to spicy sausages from Portugal. You’re on your own for lunch, but you can’t do much better than the buffet on the terrace-sashimi, crab claws, inventive salads and an array of hot dishes for an all-inclusive $14.95. For dinner, two of the dining rooms offer a rotating selection of house entrées, vegetables and desserts. The Batik Room’s a la carte menu is more enticing, but it’s easy to go over your MAP allotment.

Many guests at the Mauna Kea seem content never to leave the generous grounds. Golfers find ample challenge firing tee shots from lava rock promontories across ocean sprays. Tennis buffs, joggers and beach baskers are similarly inspired to the top of their sports. But a fascinating world lies just beyond the Mauna Kea’s secluded shores-a world comfortably familiar to anyone who loves the brush ranch-lands of Texas.

The Mauna Kea holds a 99-year lease on land that belongs to the surrounding 227,000-acre Parker Ranch. Here’s a statistic that will impress any native Texan: Parker Ranch is the largest ranch under single ownership in the United States. Guests at the hotel enjoy exclusive hunting rights on the mountain grasslands rich in wild boar, mouflon sheep and, in season (November through January), wild turkey, pheasant, partridge, grouse, quail and dove.

We ventured into the Parker ranchlands under the experienced hand of longtime resident and guide Gene Ramos, a colorful Portugese-Hawaiian fluent in “Pidgin English.” Gene drove us in a jeep, interminably, over bumpy cattle country in pursuit of wild boar. Eventually we spotted some boar, trekked down closer on foot, hit one almost by accident and dragged the head and hindquarters a full two miles uphill back to the jeep. The head we’ll have mounted as an emblem of our victory, and the hindquarters were a gift from Gene to the Mauna Kea chef. The experience was well worth the exertion: How often do you go off on a hunt post-breakfast and return with a trophy shortly after lunch?

The vast Parker acreage can also be experienced by horseback at the Mauna Kea Ranch House in the town of Waimea, 12 miles from the hotel. From here, guides lead a string of saddle horses upland through trails with magnificent views of the mountain and the ocean beyond. The cowboy tradition in Hawaii is strong, dating to a time when King Kame-hameha imported cowpokes to help round up the vast herds of wild cattle wreaking havoc in Paradise. These “paniolos,” as they are called, have a style all their own-including 10-gallon hats adorned with brilliant, woven-flower leis. Our stay coincided with a splendid local pageant celebrating Hawaiian history on horseback, with costumed townspeople providing the parade.

Sport fishing in Hawaii rivals the best in the world. The Kona Coast just south of Kohala is famous for its charters, or you can brave the waters nearer the Mauna Kea in the harbor village of Kawaihae. Charter boat outings regularly return with Pacific blue marlin, tuna or native delicacies such as mahi mahi or opakapaka. The chef at the Mauna Kea will prepare your catch for dinner.

Another fine way to take in the Hawaiian countryside is aloft in a helicopter. Charter “flightseeing” tours take off from conveniently located helipads to tour the island volcanoes and buzz the awesome, rugged coast. The nearby Mauna Kea volcano is extinct, but the Mauna Loa (further inland) is still very much alive. The last eruption, in July 1975, raged for 23 days-to the delight of spectators who flew to the island in droves for the fireworks. Even in slumber, the mountainous craters are a visual delight-especially with the theme from Chariots of Fire blasting through your helicopter earphones.

The Big Island is a vacation at its best-if for no other reason than its natural beauty and the near-perfect climate year-round. But the rich ranching traditions should give it a special appeal to Texans-who may hear in that parting “aloha” the echo of, “Y’all come back now, ya hear?”

– Ruth Miller Fitzgibbons

PARIS IS frustrating. How do you embrace such an enchanted place? How do you really explore the city? The answer: With all the energy you can muster. If you’re looking for a relaxing hideaway, go to the French countryside, the Swiss Alps or the Arkansas foothills, but for goodness’ sake, don’t go to Paris. It’s a city where everyone hustles.

When you’re packing for Paris, the first two items to go into your suitcase should be your running shoes. Discard all ideas of renting a car. Paris is a pedestrian city; it should be enjoyed as Parisians enjoy it-either walking or riding the Metro, one of the world’s best subway systems.

The next thing to toss into your suitcase is a camera. Don’t be afraid to look like a tourist; after all, if you’re an American in Paris, you’re a tourist. And although you may get quite a few ugly-American stares from the French, you’ll live. If you leave your camera at home, the notoriously haughty Parisians will still detect that you’re a tourist, and you’ll be out of the pictures.

A trip to Paris should be divided in half. The first half should be spent doing touristy things and getting acclimated to the city. Buy a map- the cheap-looking kind with illustrations depicting the various monuments and landmarks. Then buy a pocketful of Metro tickets and a Metro map and you’re off.

Stroll down the Champs-Elysées, the wide, tree-lined avenue on the Right Bank, with the Arc de Triomphe at one end. Go to the Arc de Triomphe. Sip a kir (white wine and crême de cassis) in a cafe high in the Eiffel Tower while the sun sets and the lights of the city blink on. Stroll through Montmartre, the arts district on the Left Bank. Take a boat ride down the Seine. Walk through the Tuileries Gardens. Have a martini at the bar in the Ritz hotel. See a burlesque show on the Left Bank. Walk down the Champs-Elysées again.

At some point, you must fit in trips to the city’s museums and churches. The Louvre is first, of course, but it, like Paris itself, is frustrating-there’s just so much to see. So see the touristy things first, like the Mona Lisa, and browse for as long as your legs hold up. After the gigantic Louvre, the Musée de Jue de Paume is a welcome change. It’s a relatively small gallery with a remarkable impressionist collection. Then for an amazing contrast, go to the Centre National d’Art Contemporian (more commonly know as the Georges Pompidou Centre). You won’t miss it if you’re walking within a five-block radius; the ultramodern structure is 4 stories tall, mixed with low-scale 17th-century apartments. The facade of the building is exposed concrete wrapped in multicolored pipes and ducts twisting in every direction. Although the inside of the museum is very unkempt (especially compared to the city’s other public places, which are immaculate), there’s a fine modern collection and an excellent children’s museum. The biggest attraction of the Pompidou Centre, though, is its large outdoor plaza. The place is continually jammed with all sorts of people-fire-eaters, jugglers, hot-dog vendors, you name it. At Pompidou, the patrons are almost more interesting than the art.

As for churches, the Notre-Dame, on Ile de la Cite (an island in the middle of the Seine) is probably the most famous and is spectacular with its awe-inspiring flying buttresses and sparkling rose window. Also on the island is Sainte Chapelle, “the jewel of churches.” The stained glass in this church is unmatched, and on a sunny day, it glistens like a jewel. Sacre Coeur, on the Left Bank, is a nice contrast with its onion domes; perched atop the highest point in Paris, it offers a tremendous view of the city.

PARIS, PART II. You’ve done the basics, now it’s time to go to the out-of-the-way places. For a taste of a very business-oriented working-class section of town, walk through the eastern section of the city, near the Place de la Repub-lique. If your timing is right, some excellent bargains can be found in this area. If not, you’ve gotten an authentic taste of the Parisian way of life, anyway.

If you want to observe the haute couture industry in action, visit Hermes leathers, Christian Dior or some of the other world-famous designer houses. Also, visit the numerous perfumeries, where you truly can find a bargain in Paris.

One aspect of French life must be experienced: the daily grocery- shopping trip. Walk down any street in Paris and you’ll see men and women carrying baguettes (long loaves of French bread), fresh fruits and cheeses in large shopping bags. There are open-air markets all over the city (one of the best is in the area near Place de la Republique) and bakeries on every corner. One of the most charming groceries is called Hediard, located on the Place de la Madeleine. While the shop may be a little expensive for the average Frenchman, it offers a perfect image of a true gourmet shop and is an excellent place to pick up authentic French cooking products. Floor-to-ceiling shelves cover every wall of this 100-year-old grocery and are filled with special mustards, jellies, jams, teas, canned pates and more. Two adjoining rooms carry fresh produce and pastries and a wide selection of French wines and liquors.

If, during your visit, you feel you need a quick breather from the city, take a 20-minute train ride to the Parc de St. Cloud. This charming park located outside Paris is uncrowded, undiscovered by most tourists and filled with beautiful statues, fountains and green spaces. Last but not least, the most French of all French activities must be enjoyed at least daily while in Paris: people-watching from a sidewalk café. Visit many. Visit often. A seat at a sidewalk cafe offers the best view of Paris. -Aimée Larrabee

IF YOU’RE looking for a place to relax this fall, you can do no better than Hope End Country House Hotel in the western part of England near the border of Wales. Owned and operated by John and Patricia Hegarty (he’s a former lawyer-or “solicitor,” as they say in Britain- and she was a teacher), this is the house where Elizabeth Barrett Browning lived as a child. The Hegartys have completely renovated the property, converting it into a home for themselves and their young daughter. Holly, and into a hotel that accommodates about 14 guests. Dogs and children are respectfully asked to spend their holidays elsewhere.

Hope End is sheer heaven for lovers of natural things. The blankets are made of real wool. The furniture is real pine; the antiques are real, too. There’s crystal on the table, and good prints adorn the walls. Eggs are from the Hegartys’ own hens, and 30 varieties of apples are grown on the estate. Farmhouse cheeses and yogurt come from a dozen cows next door. Patricia Hegarty prepares all the meals herself, and her gutsy, fresh whole-meal bread and bran muffins induce such a sublime sense of well-being that you wonder how you’ll ever survive outside these enchanted environs. Breakfasts include scrambled eggs with grilled mushrooms, thick bacon and other English pleasures. If you’re hiking in the nearby Malvern Hills, she’ll pack you a picnic lunch-usually her trademark hearty brown bread with farmhouse cheeses accompanied by tomatoes or maybe pickled walnuts.

When you get back at the end of the day, tea is served in the upstairs sitting room beside a wood-burning stove, if it’s cold outside. Dinner at Hope End is a five-course affair prepared by Patricia and served by John, who also proffers experienced advice regarding wine selections from his thoughtfully stocked cellar. His Rhones are particularly inspiring, especially when they complement lamb, a cheese course of Cheshire blue and double Gloucester, fresh vegetables and just-baked apricot tarts with Jersey cream on top. A Sancerre from the Loire Valley is the perfect accompaniment to flounder broiled with breadcrumbs and butter. No smoking is permitted in the dining room.

The area surrounding Hope End is rich in history and architecture, ranging from Build-was Abbey (a Romanesque Cistercian structure dating from the 12th century) to Much Wenlock (an eighth-century Romanesque Gothic church that is still standing) to At-tingham Park (the handsome late 18th-century house designed by George Stewart and John Nash). You’ll want to see Condover Hall, a grand Elizabethan house with a Renaissance arcade attached to the back, and St. Chad’s church, which is close by and is a good example of English baroque. Acton Burnell Castle is there to remind us that our ancestors endured much in those dark days of the 12th century before they fought their way through to a civilized world.

Great cathedrals are all around: Gloucester, Hereford and Worcester are the big ones, and Tewkesbury Abbey’s somber presence reminds us of some of the bloodiest battles of the Wars of the Roses. (Civilization was still a struggle in the 15th century.) To follow the architecture of the region, it’s a good idea to take along Nikolaus Pevsner’s Penguin paperbacks on Shropshire and Herefordshire.

When you’ve had enough of the rough past and want to edge closer to the England of the dandies, try Cheltenham Spa, a 19th-century resort frequented by Wellington and laid out in elegant Regency style. Shopping here is excellent, especially for cashmere sweaters.

Hope End is not difficult to reach. A flight from D/FW transports you to Gatwick Air Port outside London. Trains are available there to take you at minimum cost (about $70 round-tripfor first-class) to Ledbury. It’s a long ridebecause train changes are necessary at Didcotand Worcester, but the service is good, andyou’ll probably be too sleepy to care, anyway.Of course, driving through the English countryside is a pleasure if you prefer to rent a car.

Room charges range from $58 to $62 pernight, depending on the exchange rate. At themoment, they’re probably less than that. Forwhat you get at Hope End, the prices are extremely reasonable. Room cost includesbreakfast and dinner. Hope End is closed in December and January. – Lee Cullum


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