20 Great Escapes

Need to get away? From Southern comfort to extreme skiing to exotic locales, we’ve got a great escape for you.

Southern comfort. Exotic lands. Extreme sports. You have no excuse not to get out of town.

1. GREENOUGH, MONTANA
Just when you least expect it, images of Brad Pitt fly-fishing in the Blackfoot River in A River Runs Through It pop into your mind. Or maybe they don’t. But when we tell you about The Resort at Paws Up, we know you’ll imagine yourself casting in the seven winding miles of the same river that runs through this unique new hideaway located on 37,000 acres (roughly 430 acres per guest!). One hundred and twenty miles of hiking, mountain biking, and horseback-riding trails turn into snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, and dog-sledding trails during winter months. Hey, what more could a dedicated Lewis and Clark-style traveler want? Grizzly bears and bald eagles? No problem. A private cabin? You got it. A proper meal? The resort’s gourmet Western and eclectic menus focus on locally raised organic produce and Montana-raised meats like pheasant, quail, elk, buffalo, and, well, rattlesnake. The expedition is waiting.

2. SNOWMASS VILLAGE, COLORADO
First to the technical stuff: Snowmass is a massive mountain with an amazing 4,406 foot vertical rise—the longest lift-served vertical rise in the United States. What does that mean to you? It means more than 3,100 mountainside acres of slopes, shots, and stashes for everyone in your group. And going by group is the way to tackle this mountain. Snowmass Village is full of ski classes, so the kids can get their first taste of snow while the experts in your squad take off for the black diamond runs. Of course everyone should stay at a luxury ski-in, ski-out living space, and the new Deerbrook Towhhomes provide the perfect place to crash. The four-bedroom units sleep eight and come fully equipped with all the post-ski luxuries, like steam showers, fireplaces, and hot tubs on decks overlooking Mount Daly. We love the Mountain Explorers program, a four-day exploration led by a pro skier who takes you places others can’t go. And once the kiddies have gone to bed, adults can take advantage of the after-dinner moonlight ski trip from Finestra peak to Snowmass Village Mall. Cocktails required.

3. ST. PETE BEACH, FLORIDA
Ah, the lazy, hazy, crazy days of F. Scott Fitzgerald and company spring to mind when we return to Don CeSar Beach Resort. “The Don” was built in the late ’20s as a luxury resort for the ultra-rich and famous. Al Capone wintered in this flamingo pink Mediterranean sandcastle with Moorish bell towers and imperial turrets, which sits on St. Pete’s sugar-white beach. Sure, there is plenty to do in this lovely seaside community, but we prefer to check in and never leave the lush, elegant, European-style interior—Italian crystal chandeliers, French candelabras and fountains, and spacious suites enhanced by breathtaking views of the Boca Ciega Bay. If you choose, water-related activities abound, including parasailing, paddle cats, kayaks, and two Gulf-front pools. We like to start our day with a spa treatment, followed with a cool, refreshing beverage and a float in the pool, where the underwater sound system serenades our tired souls.

4. CHIANG MAI, THAILAND
No doubt we all like to be treated like a queen. At the Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi, sister property to the world-renowned Mandarin Oriental in Bangkok, you’ll be treated like royalty—13th-century Thai royalty, that is. This magnificent 60-acre hideaway is inspired by the architecture and culture of ancient Lanna Kingdom, with its intricately carved stone and teakwood, decorative mosaics and murals, embroidered tapestries, caste bronze pieces, and museum-quality artifacts. This serene resort effortlessly achieves a sense of history and place without sacrificing modern amenities and comforts. So while you soak in your villa’s plunge pool, gazing out at rice paddies and perhaps a water buffalo, you can listen to your favorite CD on the state-of-the-art sound system. Hungry? Dine in one of four restaurants (Thai, Chinese, French, or International cuisine), or learn how to prepare traditional Northern Thai dishes at the on-site Oriental Culinary Academy. Want to spend some cash? Visit Kad Dhara, an authentic village of 19th century-style shops selling Thai and Laotian silks, cashmere, art, antiques, books, and jewelry. Need to relax? Head to Dheva Spa for the Tok Sen, a Northern Thai treatment unique to Dhara Dhevi, where the specially trained staff, dressed in uniforms inspired by life in a Lanna palace, treat you like the queen (or king) you are.

5. SANTA FE, NEW MEXICO
Okay, you think you’ve done Santa Fe. But if you haven’t stayed at The Inn of the Five Graces, you haven’t experienced true tranquility in this small town that is usually jammed with tourists perusing the shops, art galleries, and world-class restaurants. However, just a few paces from the historic plaza, the honey-colored adobe walls of the inn beckon you inside, where 22 guest suites, some with ceilings of thatched straw and decorated in rich colors, provide the perfect setting for a long weekend of luxurious living. The name of the property comes from the Tibetan celebration of the five senses that grace our well-being: sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. And if the down comforters and pillows don’t do the trick, perhaps a tray of hot muffins, platters of fresh fruit, and chilled crystal carafes of freshly squeezed juice delivered to your suite will.

6. WIMBERLEY, TEXAS
Sometimes paradise isn’t a private tropical island or a cozy log cabin in the woods. Sometimes paradise can be found in a plate of caramel-apple French toast. The plate in question can be yours, creekside in the countryside just outside of Wimberley. More specifically The Lodge at Creekside, a unique Hill Country bed-and-breakfast where mother-daughter hosts Merry, Sally, and Ashley Gibson cater to your every need in true Texas-hospitality style. Momma Merry presides as the innkeeper, Ashley mans the kitchen, and Sally designs the interiors and keeps the books. The property is composed of a restored rock house built in 1920 that serves as lodge headquarters and seven private cabins that dot the 6-acre property overlooking Cyprus Creek. The cottages boast Italian sheets, cashmere-feel blankets, and oversize spa towels. The funky downtown Wimberley shops, art galleries, and restaurants are just a quarter of a mile away, but hey, with whirlpool tubs, wood-burning stoves, cable TV, DVD players, and data ports in all the rooms, we vote for a late wake-up call with room service. Did we mention the caramel-apple French toast?

7. SKANEATELES, NEW YORK
Has your wife been hinting at a romantic French Country getaway? Well, we have good news. There’s no reason to set foot on French soil when Mirbeau Inn & Spa, a 34-room boutique property inspired by Monet’s Giverny, right down to the picturesque gardens and Japanese footbridge, is just 30 minutes outside of Syracuse, New York. Perched nearby Skaneateles Lake, arguably the most beautiful of the Finger Lakes, Mirbeau combines the warm hospitality of a small inn with the world-class amenities you’d expect from a luxury spa, including a classically styled spa lounge (think oil paintings and columns) replete with heated foot massage pool. After a rough day cruising the main street lined with white oaks and pillared mansions or shopping for antiques, unwind with Monet’s Favorite Fragrance Massage, a Swedish massage using a special blend of essential oils made from herbs and flowers indigenous to the Finger Lakes region. Then let executive chef Ed Moro blow your mind with dishes made from the freshest produce from local harvests, fish from nearby waters, and local farm-raised poultry, lamb, pork, and venison. After four courses—paired with wine, bien sûr—you’ll be ready to head back to your hillside cottage and doze in front of the fire.

8. ST. GEORGE, UTAH
Personally, we are content to lie back in a chaise, frosty beverage in hand, and watch the waves roll in. Alas, not everyone is as lethargic as we. Some people must always be on the move, and for them there are resorts like Green Valley Spa, where there are more activities than you can shake a tennis racket at. Speaking of which, the tennis program at this Southern Utah spa is consistently rated one of the top instructional programs in the country by Tennis magazine. Here’s more good news: while you work on that backhand, your hubby can be improving his swing at the Green Valley Golf Learning Center. Then the two of you can rendezvous at the spa for a private aromatic bath and couples massage before heading down to dinner, where chefs Tadd Gunther and Jackie Pearson create low-calorie—or, if you must, South Beach—dishes such as salmon with caper-dill sauce. That way you won’t go to bed too full, so you’ll be ready for some rigorous rock climbing the next day in nearby Zion National Park.

9. ST. JOHN, U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS
Want to get away from it all but don’t want to spend a lot of time traveling? Caneel Bay on St. John is an easy half-day hop from Dallas. Once you’ve landed in St. Thomas, a ferry takes you to this private 170-acre resort where your wish is their command. Originally opened by Laurence S. Rockefeller in 1952, Caneel Bay was designed to be a sanctuary for people and animals. (Rockefeller donated the 5,000 acres of land surrounding the resort to the creation of a national park to ensure privacy, protect wildlife, and provide natural beauty.) Today that tradition continues in high style. The Self Center, with an innovative mind-body-spirit program, is nestled on a wooded bluff overlooking the bay. After a series of stretches, breathing technique lessons, yoga movements, and perhaps a vibrational sound therapy session, your inner energies flow and stress melts away. Looking for the perfect place to propose? The staff will set up a private candlelit dinner for two among the ruins of a sugar mill built on the property in 1870. There are seven crescent beaches on site, each with its own character. Yes, it is possible to combine peace, quiet, and kids at Caneel Bay. Scott and Paradise beaches are reserved for those who wish to hear only the quiet lapping of the waves and the rustle of the seagrape leaves.

10. CRESTED BUTTE, COLORADO
Aspen is where the billionaires play. Crested Butte is—how do we say this?—where the wacky extremists play. Crested Butte is harder to get to than other popular Colorado ski destinations, but we think that’s what keeps this historic town intact and the 70 miles of groomed trails less crowded. In the winter, this funky town is party central. The winter celebrations include the 31st Annual Al Johnson Memorial Uphill/Downhill Telemark Ski Race, a popular local telemark race named after a diehard 19th-century Crested Butte mailman who delivered mail to remote mining camps. Hundreds of costumed participants ascend 600 vertical feet to the crest of the NorthFace, then race down the double-black diamond terrain to the finish. Don’t miss Mardi Gras Mania, a weeklong celebration that includes an all-night masquerade ball. Or the 15th Annual SAAB U.S. Extreme Freeskiing Championships, where daredevils flock to watch extreme skiers defy gravity (and sanity) while they compete for the largest cash purse on the freeskiing circuit. However, we prefer the comfort and convenience of The Crested Butte Retreat, a private mountain boutique hotel with a hot tub on the balcony overlooking the ski runs. That’s sanity.

11. SANTA MONICA, CALIFORNIA
We cannot tell a lie. Despite its sexy reputation, we don’t like LA. We’d rather run 50 miles in the 100-degree Dallas heat than sit in traffic on the 405. But luckily for us, once you reach the charming beachside community of Santa Monica, you can leave that stupid car with the valet until your return trip home. We love to stay at Hotel Casa del Mar, which during the 1920s was the premier beach club in Santa Monica. In 1999, this beachfront beauty was restored to its original glory, down to the damask and velvet draperies, fruitwood and bronze furnishings, and soft lighting. The Riviera-inspired guest rooms are cozy but chic, and most offer panoramic views of the ocean. Though we love a good stroll on the breezy beach, lying in a chaise lounge on the oh-so-Mediterranean pool deck, or wearing out our credit cards on Third Street Promenade, we most often can be found sipping martinis in the Veranda, gazing out the 20-foot-high windows at the twinkling Santa Monica Pier while listening to live music and soaking in the scene.

12. SAINTE-CATHERINE-DE-LA-JACQUES-CARTIER, QUEBEC
Only brave travelers need read on. And by brave we mean adventurists with a yearning to sleep on a block of ice—in a hotel carved out of ice. We aren’t kidding. People come from all over the world to at least visit the Ice Hotel Quebec, which opens yearly at the beginning of January and closes around the first of April. The lobby and 32 guest rooms are an architectural marvel. Each year the hotel is carved out from 12,000 tons of snow and 400 tons of ice. The lobby is adorned with furniture created from ice, and a unique carved ice chandelier hangs from the 18-foot ceiling. Rooms have queen-size beds (yes, ice blocks!) covered with animal skins. No worries: mattresses and sleeping bags make the bed a little less chilly. The walls are adorned with—you guessed it—ice sculptures. A wood-burning fireplace makes the Ice Bar the most popular room. If you survive the night, you can spend the day dog sledding, ice fishing, or cross-country skiing. Or you can stay 30 minutes away in the warmth of Quebec City accommodations and explore the Ice Hotel during when it opens for daily tours at 10 am. Pretty cool, eh?

13. BLENHEIM, NEW ZEALAND
Traveling to New Zealand’s South Island just to visit a winery might seem a little extreme, but Therese and Hans Herzog know a thing or two about extreme. Winemaker Hans, whose family had lived in Switzerland’s Rhine Valley for centuries, was well-known all over Europe for his Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays. Despite the accolades, he simply wasn’t satisfied and left in search of the world’s perfect vineyard, where he could make the world’s perfect Burgundy and Bordeaux varietals. He found it in Marlborough, where he and his wife opened Herzog’s Winery & Luxury Restaurant. Though the region is best known for Sauvignon Blanc (thank you, Cloudy Bay), the Herzogs produce limited quantities of superb Pinot Noir, “Spirit of Marlborough” Merlot-Cabernet blend, Montepulciano, and Viognier, among others—wines so good they had to build a restaurant to showcase them. Therese, who ran a Michelin-starred restaurant back in Switzerland, convinced her chef, Louis Schindler, to re-create that experience in New Zealand. Guests can now enjoy a stunning sunset followed by Schindler’s exquisite white veal lightly turned in pesto served with onion tarte tatin or seared Nelson scallops with homemade asparagus-ricotta ravioli. The Herzogs have an award-winning wine cellar, brimming with fine wines from all over the globe. But most folks drink Hans’ wine, of course. If you can bear to leave, the spacious honeymoon suite at Old Saint Mary’s Convent, a 100-plus-year-old country retreat down the road, awaits.

14. PANGKOR LAUT, MALAYSIA
Good things come to travelers who spend many hours on an airplane. Especially when the destination is the mystical country of Malaysia. Or, more precisely, Pangkor Laut, a privately owned island off the west coast of Malaysia where the exotic Pangkor Laut Resort awaits jet-lagged travelers with unmatched luxury. The 300-acre island is covered with lush tropical forests surrounded by a coastal fringe of palm trees and sweeping bays with white sandy beaches. First step(s) lead to the Spa Village, where a host of Asian healing practices rejuvenate and inspire. (Think a Chinese “foot pounding” followed by an Ayurvedic herbal wrap and massage.) The Sea Villas sit on stilts in Royal Bay overlooking the emerald green Straits of Malacca—the ultimate romantic retreat. Each evening, the resort offers a leisurely sunset dinner at sea: sail along the coast until the captain finds a quiet cove where you can enjoy a four-course dinner. It doesn’t get much better than that.

15. TODOS SANTOS, MEXICO
Just a two-hour drive north of the touristy towns of Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo is Todos Santos, a sleepy little artists’ community. But veer off the main road, following the signs to La Posada la Poza (watch out for stray dogs!), and you’ll soon discover the slice of paradise created by former Swiss banker Juerg Wiesendanger and his Czech-born artist wife Libusche. Juerg is the chef, preparing fabulous Euro-Mexican dishes inspired by his Swiss heritage and Mexican locale, such as lightly fried, bite-size scallops and spicy tortilla soup or züri gschnetzlets, strips of tender pork in a creamy mushroom sauce. The restaurant, El Gusto, and seven suites act as galleries for Libusche’s beautiful, almost alien-like female forms. The inn sits on the Tropic of Cancer on a bird sanctuary and lagoon, fed by spring waters that trickle down from the Sierra de la Laguna Mountains. Relax in a chaise lounge by the peaceful saltwater pool, munching on Juerg’s crispy smoked tuna flautas, or sip margaritas from El Gusto’s rooftop bar and watch some 70 species of birds—the snowy egret and belted kingfisher, among them—lollygag, socialize, and bathe.

16. BLUFFTON, SOUTH CAROLINA
Ah, the slow pace of the Carolina Lowcountry. Sippin’ a sweet tea under the canopy of a 300-year-old oak tree draped in Spanish moss. Sound sweet? Then head to the pristine banks of the May River, where gracious Southern-style hospitality awaits you at The Inn at Palmetto Bluff. For more than a century, Palmetto Bluff has been known as the site where, in 1911, Richard Wilson, brother-in-law of Cornelius Vanderbilt III, built his mansion, Palmetto Lodge. The lodge was destroyed by fire in 1926, but the imposing columns still stand as part of the current design of the inn, which sits on 20,000 acres of pristine wilderness. Nestled between the waterfronts and the forests are 50 cottages and cottage suites designed in classic Colonial style. Sure, you can play golf at the nearby May River Golf Club or bask in luxury at the spa located on its own island oasis, but the outdoor classroom calls us to learn the secrets of the area’s ecosystem, where a two-hour kayak cruise through the waterways is a real-life nature seminar.

17. INDIAN WELLS, CALIFORNIA
The California desert communities of Palm Springs and Indian Wells are no longer playgrounds for the polyester-pants crowd. Today luxurious resorts and spas line the lanes where Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, and Sonny Bono once roamed. Direct flights to Palm Springs make the desert an easy weekend getaway from the winter blahs in Dallas. One of our favorites is the Miramonte Resort and Spa, a Tuscan-inspired village set amidst 11 acres of bougainvillaea-filled gardens and Italian fountains at the base of the Santa Rosa Mountains. Once you’re inside the gates, your dull Dallas senses spring to life with the scents of lemon trees (the inspiration for the resort’s signature lemonade), rosemary, lavender, and roses. Pathways lead you to the guest villas adorned with comfy pillows (a top priority in our book), down bedding, and extravagant bathrooms (yes, terry-cloth robes!). But the real deal here is the newly opened spa, The Well. When ours runs dry, we run here for Watsu, bagno vino (wine bath!), and Vichy showers. The herbs you smell upon arrival are on your plate each evening at Ristoranté Brissago, the resort’s Mediterranean-inspired restaurant. If you must, there is a fully equipped gym, but why not relax during a game of croquet? Wear those pink polyester pants. No one will care.

18. UPPER SARANAC LAKE, NEW YORK
Sometimes the everyday stress in our lives causes us to ask, “What’s the point?” Well, through our crystal ball we see an escape from reality in a cozy hilltop haven, nestled in the woods of the Adirondacks. Oh, it’s clearer now: The Point Resort, a Relais & Chateau property built along rugged shorelines between ancient forests and shining mountain lakes, like those built in the late 1800s and the early part of this century that were sumptuous retreats for the very wealthy and their friends. The Point was originally Camp Wonundra, the home of William Avery Rockefeller. Today there are 11 guest rooms in four separate buildings, each uniquely furnished with original Adirondack furniture, antiques, and vintage books, with panoramic views of the lake. The food? Not your Boy-Scout-beanies-and-weenies-camp variety. The cuisine is gourmet (think spring lamb roasted with fresh rosemary or a bouillabaisse), and each meal is an occasion. (In keeping with Great Camp traditions of the Gilded Age, dinner on Wednesday and Saturday is black-tie.) Daytime activities include hiking, biking, Nordic and alpine skiing, and ice fishing. So cross-country ski your cares away. Isn’t that the point?

19. LJUBLJANA, SLOVENIA
Check reality at the border. When you enter the town of Ljubljana, you feel like you’ve stepped into a page of a Brothers Grimm fairy tale. The uneven, red-tiled roofs of the city push against the deep forests that surround the town. Huge concrete dragons sit atop one of the medieval bridges and, according to ancient lore, wag their tales each time a virgin crosses. In the distance, the majestic snow-capped Julian Alps spring up from the lush woodlands. The Republic of Slovenia lies at the heart of Europe where the Alps and the Mediterranean meet the Pannonian plains and the mysterious Karst caves. From Ljubljana it’s easy to take in the diverse activities this quaint country offers. You can ski in the morning and surrender yourself to the luxury of the Adriatic Sea in the afternoon. Or perhaps take a solitary stroll through primeval forests or the undulating, winegrowing hills. A walking tour through the streets is a lesson in five millenniums of art and architecture—you can view everything from a 12th-century castle to art nouveau-inspired buildings. Artists are drawn to the banks of the Ljubljanica River, which are filled with bustling sidewalk cafes, where local wine is paired with bear salami and cheese. And what modern-day fairy tale would be complete without shopping—real antiques, local handiworks, and fashionable boutiques are steps away from the modern Hotel Lev.

20. SANTA BARBARA, CALIFORNIA

This hip hideaway north of LA has always been a thriving community for artists, cultural events, and winemaking. The annual international film festival (2006 dates are February 3-12) has emerged as one of hottest tickets in the film business. Now, thanks to the award-winning movie Sideways, based on a wine-tasting road trip through the county, Santa Barbara is enjoying a vintage year. Smartly, the Santa Barbara Conference & Visitors Bureau has joined the Film Commission to produce another hit: Sideways Packages. Self-guided tour maps steer you to  12 specially priced area hotels and 18 of the locations from the film, including wineries and restaurants. (Film buffs who revel in reliving key scenes in the movie must snag table No. 11 at the Hitching Post II.) Don’t want to drive? Do it the oh-so-eco-friendly California way with a bike tour. However, we prefer the rock-star approach—chauffeured guided tours with a picnic lunch and plenty of trunk space for our private-reserve purchases.

Photo: Jen Maki

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