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Il Pellicano – Porto Ercole, Tuscany, Italy

Tuscany’s Perfect Coastal Corner

II Pellicano is one of the Mediterranean’s most wonderful seaside resorts, born of a love affair between an Englishman and an American woman when it opened in 1965 with a guest list that included Charlie Chaplin.

While most think of rolling vineyards and medieval hill towns when conjuring up Bertolucci-induced images of Tuscany’s interior, the seaside-savvy will yearn instead for this tiny peninsula in the southwest coastal comer of Tuscany that juts out into the eye-dazzling waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea.

The exclusive 8-acre compound is com­posed of stone cottages scattered down a dra­matic cliff face of Monte Argentario, covered with pine and olive trees around the hotel’s own private cove. Brilliant white umbrellas and deck chairs the color of the water line the stone seawall “beach.” You can dive directly into the sea here, and guests paddle about idly waiting for the afternoon barbecue, held on a shaded terrace.

Despite its relaxed, villa-meets-country-club atmosphere, II Pellicano matches the standards of a much larger world-class hotel. The service is excellent, as are the wine list and the fresh, unstuffy food, with fish straight out of the sea. The rooms are airy, first-rate, and extremely tasteful, and most have private balconies. And every­where are gentle breezes and the vast expanse of the sea.

Bora Bora – French Polynesia, France, Pacific

bora bora view from ocean to island

Bora Bora View From Ocean to Island

The Pinnacle of Luxury

Welcome to French Polynesia, and one of the Pacific’s most desirable destinations- or even, as the island’s website proclaims with typical Gallic understatement, ‘the most beautiful island in the world’. Even if that’s going a bit far, this is certainly a romantic faraway place that attracts lots of people, and to be sure everyone gets the point there’s plenty of the grass-skirt dancing that has become a Polynesian trademark.

Bora Bora is in the Leeward Islands, 230 km (140 mi) northwest of Tahiti, and now depends on visitors for its economic wellbeing.

The only other commercial activities are fishing and harvesting coconuts, so the advent of tourism has given the island a huge fillip. The locals speak French and Tahitian, but most have a good grasp of English.

Cunard’s QM2 and QE2 – Southampton, England

Queen of the High Seas

In 1840, Samuel Cunard secured the first contract to carry mail by steamship between Britain and North America, and to this day the line that bears his name remains the most recognized in the world. Flagship Queen Elizabeth 2, launched at the end of the 1960s, was the last great ocean liner built for the rough north Atlantic, and for more than 30 years was the only ship sailing that route on a regular schedule. The 1,791-passenger ship is a treasure, an anachronism of luxury, strength, and speed in an age of more prosaic cruise ships, delivering a nostalgic six-day crossing full of white-glove service, informal lectures, time spent in the spa or library, and much gazing out over the rail at the never-ending sea.

In 2003, QE2 sailed her last transatlantic season, replaced on the route by younger sibling Queen Mary 2. Billed as the largest, longest, widest, tallest passenger ship ever— more than twice the size of QE2 and more than three times the size of the legendary Titanic—QM2 is also the first real ocean liner built in more than three decades. The onboard ambience she’ll offer is more Y2K than fin de siècle, with a shipboard plane­tarium, a spa run by Canyon Ranch, and a restaurant overseen by chef/restaurateur Todd English. Expect a large dose of golden-age steamship aura mixed into the modernity, including a lounge designed to resemble London’s Kew Gardens, wooden deck chairs and thick blankets, and one of the original Queen Mary’s whistles mounted on her funnel, audible up to 10 miles away. You can literally hear the future coming.

Tea at the Ritz – London, England

A Civilized Ritual Steeped in Tradition

Ante of kings and commoners alike, tea is taken in every little hamlet across the British Isles. But nowhere is it served with more reverence or flair than at the Ritz, the grand old-world icon that sets the standard for Britain’s most sacrosanct tradition. The quintessentially British rite can be traced back more than 150 years, to Anna, Seventh Duchess of Bedford, who would suffer from fainting spells from late-afternoon “pangs of hunger,” and—well, the rest is history. Purists swear by the Ritz, whose dazzling Versailles-inspired setting (and queues) provide an unforgettable glimpse of life at the top. (Brown’s and Claridge’s run neck- and-neck for second place.)

Promising as much pomp and circumstance as the changing of the guard, the etiquette and rules of afternoon tea appear at their stylized best in the Ritz’s rococo Palm Court: tables are draped in crisp linen tablecloths and covered with fine bone china and a silver triple-tier stand of goodies. Dainty finger sandwiches complement warm scones, homemade strawberry jam, and clotted cream, as well as an array of bite-size tea cakes and fancy sweets that permit the pastry chefs to show off their talents. Finish it all and you’ll understand why the thought of dinner is enticing—only if it’s tomorrow’s.

Since its creation by the great impresario Cesar Ritz in 1906, stepping into the Palm Court is like stepping back into Edwardian England—especially following renovations that have freshened up the grande dame’s over-the-top gilt-and-mirrors glamour. They’re not exaggerating when they suggest booking one month in advance for a Saturday afternoon table, and men dare not show up without jacket and tie—the Ritz still puts on the ritz.

Amelia Island – Florida, U. S. A.

Bypassed by Time, Sweetened by Modern-Day Luxury

On tiny Amelia Island, the past and present coexist in a very unusual way. At its northern end, Fernandina Beach, the island’s only town, revolves lazily around a fifty-block nucleus that is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, and features some of the nation’s finest exam­ples of Queen Anne, Victorian, and Italianate mansions. In total, more than 450 historic buildings were built here before 1927, tes­timony of the island’s glory days when it played vacation home to wintering socialites with names like Goodyear, Pulitzer, and Car­negie. The cobbled (and aptly named) Centre Street is the island’s most appealing stretch, lined with galleries, bed-and- breakfasts, and turn-of-the- century eateries, and is reason­ably free of tourist kitsch. The wonderfully atmospheric Palace Saloon stands along this street; built in 1878, it bills itself as Florida’s oldest watering hole and is still a perennial favorite with local fishermen and visiting golfers alike. It’s one of the town’s unofficial headquarters during the yearly Shrimp Festival, the island’s biggest and most enjoy­able event.

The 13-mile long island is one of the few places left in Florida where you can still ride horseback on the beach—an exhilarating expe­rience of wind, surf, and ospreys. One of the choicest and most pristine stretches of beach belongs to The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island, whose guest rooms all enjoy enviable views and perfect sunrises. Considered by many to be one of the finest resorts in the South, The Ritz- Carlton offers golf, tennis, Southern hospitality, and exceptional dining in its award-winning restaurant, The Grill, proving that Amelia Island is, once again, the ultimate playground for island lovers with cash to spare.

The Golden Door – Escondido, California, U.S.A.

The Spa of All Spas

Check your skepticism at the door and leave behind your eight-day weeks of cell phones, business dinners, nannies, deadlines, and insomnia.

Founded in 1958 by spa doyen Deborah Szekely of Mexico’s Rancho La Puerta spa, the Golden Door was the first wellness retreat to combine nascent American fitness concepts with European body treatments that have since become the gold standard.

Consistently rated among the finest spas in the land, the Golden Door’s 344 gorgeous acres accommodate just forty guests and are designed in a Japanese style, with meticulously trimmed greenery, meditative sand gardens, elevated wooden paths, and koi ponds.

Guests (women only except during four annual co-ed weeks and five for men only) spend almost all their time outdoors communing with nature while bliss­fully tuning out for the duration of their Sunday-to-Sunday stay.

All accommodations in the elegantly rustic ryokan-style Japanese inn are spare, serene, single occupancy to honor personal space. Four staff members to every guest ensure serious pampering.

Each guest is assigned a personal fitness trainer who tailors a daily schedule according to individual preferences and fitness and health needs. Begin your day with a sunrise hike or breakfast in bed, then relax at midafternoon with an hour-long mas­sage in your room.

A highlight of the week’s stay is the trailblazing cuisine. The Golden Door’s menu is low in fat and salt, yet sac­rifices nothing in flavor with most of its ingredients picked from their own organic garden.

Before you turn in, take a soak in a hot tub, followed by ki-atsu massage, the Golden Door’s own version of watsu.

Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa – Phoenix, Arizona, U.S.A.

A Wrightian Legend

The only surviving hotel in the world in whose design Frank Lloyd Wright participated, the Arizona Biltmore is a historic temple to good times.

It’s one of America’s oldest resort hotels (it opened in 1929′ just minutes before the stock market crash), built by Albert Chase McArthur, an Oak Park apprentice to Frank Lloyd Wright, to whom its design is often erroneously credited.

In fact, Wright acted only as a consultant on the project, but the spirit of the master designer is so evident, and so powerful, that it no longer really matters who built it.

Set in 39 lush acres (groomed by some thirty full-time gardeners) and now surrounded by Phoenix sprawl, this historic hotel garners high marks with modern-day trend seekers. A large hotel that feels intimate, the Biltmore is luxury all the way, lying at the end of a palm-lined drive that breathes with unforced relaxation. The staff is a joy, too.

Wake-up calls are made by real human beings, and room service is delivered by a smiling attendant riding a three-wheel bicycle. Harpo Marx and his bride honey-mooned here; so did Ronald and Nancy Reagan.

And it’s not hard to imagine one-time guest Marilyn Monroe frolicking in the original Hollywood-esque cabana-lined Catalina Pool, built when Chicago chewing-gum king William Wrigley Jr. owned the place.

What: hotel.
Where: 2400 Missouri Ave. Tel 800-950-0086 or 602-955-6600. fax 602-381-7600; reservations@arizonabiltmore.com; www.arizonabiltmore.com.
Cost: doubles from $195 (low season), from $395 (high season).
Best Times: Sept-Apr for good weather.

Cliveden – Taplow, Berkshire, England

Weekend Guests of the Astors

As surprisingly comfortable as it is overwhelmingly grand, this National Trust property is England’s most majestic country-house hotel.

Even adjectives like “spectacular” and “magnificent” seem inadequate amid the aristocratic proportions of the Italianate villa, much of whose present-day character reflects three generations of Astors (preceded by one Prince of Wales, among others), who lived here until 1966. (In the 1960s Cliveden was also the setting of the infamous Profumo scandal that led to the collapse of the Conservative government in 1964.)

A dinner in the excellent restaurant Waldo’s is reason enough to drive from London, though as an overnight guest you’ll have the luxury of working it off on the hotel’s 376 acres of riding paths or jogging trails.

Overlooking the River Thames, 15-foot-high windows afford views of the hotel’s antique boats, including Nancy Astor’s silent electric canoe. Piloted by uniformed boatmen, these are available for predinner Champagne cruises or picnics with large hampers of food furnished by the hotel.

Take pleasure in the formal gardens, drawing room fires, tailcoated footmen, chandeliered dining rooms, and palpable air of exclusivity, but what you may enjoy most is the royal treatment extended even to titleless guests.

Cliveden was built in 1666 by the Second Duke of Buckingham.

What: hotel, restaurant.
Where: 10 miles/ 16 km northwest of Windsor.
Tel: 4411628-668-561, fax 44/1628-661-837 ; reservations@clivedenhouse.co.uk; www.clivedenhouse.co.uk
Cost: doubles from $320. Prix fixe dinner at Waldo’s $75.
When: dinner only daily.