Top Ten Finds

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside Magazine, 1999 Annual Travel Guide

Top Ten Finds

A Raja's vacation palace in Bali, an eco-retreat in Chile's Lake District, a farmhouse in Nepal — sometimes the best hideaways are the ones you're least likely to hear about

Hostería Ðcole, Chile
"Beware the Ðcole vortex," warned Rose the biologist, a veteran guest. "This place has a way of sucking you in." Just ask the Lonely Planet guidebook writer who stopped by for a 15-minute inspection of Hostería Ðcole, the rambling 25-room backpackers' haven on a quiet residential street in the Lake District town of Pucn, 350 miles south of Santiago. He ended up staying two weeks and donating his pickup truck to the coalition of 38 Chilean and American eco-activists who own and run the place. The walls may be papyrus-thin, the bathrooms down the hall, and the tin roof held down by boulders, but a smoking 10,000-foot volcano looms in back and an 18-mile-long lake shimmers in front. You can climb a volcano or go whitewater rafting, kayaking, mountain biking, horseback riding, or fishing — or just hang out: Ðcole's restaurant (vegetarian with some seafood) is the best in town, and the leafy courtyard may be the finest forum for outrageous travelers' tales in all of South America. Room rates are about $13, or $7 for a dormitory bunk. Ðcole Adventures International (800-447-1483) can book rooms as well as packages including all meals and activities.
— David Noland

Nagarkot Farmhouse Resort, Nepal
Nagarkot Farmhouse Resort isn't the sort of place where you want to oversleep. On clear mornings, dawn unveils a vista of the eastern and central Himalayan ranges, from towering Manaslu to the distant black pyramid of Sagarmatha (Everest). This panorama is the hallmark of Nagarkot, a mini resort community with a cluster of lodges and a few shops perched on a ridge 20 miles northeast of the Kathmandu Valley floor.

The Farmhouse, two kilometers from the center of Nagarkot, is a former home surrounded by thousands of fruit trees; its dozen rooms are appointed with traditional art, huge windows, and comfortable beds. There's a homey restaurant with an open fireplace, a ceramic-tiled meditation hall, and a white Buddhist shrine on a nearby bluff — an ideal place to perform devotional koras as you gawk at the mountains. I took an afternoon hike through the local hill villages, but you also can hoof it down to the ancient Hindu temple at Changu Narayan, about a two-hour walk.

Doubles run $40 per person per night with shared bath; a separate wing has rooms with baths for $50 per person. Rates include three meals. Bring binoculars and a flask of single-malt scotch; sunsets are pretty damned good, too. Book through the Hotel Vajra in Kathmandu at 011-977-1-272-719 or 271-545, or E-mail to vajra@
— Jeff Greenwald

Kahili Mountain Park, Kauai
With the Kalalau Trail and Waimea Canyon within striking distance, who needs beaches? Kahili Mountain Park, a loose cluster of 30 rustic, mostly one-room wooden cabins set in the lush foothills of its namesake, seven miles north of Poipu Beach, is the perfect base for visitors with the good sense to focus inland. The cabins are part of a Seventh Day Adventist school/retreat/conference complex, but they're occupied 99.9 percent of the time by non-Adventists.

The cabins' big windows and airy porches invite kicking back after a day trip to the Na Pali Coast or Waimea, but if you've got energy left, try the one-hour (one-way) hike to the summit of 3,089-foot Kahili Mountain for its sweeping views of Kauai's south coast. Rates are $30-$80 per night for two; try one of the nine cabins ($50 per night) with a kitchenette, a half bath, and an outdoor shower where you can gaze at rainbows while lathering up. Call 808-742-9921.
— D.N.

Seascape Resort, Marathon, Florida Keys
Marathon, halfway down the Florida Keys, has always been a blur of flashing neon, exhaust-spewing traffic, and armies of chain establishments — a place to fill up your tank but never, no never, to stay. But now there's Seascape Resort, an inn of art and calm, with a swimming pool facing the ocean and a little marina just a few steps away. New York artist Sara Stites and photographer Bill Stites transformed the 1950s house, filling the lobby and nine guest rooms with island-inspired accents — headboards hand-painted with colorful fish, peach and mint-green throw rugs, Sara's abstract paintings — and planting the five acres with bougainvillea and bromeliad trees. Help yourself to one of Seascapes's kayaks and paddle out to the nearby bird rookery swarming with egrets and ibis. The Stites will help arrange guided kayaking, snorkeling, diving, and fishing for bonefish and tarpon. By sunset, everyone's back sipping wine and grilling their day's catch, oblivious to the fact that Marathon pulses a few blocks away. Doubles, all with private baths and some with kitchens, are $140-$200; call 305-743-6455.
— Stacy Ritz

Jake's at Treasure Beach, Jamaica
The best antidote to the meat-market all-inclusives of Negril and the hermetically sealed resorts of Montego Bay is Jake's at Treasure Beach on Jamaica's scrubby southwest coast. This collection of eight funky seaside cottages is like a mom-and-pop shop compared with the Wal-Marts of much of Jamaica's lodging. It is, in fact, family owned: Jake's is run by Jason Henzell; his mother, Sally, designed the place with whimsical flourishes such as colored-glass bottles, shells, and bits of tile embedded in the pastel walls. It's hard to say whether you're in Santa Fe, Morocco, or at a summer beach house. But the Henzells have got their island priorities straight: The rooms have no air-conditioning, phone, or TV, but each is equipped with a boom box and a collection of CDs. A central pool is surrounded by a bar, a small beach, and a restaurant, where you can munch on spicy dishes like saltfish 'n' ackee, lulled by the gentle thump-thump of a reggae soundtrack. If you care to stray off-property, you can rent a mountain bike ($10 per day) and set off on one of four routes. Rates range from $75 per room to $325 for a three-bedroom villa. Call 876-965-0552 or 800-688-7678.
— Leslie Weeden

Le Calao Hotel, Laos
In Luang Prabang, it's all about nonchalance. Saffron-robed monks meander the cobblestone streets; kids chat as they ride their bicycles six abreast; on the Mekong River, ancient wooden barges putt-putt by, their crews dozing on deck.

For a front-row seat to all this languor, unpack your bags at Le Calao Hotel, in the middle of Luang Prabang's historic quarter. You'll find hand-embroidered bedcovers, raw silk curtains, and open-beam ceilings in each of this colonial mansion's five air-conditioned rooms, all with a balcony overlooking the Mekong. You can ride in a dugout canoe three hours upriver to climb the Nam Ou valley's limestone cliffs, where you might try to find the rumored fountain of youth in the area's caves, bathe in the Kuang Si waterfalls, or hike to hill-tribe villages. Then Zen out at Wat Xieng Thong (circa 1560) or at any of Luang Prabang's 30 Buddhist temples, visit the world's smallest royal palace, or ... what's the rush, anyway? Doubles are $55, including breakfast; call 011-856-71-212-100.
— Jean Francois Hardy

Deloraine Estate, Kenya
Deloraine Estate may be a relic of the British Empire, but there's more here than tea and croquet. Set amid stables and overgrown formal gardens, the rambling stone house — one of the first two-story colonial homes in Kenya — is as English as Lord Francis Scott could make it when he came out to farm here in 1920 and hosted all the social lions of his day.

Today's resident hosts, Lucinda and Tristan Voorspuy, maintain a string of polo ponies and will take you on horseback through bamboo forests beneath the slopes of 9,000-foot Londiani volcano. You can hike up Londiani (no trails — you blaze your own) as well, or take a drive to nearby Lake Bogoria, pink with flamingoes, spotting lions and greater kudu along the way. And then there are the vestiges of colonial life — tea on the veranda, sherry in the parlor, and dinner in the formal dining room (only a reasonably clean shirt is expected). Deloraine Estate is a 3.5-hour drive northwest from Nairobi; a spacious bedroom and bath with all meals is $200 per person per night. Book through Bush Homes Africa Safaris at 404-888-0909 or Deloraine Estate at 011-254-362-32005.
— Ann Jones

Villa Tirta Ayu, Bali
Tirtagangga (meaning "Water of the Ganges") on the slopes of 9,888-foot Gunung Agung in east Bali is a four-acre water garden fed by a natural spring that bubbles up beneath an ancient banyan tree. Built in 1947 as a vacation palace of the last raja of Karangasem, it's a fantasy of carved gargoyles and garudas spurting water. Indulge in your own raja fantasy by staying in one of the palace's wings, Villa Tirta Ayu, which has been restored as a two-bedroom guest home with a resident cook, guide, and gardener. The garden-filled courtyards, sliding-screen walls, and open-air bathrooms give it the feel of a Japanese spa. Swim a few laps in the flower-strewn waters of the King's Pool, then hang out on your balcony for a spectacular view past rice paddies all the way to the ocean. Villa Tirta Ayu (011-62-363-22049) rents for $130 per person per night, including breakfast (four-person maximum). Or stay in a bungalow at adjacent Tirta Ayu Restaurant and Homestay ($60-$70 per night; 363-21697).
— Nell Schofield

Amor de Mar, Costa Rica
This 11-room hostelry on the Gulf side of the Nicoya Peninsula is surrounded by a microcosm of Costa Rica. Out on the wide palm-shaded lawn facing the ocean, pelicans sit in pechote trees and iguanas slink past your hammock. A short stroll up the Río Montezuma brings you to a series of pools and waterfalls, the place to spot armadillos, toucans, and parrots. Walk to Las Manchas, a white-sand beach with good rocks for snorkeling, or gallop on horseback along the sand. The rainforest trails of Cabo Blanco Absolute Nature Reserve at the tip of the peninsula are within an hour's drive, and there's always the backpacker hangout, Sano Banano, in the town of Montezuma, if you're suffering from a lack of videos and vegetarian grub.

The inn itself is all organic curvy lines, pillars of gnarled madera negra, and driftwood furniture. Sit out on the patio and slather slices of homemade bread with passion-fruit jam while listening to the crash of waves against the rocks and the screeches of howler and white-faced monkeys. There's really no need to go anywhere else. Doubles at Amor de Mar are $30-$60; call or fax 506-642-0262 or E-mail [email protected]
— L.W.

Gold Mountain Manor B&B, Big Bear Lake, California
Unlike so many bed-and-breakfasts that exude Victorian stuffiness, Gold Mountain Manor is a comfortable plaids-and-pine kind of place. This three-story, nine-bedroom 1920s-era log mansion was originally built by a wealthy Los Angeles movie investor. Among the six guest rooms, all with private bath and fireplace, are one that's a converted donkey stable furnished with bent willow furniture and a Jacuzzi, and one with a fireplace made from fossil-encrusted rocks.

The guests are a mixed bunch — bird-watchers hoping to spot bald eagles over the lake, skiers headed for nearby Bear Mountain and Snow Summit. Less than a block away, trails lead into the San Bernardino National Forest, and the Pacific Crest Trail winds along the ridge above the inn. Depending on the season, nearby Van Dusen Canyon Road makes either a great cross-country ski trail or a fine mountain-bike route.

You can go for miles, but the 12-mile trip into Holcomb Valley, an abandoned gold mining settlement, is a favorite. Doubles are $125-$190, including breakfast and afternoon wine and hors d'oeuvres; call 800-509-2604.
— Andrew Rice

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