1. HOTEL SAN JOSÉ :: AUSTIN, TEXAS
ONCE A SEEDY 1930S-ERA MOTOR COURT, the Hotel San José was transformed in the late nineties into a plush boutique hotel in the heart of Austin's funky SoCo neighborhood. Its trellis-shaded courtyard bar serves Michelada, a spiced beer drink, and the place has blossomed into a hip music venue for guests and locals alike.
Room & Board: Part California bungalow, part Euro urban retreat, the Hotel San José's 40 rooms and suites surround a small swimming pool landscaped with bamboo and native desert plants. Inside, it's minimalism at its best: cowhide throw rugs, polished concrete floors, and streamlined queen-size beds. Concert posters of B.B. King and Buddy Guy decorate the walls, and, in keeping with that theme, rooms come with CD players. Plus the music library has a selection of discs from blues and jazz greats, and other stuff, too.
Out the Back Door: Five blocks north, at the Congress Avenue Bridge, runners and mountain bikers can link up with the Town Lake Hike and Bike Trail, a well-marked ten-mile loop around the water. Work up a sweat in Austin's legendary humidity, then head two miles north along the trail to Barton Springs Pool, a freshwater swimming hole with a year-round temperature of 68 degrees.
Details: Doubles, $80–$250; 800-574-8897, www.sanjosehotel.com
Merribrook Retreat: Merribrook River, Australia
The Pool House at Merribrook Retreat
2. MERRIBROOK RETREAT :: COWARAMUP, AUSTRALIA
ALTHOUGH MERRIBROOK RETREAT, an elegant ensemble of rammed-earth chalets, isn't in the outback—no enormous crocodiles or freaky red-rock formations here—it's still situated in one of the most geographically isolated spots on earth, southwestern Australia's Margaret River region. A three-hour drive south from Perth delivers rolling grasslands, stately eucalyptus forests, and the deserted talcum beaches and crystalline waters of the southern Indian Ocean.
Room & Board: Nine chalets, set among fruit orchards and scattered around a small lake, come stocked with handcrafted soaps and plush beds. Sip a regional sauvignon blanc in the hot tub while watching the resident kangaroos come out to feed. Dawn brings an alfresco breakfast of house-made granola, berries, and local sheep's-milk yogurt while cobalt-colored fairy wrens flit overhead.
Out the Back Door: If not surfing, canoeing, or abseiling, join up with Merribrook owner Richard Firth for a one- to six-day hike along the spectacular Cape-to-Cape Track, an 80-mile trail that winds past coastal limestone caves and quiet beaches from Cape Naturaliste to Cape Leeuwin. Firth forages for abalone and serves it with boutique wines, artisan-crafted bread, and cheeses he packs in himself.
Details: Doubles, $149–$183, breakfast included; 011-61-8-9755-5599, www.merribrook.com.au
Powder Creek Lodge: Nelson, B.C.
Powder Creek Lodge
SNOWED IN: bedtime at Powder Creek Lodge, in British Columbia
3. POWDER CREEK LODGE :: NELSON, B.C.
BUILT IN 1998, this two-and-a-half-story wood-frame lodge might as well be a speck of bark, dwarfed as it is among the rocky 8,000-foot peaks and snow-blanketed slopes of southeastern British Columbia's Purcell Mountains. Yet it's precisely the faraway locale that lures powderhounds to this heli-accessed hideaway and its bliss-inducing environs.
Room & Board: The abundance of windows in this cozy, six-bedroom lodge not only lets in the boreal light but reveals naked guests sprinting between the toasty wood-fired sauna and refreshing snow drifts. Come in out of the cold, hang your sopping-wet gear on the drying rack, and catch the alpenglow glinting off Mount Baldr's icy north face as you sip miso soup and snack on fresh salmon sushi rolls.
Out the Back Door: In this corner of the world, skinning thousands of vertical feet in a day is a rite of passage. Climb and carve nearby Breakfast Runs, a 500-foot gladed drop, or the 2,000-foot descent into remote Camel Creek, and catch views of the serrated Leaning Towers of the Purcell Wilderness park.
Details: A week of guided skiing, with meals and a heli lift in from Kaslo, near Nelson, costs $1,572; a self-guided, self-catered stay is $940; 250-226-7186, www.netidea.com/powder
Mango Creek Lodge: Roatán Island, Honduras
4. MANGO CREEK LODGE :: ROATÁN ISLAND, HONDURAS
EVER SINCE THE NOTORIOUS BUCCANEER Sir Henry Morgan reached Port Royal's brilliant-blue waters in the mid-1600s, Roatán Island, off the north coast of Honduras, has been an irresistible attraction for treasure hunters. These days, Spanish coins are a rare commodity around the island's secluded southeastern nook, but bounty can still be reaped in the form of silver-sided bonefish and black-tipped permit. Find them in Roatán's 11 miles of tidal flats and off Mesoamerican Reef, the world's second-largest barrier reef—both within striking distance of Mango Creek Lodge's palm-fringed dock.
Room & Board: The 26-acre wind- and solar-powered retreat is crisscrossed with spring-fed creeks and tropical gardens and crowned with a 4,000-square-foot mahogany-accented hillside lodge. Guests stay in one of three lodge rooms or three spacious guest cabanas, each graced with a private deck and a nap-friendly hammock. Start your day dockside with a champagne brunch and end it with a grilled wahoo-steak dinner in the Great Room.
Out the Back Door: Let one of the lodge's bilingual guides take you out to land bonefish and tarpon in the flats—or to dive among stands of colorful elkhorn coral.
Details: $1,795 per person per week, including guides; 504-435-2576, www.mangocreeklodge.com
Pitcher Inn: Warren, Vermont
5. PITCHER INN :: WARREN VERMONT
It may be over the river and through the woods, but this stately Relais & Châteaux inn, which dominates the tiny village of Warren in central Vermont's Mad River Valley, is most definitely not Grandma's house. Sure, it's got the classic white clapboarding, broad front porch, and steeply gabled roof, but inside it's all sophistication and fun, thanks to the eccentricities of local architect David Sellers.
Room & Board: The inn's 11 art- and antique-filled guest rooms incorporate playful motifs—the Ski Room's quilt, for example, is a clever patchwork of vintage ski jackets—without, amazingly, becoming hokey. Dinner is served in the formal dining room; the innovative menu features Vermont specialties like lamb sausage and cheddar cheese, local organic produce, and an astounding 580-bottle wine list. Treatments at the inn's airy new 3,000-square-foot spa include hot-stone and couples massages.
Out the Back Door: The town's covered bridge is the starting point for pedaling the pastoral 15-mile East Warren Loop in leaf-peeping season. In winter, head to nearby Sugarbush or Mad River Glen for challenging glade skiing. And for an even greater adrenaline jolt, ride the rocket sled, a strap-in toboggan invented by Sellers, down the closed-in-winter Lincoln Gap Road.
Details: Doubles, $330–$600, breakfast and afternoon tea included; 888-867-4824, www.pitcherinn.com
Hotel Maison de Ville: New Orleans, Louisiana
Hotel Maison de Ville
QUIET ZONE: the lush courtyard at Hotel Maison de Ville
6. HOTEL MAISON DE VILLE :: NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA
As brass horns blare from the Bourbon Street bars half a block away, the climate inside the Hotel Maison de Ville offers the perfect counterbalance to all that jazz—serene silence. Nourish your soul in the tropical courtyard, where the only sound is fountain water cascading, or retire to the bedroom and lounge on a feather bed fit for a Mardi Gras queen. Once you've had your dose of tranquillity, you'll be ready for anything the Big Easy throws your way.
Room & Board: The slightly sloped pine floors and French antiques in the 14 guest rooms, two suites, and seven Audubon Cottages (located on nearby Dauphine Street) feel more Old World than New. If you're in one of the charming rooms facing Rue Toulouse, take delivery of your croissant-and-coffee breakfast on the balcony.
Out the Back Door: Paddle the Barataria Preserve or rent a bike from French Quarter Bicycles ($20 per day; 504-529-3136) and explore the magnificent oak-lined streets.
Details: Doubles, $249–$259; suites and cottages, $399–$699; 800-634-1600, www.maisondeville.com
Palmwag Rhino Camp: Namib Desert, Namibia
7. PALMWAG RHINO CAMP :: NAMIB DESERT, NAMIBIA
Adventuring begins as soon as your bush plane touches down on Palmwag's dusty airstrip in the Namib Desert—a parched moonscape that, with less than two inches of rainfall a year, makes the Sonoran Desert look like Tuscany. The irony: This arid landscape teems with giraffes, zebras, desert elephants, and rhinos. Spend the day with wildlife spotters tracking the endangered black rhino on foot, then wind down back at camp with a wild-game supper and regional African wines.
Room & Board: Opened in 2003 by Johannesburg-based Wilderness Safaris, in partnership with the nonprofit Save the Rhino Trust, the Hemingwayesque Palmwag Rhino Camp—with eight roomy walled tents outfitted with wooden beds and hot showers—is an unexpected oasis of comfort in the middle of the 2,500-square-mile desert. In the lantern-lit dining tent, 14 guests refuel on tasty oddities like grilled springbok and fried ostrich.
Out the Back Door: Sip a sundowner before you slip into the warm Agab Springs near the camp, occasionally the haunt of a pride of desert lions.
Details: $300–$387 per person per night, including meals, wine, and wildlife-watching excursions; 508-653-4600, www.wilderness-safaris.com
Hostería Las Torres: Torres Del Paine, Chile
Hostería Las Torres
Caballeros Unite!: the placid environs of Hostería Las Torres
8. HOSTERÍA LAS TORRES :: TORRES DEL PAINE, CHILE
The 95-mile four-wheel-drive road that starts at Puerto Natales, on the Chilean coast, and ends at Hostería Las Torres, a luxurious yet unpretentious barn-red lodge in the heart of Patagonia, seems to go on and on. But that's exactly the appeal: You've got to work a little to reap the rewards of being here. Nestled at the foot of three 8,000- to 9,000-foot granite towers in Torres del Paine National Park, the lodge offers hikers unparalleled access to craggy summits and glacial lakes.
Room & Board: Rooms in this 90-year-old former sheep ranch, with their cream-colored walls and blond-wood furniture, speak simplicity. After a day on foot, partake of a mud wrap at the spa. Later, head to the octagonal dining room, where the staff serves grilled estancia-raised lamb and vegetables from the garden.
Out the Back Door: Ask the concierge to arrange a catamaran tour on Lago Grey or a horseback ride among Pleistocene-era fossils and shy, llama-like guanacos in the 935-square-mile park.
Details: Doubles, $106–$249, breakfast included; 011-56-61-71-0050, www.lastorres.cl
Inn on the Rio: Taos, New Mexico
Inn on the Rio
Aquatic Bliss: Inn on the Rio's Hot Tub
9. INN ON THE RIO :: TAOS, NEW MEXICO
The Inn on the Rio epitomizes all that is good about northern New Mexico. With its laid-back charm, rustic beauty, and gardens edged by 150-foot-tall cottonwoods and overflowing with native purple coneflowers and hollyhocks, this idyllic bed-and-breakfast on the Rio Fernando, about a mile east of the historic Taos plaza, is quintessentially southwestern.
Room & Board: Antiques, Native American rugs, and hand-hewn beams decorate the 12 cozy guest rooms, each with a private bath stocked with organic soaps and just steps away from the inn's best stargazing spot—the hot tub. Innkeepers Julie and Robert Cahalane make a big deal out of breakfast, with melt-in-your-mouth cinnamon streusel coffee cake, chile relleno quiche, and blueberry French toast, served at tables scattered around the 250-year-old gathering room, with its brightly painted kiva fireplace.
Out the Back Door: Bike the West Rim Trail, a nine-mile doubletrack atop the spectacular Rio Grande Gorge, or head to the Enchanted Forest cross-country ski area, with 18 miles of groomed trails.
Details: Doubles, $99–$129, including breakfast; 800-859-6752, www.innontherio.com
Viceroy: Santa Monica, California
10. VICEROY :: SANTA MONICA, CALIFORNIA
Step inside this cloud-white oasis and you've entered a heavenly urban retreat by the shore. Located across the street from the gleaming Pacific Ocean, this completely remodeled hotel reopened its doors to rave reviews in July 2002. And what's not to love? The interior's cool shades are as soothing as the outdoor lounge pools and comfy chaises. Get a poolside massage after hitting the state-of-the-art gym, followed by a glass of fresh-squeezed carrot juice from the Cameo Bar. This all assumes, of course, that you've torn yourself away from the luxe bedroom, where mesmerizing sailboats float by the picture window.
Room & Board: The 163 Pacific- or pool-facing rooms have large, well-stocked bathrooms, terry-cloth robes, and flat-screen TVs. The hotel's swank Whist restaurant, popular with Hollywood celeb Tom Hanks, serves California modern cuisine—from morel-cream omelets for breakfast to fresh tuna steaks for dinner—in the airy cabanas by the pool.
Out the Back Door: Rollerblade, run, or stroll the nearby South Bay Bicycle Trail for 22 miles, north to Will Rogers State Beach or south to Torrance. Tap the concierge for information about surfboard and bike rentals, sailing classes, and the best sunbathing beaches. In the mood to road-trip? The Pacific Coast Highway is ready and waiting.
Details: Doubles, $259–$309; 800-622-8711, www.viceroysantamonica.com