How do you picture paradise? Soaking in an oak-lined barrel filled with bubbling spring water and marc? Spending the night in a dollhouse chalet surrounded by citrus groves atop the Amalfi Drive? Opening a wine list to find a bottle of Smith Haut Lafitte from 1878? These are no dream state reveries; they’re blissful indulgences that we found in places like South Africa’s farmlands, Australia’s wilderness and the California coast. While renowned havens like The Phoenician, The Breakers and Villa d’Este have sumptuous amenities and peerless, all-encompassing wine lists, we’ve stepped beyond the well-trodden wine trail to unearth hostelries steeped in character, with cellars rich in local finds. While they may not have your favorite Margaux or Napa Valley Chardonnay, at these retreats you’ll likely be drinking, eating—even bathing —in things you’d never find at home.
Les Sources de Caudalie
Resort: This evocative inn surrounded by the Château Smith Haut Lafitte vineyards has been assembled from bits and pieces of the past. The hotel is built with 18th-century timbers; the spa recalls an old tobacco-drying shed. Guest cottages are thick with atmosphere: Iles des Oiseaux (Island of Birds) is built on stilts over a lake. Spa-goers are steeped in wine—literally. Radiant devotees such as Isabelle Adjani and Juliette Binoche come for treatments like the Wine Barrel Bath—a soak in an oak-covered tub filled with the vineyard’s bubbling spring water and marc. Even the resort’s herbal tea, an infusion of red vines, nettle and bilberry, has its roots in wine.
Food: Stylish country food is served at La Table du Lavoir, which is located at the site of an old washhouse—its menus are posted on laundry beaters. The Michelin-starred La Grand’Vigne, its terrace overlooking a pond at the foot of a vine-covered slope, was inspired by 18th-century orangeries. Chef Franck Salein, who trained in France and Japan, creates such exotic East/West fusions as roast duck foie gras with apples, grapes and cardamom.
Cellar: The 15,000-bottle cellar is a Bordeaux lover’s paradise, and most of the finest are present in six or seven vintages going back to the early 1980s. The wines of Château Smith Haut Lafitte, a cru classé Graves, are strongly represented, and date back to the 1878 vintage. Burgundies are also abundant. La Bar du French Paradox, which uses old vines as fireplace kindling, offers rare bottles of the great vintages. At the club La Tour des Cigares, you can puff on hand-rolled Havanas while sipping old Cognac by the fire.
Irresistible incentive: During harvest season, the spa offers a bacchanalian “Pulp Friction” massage using fresh grapes.
Les Sources de Caudalie, Chemin de Smith Haut Lafitte, 33650 Bordeaux-
Martillac, France. Tel.: 33 (0) 5 57 83 83 83; fax: 33 (0) 5 57 83 83 84. www.sources-
caudalie.com. 49 rooms. Doubles from 175 Euros low season, 205 Euros high season.
Hotel Santa Caterina
Resort: A favorite destination in the days of the European Grand Tour, this hotel clings to a cliff atop the Amalfi Drive. Terraces naturally landscaped with citrus groves tumble from the resort’s summit down to a private beach and saltwater pool by the sea. Furnished with colorful Vietri ceramics and the proprietor’s family heirlooms, each room has a balcony on the water. Suites have a fantasy air: “Giulietta & Romeo” is a two-story cliff-top chalet.
Food: The ravishing Restaurant Santa Caterina, where traditional dishes take on an innovative spin, has solid marble and lapis lazuli floors and floor-to-ceiling windows with views of the sea. Al Mare, the open-air oceanfront restaurant, has a regional menu of wood-oven pizzas, seafood-sauced pastas and buffalo mozzarella grilled in the hotel’s own lemon leaves.
Cellar: The 700-bottle wine list is almost entirely Italian, deep in selections from this country’s 16 major wine-producing regions. More than 60 local Campania wines offer a graduate education in Italy’s “archaeological” grape varieties. Several white Fiano di Avelleinas and Greco di Tufos are enticing. In reds, the ancient Aglianico grape is here in force, but Tuscans dominate the list overall. Unusual offerings include Pinot Neros (Hofstätter) from Alto Adige, Malvasia di Castelnuovo Don Bosco from Piedmont and Barolo Chinato, Barolo infused with the bark of the cinchona (quinine) tree. The list is crowned by blockbuster Angelo Gaja Barbarescos and Brunello di Montalcinos in multiple vintages.
Irresistible incentive: Two elevators cut into the rock take guests from the resort’s apex on the Amalfi Drive to the sea.
Hotel Santa Caterina, S.S. Amalfitana, 9, 84011 Amalfi (Sa) Italy. Tel.: +39 089 87 10 12; fax: +39 089 87 13 51. www.
hotelsantacaterina.it. 62 rooms. Doubles from 250 Euros low season, 330 Euros high season. Chalet “Giulietta e Romeo” is 650 Euros in low season and 990 Euros in high season.
Lilianfels Blue Mountain
Echo Point, Katoomba,
New South Wales, Australia
Resort: This country house hotel fringed by English gardens sits at the brink of an untamed wilderness: the towering escarpments, inaccessible gorges and hazy deep blue valleys of Blue Mountains National Park. The hotel’s spa therapists are trained in Li’Tya aboriginal healing and massage techniques that use native muds, clays and essential oils like Tasmanian Kelp, Lillypilly and Desert Salt.
Food: Chef Fabrice Boone’s contemporary French menu at the fine dining restaurant Darley’s is driven by seasonal produce, local seafood and lamb.
Cellar: The wine list offers over 150 labels, mostly Australian, from every wine-producing area in the country. The list includes limited-production Mount Mary Triolet and Cabernet, various sparkling Shirazes and some well-chosen New Zealand selections. The dessert wine list boasts several Australian “Ports,” Tokays and Muscats by the glass.
Irresistible incentive: Guests at Lilianfels are just minutes away from the stunning Three Sisters rock formation. The colors of the sheer rock face continuously change depending on the sun’s angle and intensity. At night, the Sisters are dramatically illuminated by floodlights.
Lilianfels Blue Mountain, Lilianfels Avenue, Echo Point, Katoomba, NSW 2780 Australia. Tel.: 61 (02) 4780 1200; fax: 61 (02) 4780 (toll free only from Australia). www.orient-expresshotels.com; reservations @lilianfels.com.au. 85 rooms. Doubles from AUD$390.
Food: Bosman’s Restaurant, housed in a 1707 Cape Dutch manor house, marries contemporary French techniques to indigenous South African ingredients in such dishes as loin of Springbok and melted foie gras. The restaurant is also home to Bosman’s Cigar Club.
Cellar: Cellarmaster Theo Kurtz purchases fine Cape wines at release and cellars them until ready to drink. So, while the list has more than 320 wines (mostly South African), the cellar actually holds 6,500 bottles of 850 wines.
There’s an impressive collection of Pinotage, as well as Shiraz and Bordeaux-style blends dating back to the 1980s. Chardonnays and Cape sparkling wines are also abundant. Of special interest are the rare wine selections and wines obtained at the annual Cape auctions including whites like the KWV 1930 Muscadel, a 1942 Chateau Rieussec and such reds as a Meerlust 1989 Merlot, a Uiterwyk 1990 Pinotage and a KWV 1978 Cabernet.
Irresistible incentive: This property is so authentically restored it has been declared a national monument.
Grande Roche, P.O. Box 6038 Paarl 7622, Plantasie Street, Paarl 7646, Western Cape, South Africa. Tel.: (27) (21) 863 2727; fax: (27) (21) 863 2220. www.granderoche.com; reserve @ granderoche.co.za. 35 rooms and suites. Doubles including breakfast and VAT from 1,500 Rand low season to 2,050 Rand high season. The hotel has its seasonal closing from June 1-August 31.
St. Martin, French West Indies
Resort: This graceful Mediterranean-style hideaway is perched on two miles of private beachfront, surrounded by 55 acres of tropical gardens. The resort’s translucent palette reflects the Caribbean sky and sea and at night, flame torches light the horizonless swimming pool. French-trained aestheticians pamper guests with such locally inspired spa treatments as seaweed therapy.
Food: At the open-air cliff-top restaurant, Chef Franck Chouette combines lively island flavors with classic French techniques—demonstrated in such dishes as duck breast and confit of duck leg with crispy gingerbread in a Jamaican mild pepper sauce.
Cellar: With more than 12,000 bottles and 400 different labels or vintages, La Samanna may have the best wine collection in the Caribbean. More than half of the 285-bottle list is comprised of red Bordeaux and Burgundy, including DRC bottlings from La Tâche and Richebourg. Almost all the Bordeaux premier crus, and most of the second and third, appear in multiple vintages going back to the 1970s. The list also has second wines from many of the great chateaus.
Irresistible incentive: Every room is on the sea, with either a balcony or direct access to the beach.
La Samanna, Baie Longue-B.P. 4077, 97064 St. Martin Cedex, French West Indies. Tel.: 590-590 87 64 00 and 800/854-2252; fax 590-590 87 87 86. www.lasamanna. orient-express.com. 81 rooms. Doubles including breakfast from $395 low season, $765 in high season.
Santa Barbara, California
Resort: This sultry new resort has an air of old Hollywood. The site is dazzling: a 78-acre coastal bluff between the Santa Ynez Mountains and the Pacific. Each room has its own fireplace and a balcony overlooking the sea. Adjacent to the resort is a scenic hiking spot for guests: The Ranch at Bacara, which includes 1,000 acres of avocado and citrus groves. Not so keen on hiking? Spa treatments with ingredients like lemon-lime sea salt bring the rich local earth to you.
Food: Decor at the signature restaurant, Miró, is inspired by that abstract expressionist artist’s vibrant palate; three of his sculptures adorn the room. Chef Remi Lauvand uses a custom-built hickory wood grill in his California-French cuisine.
Cellar: With more than 500 labels and 10,000 bottles, the cellar contains an outstanding array of California bottlings. There are library wines from Robert Mondavi, Beringer, Laurel Glen and Joseph Phelps in at least four vintages. But the real stars are the Santa Barbara County and San Luis Obispo County wines, including several single-vineyard selections from Blackjack Ranch, Foxen, Ojai, Whitcraft and Jaffurs. The list is rounded out by a broad range of wines from Australia, Burgundy, Bordeaux, Tuscany and Piedmont. Local winemakers host dinners and tastings and Bacara guests have entrée to complimentary tastings at selected local wineries.
Irresistible incentive: The resort’s 225 fireplaces and 26 private poolside cabanas with Internet access.
Bacara Resort & Spa, 8301 Hollister Avenue, Santa Barbara, CA 93117. Tel.: 805/ 968-0100 and 877/422-4245; fax: 805/968- 1800. www.bacararesort.com. 311 rooms plus 49 specialty suites. Doubles from $395 plus tax.
Carmel Valley, California
|Resort: Amid stately oaks and pines in the shadow of the Santa Lucia mountains, this sumptuous lodge is the dream of European racecar driver Bernardus Pon. Each hillside suite has a limestone fireplace, two-person tubs, snug feather beds and French doors opening onto outdoor decks with sweeping mountain or garden views. Rooms have bountiful “wine grottos” stuffed with snacks, soft drinks and bottles of Bernardus Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc—all gratis. Sensual spa treatments employ locally abundant lavender, grape seeds and red wine.|
Cuisine: At the Marinus restaurant with its dramatic raised-hearth fireplace, chef Cal Stamenov’s wine country cuisine glorifies local products. Culinary and viticulture classes are held in the exhibition kitchen.
Cellar: Sommelier Mark Jensen has built a world-class cellar in a relatively short time. Although older vintages are limited to a few Bordeaux from the 1960s, the list excels in Chardonnays (over half from California) and Pinot Noirs (more than 100 from California, 50 from Oregon and 150 from Burgundy).
Irresistible incentive: Turndown service with wine and cheese tastings.
Bernardus Lodge, 415 Carmel Valley Road, Carmel Valley, CA 93924. Tel:. 831/658-3400 and 888/648-9463; fax: 831/659-3529. www.bernardus.com. 57 suites. Standard
Salish Lodge and Spa
Resort: In a cedar and pine forest, perched at the crest of 268-foot Snoqualmie Falls, yet only 35 minutes from Seattle, this remote resort provided the opening shot for Twin Peaks. Each room has a wood-burning fireplace, a two-person whirlpool tub and flickering votive candles. And if that won’t summon sleep, there’s a pillow menu with such selections as aromatic lavender and therapeutic buckwheat hulls that mold to your neckline. All treatments at the Shoji-screened, wood-paneled spa come with a tranquil soak in tubs overlooking the forest.
Food: Each dish conceived by the culinary team begins with a wine selection, and chefs use such qualities as mouthfeel and the wine’s “bridge of flavor” as inspiration. The kitchen also sources artisanal cheeses rarely available in America.
Cellar: Half of the 925-bottle wine list is bottlings from the Pacific Northwest: They include bottlings from top-quality, low-production Washington vineyards such as Quilceda Creek, Leonetti and Andrew Will. The list is rounded out with California, French and Italian selections. A real find is the Vega Sicilia 1981 Unico Gran Reserva.
Irresistible incentive: On Sundays at the five-course country breakfast, the sommelier uncorks a jeroboam of fine Champagne.
Salish Lodge and Spa, 6501 Railroad Avenue SE, Snoqualmie, WA 98065-1109. Tel.: 425/888-2556 and 800/272-5474; fax: 425/888-2420. www.salishlodge.com. 91 rooms. Doubles from $229.