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Why wait? Book your dream vacation now to any of these five-star destinations, already tested and given the thumbs up by our readers
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Santa Barbara Beach & Golf Resort
A voracious explorer who curates international tours that connect travelers with cultural dance experiences, Mickela is typically not a fan of cookie-cutter tropical resorts. But the founder of Bare Feet Tours and the related blog travelbarefeet.com, felt completely in step at the Santa Barbara Beach & Golf Resort because of its unspoiled Old World charm.
Set on an old plantation on this inviting island forty miles off the coast of Venezuela, Mickela describes the Santa Barbara as “the kind of place you go when you want to get away from everything in the most beautiful setting possible.”
For American travelers, Curaçao is a less sought after destination than its touristier sister island, Aruba (just thirty-five miles away), but that’s exactly what made it so intriguing to Mickela. The former Dutch colony is a mecca for European travelers, and their influence, coupled with the island culture, gives the place a far-away feel. “You have this wonderful melding of food and languages and culture that makes it feel distinct from your typical Caribbean island,” says Mickela. The resort has an airy feel with lots of open walkways, stunning pools and beaches. There’s also a full-service spa, a fully equipped tennis center and excellent restaurants that feature constantly changing menus that Mickela says were noteworthy for the chef’s “creative take on traditional local cooking.”
(Note to golfers: Though Mickela does not own a set of clubs, the resort also boasts the Old Quarry Golf Course, designed by Pete Dye and consistenly rated among top courses in the Caribbean and Mexico.)
Curaçao is also known for its incredible diving opportunities. Mickela even took a detour from her primary travel interest—dancing at festivals with locals—to see what lies beneath the exquisite coastal waters.
If you go: Make time for diving in the island’s signature dive sites—Klein Curaçao, the Superior Producer and Blue Grotto—and try the native dances, the tombo and tumba.
The Sanctuary at Kiawah Island Golf Resort, South Carolina
When Jennifer and some close friends were marking milestone birthdays recently, they left it up to their husbands to plan the itinerary for a celebratory group trip. The guys settled on The Sanctuary at Kiawah Island, an old-style but thoroughly modern resort near historic Charleston. “And the boys most definitely got it right,” says Jennifer.
For Jennifer, The Sanctuary offered a “best of both worlds” vibe—a wonderful blend of retreat amenities paired with proximate urban experiences. First was the five-star resort itself; a four-story building reminiscent of an old Southern mansion replete with creaky walnut lobby floors, lofty ceilings, tasteful antiques and a casual elegance throughout. “The rooms are big and luxurious and everything about the place is peaceful. The food was delicious, the golf was terrific and the staff was the epitome of Southern hospitality, as accommodating as could be.” Another bonus? The on-premises spa.
Then there was the lure of Charleston. Jennifer’s party booked a historic walking tour as well as a visit to a restored plantation nearby. “Charleston’s beauty is so attractive for walking. It’s a city, but not a booming metropolis, and with all the refurbished buildings it’s completely charming. And there is something so fascinating about immersing yourself in all that Civil War era history.” Of course, it was nice to return to The Sanctuary for some pool and beach time after all that walking.
If you go: Visit in the fall, when it’s less hot and humid, and keep your eye out for alligators on the golf course, or “try to keep your ball on the fairway,” suggests Jennifer.
Big Sur, California
The wild California coastline that stretches before the Treebones Resort is not the kind of place you go to plunk down on a beach chaise with a chilled blender cocktail in hand. Which was precisely the allure for professional photographer Andrew Sullivan. His stay—tucked in along a rugged Pacific coast hillside bunking in an eco-minded yurt—fulfilled his quest for the “ultimate getaway from it all.”
The sustainably minded, family-run Treebones also naturally spoke to Andrew’s love of the outdoors. Besides offering up bountiful opportunities for challenging coastal hikes, the innovative resort was a completely restorative oasis: “It’s so secluded, you can’t even see it from the road. Yet you are right there, looking over the water in what I would describe as the most beautiful stretch of coast I’ve ever seen.”
And while his yurt—a freestanding tent-like structure with a wood frame—may have seemed rustic, Andrew says it was quite the opposite. With its gleaming hardwood floors, gas-fueled fireplace, premium linens and a nearby hot tub overlooking the ocean, “you just felt pampered.” Andrew adds: “What appealed to me was its authenticity. Everything felt like it belonged there naturally.” Add the sushi bar with panoramic views of the ocean, the stunning on-the-premises organic garden, and the farm-to-table themed restaurant, and “there was no need to leave.”
If you go: Check out the nearby Hearst Castle. And pack layers; Big Sur is temperate and Andrew suggests several for hiking.
Mövenpick Resort & Spa
As the owner of Massage Envy franchises in Stamford and Fairfield, Eugenia truly appreciates a top-shelf spa. So her raves about the Mövenpick Resort & Spa, a five-star paradise nestled along the northern Jordanian shores of the Dead Sea, and its Zara Spa certainly got our attention.
Eugenia discovered the Mövenpick on a trip—it included stopovers in Dubai and Abu Dhabi—dedicated to researching spa products, so she quickly settled in for a series of treatments: mud baths, seaweed wraps, decadent facials and, of course, the essential experience of floating in the mineral-drenched blue waters of the Dead Sea, a salt lake also called the Salt Sea. “After a few days I was mush,” says Eugenia, “but I mean that in a good way. [My friend and I] were giggling and laughing, we were so relaxed and happy.”
Of course, Eugenia also indulged in the one-of-a-kind experience of sitting along the Dead Sea’s shore and slathering her body with the salted mud. “Having the mud on your body alone is a treatment; it’s so mineralized and concentrated. And then, when you slip into the water to float, it has its own healing powers.” (Insider tip: Make sure you only float on your back. The water is so mineralized it has been known to burn lips and eyes.)
But all that detoxifying didn’t keep Eugenia from partaking in the Mövenpick’s laidback Middle Eastern charms: “It’s a huge hotel with amazing pools and outdoor cafés and wonderful casual dining with Arabic dancing, people smoking from hookahs. I loved the vibe. It was the kind of trip that had me saying, ‘I really need to do more of this.’”
If you go: Book an excursion to nearby Petra, the rose-hued archaeological city known, in part, for its backdrop role in Raiders of the Lost Ark. “I don’t think I’ve ever thought of Jordan as a place of great beauty, but I was so impressed,” says Eugenia.
Curtain Bluff, Antigua
For more than twenty-five years, Jay Feinsod, with his wife, Esta, have escaped the Stamford winter chill to stunning Curtain Bluff, a luxury all-inclusive resort on the Caribbean island of Antigua. Sure, the inveterate travelers have ventured other places, but none has elicited the same devotion as Curtain Bluff, which boasts every amenity under the Antiguan sun.
The short list of offerings includes gourmet meals, deep sea diving, Hobie Cats, paddleboats and kayaks, snorkeling, tennis, a spa, fitness classes, cooking school and kids activities and camps (in certain seasons).
The Feinsods are so fond of the resort, set on a rocky promontory flanked by two beaches, they haven’t missed a winter stay since they first booked a suite in 1986. “Every year I go and say, ‘Now, I feel like I’m home,’” says Jay. “I put my credit card and wallet in the safe, hit the beach and relax.”
Beyond the ease of staying at an elegantly laid-back everything’s-included resort, the appeal of Curtain Bluff, Jay explains, is its sheer beauty combined with the warmth of the staff. Guests are still greeted with cocktails by Chelle Hulford, the wife of its late founder, Howard, a pilot who discovered the place on a flight and made it his home. “They always treated their staff well and you can see it in the way they treat the guests. We are greeted like old friends, people know our name, and it feels special.”
And then there’s the exceptional food. “It’s a shame [that] you really need to go on a diet before you go,” Jay laughs. Indeed, once when Jay and Esta were touring the Caribbean on a cruise, they docked and took some guests to—where else? —Curtain Bluff for lunch.
If you go: Take advantage of the resort’s terrific cooking school, led by the executive chef and his staff. Classes include lunch and a bottle of wine from the resort’s’ cellar.