Montpelier Plantation and Beach, Nevis
A quaint Caribbean island. A tree house above Austin. A resort surrounded by lagoons. The definition of luxury as it pertains to travel is changing — and the best places to visit, now, seemingly parallel the exact idea of, well, Neverland. To paraphrase British author J.M. Barrie, these dream-worlds, like Neverland, are magical. They’re not too small, but nicely crammed, with short distances between one adventure and another. Oh, and yes, the added bonus: you never have to grow up.
The following destinations are as indulgent as they come, but have little to do with cookie-cutter, five-star hotels, and everything to do with a sense of place. The surrounding environs are the stars; you’re encouraged to adventure and explore; and, most importantly, the accommodations don’t smother you with frivolity, over-designed spaces, and (God forbid) any kind of seen-it-before boringness. The amenities most resorts and hotels flaunt as luxuries are there — but in a quieter, flawless way that immediately make you feel perfectly at home, yet in a far away land.
Call it Neverland Wanderlust: Herewith, a trio of destinations that will grant you escape from reality, complete with fantastical surroundings, and activities even a spritely Peter Pan would find amusing.
The Magical Island: Montpelier Plantation & Beach
Of all the Caribbean islands peppered in West Indies, Nevis might be the least familiar to those more acquainted with the likes of Barbados and Saint Lucia. A bitty island, Nevis is just a quick 30-minute boat ride from St. Kitts, where you can fly direct from Miami International Airport.
The historic property — once a working sugar mill — has a hundreds-year-old history, beginning in the late 1600s. Generations later, Montpelier was sought by Princess Diana, who took her two young sons on holiday, there. (You would be hard pressed to find a paparazzi on this secluded spot.) Today, the same hotel is operated by Relais & Chateau, and owned by a chic New Yorker — an elegant woman who bought the property with her late husband shortly after September 11, 2001, and now lives on Nevis and spends most days at the hotel.
With just 19 rooms — all are bungalow-style and scattered throughout the expansive grounds, connected by windy pathways and lush vegetation — it is the ultimate off-the-grid place. Accommodations are clean, comfortable and simple. Nothing is flashy or over-the-top. The only sounds you hear at night are the chirping of beetles and the occasional monkey.
The culture of the hotel is the ultimate luxury — a proper old-world vibe that melds Island casualness with British propriety. (Nevis was, after all, under British colonial rule until the early 1980s.) Case in point? Cocktail hour is strictly for guests, and held nightly in the great room, before dinner is served in the adjoining restaurant. The owner herself greets residents, passes canapés and sophisticatedly works the room as if you were a guest in her own home.
With such limited occupancy, your company becomes intimate quickly, and the proprietress acts as the consummate hostess. While evenings are far from fussy affairs, there is a dress code. (Do take note: Island cocktail attire is a bit more relaxed than that of a metropolitan city.) Proper attention is paid to manners and etiquette, and service is sublime — a rarity these days, in even the most established, well-known hotels.
Should you desire a private setting for dinner, request the Mill Privee. A table for two or 10 can be set inside the 300-year-old stone edifice. With an open ceiling and candlelight, it’s a most romantic scene.
During the day, time is passed easily with rum punch served poolside. (Order bartender Kaddy’s secret recipe.) And should you be adventurous in nature, you can request a guided bike ride through the small city, where the streets are filled with locals (chickens, donkeys, too) and you won’t find a chain or tourist attraction in sight.
Your destination — about an hour’s ride, for a novice — will be Montpelier’s private beach. (Yes. More rum punch will be served here; and a car will be arranged to fetch you when you’re ready to return to the plantation.) Of equal fun is a guided hike through the mountains of Nevis, during which you’ll pass fortress ruins, and gawk at the most unbelievable blue-sea views. Your guide, it is worth noting, will likely be a third- or fourth-generation resident of the island; it is also likely that he will carry a cutlass.
Mind you, it’s not for pirate-worthy activities or kitsch — though he will tell you about the island’s pirate-filled history — instead, it’s carried to cut away unruly, overgrown vines and branches. It’s only difference from Neverland itself? The directions. You might go astray if you follow the second star to the right, and straight on till morning. Montpelier Plantation & Beach, 1.869.469.3462, firstname.lastname@example.org, montpeliernevis.com
The Treehouse: Travaasa Austin
When you check in to Travaasa — a hidden so-called experiential resort, high above the hills in a forested outskirt of Austin, Texas — you may think you’ve arrived at a most luxurious adult summer camp. (If you identify with Neverland’s adventurous lost boys, who live in a tree house underground, this is the place for you.)
The concierge will immediately direct you to the Activity Wall in the lobby. Here, you are asked to sign-up for various activities for the duration of your stay. You can ride horses, take a ropes course, find your center during an hour-long guided mediation, take a yoga class, even go the more gluttonous route via culinary classes and tequila tastings. The Spa is about all things au natural, with in- and out-door relaxation areas, and aromatherapy treatments.
The name of the game is disconnection — and spending as much time as possible exploring the outdoors. You’ll rarely see guests with a cell phone in hand, as their focus is on seeking the nearest hammock (they are scattered throughout the property) or finding the rendezvous point for their next to-do. Hiking trails abound — and there is but one restaurant, which offers a most divine menu (including surprisingly delicious vegan options) and an unparalleled hilltop view, not often found in mostly mountain-less Texas.
Your room is where the real magic can be found: Request a second-floor abode, as you will immediately feel as if you’re living in an enchanted tree house. From your balcony, leafy tree-tops populate your immediate field of vision, and the expanse of Hill Country is a calming scene in the distance. There is something about being at the top of a tree that is freeing. For here, your only company is the birds. Travaasa Austin, 512.364.0061, travaasa.com/austin/
The Pirate’s Cove: Terranea, A Destination Luxury Hotel
As a California native, I am used to beach days that involve a sandy beach. For years, I’ve heard friends and family rave about Terranea, A Destination Luxury Hotel, on a peninsula in Rancho Palos Verdes. But here, there isn’t a sandy beach to speak of — instead the resort is surrounded on all sides by water, the ocean breaking right up against the cliffs.
A certain magic exists in this part of the Southern California coast for just that reason: Whether you’re dining at Nelson’s (the more casual cliff-side eatery) or Mar’Sel (the fine-dining option on site), your immediate view is of the ocean; on a clear day you can see right out to Catalina. It’s as if you’re on a boat, sans foul-mouthed sailors and Dramamine.
The resort covers a massively large piece of property, and offers land and sea adventures — including golf, naturally. But as you’re here to explore the sea, channel your inner Captain Hook and go for the guided tide pool exploration; I guarantee you’ll spot a seal or two.
Terranea also offers trails throughout the surrounding areas, and one we are told leads to a mysterious cave. (Rumor has it said cavern was used as location for a pirate film or two.)
It’s also worth noting — should your pirate spirit be less in tact — The Spa at Terranea is above and beyond the best in Southern California. (This, I can say from experience.) Whether your spa day is packed with treatments, or just a mani-pedi, be sure and plan plenty of time for passing an hour or two at the seaside relaxation area. Lounge chaises are aligned right up to the cliff’s end, and during my stay I saw not one — but two — whales gracefully come up for air. I suppose I never was much of a landlubber. Terranea, A Destination Luxury Hotel, 866.547.3066; terranea.com