Barbara & Stu's Excellent Vacations Great trips we have taken

Generally, we prefer smaller hotels since they tend to be more charming than larger hotels, and usually have more local character.   We try to avoid big hotels with a golf course, as they typically represent a homogenized style of Western resort that does not appeal to us, but often appeals to “accidental tourists”.  We don’t require luxury, though we don’t shun it, and some of our favorite places have been fairly basic.  A fuller description of some of the hotels can be found in the trip notes. Please note that properties change and that our recommendations may be outdated due to changes over time.  It’s always best to investigate current conditions.  There are lots of other places we liked, but these are the ones that we liked the most.




Gibb’s Farm, Ngorongoro Highlands, Tanzania.  Cozy, enchanting coffee plantation with lovely views, delicious food and friendly staff.  We would have liked to stay here longer.

Meikles Hotel, Harare, Zimbabwe.  Lovely rooms, though typical of big city hotels, however outstanding service and food.  The concierge was a pleasure to meet.



Aman resorts   The Aman resorts are so exceptional that they rank far above any of the other luxury properties that we’ve tried.  We still associate the Amans with the sensual fragrance of the frangipani that perfumed our rooms.  We stayed at Amankila, Amandari and Amanusa in Bali, Amanjiwo in Java and Amanwana on Moyo Island, all in Indonesia.  All were exquisite, though if we were forced to pick a favorite, it would be Amanjiwo.  Every detail is meticulously overseen and the quality of the accommodations, food and especially service are consistently superior.  At some places you pay more and don’t perceive much difference from lower-priced alternatives.  At the Aman resorts, the difference is clear.

Regent Hotel, Chiang Mai, Thailand.  Situated just outside the town of Chiang Mai in Mae Rim, the hotel boasts gorgeous grounds, including working rice fields (the rice is donated to the locals) with resident water buffaloes, charismatic rooms, and a top-notch kitchen.   Now called Four Seasons Chiang Mai.

Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok, Thailand.  This historic hotel, located on the banks of the Chao Phraya River, has style to spare, excellent amenities, a renowned spa, and a very competent staff that really strive to please.  You can frequently avoid Bangkok’s atherosclerotic traffic by taking long-tail boat rides from the hotel dock to some of this wonderful city’s major sights.  We recommend the handsome duplex river-view rooms, unless you want to go whole hog and spring for a suite.  The dance show and food at Sala Rim Naam, were both worth experiencing.

Dwarika’s Hotel, Kathmandu, Nepal.  This hotel is a living museum, constructed of antique fittings, carved wooden window frames and doors, terra cotta tiles and much more, salvaged from traditional buildings being torn down and crafted for the hotel in traditional style.  The dearly departed founder almost single-handedly revived ancient Newari craft techniques and the hotel still funds an artisan’s school.  A stunning and unusual oasis in a hot and crowded city.  Be certain to dine at least once at Krishnarpan for an unforgettable multi-course Nepali feast.

Jomson Mountain Resort, Jomsom, Nepal.  An exceedingly handsome mountain eco-lodge in one of the most awe-inspiring natural settings on the planet (the Himalayan Annapurna range).  The views are extraordinary. The food is uninspired but the service is friendly and conscientious.  At turndown, they tuck hot water bottles in your bed to keep you toasty.

Victoria Resort, Phan Thiet, Vietnam.  Inviting beach bungalows with serene ocean views, extraordinarily friendly staff, excellent spa and good food combine to make this an ideal beach destination (at least until they finish building all of the other hotels along this currently quiet beach).

Hoi An Riverside Resort, Hoi An, Vietnam.  Attractively landscaped, plenty of amenities, superior restaurant and some of the nicest staff you’ll ever encounter in one of the loveliest locations in Vietnam.  Outside the marvelous Hoi An, but close enough to enjoy its peaceful setting and the pleasures of the town.



Bay of Fires Lodge, Tasmania, Australia.  The lodge is simple, environmentally sensitive and practically perfect - a place that you would like to live in.  And the meals! But it’s the whole experience of the trek to reach it that elevates it above just another gorgeous place in a fabulous location.

Wakaya Club, Wakaya, Fiji.  It’s pricey, but an excellent value relative to other high-end resorts because everything is included, including liquor.  A bottle of Taittinger champagne in a palm and flower covered ice bucket await you when you enter your room and you can just call for refills of the champagne, other wine and the tasty snacks in the large wet bar in your elegant house-sized bure.  Even SCUBA diving with equipment is included and the dive sites are wonderful, though this is not a place for divers who want to dive a lot.  The staff will transport you to a private beach for a gourmet picnic, leaving a radio so you can call when you’re ready for your ride back.  Upon departure the staff, who all seem to have voices like angels, sing a beautiful song to you while the manager reads a moving farewell poem.  Have a hanky handy.

Cape Lodge, Yallingup, Western Australia.  South of Perth in the magnificent Margaret River wine country, this intimate B&B is a special treat.  Prices have risen since we visited, but we think the accommodations have also been upgraded.  Friendly atmosphere and excellent breakfasts.

Mount Lofty House, South Australia.  Just outside Adelaide in the Barossa wine valley, this handsome estate combines lovely setting and accommodations with great food and exceptional service.  Our travel agent had erroneously canceled (or failed to confirm?) our reservations for our next stop at Kangaroo Island in the middle of high season (X-mas holidays) and the staff at Mt. Lofty managed to get us onto a flight (small fully booked planes so it was not easy) and found us a place to stay so we didn’t miss one minute of our time there.

Palau Pacific Hotel, Palau, Republic of Micronesia.  Fabulous beach resort even if you don’t SCUBA dive, and pure paradise if you do.  The snorkeling from the beach right in front of this hotel is better than diving in other locations.  It’s worth splurging for an ocean view.

Hermitage Hotel, Mt. Cook, South Island, New Zealand.  The mountain views from this hotel are extraordinary and the food was excellent, back before NZ had a reputation for fine cuisine.

York Mansions, Launceston, Tasmania, Australia.  Decorated in Georgian period finery but equipped with all the modern amenities, this is a charming place to stay in Launceston.  Good breakfast.

Hanlon House B&B, Stanley, Tasmania, Australia.  A lovely abode in one of the prettiest towns we’ve seen.  Maxine and Graham are delightful, extremely helpful and cook a terrific breakfast.

The Old School House B&B, Hamilton, Tasmania, Australia.  An unexpected treat, as we hadn’t planned to stay in Hamilton.  The family is wonderful, accommodations have loads of character and the breakfast, including homemade preserves and freshly laid eggs, is worth a special trip.

Prospect House, Richmond, Tasmania, Australia.  This superior inn far exceeded our expectations.   Our accommodations were extraordinary and an amazing value (see notes). The owners and staff were terrific and the restaurant was romantic with scrumptious food.  The breakfast here is so ample (and good), you could probably skip lunch.

Freycinet Lodge, Freycinet National Park, Tasmania, Australia.  Another attractive environmentally sensitive nature lodge in a drop-dead gorgeous national park.  We were thrilled with our premier cabin, the extraordinary setting, the fine cuisine and the amiable staff.

Cable Beach Club, Broome, Western Australia.   Our bungalow was terrific, evocatively designed in Asian style.  The restaurant was excellent and you’re right across the road from the spectacular Cable Beach and near to the charming pearl-producing town of Broome.

Marlin Bay Resort, Beqa, Fiji.  Excellent dive masters, terrific accommodations (beach bures), warm, congenial atmosphere and marvelous food.  Not ultra-luxe like Wakaya (and far less expensive) but a step above most dive dedicated resorts.



Lamanai Outpost Lodge, Orange Walk, Belize.  All the elements mesh into a highly satisfying jungle lodge experience.  Excellent activities, especially all the exploration by water, delicious food, spacious cabanas, exceptional staff.

Turneffe Island Lodge, Belize.  We highly recommend this dive resort if you want to dive the outer cayes of Belize.  We really enjoyed socializing with the fishermen, a nice variation from the usual focus on dive talk.  Best food we had in Belize and totally charming staff.

Biras Creek Resort, Virgin Gorda, BVI.  We celebrated our anniversary during a long weekend here and felt we’d made an excellent choice.  Tranquil cottage on the beach, gourmet dining, water activities and excellent hiking trails around the property.



Hotel Aliki, Symi, Greece.  We have fond memories of decompressing in Symi – just eating, sleeping, swimming and socializing - and especially of the Hotel Aliki, a former sea captain’s house steps from the Aegean Sea.   We loved to linger over breakfast at the edge of the water, watching small boat traffic and feeding crumbs to the fish.   The staff is practically family by the end of your stay.  You can get to Symi by fast ferry from Rhodes or by private boat, the island is too rocky for an air strip.  Once there you’ll find that except for the four or five hours that day-trippers from the ferry are in town, it’s just you, the Greeks and a few other tourists.   We keep dreaming of returning someday when our lust for discovering new places subsides a little.

Le Dix-Septieme, Brussels, Belgium.  There are only 12 rooms, all named for Belgian painters and featuring reproductions of their works.  We hugely enjoyed the Brueghel room and the excellent breakfasts in the gracefully decorated dining room.

Ataman, Goreme, Capadoccia, Turkey.  This gem, with about a dozen rooms, is carved into the ancient volcanic tufa, in homage to the tufa churches and homes throughout the area.  Exit the hotel, turn left up the road and take a walk in the beautiful Goreme Valley with its fantastical tufa spires, many of which are inhabited. As an extra benefit, breakfast and dinner were included in the reasonable room rate, and the dinners were outstanding, particularly the flambéed pepper steak.  Service was warm and accommodating.

Grand Hotel Villa Igiea, Palermo, Sicily.  The Villa Igiea is a former grand estate on the Sea of Palermo turned into a luxury hotel.  It’s simply exquisite with high ceilings, art nouveau decoration in the public spaces and a well-landscaped garden overlooking a small marina and the bay.  Guest rooms are handsomely furnished. The food was equally impressive, serving up the best breakfasts of the trip in a divine setting.

Four Seasons Hotel, Istanbul Turkey.  The Four Seasons occupies a converted Turkish prison, and fortunately shares none of its former characteristics.  Everything about the place is first rate and charming – rooms, public areas, and staff, though we preferred meals at other locations.  It is very well situated within easy walking distance to many of the major sites in this most fascinating of cities.  When we returned to the hotel after touring the country, several of the staff clearly remembered us and greeted us warmly (even some that we hadn’t tipped).

Antik Tiyatro Hotel, Bodrum, Turkey.  This was the first time that we liked a tiny bathroom.  Our bathroom was so ingeniously and attractively designed that it won us over with function and execution, despite a close fit.  The rooms at this boutique hotel are lovely with a spectacular view over the town and harbor from bougainvillea-draped terraces.  In general we found that it was best to stick to local specialties in Turkey (which were delicious), however the continental cuisine in the dining room of this hotel was world-class.

**Note:  Turkey straddles Europe and Asia but we classified it as Europe for the purposes of the site.

Four Seasons Hotel, Prague.  The Czech Republic.  Its location on the banks of the Vltava River with eye-popping views of the Charles Bridge and Prague Castle are reason enough to stay there, if you don’t count the well-appointed rooms, great food and attentive staff.

Covent Garden Hotel, London, England.  Adorable boutique hotel in the lively well-situated Covent Garden area.  All the rooms are decorated differently in opulent style and service is both professional and personal.



Shutters on the Beach, Santa Monica, California, USA.  Shutters perfectly captures the laid-back beach atmosphere of southern California, combined with high quality accommodations.  On our first visit, we knew we’d love the place the moment we saw the rubber and wind-up toys along with the fine bath salts on the ledge of the spa tub in our bathroom.  You get lovely views from the tub to top it off.  Breakfasts are great in the hotel restaurant.  We wish we could have stayed here on the many business trips we’ve made to L.A.

Susitna Place, Anchorage, Alaska.  If you book well in advance and snag the Susitna Suite at this quality Bed & Breakfast inn, you’ll be in for a real treat.  The suite is fabulous and the views from your private terrace are breathtaking, all for less than you’d pay for a standard hotel room.

Maude Island Retreat, Queen Charlotte Islands, British Columbia, Canada

This is an amazing hideaway in the spectacular Pacific Northwest - your own island retreat with lots to do and knock-your-socks-off scenery.  Ideal for families or small groups of friends traveling together, it would be a perfect place for a romantic honeymoon as well. (See Alaska trip notes for details.)

Blue Heron Inn, Yakutat, Alaska, USA   Even if you don’t like to fish, this is a wonderful place to stay, and one of the highlights of our trip. The setting is awe-inspiring and we hated to say good-bye to our warm, interesting and gracious hosts.

Gaige House Inn, Glen Ellen, California, USA.  Fabulous bed and breakfast in the scenic Sonoma wine country with airy, elegant rooms.  We had the Creekside Suite, which was exquisite.  Among the best gourmet B&B breakfasts we’ve ever eaten.

XV Beacon, Boston, Massachusetts, USA.   There are lots of great hotels in Boston and a terrific B&B (Terrace Townehouse on Chandler St.), but we just fell in love with this modern small hotel in the classy Beacon Hill neighborhood.  Every room has a working fireplace.  We enjoyed the showerhead in their bathroom so much that when we remodeled our own bathroom we got one just like it.  Terrific restaurant, The Federalist, too.

Hotel Lanai, Lanai, Hawaii, USA.  When we visited the Hawaiian Islands back in about 1989, this was the only place to stay on Lanai, a cozy log cabin lodge with delicious family-style cooking and a warm, inviting atmosphere.  We preferred Lanai to Maui and Kauai due to its sleepy “old Hawaii” atmosphere and complete lack of tourist kitsch. We suspect the island is totally ruined now with 2 resorts on it.  It’s really small and they built a hotel on the one good, easily accessible swimming beach.  We used to watch the local boys surfing on this beach in the afternoons after school.  Based on the web site it looks as if they considerably upgraded the rooms, though prices are still reasonable.

Goulding’s Lodge, Monument Valley, Utah, USA.  It’s nothing fancy but the setting in magnificent Monument Valley is sensational and it feels like the old West.

Far View Motor Lodge, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado, USA.  Mesa Verde is home to incredible Anasazi cliff dwellings and Far View is the only place to stay within the national park.  Though the accommodations are very basic, we were blown away by the view from our balcony and enjoyed the convenience of staying in the park.  Don’t expect to eat too well in the area.

White Elephant, Nantucket Island, Massachusetts, USA.  Comfortable, well-appointed inn with excellent food.  It’s worth getting a room or suite with a view of the harbor.

Hacienda del Sol, Taos, New Mexico, USA.  Charming B&B decorated in Southwestern style with kiva fireplaces, viga ceilings and native textiles.  We stayed in Los Amantes which featured a separate Jacuzzi room with skylight and garden views.  Prices are understandably higher than when we stayed in 1991 but not unreasonable.  Breakfasts were wonderful and for years we sent away for the locally blended coffee that they served there.  There are new owners and the coffee has changed, but friends visiting recently say that it is still a great place to stay.



Manu Wildlife Center, Manu National Rainforest, Peru.  This no-frills eco-lodge does not supply electricity – at night candles and kerosene lanterns illuminate the dark – and the rustic wood cabins are spare but comfortable.  The wealth of wildlife, homey atmosphere, incredibly accommodating staff and guides and tasty local food make this a very special place.  If you absolutely cannot tolerate crawly critters (ie. bugs), you might think twice about staying here.

Hotel Explora Salto Chico, Torres del Paine N.P., Chile  We can’t say enough about the fabulous accommodations, staff, activities, food and atmosphere of this exceptional lodge in the middle of one of the most gorgeous national parks in South America.

Hotel Monasterio, Cuzco, Peru.  Another beautiful museum hotel, converted from a monastery and featuring treasures from the Spanish colonial era.  Although the public areas are sensational, we found that the basic rooms were a bit small and dark (we viewed about 4 before we settled on one on our first visit).  If you can swing it, the suites are lovely.  You definitely need to get a room on the upper floors as the street noise on the lower levels is disturbing.  The food at the hotel is excellent, and we dearly miss the qiwicha (a local cereal grain) for breakfast.

Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge, Peru.  It will cost you more than the lodgings in Aguas Calientes, but it’s worth every penny to stay up the mountain just outside the gates of Machu Picchu.  The views are sensational and dinner at the hotel restaurant is outstanding.   Plus, you will have access to the archaeological site more than an hour before the hordes begin ascending from hotels and trains down the mountain.  If you visit during the dry season and must see the sun rise over the site, you will arrive too late if you don’t stay here.

Termas de Puyuhuapi, Puerto Puyuhuapi, Chile.  Handsome wood cottages with porches overlooking amazing views.

Hotel Llao Llao, San Carlos de Bariloche, Argentina.  A bigger resort than we normally like, but full of alpine character.  We had a corner room with 180 degree views over the lakes and mountains that knocked our socks off.  Nice base for exploring this scenic region, and if you ski it’s a good winter destination (S.A. winter is N.A. summer).