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Heart's Journey

March 13, 1988|JERRY HULSE | Times Travel Editor

It's that certain Sunday, time once more for our annual roundup of romantic hideaways discovered during years of travel in a search for places close to the heart.

The survey extends from a charming village in Austria to a tiny speck of an island in the South Seas. Several of our choices have appeared in previous roundups while others are deleted this year due, in our view, to a loss of romantic appeal.

The highest honor we can bestow, Five Hearts, goes once again to Austria's village of Durnstein, a magical kingdom only a few miles removed from Vienna, the perfect choice for lovers in search of a fairy-tale setting composed of castles, cobblestone streets and vineyards that sweep to the Danube.

Romantics settle in at Schloss Durnstein, the ancient castle-hotel where classical melodies are piped to the terrace, a particularly appealing spot in springtime when lovers become captives of this medieval village with its fragrant breezes.

Of an evening, guests dine by candlelight while the melodies of Mozart, Bach, Beethoven and Haydn stir the soul. Schloss Durnstein draws the discerning traveler who is enchanted by the hotel's baroque armoires, its Renaissance treasures and the voice of the Danube. Five Hearts? Indeed: .

Next there is Positano, the Italian village on the Amalfi Drive that overlooks the Tyrrhenian Sea with its little fishing boats and hydrofoils that carry visitors to Capri. As readers recall, my love affair with Positano spans years. Likewise, Steinbeck was enchanted with this village with its rocky paths that lead to the beach and villas anchored to precipitous cliffs.

The wonder of Positano is Hotel San Pietro, whose rooms are cleverly hidden among the ledges of a cliff that dives straight to the sea. I have an acquaintance who is obstinate and difficult to please and even he was charmed by the San Pietro. For the traveler who cherishes aloneness, it is a rare choice. Bored into the cliff is a shaft down which one travels by elevator to a sun deck and a speck of a beach.

The San Pietro is favored by Anthony Quinn and other celebrities. No two rooms are alike. Some face the sea while others focus on Positano, a couple of kilometers to the north. The San Pietro is a place where you can relax, sunbathe and swim. Because it offers no distractions, it is favored particularly by honeymooners. We give it Five Hearts: .

In this survey of places visited earlier, there comes to mind the Grandhotel Giessbach on Lake Brienz in Switzerland, a setting that sets the soul to smoldering, a castle-like retreat that rises on a wooded hillside beside a thundering waterfall. The Giessbach is a rare discovery, one that captures the heart of more than one romantic.

Listen to what reader William Jennings of Pasadena had to say about the Giessbach: "My wife and I spent part of our honeymoon at the magnificent Grandhotel Giessbach. It was a fairy-tale adventure. Each day was a romantic fantasy. We will never forget one rainy night. We were sitting in the lobby feeling the warmth flowing from a huge crackling fire, listening to piano music filling the room with love. We danced the evening away in our stocking feet upon an Oriental carpet beneath a crystal chandelier. . . ."

One may drive to the hotel from the village of Brienz, although most romantics choose the steamer that delivers them to a pier below the hotel, which with its waterfalls is spotlighted at night. To refresh the memory of those who learned about the Giessbach in our earlier report, the hotel has provided shelter for emperors and kings in addition to hopeless romantics.

More than a century old, it rises like a feudal castle on 50 forested acres. Many weddings are held here, and reservations for honeymooners are booked weeks, even months, in advance. A huge clock in the lobby ticks away the hours while cherubs watch from the ceiling. We give the Giessbach Four Hearts: .

Only a short train ride from Brienz, the Alpine village of Kandersteg welcomes other romantics. Cradled between Grindelwald and Gstaad, Kandersteg is a tapestry of towering peaks and verdant mountains, wildflowers and linden trees. There is one particular hotel we have nominated in our survey for lovers--the Waldhotel Doldenhorn, which rises in a magnificent valley between the peaks of the Allmenalp and the Blumlisalp.

The Doldenhorn is a small, chalet-style hotel of immense warmth and charm with a splendid restaurant. In summertime, window boxes drip with geraniums while vacationers sip wine and espresso on a terrace surrounded by wrought-iron lamps. Thick eiderdowns are spread across beds, and a grandfather clock sets the spell for romance as soon as you enter the hotel. The charming village has a 16th-Century church and farmhouses hundreds of years old.

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