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December 02, 1990|JERRY HULSE

Southern Californians are discovering Timberhill Ranch, a popular retreat high above the Sonoma County coast (85 miles north of San Francisco off Highway 1). Ten cottages with fireplaces, queen-size beds, private baths, terry-cloth robes, hair dryers. And loads of peace. Timberhill abuts 6,000 acres of park land crowded with redwood trees. Features a heated swimming pool, Jacuzzi, tennis courts. The owners tell how Timberhill is a destination for vacationers who want to "drop out and get away--a private place for couples in need of quality time with one another." Guests pack it in with books, light the fireplace and divorce themselves for a precious few days from city stresses. A destination for honeymooners--or anyone else seeking privacy in a setting where guests are serenaded by the sigh of the wind and bird songs. High marks for meals. Dinner is a six-course, 2 1/2-hour adventure. Breakfast is served in the individual cottages.

Directions: Take Highway 1 north of Jenner to Meyers Grade Road and follow it uphill past redwoods/ranches for 13.7 miles. Above the fog. Lots of sunshine. Loads of privacy.

Mailing address: Timberhill Ranch, 35755 Hauser Bridge Road, Cazadero, Calif. 95421. Telephone (707) 847-3258. Rates: $148 per person, double occupancy (Friday, Saturday, Sunday); $133 Monday through Thursday, breakfast included. If you're looking for a place to drop off the world, this could be it.

Dinner Invitation: Another Sonoma County innkeeper is offering a complementary dinner to guests booking rooms mid-week (Sunday through Thursday) for two nights through March 27. The destination is The Estate Inn (a Mobil three-star award winner) in Guerneville (70 miles north of San Francisco). This is an attractive, 1920s mansion with a swimming pool, Jacuzzi. Ten elegantly furnished rooms with European down comforters. Private baths, cable TV, queen-size beds, chocolates, flowers. Classical music in the living room with oversized sofas, a huge fireplace. Activities: hiking/riding in the Armstrong State Redwood Reserve, winery tours, hot-air ballooning.

Meals are prepared by innkeeper Jim Caron, who attended cooking schools in Thailand/Switzerland. (Caron is assisted by his partner, Darryl Notter.) Gifts for guests at Christmas. If you want to avoid crowds, this is a good time to tour the Russian River Valley. Like Timberhill, The Estate Inn is a hideaway for romantics (all ages). Gift certificates available.

The Estate Inn, 13555 Highway 116, Guerneville, Calif. 95446, (707) 869-9093. Rates: $100/$150, single/double occupancy, including a full breakfast. Dinners: $22.50/$30 per guest.

Jamaica: Round Hill remains a special place in Jamaica. Twenty-seven villas (several with private swimming pools). The villas are staffed with cooks, maids, gardeners. On the same property, another building features 36 guest rooms facing the sea. This is one of those resorts where guests unpack and stay put. Privacy is the byword. Earlier, Round Hill was a hideaway for such celebrities as Cole Porter, Grace Kelly, Katharine Hepburn, Noel Coward. A new generation is discovering the resort. (Round Hill is well removed from the island's discos/nightclubs.) For vacationers seeking privacy, Round Hill is a resort worth considering.

Round Hill Hotel & Villas, P.O. Box 64, Montego Bay, Jamaica. High-season rates from $260 double, low season (April 18 to Dec. 14) from $180.

Glasnost: A new series of winter home-stays in the Soviet Union is being offered to Americans. Destinations: Moscow, Leningrad, Tallinn (Estonia), Alma Ata (capital of Kazakhstan). The latter rises in a valley surrounded on three sides by good skiing terrain. Home-stays involve accommodations/meals hosted by English-speaking Soviet families. The winter program begins Jan. 10, runs through April 16. The group organizing the trip says, "Americans will discover the real Soviet Union," and adds that, "There is nothing like a Russian winter." (I can believe that!)

These are 17-day programs. Cost: $2,590, including the round-trip flight from Los Angeles. (Land-only trips also available.) Besides Americans visiting the Soviet Union, the home-stay organizers are arranging visits by Soviet citizens with U.S. families.

Details from American-Soviet Homestays Inc., Route 1, Box 68, Iowa City, Iowa 52240, (800) 876-2048.

For Francophiles: A new club has sprung up for travelers who have a love affair going with France. Appropriately, it's called Club France. Annual membership: $65. Benefits include a catalogue describing advantages/privileges, quarterly issues of France Magazine, a copy of the Michelin Red Guide to France, insider travel news, a calendar of cultural events. Members also receive upgraded rooms/reductions (up to 50%) at selected hotels. Free breakfasts/dinners at others. Welcome gifts, drinks. Discounts for shopping, car rentals, golf.

Details from Club France, French Government Tourist Office, 610 Fifth Ave., N.Y. 10020.

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