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Hearty Testimony for Some Special Places : Big Sur's Ventana Inn Tops One List of the Most Romantic Getaways in North America

May 30, 1993|JAMES T. YENCKEL | WASHINGTON POST

My wife and I never took a real honeymoon. We were married on a Saturday afternoon, and by Tuesday we were back at our desks. Maybe that's one reason I've kept an eye out over the years for romantic places to celebrate anniversaries or other special occasions for just the two of us.

Time to share my secrets. I offer my personal list of favorite romantic getaways, in all 16 places around the country. I've stayed in all of them, and my wife and I have spent anniversaries and birthdays in several. They are the sort of spots I recommend to friends--because I'd love to go back again myself.

What makes a destination romantic? It doesn't have to be luxurious (although a couple of places on my list surely qualify in this category), and it definitely does not boast a heart-shaped hot tub for two. Too kitschy. And stuffy definitely is out.

For me, a romantic getaway is a blend of several important characteristics--scenic setting, appealing rooms, an intimate ambience, good dining on the premises (or within walking distance), maybe a few recreational activities (a heated pool is always nice), and just enough pampering to make you feel special.

All of my choices--half in the West and half in the Eastern U.S.--share these qualities, although they range in price from modest to expensive. Some sit beside the beach with fine sea views, and others are tucked into mountain valleys. Among them are country inns and small resorts in Florida, New England, the Caribbean, the Rockies, California, Hawaii, Canada and Mexico. Four are national park lodges.

Western Getaways

VENTANA INN

Draped across the pine-forested hills above California's Big Sur coast, the 59-room Ventana Inn is my choice for North America's most romantic resort. It is also one of the (discreetly) sexiest, thanks to its two Japanese-style, clothing-optional hot tub spas and sauna.

At midafternoon check-in, a cheese and wine buffet welcomes guests, and an electric cart carries them to large hillside rooms of wood, tile and stone--some overlooking the Pacific and others with a valley or mountain view. Our room, in the pricey category, had a fireplace in the sitting nook and a private hot tub on the deck. Just a few steps uphill was a lovely heated swimming pool, always supplied with a stack of fluffy white towels.

During a four-day stay in October, we hiked in the hills and along the nearby wave-tossed beaches, we swam, we soaked, and one day we each signed up for a professional massage. But mostly we relaxed, reading and napping on our deck.

A full continental breakfast with heaping plates of fresh fruit is set out in the library each morning, and most guests carry their trays outside to the patio. The inn's restaurant is perched on another hilltop about a quarter of a mile away from the rooms. You can hitch a ride on a cart, but it's more romantic to take the lighted footpath through the woods, about a 10-minute walk.

A room for two with breakfast and a daily newspaper delivered to your room begins at $170 a night. For information: Ventana Inn, Big Sur 93920, (800) 628-6500 or (408) 667-2331.

IDAHO ROCKY MOUNTAIN RANCH

Comfortably rustic, Idaho Rocky Mountain Ranch sits on 1,000 rolling acres in the shadow of the spectacularly scenic Sawtooth Mountains, just south of the Old West town of Stanley. At sunset, guests gather on the porch of the main lodge to listen to Western tunes, sip drinks, rock in wobbly chairs and watch the sun disappear behind a long ridge of jagged, snow-tipped peaks.

Accommodations are in 17 single or duplex cabins, each with a fireplace. Down a dirt road about half a mile is the ranch's natural hot springs pool, situated alongside the rushing Salmon River. I hiked down every morning before breakfast to soak and watch the deer browsing in the meadow. The ranch offers no organized activities, but horseback riding, trout fishing and white-water floats on the Salmon are easily arranged. We went hiking each day on well-marked trails that climbed to hidden lakes in the Sawtooth Wilderness.

The ranch serves a hearty outdoorsman's breakfast and a sophisticated American menu with a good wine selection at dinner. We packed a small picnic lunch each day to eat beside a mountain stream or lake.

A cabin for two with breakfast begins at $106 a night; the price drops to $90 a night if you stay for a week. Dinner plans are available. For information: Idaho Rocky Mountain Ranch, HC 64, Box 9934, Stanley, Ida. 83278, (208) 774-3544.

KONA VILLAGE RESORT

This is the Hawaii you travel such a long way to see. A most unusual place, the Kona Village Resort is a cluster of 125 thatched-roof bungalows (called hales ) set beside the beach or around a lagoon in the fashion of a South Seas island village. Some are on stilts, but in island fashion, none has a TV, telephone or air conditioning. You must rely on tropical breezes and the ceiling fan for cooling. At night, torches blaze along the stone paths.

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