Halekulani Hotel Courtesy Halekulani Hotel
For the Couple
Buenaventura, Panama With all the colonial romance you’d find in San Juan (terra-cotta ceilings, stucco archways, winding paths lined in fragrant trees) and a bit of Nicaragua’s exoticism (thatched-roof huts, empty beaches), the town of Buenaventura, on the Pacific Ocean, is ideal for leisure à deux. Stay at the Bristol Buenaventura, which has 109 rooms, six restaurants, and a beach bar, and spend your days sunbathing, golfing, horseback riding, fishing, and snorkeling (507-908-3333; doubles from $395). Include an afternoon on Ancon Expeditions’ Panama Canal Rainforest Boat Adventure, exploring the wildlife along the famous—and currently expanding—canal (507-269-9415; $110 per person). Be sure to check out what’s happening in bustling Panama City: Join the city’s beautiful people at play at the Trump Ocean Club (507-215-8800; doubles from $239), or settle into cozy Casa del Horno, an eight-suite bakery turned hotel with views of the white twin-towered Metropolitan Cathedral (507-212-0052; doubles from $250). Eat pork sticky buns and shrimp curry at Elephant Grill, one of the hottest restaurants in town (Calle Uruguay, Bella Vista; 507-264-5652; entrées from $30).
For the Surfer
Los Cerritos, Todos Santos, Mexico Swell seekers of every stripe pine for this Baja Sur stretch: The waves to the north are big enough for pros, while wave riders just starting out head south (go far enough and you’ll end up at an area dubbed the “kiddie pool”). A five-minute drive north of Los Cerritos, Rancho Pescadero, a so-called surf ranch, has beach-chic rooms and a killer coffee shop. Newbies can sign up there for tutelage near the famously huge breaks of San Pedrito (52-612-135-5849; doubles from $200). If you’re looking for a challenge, Mario Beceril takes students to areas that are not on the map (52-612-142-6156; from $150 for a full day). At sunset, surfers and locals mingle over margaritas and burritos at La Esquina, where they plan the next morning’s surf schedule (Calle Topete and Horizonte).
For the Francophile
La Baule, France Though famous, the beaches of the French Riviera are hardly impressive: Most are small, pebbly stretches backed by towns chockablock with boxy cement resorts. Which is what makes La Baule, in Brittany, so notable. The largest sand beach in Europe, it stretches seven miles alongside quaint towns, old-fashioned hotels, and bistros serving just-caught fish to old-money families who have been coming here for decades—think the Hamptons of Paris with the ambience of Tender Is the Night. The hotel to try is Castel Marie-Louise, a Belle Époque beach-front manor (33-2-40-11-48-38; doubles from $247). Drive ten minutes inland to Grand Brière—a protected marshland with traditional thatched homes, canoes for tootling down canals, and amazing birding—and have lunch at the charming, modernized La Mare aux Oiseaux inn (44720 St-Joachim; 33-2-40-88-53-01; prix fixe, $75).
For the Nervous Wreck
Kai Bae Beach, Koh Chang, Thailand The hyperactively stressed will find refuge on Thailand’s Koh Chang, or Elephant Island, at the Chill Resort & Spa. The name may make you cringe, but the place certainly won’t. “It’s a hotel for hoteliers,” says travel specialist Sandy Ferguson, “where industry guys go to get away from it all.” With simple rooms and a little café on a remote beach, it has sailboats and Para-Sails for rent, as well as motorcycles for exploring the tiny island. On the eastern side of the Gulf of Siam, Koh Chang has the country’s best summer weather—breezy and hot, with brief afternoon showers— and is a four-hour drive from Bangkok and a 40-minute ferry ride from Khlong Yai (66-39-552-555).
For the Swimmer
Waikiki and the North Shore, Oahu Waikiki Beach isn’t exactly a hidden gem, but its classic hotel palace, the Halekulani, has just had a major overhaul: Rooms are brighter and whiter, and the spa and restaurant have been reborn (808-923-2311; doubles from $465). Devote a day or two to spending time in the water and people-watching along the bustling strand. Then drive to the North Shore, where the beaches are backed by hills so green that they look almost Irish. In summer, the sea is calm and flat—great for long, leisurely swims (it’s so rough in winter that only experienced surfers venture in). All that exercise will make you hungry: For lunch, try Sakai of Hawaii, opening in July at the DFS Waikiki shopping center; it’s the first café outside Japan for Iron Chef Hiroyuki Sakai, famed for such French-inspired creations as pâté-filled choux and plum granitas (330 Royal Hawaiian Ave.; phone and prices unavailable at press time). Have dinner at hot pop-up restaurant The Pig and the Lady—the prix-fixe menu’s standouts are the noodle dishes, especially hu tei, a bowl of homemade rice noodles in broth loaded with shrimp and pork (prix fixe, $55).
By Eimear Lynch and John Wogan June 2012 Issue
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