Views of the Northern Lights above Hotel Rangá. Photo Courtesy of Hotel Rangá.
Want to plan an unforgettable vacation? These destinations dazzle with singular views, dreamy surrounds, and adventuresome exploration.
By Samantha Garbarini, Leslie Long, and Dave Zucker
The jumping-off point for the Amalfi Coast, the lemon-scented town is the gateway to the Tyrrhenian Sea.
From its location atop a cliff that drops straight down to the harbor, Sorrento’s elegant Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria (from $860; excelsiorvittoria.com/index.html) has a spectacular view. At golden hour, the variegated blue waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea turn a dreamy color as boats shuttle into port. The silhouette of Mount Vesuvius looms in the distance, but the tony guests sipping craft cocktails on the hotel’s expansive terrace hardly seem to notice.
The hotel comprises three 19th-century buildings surrounded by lush gardens that conceal a Champagne bar, sleek pool, and restaurant serving perfect Neapolitan pizzas. (There’s also Michelin-starred fine dining on-site.) Beyond, the gates open onto Sorrento’s busy main square, where crowded lanes sell every type liqueur, soap, and souvenir made from the region’s famed lemons.
Sorrento is a popular home base for those visiting Italy’s adored Amalfi Coast. From the harbor, ships ferry visitors to the celeb-favorite isle of Capri and beyond. After perusing the many boutiques and lemon groves in town (and perhaps stopping for gelato at artisan Raki), any itinerary here requires getting out on the water. Access Italy (accessitaly.net) plans bespoke trips along the coast (and throughout the country) for high-profile clients, like Oprah and the Obamas. Charter a private cruise to have lunch at one of Nerano’s famed seafood spots and spend a few hours on the rocky beach at Positano — all with unscheduled stops en route to cool off with a dip in the sea. When you’ve had your fill of sunbathing, there’s more to discover. Day-trip to historic Naples and Pompeii; hike the Sorrentine Peninsula; go wine tasting on the slopes of Vesuvius; or find time to embrace the Italian ethos il dolce far niente, “the sweetness of doing nothing.”
This 37,000-acre resort and working cattle ranch showcases exactly why Montana is called “Big Sky Country.”
If the great outdoors is what you’re after, The Resort at Paws Up (from $2,790 for a 4-night minimum stay; pawsup.com) has got it in spades, with unobstructed views of open landscape and purple mountains’ majesty in the distance in practically every direction.
The resort takes a luxury glamping approach to wilderness living, offering family-sized, heated, multiple-bedroom “tents” at campsites throughout a property roughly three times the size of Manhattan, each with its own lodge for recreation and dining (don’t worry, you can book waitstaff). If that’s still a bit too rustic for you, guests can opt for a “wilderness estate,” a furnished three-bedroom cabin complete with chef’s kitchen, full laundry facilities, Wi-Fi, and a courtesy vehicle to get around the massive resort. Opened in the summer of 2020, The Green O ramps the glamping angle up to an 11, with private two-person homes sporting modern architecture set amid a canopy of old-growth pines and a personal Lexus to get you to and from a private restaurant and your vacation activities.
Paws Up is a fully functional dude ranch, offering city-slicker guests a chance to meet herds of cattle and even bison on a cattle drive, ride horseback through miles of easy trails and across icy streams. Learn to shoot skeet at the resort’s dedicated firing range or take up archery, take a personal tour of the lands by ATV or electric bike, or hit the river for whitewater rafting, fly-fishing, boating, or a cookout on your own private island.
Recreate 18th-century explorer Meriweather Lewis’ legendary scaling of Sentinel Rock by rappelling down the very same iconic lookout. Later, refuel with a five-star dinner at the resort’s fine-dining affair, Pomp, and discover the freshest, richest bison steak available. Pretty soon, you may start thinking that Yellowstone’s John Dutton ain’t got nothin’ on you.
For outdoor adventurers, this pastoral inn is the spot to take in Iceland’s otherworldly surroundings.
In the small town of Hella (HET-la), centrally located along Iceland’s southern coast, the Hotel Rangá (from $860; hotelranga.is) is a hub for explorers of a veritable greatest-hits list of the country’s most famous attractions. Less than 60 miles southeast of Reykjavík, hit up the Blue Lagoon on your way from the airport, then book a tour with South Coast Adventures to explore the glacial Katla Ice Caves, Reynisfjara black-sand beach, or the natural hot springs of the Landmannalaugar highlands.
More adventurous travelers will absolutely want to pilot a dune buggy through the volcanic lava fields of Hvolsvöllur, ride horseback through the hills at Icelandic Horseworld in Skeiðvellir, and hike the erupting Geldingadalir volcano outside of Reyjanes.
For a more relaxing experience, the south coast is home to dozens of breathtaking waterfalls that can be enjoyed from a distance or up close and personal. (We highly recommend refilling your water bottle — you’ll never find a purer source!)
The Caves of Hella, just minutes from the hotel, are a thousand-year-old, man-made wonder not to be missed. Also be sure to put in an “aurora wake-up call” to be notified of any northern lights activity, which can be viewed from the hotel’s small observatory. And if anyone offers you a taste of Björk (the birch liqueur, not the singer), take it. If they offer you fermented shark fin, don’t.
Guests can take in the rustic inn from their personal patios or balconies, or luxuriate in one of the hotel’s seven continent-themed deluxe suites before heading inside for cocktails — featuring an array of local spirits — and a sumptuous fine-dining supper showcasing Icelandic delicacies, like lamb, herring, and even reindeer carpaccio.
County Donegal, Ireland
Walk on the Emerald Isle’s wild side, in one of its most dramatic, least-discovered corners.
Rainbows are a common occurrence in Donegal. The famously unpredictable Irish weather changes quickly, and when the clouds break, the colors arch over the dramatic landscape of overgrown moors, fishing villages, sheep farms, sandy beaches, and rugged coastline. Yet, this region is remarkably undiscovered. Ireland saw 11.3 million visitors in 2019, but only a tiny fraction of those visited County Donegal, along the country’s wild northwest coast. (About three hours from Dublin or two hours from Belfast, you’ll need a car to get there.)
The natural beauty of the region is the big draw — and the best way to see it is with a local. Michael and Marie Gallagher (toursdonegal.ie) chauffeur visitors through the countryside on private tours, stopping to see the fishing boats at the port of Killybegs and the scenic viewpoints overlooking beaches that draw surfers in summer. The culmination of any tour is Slieve League, Europe’s tallest sea cliffs, where you can hike along One Man’s Pass, perched on a narrow ridge above the green slopes and craggy coast. Every bit as beautiful as the more-famous Cliffs of Moher, they’re significantly less crowded. In shoulder season, it’s not impossible to find yourself alone on one of the bluffs.
Set on 43 acres, Lough Eske Castle (from $364; lougheskecastlehotel.com) is the place to pamper yourself after a day of hiking or shopping for tweed in Donegal town. Built in 1861, the castle has been transformed into a five-star hotel with guest rooms that have contemporary furnishings and spa bathrooms, complemented by common spaces that ooze old-world charm, from the drawing rooms set for Champagne tea to the pub with live Irish music. —SG
Bar Harbor, Maine
The perfect pairing: the charms of a New England seacoast village and the majesty of Acadia National Park.
There’s so much to love about Bar Harbor, Maine’s quintessential coastal village. With scenery galore and everything from local crafts and summery clothes to lobster rolls and artisan ice cream, it’s just a five-minute drive to Acadia National Park.
Established by Woodrow Wilson in 1916, Acadia encompasses more than 49,000 acres. The 27-mile Park Loop Drive takes you past oceanside cliffs and through lush forests and other attractions, like the famous Thunder Hole (where water rushes in with fury) and Sand Beach, where you can take an icy dip, stroll, or just revel in the beauty. And the scenic overlooks just keep on coming.
Acadia has 125 miles of interconnected hiking trails for all levels — gentle paths overlooking the rocky shoreline and steep mountain trails for the more experienced. There is also 45 miles of scenic, car-free carriage roads for biking and horse-drawn carriage rides amid spruce trees, pitch pine, and wild blueberries. Cadillac Mountain is the highest point along the North Atlantic seaboard and a popular place to watch the sunrise. Be sure to reserve lunch or tea at the park’s Jordan Pond House, where popovers have prevailed since the 1870s.
Back in Bar Harbor, stroll the half-mile Shore Path. Known for its beach roses, you’ll see waves crashing on one side and gracious inns and homes on the other.
Shop for Maine’s indigenous watermelon tourmaline jewelry at Jack’s on Main Street. Or pick up a Maine-made birdhouse at In the Woods. Whatever you do, don’t miss the unforgettable ice cream at MDI. The ever-changing flavors include Blueberry Buttermilk, Maine Sea Salt Caramel, and Blue Basil. As for the best lobster roll in town? The Stadium seems to top every list.
The stylish West Street Hotel (theweststreethotel.com; from $579) puts you in the middle of all the Bar Harbor action. Just valet or self-park your car, and the town is yours to enjoy. Across from Frenchman’s Bay and the picturesque town dock, the hotel is steps from the many shops and restaurants.
Nautically inspired guestrooms feature blue/beige hues of water, sand, and sky. Nest amenities in Ocean Mist and Sea Salt add to the ambience. On every floor, you’ll find complimentary snacks and drinks.
Take a dip in the rooftop pool (Maine’s only one) or head over to The Bar Harbor Club, where West Street guests can enjoy the waterfront swimming pool, tennis courts, and spa.
Paddy’s serves up modern Irish fare from an all-day menu. Across the street and practically in the water is Stewman’s Lobster Pound, surfeit with all the Maine classics, including steamed lobsters and blueberry pie.