"Darling, let me whisk you away to Cary" doesn't quite have the same ring as "Baby, let me take you to Paris" -- or Venice, or Cabo San Lucas. But although "Cary" may not jump out as a destination du jour, it is the home of the new -- and luxurious -- Umstead hotel.
While it's no surprise that major cities like New York, Los Angeles and London boast five-star properties, some of the most interesting and luxurious hotels are in places you may never have heard about. Walland, Tenn., anyone? How about Luton, England? Read on to discover some fabulous hotels in unexpected places.
Porches Inn, North Adams, Mass.
North Adams may be in the Berkshires, but it doesn't have the same cachet as its tonier neighbors like Lenox and Williamstown. What it does offer is quirky urban cool. This former factory town has been quietly transforming itself into a cultural hub -- it's also home to the sprawling
MASS MoCA (Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art).
Hands-down, the coolest place to stay in North Adams is the
Porches Inn, which is just steps away from the museum. The hotel is housed in a series of converted row houses, which have been artfully renovated to have an "industrial granny chic" look. Bedrooms are painted in bold colors and there are plenty of vintage accessories. Rates start at $129.
231 River Street
North Adams, Mass.
Phone: (413) 664-0400
Morgan's Rock, San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua
When people are looking for a tropical holiday location, Nicaragua generally isn't on the top of most travelers' wish lists. But it is the location of one of the most beautiful and secluded eco lodges in the Caribbean --
The resort is tucked inside 4,000 acres of private jungle and has its own crescent-shaped beach. Bungalows are linked via a suspended bridge (like an
Ewok village) and are heated using solar power. Guests can spend their time eating the catch of the day, trekking in the jungle to spot howler monkeys or kayaking. Rates start at $177.
San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua
Phone: (506) 232-6449
Blackberry Farm, Walland, Tenn.
The foothills of the Tennessee Smoky Mountains may not be the place where you'd expect to find one of the most luxurious hotels in America, but this rural area is the home of
Blackberry Farm, a member of
Relais & Chateaux.
This country mansion is set in 4,000 acres of woodlands and remains a true working farm. Blackberry Farm produces artisanal cheese and has its own orchards, organic vegetable gardens, and free-range organic livestock -- all of which end up being served in the resort's restaurants. So what's there to do here, besides eat? Plenty. Guests can choose from fly fishing, spa treatments, canoeing or gourmet cooking classes -- or just relax in their suite. Rates start at $845 per night for two people.
1471 West Millers Cove Road
Phone: (865) 380-2260
Banyan Tree, Lijiang, China
Although Beijing is getting all the attention now, one part of China that is off the beaten path is Lijiang, in the Yunnan province, which is home to a stunning
Banyan Tree property.
With the exception of Commune by the Great Wall, the Banyan Tree Lijiang is one of the few luxury hotels in rural China. This resort is modeled after an ancient village, and features three courtyards and imperial-style interconnected canals. The 55 villas are dotted around the property. Many have their own plunge pools, as well as private walled gardens. The Banyan Tree Lijiang is just 15 minutes away from the UNESCO-designated
World Heritage Site historical town of Dayan. Rates start at $500 per night.
Banyan Tree Lijiang
Shuhe Gucheng District
Lijiang, Yunnan, China
Phone: 00 86 888 533 1111
Iron Horse, Milwaukee
Milwaukee may not be the first city to leap to mind when it comes to planning a fun holiday but it has plenty if you're into beer, art and music. The city is home to
Miller Brewing Company,
Lakefront Brewery and a host of other micropubs, as well as the futuristic
Milwaukee Art Museum. And don't forget the concert extravaganza known as
In September there will be a whole new incentive -- the
Iron Horse. This new luxury boutique hotel will be just steps from the
Museum and will cater to motorcycle enthusiasts. The Iron Horse will feature an on-site bike wash, packed saddle-bag lunches, road-trip maps and in-room storage areas for boots, helmets and heavy riding leathers -- as well as an in-house yoga studio. Rates will start at $179.
Iron Horse Hotel
500 West Florida Street
Phone: (888) 543-IRON
Stobo Castle Health Spa, Peeblesshire, Scotland
As far as Scottish retreats go, Stobo may not have the same name recognition as Skibo (where Madonna was married) or
Gleneagles, but this 19th-century castle is just 30 minutes outside of Edinburgh in charming Peeblesshire.
Stobo Castle is surrounded by a pine forest, and has its own lake and Japanese Water Gardens. Its most extravagant room is the Cashmere Suite, where locally woven cashmere lines the walls. The big draw is the health spa, which has 40 treatment rooms, a pool, mudroom and crystal steam room. Best of all, guests can eat whatever they want. Rates start at £109 ($216).
Stobo Castle Health Spa
Luton Hoo, Luton, England
Most people think of Luton as the secondary airport outside of London -- after all, this is where the
all-business class airline
Silverjet flies into. But the town of Luton is also home to the luxurious country-house hotel, Luton Hoo. Its location, 32 miles outside of London, makes it ideal for a weekend getaway -- or a fab stopover before boarding a Silverjet flight.
Luton Hoo is an 18th-century mansion surrounded by 1,000 acres of parkland, and the stately home was featured in the movie "Four Weddings and a Funeral." After a £60 million renovation, Luton Hoo opened as a hotel in October 2007. The hotel has 144 guest rooms, a spa, swimming pool, tennis courts and an 18-hole golf course. If that isn't enough to keep guests entertained, there's also fishing and boating on the 50-acre lake. Rates start at £162.50 ($322).
Luton Hoo Park
Luton, Bedfordshire, England LU1 3TQ
Phone: +44 (0)1582 734437
The Umstead, Cary, N.C.
Umstead Hotel and Spa is just minutes away from Raleigh-Durham International Airport and downtown Raleigh, but feels like a world away. The resort is utterly secluded; it is surrounded by 12 acres of land, and has a lake and jogging trails.
The land was once part of the nearby
William B. Umstead State Park, and the design of the hotel takes its cues from nature. Plenty of natural materials like stone and wood are used throughout the property, and the rooms have a simple elegance with lots of neutral hues. The Umstead has its own gift shop, which is more like a high-end boutique, as well as a 14,000 square-foot spa. Rates start at $299.
100 Woodland Pond
Phone: (919) 441-4000
Madonna Inn, San Luis Obispo, Calif.
San Luis Obispo, on the central California coast, is known primarily as a hippie-surfing university town. There are plenty of strip malls, student-y coffee shops and cheap Laundromats, but it's also home to the raucously kitsch
This behemoth, just off Highway 101, looks like it was decorated by Liberace, Elvis and Liza Minnelli, and each room has a different theme. "Vous" is part of a trio of rooms (Ren, Dez and Vous) and features a round bed, while "Caveman" has solid rock walls and floors. "Golfers" has an interior stone path meant to look like a fairway. It's completely silly fun -- and makes a handy base for exploring
Hearst Castle. Rates start at $168.
100 Madonna Road
San Luis Obispo, CA
Phone: (800) 543-9666
Christina Valhouli is the London-based editor of
iTravel iShop. She has also written for The New York Times, Forbes.com, Town & Country and Fodor's.