RPT-Travel Picks: Top 10 nature breaks around the world

Fri Nov 16, 2012 9:48am EST

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    LONDON, Nov 16 (Reuters) - Escape big-city stress with a
chilled-out back-to-nature break. Boutique hotel experts Mr &
Mrs Smith (www.mrandmrssmith.com) suggest 10 of the best
getaways for unwinding in style, from relaxing rural retreats to
snow-blessed mountain hideaways and simple seaside sanctuaries.
1.  Wilderness wonders
    Wolgan Valley Resort & Spa, Blue Mountains, Australia
    Just a scenic three-hour drive from Sydney, all-inclusive
Wolgan Valley Resort & Spa in the Blue Mountains offers an
iconic Australian country experience. Set in 4,000 acres of
jaw-dropping, pristine wilderness, taking in vast valleys and
elevated escarpments, it delivers dramatic nature in spades.
Guided horse-riding and mountain-biking tours beckon, alongside
wildlife safaris to spy kangaroos, wallaroos and platypuses.
There's no need to sacrifice creature comforts though, with 40
pampering pool suites, fine-dining, a huge pool, tennis court
and indulgent spa. Charles Darwin fell for Wolgan Valley in the
19th century, and it's easy to see why. (here)

2.  Private-island chilling
    Tikehau Pearl Beach Resort, Tuamotus, French Polynesia
    What do you get when you cross France with the South
Pacific? French Polynesia, a dreamy cluster of lagoon-lapped
archipelagos in the deep-blue sea, boasting romantic islands and
awe-inspiring coral atolls. The Tuamotus archipelago is one of
the latter, playing host to tropical Tikehau Pearl Beach Resort
hotel on an intimate motu (or mini isle). With a pretty
pink-sand beach, bird life galore and a mix of 37 overwater and
beachside bungalows looking over the lagoon, this is a tranquil,
just-remote-enough paradise. It's perfect for a laid-back
honeymoon or family escape, far from the madding crowds. Expect
stellar snorkelling and diving. (here)
3.  Natural highs
    Vigilius Mountain Resort, South Tyrol, Italy
    If you prefer to head for the hills, ideally enveloped in an
icing-thick layer of snow, then Vigilius Mountain Resort in
north-east Italy's spectacular Dolomites is for you. Modern,
minimalist swathes of wood and glass dominate the eco-sleek
lodge, with 35 rooms and six suites, all mercifully free of
Alpine kitsch. Spend your days skiing, snowboarding or Nordic
walking, then hit the toasty spa. In summer, hiking,
horse-riding, archery and mountain-biking are the big draws.
Worked up an appetite? Guests can enjoy modern European fare at
Restaurant 1500 or hearty stews and strudels at Parlour Ida. (here)
4.  Desert chic
    Amangiri, Lake Powell, United States
    When only a desertscape will do, escape to Amangiri boutique
hotel near Lake Powell in the heart of Navajo country in
southern Utah. An exclusive pocket of modernist luxury
surrounded by wild and wind-carved land, this is rockstar chic
at its best. The 34 soothing suites embrace the outdoors with
stellar views, as does the sandstone-set outdoor heated pool.
The incredible spa sports five treatment rooms, a watsu pool and
Water Pavilion, and rates include yoga classes and a daily
guided hike. Delicious food and drink takes inspiration from the
region (think bison burgers, tortilla chips and salsa, and
prickly-pear margaritas). (here)
5.  Spa serenity
    MesaStila, Yogyakarta, Indonesia
    If you fancy a jungle spa stay away from the tourist hordes,
MesaStila hotel on Indonesia's main island Java could be just
the ticket. Ringed by verdant forest and eight easy-on-the-eye
volcanoes, this serene garden-set retreat was once a Dutch
colonial coffee plantation. Now its 22 elegant villas promise to
calm you down rather than rev you up, thanks to the
award-winning spa, which uses estate-grown products in its
treatments, a hammam, yoga classes and view-blessed pool. The
culture-rich town of Yogyakarta is nearby for a hit of dance,
art or music, and famous Buddhist temple Borobudur is also
within easy reach. (here)
6.  Vineyard-hopping
    Château de Bagnols, Beaujolais, France
    For a rural retreat that knows a thing or two about wine,
hightail it to luxurious Château de Bagnols, a five-star
aristocrat near Lyon in cultivated Beaujolais. Boasting its own
moat, drawbridge and towers in honey-hued stone, the hotel's 21
spacious rooms are elegant feasts of vintage style. Gourmet
delights are also on offer at La Salle des Gardes restaurant,
occupying a former guards' room beside a sunny terrace, which
dishes up modern French cuisine as well as trad spit-roasted
meats and game. There's an impressive wine list, and
wine-tasting and cooking classes on tap. Horse-drawn carriage
jaunts, picnics and hot-air balloon rides up the romance factor.
(here)

7.  Modern-rustic luxe
    Blackberry Farm, Smoky Mountains, United States
    Gorgeous views, a patchwork of picket-fenced fields,
sylvanian countryside, and a model home-on-the-farm feel - all
the ingredients are there for a textbook rural retreat, but
59-room Blackberry Farm, in Tennessee's Smoky Mountains,
ratchets the luxury up a notch with smart contemporary decor,
can't-do-enough staff and its own Lexus fleet (or commandeer a
golf buggy). Our fave rooms are the Singing Brook Cottages,
which are superbly spacious, pleasantly secluded, and offer a
gorgeous contemporary take on chic rusticity. The hotel flaunts
outdoor pursuits aplenty, including hiking, climbing, rafting,
riding and stargazing. The Aveda Spa offers an indulgent
alternative for working off those all-inclusive meals. (here)
8.  Animal magic
    The Farm at Cape Kidnappers, Hawke's Bay, New Zealand
    The Farm at Cape Kidnappers in wine region Hawke's Bay, on
New Zealand's North Island, combines a 6,000-acre working sheep
and cattle farm with jaw-dropping Pacific Ocean views, an
18-hole golf course and soothing spa. Touting 22 suites (and the
larger Owner's Cottage for group getaways), this boutique
retreat offers serious luxe, fine dining and a romantic circular
snug for James Bond-glam drinks. To get your fresh-air fix, opt
for a farm tour by foot or four-wheel drive, go on a Kiwi
Discovery Walk to spot the rare national bird or take a safari
to the local gannet colony. (here)
9.  Country pursuits
    The Wheatsheaf Inn, Cotswolds, United Kingdom
    Just a two-hour drive from London, the Wheatsheaf Inn brings
the trad English coaching inn bang up to date, with stylish
design, tasty regional food and beer, and a small spa. Once
weary wayfarers called into this 17th-century bolthole to
recuperate. Now you can do the same, provided Cotswolds-loving
supermodel Kate Moss and her posse haven't booked it out first.
The 14 cosy suites include a former piggery and stableblock, but
tasteful mod cons rule now. The dining room and bar are equally
welcoming, teaming tempting dishes with bold modern art. Should
you fancy yourself as an English country squire, try out
clay-pigeon shooting, with Hunter wellies provided. (here)
10. Jungle thrills
    El Silencio Lodge & Spa, Costa Rica
    Eco suites on stilts meet the cloud-forest canopy at El
Silencio Lodge & Spa in central Costa Rica, set in a 500-acre
tropical forest with a winding river and three waterfalls
cascading down the mountainside. Take in picture-perfect
panoramas from an outdoor hot tub, greet the sunrise from the
yoga deck, and feast on natural, organic food (restaurant Los
Ventanas uses produce from the garden and local fishermen pitch
in with fresh trout). Each of the 15 mountainside Suites is
assigned an Eco Concierge, who leads your courtesy hike,
coordinates activities, arranges tree-plantings and can point
out flora and fauna (expect beautiful birdlife in this private
nature reserve). (here)

 (Editing by Paul Casciato)
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