Nilou Motamed of Travel + Leisure tests the TODAY anchors' travel smarts by sharing four great getaways, from sunny beaches to mountain retreats, to see if they can tell the splurge from the steal.
Whether you want to escape to wine country or a Caribbean beach, we've found a hotel to match your budget.
1. Southern Retreat
Courtesy The Willcox
With crown moldings, four-poster beds and fireplaces in rooms, you'll see plenty of antebellum charm at The Willcox hotel in Aiken, S.C.
Steal: The Willcox, Aiken, S.C. (from $185/night)
Travel + Leisure readers ranked the hotel No. 3 on the 2012 World’s Best Awards list of Top Inns and Lodges in the Continental U.S. And it’s easy to see why, as rooms have plenty of antebellum charm: crown moldings, four-poster beds and fireplaces. The Willcox even has its own food truck serving dishes such as spicy fish burritos and fried chicken biscuits. Fuel up and then head outdoors to enjoy local parks or go for a horseback ride.
Splurge: Inn at Palmetto Bluff, Bluffton, S.C. (from $475/night)
This atmospheric plantation-style resort has Spanish moss dripping from low-lying oak branches and egrets soaring overhead. The rooms within 50 cottages are outfitted with pine floors, gas fireplaces and private screened porches. Bird lovers can paddle a complimentary kayak or canoe through the lagoon to see more than 100 species, including bald eagles, great blue herons and snowy egrets. Guests also keep busy with activities like golf, fly-fishing and naturalist-led alligator “hunts.”
Steal: Gaige House, Sonoma, Calif. (fall getaway special from $195/night beginning Oct. 28)
Set on three lushly landscaped acres, Gaige House actually has two parts: an original 1890 building with 15 rooms, and eight new stand-alone spa suites. All are decorated with Asian-themed minimalist chic, meaning dark-wood platform beds, rice-paper screens and black-granite baths. There’s a heated outdoor pool, as well as spa services that can be enjoyed in your room, on a creek-side deck or in a cabana surrounded by greenery.
Splurge: Carneros Inn, Napa, Calif. (from $505/night)
Sophisticated cottages with outdoor showers and decks await in one of Napa’s most pastoral landscapes: the rural Carneros wine region. (The spa incorporates local ingredients in treatments like the Chardonnay Antioxidant Wine Therapy Facial.) Book a garden cottage for views of the vines from your enclosed patio. Take advantage of complimentary bikes to tour the area.
3. Caribbean Fantasy
Steal: Rosalie Bay, Dominica (from $149/night)
Twenty-eight gingerbread-trimmed cottages look out onto either a rocky beach or the Rosalie River. One of the world’s few carbon-negative resorts, Rosalie Bay not only relies on solar panels but also has its own wind turbine and organic gardens—and just received a Travel + Leisure Global Vision Award for responsible tourism. There’s also a restaurant, where most dishes are made from regional ingredients, from the Kalinago porridge with cassava root to the smoked cod on fried green plantain.
Splurge: GoldenEye, Jamaica (from $560/night)
Jet-set bohemians and creative types have flocked to GoldenEye since the mid 20th-century, when it was the cliff-top retreat of Ian Fleming, who wrote 14 of his James Bond novels here. A two-year overhaul (completed in 2010) has transformed the property from a private villa rental to full-fledged 22-room hotel on the waterfront amid gardens of banyan and mango trees.
4. Mountain Escape
Steal: Waldorf Astoria Park City, Utah (from $199/night)
Fireplaces, balconies and mountain views are a few of the in-room perks that come with staying here. The hotel’s restaurant, Slopes, is one of Utah’s best — with sweeping views of the surrounding Wasatch Mountain Range — and you won’t want to miss a warm-stone massage at the 16,000-square-foot Golden Door Spa. Outside, there are patios with fire pits and year-round heated pool and whirlpools.
Splurge: Washington School House, Park City, Utah (from $395/night)
With creamy white wainscoting, vintage chandeliers and French and Swedish antiques, this renovated 1889 schoolhouse is more Alpine chic than Rocky Mountain rustic. Staffers offer spot-on recommendations for restaurants and boutiques and instantly coordinate the complimentary transportation to your mountain of choice (though Park City’s Town Lift is steps away).
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