leisure 05.23.12

Out of Town: 6 Beach Hotels

The Madison Beach Hotel on the Connecticut shore used to have… let's call it a yankee sense of style. It wasn't shabby and it wasn't chic.

Now, though, the place has had a full makeover—very un-Katharine Hepburn of them—and they've gussied it up to lovely effect (which includes a day spa and a dining room with carb appeal). Gone are the days when you could stay here for a bit more than a thrifty $100 a night; rates start over $300 and climb quickly in high season. Well, it remains less than two hours from NYC, and there's no change in its natural charms, including views of Long Island Sound.

Cesaria Evora was from Cape Verde. And that begins and ends most people's general knowledge of Cape Verde. Find it on a map? Not so much.

But if you do want to know, it's west of Senegal: 10 islands surrounded by nothing except the Atlantic. Colonized by Portugal, the now-independent country is stable, enjoys moderate temperatures, beautiful beaches, and welcomes visitors warmly. Tourism is on the rise, but it hasn't overwhelmed the natural volcanic beauty.

Goa Residencial is a modestly-priced (about $100 a night for two people) hotel on the beach with simple, comfortable bedrooms that will allow you to enjoy the simple pleasures of the country: sunbathing (it rarely rains here), swimming, surfing, diving, a walk on the dried lava flows, sailing a kite. Sun, water, peace.

Embrace simplicity, counseled the Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu, and that idea is at the heart of the Shambala Petit Hotel, a no-frills yet bewitching spot at the southern end of Tulum.

There is a warm welcome by owner Roberto Hernandez; a carefully maintained beach, with its impossibly soft, white sand; and small, delightful details such as the tassels and mother-of-pearl ornaments hanging from the white beach umbrellas, and the splashes of orange in the form of throw pillows, beach towels, and pole-mounted flags throughout the property. When people imagine a thatched-roof, swinging-hammock, beach-bum vacation in Tulum, this is the place they dream of, whether they know it or not.

The simplicity extends to the casitas, meaning guests get a bed and a ceiling fan, and not much else. (Rooms are $100-$250 a night.) Shambala offers yoga classes, meditation classes, and Spanish lessons for those who can drag themselves from one of the comfortable beach mattresses. Tulum doesn't have the nightlife of Playa del Carmen or Cancun, but for those who linger on the beach past sunset to the time when stars appear overhead, embracing simplicity seems like the best advice in the world.

At the eastern end of Long Island, Shelter Island is a small community of about 2200 residents on a 27-square-mile plot of land. It's peaceful and unspoiled, a relative rarity in these parts.

Residents might fear a new hotel on the island could change that, but La Maison Blanche is only eight rooms ($275-$595), so the ecosystem isn't likely to be altered much. The hotel sure has, though. Formerly The Olde Country Inn, it's got new owners and a thorough makeover. Those eight rooms now come fully loaded: from high-thread-count linens to free Wi-Fi.

There's a brasserie, lounge, and outdoor bar, as well as a bakery. You get use of bikes at no charge if you'd rather get some exercise than lay on the sand. Tough call since the hotel's located by Crescent Beach, one of the nicest in the area. This white house is family friendly, LGBT friendly, and pet friendly. In other words, you're welcome.

Looked at one way, the accompanying photo could signal trouble for Tippi Hedren.

Neither the photo nor the Bird Island Lodge in the Seychelles, however, should call to mind any Hitchcock film whatsoever. Suspense is not much in evidence here—you can be sure, on a daily basis, that there will be sun, and blue skies, and spectacular beaches, and plenty of birds to appreciate.

Visit between October and January and there will be turtles, too, laying eggs. From December to March, the adorable results emerge.

Bird Island is only accessible by small plane, about a 30-minute hop from the international airport. There are two dozen bungalows on the whole island, so you'll certainly see many more birds than humans during your stay. (Bungalows are about $625 a night. They're nice, but you're really paying for a nearly-private island experience.) You'll unplug, too. They've got electricity, but no television or phone. Spend your time instead on the distinctly undigital three miles of beaches—some of the planet's loveliest.

You want opera? Shopping? Crowds? Late-night restaurants? Museums? You won't be happy here. But for a holiday from the built world, Bird Island is spirit-soaring.

No vampires. No car chases. No one getting inside each other's dreams.

Also, no plot, no dialogue. Yet Jacques Tati's Monsieur Hulot's Holiday still packs more joy, gentle humor, and time travel goodness than most movies we can name.

The film takes place in the early 1950s, in the tiny village of Saint Marc sur Mer, in and around the Hotel de la Plage. It's the story of what happens during a week's sleepy vacation after M. Hulot arrives, an innocent who manages to cause streams of comic mayhem.

The town has changed little over the years and the holiday pleasures remain much as they always were. The hotel has been taken over by Best Western and modernized within (rooms start at about $150), but an essential charm remains intact. There's now a statue of Tati above the beach, gazing at the small patch of earth he memorialized. He seems to soak in the small, cherished moments that happen reliably, year after year, at Saint Marc sur Mer.

Actually, we take one thing back: we said this wasn't about getting inside your dreams. That's exactly what it does.

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