leisure 11.13.13

Out of Town

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.

The philosopher most in evidence here, however, is Buddha, who is quoted on a sign hanging on the hotel's outside wall. The quote ends with WE MAKE THE WORLD, and that peaceful, world-unto-itself beauty of the Shambala helps it stand out from the string of touristy hotels along the coastline. There is the warm welcome by owner Roberto Hernandez; the carefully maintained beach, with its impossibly soft, white sand; and the 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 Zen simplicity extends to the casitas, meaning guests get a bed and a ceiling fan, and not much else. The casitas are not decorated at all, but even the world's greatest interior designer couldn't compete with what's right outside the doors (if there were doors).

If New Hampshire's White Mountains are on your travel list, you're probably psyched for hiking, skiing, and just generally soaking in the fresh air and sweeping vistas. A stop in Littleton, though, for those who view shopping as a sport, is likely to be the high point of your trip. That's because Lance Williamson's shop, Just L Modern Antiques, has one of the best troves of Mid-Century Modern furniture, lighting, and accessories—at the most reasonable prices—that we've come across in many a moon. So, sure, go for your hike. You'll find us on a whole different kind of adventure.

The après ski leaves a little to be desired. But if you visit Namibia—and the gorgeous desert landscapes and plentiful wildlife make it a memorable trip—be sure to hit the slopes of Dune 7. Leaving Walvis Bay on the ocean (the Atlantic), head out to the Namib, the oldest desert in the world, where you'll find a couple of curiosities.

First, there are train tracks by the dunes which those with cinematic imaginations will supply with the necessary vintage locomotive, storyline, and soundtrack. Then, just when you start to get overwhelmed by the endless vistas of sand, you arrive at a small grove of palm trees, holding out, it would seem, for better days. (They were planted by the town.)

Now you're at Dune 7. If you get one of the local operators to go with you—and that's highly recommended—you can get a quad bike ride (they call it the Nambian ski lift) to the top of the dunes. Some people hike up to the top, but never more than once. Excellent sand boarding to follow—a new twist on the planet's oldest sands.

They're very serious about bad art at MOBA, the Museum of Bad Art, located in two spots around Boston. The result is a stringently curated tour of talentless creative forays from the last fifty or so years. Even if you don't go, the website is worth a visit, both for the artwork and the accompanying text. One reads, "This joyous, frightful circus romp is emblematic of, and yet somehow transcends, Unknown's entire body of work." [Pictured: Sunday on the Pot with George]

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 on Bird Island—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 $650 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.

The light keepers first illuminated the lantern of the Saugerties Lighthouse on the Hudson River in 1869. The keepers changed over the years, but not much else did until 1954, when the light became automated. The Lighthouse itself fell, predictably enough, into disrepair.

The stalwart captain's friend was recommissioned in 1990 and restored to its original condition, except for the change to a solar-powered beacon. Well, original condition, different purpose: it's now a bed and breakfast with two bedrooms and some gorgeous views of the Hudson.

Since this is not exactly conventional innkeeping, there are a few things to know in advance: To get the B & B, it's a half-mile walk on an easy trail. Yes on heat in winter, no on AC in summer. There's one shared bathroom only and the toilet is a composting unit. The lighthouse island is open to the public, so don't count on daytime solitude, especially in summer. Rooms are $225 for two people a night, plus breakfast, and you need to book far in advance. We'd round up a couple of friends and get both rooms.

The vibe is early Eisenhower at Bern's Steak House in Tampa and we mean that in a good way. The maitre d' who seats you. The waiters in tuxes. The servers who serve while your waiter oversees. The themed rooms, some with more statuary than is perhaps good for your appetite. But even when it's tacky or dated (the place opened in 1956), Bern's is still cool. The steaks, dry-aged for up to 8 weeks, are trimmed and cut once you order, broiled over lump hardwood charcoal (briquettes would be cheating). They are sublime.

For dessert, a bit of hilarity: you go upstairs to the dessert floor to be seated in a private room (just your party) with piped-in with music from the lounge. A telephone allows you to call the pianist in the lounge to make a request (you can also dial in different music from a control box on the wall).

Beyond all that, Bern's has one of the best wine lists around—6,800 selections, half a million bottles. What's amazing is that they offer many old and rare bottles at beyond-reasonable prices. At a time when most American restaurants think nothing of a 300% markup on a bottle of plonk, the prices on Bern's famous list could almost convince you Ike was in the White House. We've come a long way since the 1950's, but some things just couldn't be improved.

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