March / April 2011

10 Sublime Beach Resorts

The country’s top travel advisors share where they’re sending their clients for the best beach getaways.

No other feature is more symbolic of escape, and none affects the quality of your warm-weather vacation as much as a beach, so if you’re seeking a sojourn in the sun, look for one of the world’s best stretches of sand – with a high-end resort to match. We asked Virtuoso travel advisors to recommend some of their favorites. Here are a few standouts to consider next time you get a hankering for sand between your toes, tropical drinks under thatched umbrellas, and the sound of lapping surf.

1. Grace Bay Club, Turks and Caicos

Caribbean Cool
Sailors love the Turks and Caicos, an archipelago of 40 mostly uninhabited islands, for their calm, shallow, and impossibly vibrant turquoise waters, which caress miles of unspoiled beaches, including the one at the 81-suite Grace Bay Club. The resort caters to families with The Villas, to couples with the adults-only main hotel, and to those seeking the utmost in white-glove service with its 22 new house-size residences at The Estate. Grace Bay is convenient to Providenciales’ downtown tourist haven, but with its half-dozen bars and restaurants, including Anacaona (the island’s best), the Anani Spa, and the extensive Kids Town, there’s no need to leave. Doubles from $720, including breakfast daily and Champagne and fruit on arrival.

ADVISOR TIP: “Grace Bay has one of the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean. The newly opened residences offer top-of-the-line luxury. And a martini at the Infiniti Bar is a must.”  

2. Four Seasons Resort
Lāna’i at Manele Bay, Hawaii

Aloha, Alone
Besides bordering a nature preserve with daily visits from a pod of spinner dolphins and a teeming coral reef, the beach at this 236-room Four Seasons promises what many Hawaiian beaches can’t: solitude. The property stands alone on the gleaming semicircle of sand fronting Manele Bay. Tiny Lana’i is a notoriously tranquil destination – and this resort is no exception. “Being on such a quiet, small island, you get the feeling that you are in your own little private piece of paradise,” says Long Beach, California-based advisor John Oberacker. Another bonus: Migrating whales favor the channel off the beach. Doubles from $395, including breakfast daily and a $100 spa credit.

ADVISOR TIP: “One aspect of the location I love is having access to the upcountry Four Seasons Lodge at Koele. When the beach is just too hot, you can grab a regularly scheduled shuttle and head up to the misty, cool, lush hillside for a beautiful change of scenery.” – John Oberacker

“Anguilla’s an island where you can visit a different beach for 14 days without duplication,” New Jersey-based advisor Elaine Miller says. With luxe privacy and easy day-trip boat access to Sint Maarten, Anguilla has long rated as one of the Caribbean’s most exclusive spots, and Cap Juluca as one of its most exclusive hotels. The 98 guest rooms occupy 18 Moorish-style beachfront villas and six larger private-pool villas, all set on 180 private acres with a mile-long crescent of sugary white sand that continues beyond the resort for miles in either direction. Doubles from $595, including breakfast daily and one lunch for two.

ADVISOR TIP: “From the first-floor units, you can walk directly out to the beach and water. Be sure to get one of the rooms with an outdoor shower.” – Tony Huffman

Architect Nick Troubetzkoy built his dream high on the mountain above his existing upscale, 600-acre beachfront resort, Anse Chastanet, and “floating” is the only way to describe the result. Each Infinity Pool Sanctuary – his name for the 23 expansive villas – cantilevers into space with unobstructed views of the Caribbean and the island’s famous twin peaks, the Pitons. With only three walls, every sanctuary is completely open to the majestic vista from the interior, decks, and private pool. Guests are equipped with electronic call buttons direct to the butlers serving their villas, which are linked by bridges to the spa and restaurant. They also have full use of Anse Chastanet’s dual beaches (including a black-sand version), PADI five-star dive center, Kai Belté Spa, jungle hiking and biking preserve, and several restaurants. Doubles from $1,200, including breakfast daily and a $100 spa credit.

ADVISOR TIP: “There’s a good variety of restaurants between Anse Chastanet and Jade Mountain, but Jade Mountain’s private dining room is the best.” – Gwen Pullman Trucco

5. Rosewood Mayakobá, Mexico
Planned To Perfection
The “Venice of Mexico,” Mayakobá is one of the world’s most audacious resort projects: 1,600 acres of beachfront paradise with an intricate system of canals carved from the limestone, linking hotels, spas, restaurants, and beach clubs. Guests get around the vast and mostly car-free grounds in mahogany boats and golf carts. The Rosewood, set on a broad mile-long arc of soft sand, is built around several lagoons and offers nothing but large luxury suites – 128 of them. Larchmont, New York, advisor Barbara Nichuals recommends the resort for its “wonderful cuisine, oversize suites, and serene lagoon and beach views.” For those who can pull themselves away from the hotel’s beach and its attentive servers, another highlight is the Greg Norman-designed golf course, home to Mexico’s sole PGA Tour event, full of cenotes, jungle, mangrove forests, canyons, and coastal drama. Day trips to nearby Mayan ruins and the world’s second largest barrier reef are also must-dos. Doubles from $790, including breakfast, in-room tequila service on arrival, and a $100 spa credit.

6. St. Regis Bahía Beach Resort, Puerto Rico
New and Noteworthy
New in fantasy settings for beach resorts: a former coconut plantation nestled between the Caribbean Sea and a nature reserve, close to El Yunque National Park’s stunning rain forest and charming Old San Juan. At the 139-room Bahía Beach, St. Regis recently introduced a new level of service to the island, with painstaking attention to every detail, from the brand’s signature butler service and the Robert Trent Jones Jr. golf course to the Remède Spa and the restaurant by three-Michelin-starred chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten. Elaborate nature trails, boardwalks for bikers and walkers, and an on-staff naturalist guide showcase the property’s natural beauty. Little wonder that San Francisco-based advisor Jay D’Amato calls it his “newest favorite resort, with a lot of activities for eco-minded travelers who want to enjoy all the amenities of a great resort, but also get out into nature.” Doubles from $890, including breakfast daily, spa and golf course discounts, and a $100 resort credit.

ADVISOR TIP: “This property offers really amazing packages.” Examples include a fifth night free, free food and beverages for kids under 12, complimentary room upgrades, resort credits, and free tours. – Jay D’Amato

7. Montage Laguna Beach, California
Cliffside California
The many fans of the 250-room Montage rarely agree on their favorite feature – the rooms, the cuisine, the spa, or the incredible setting on a peninsula of bluffs overlooking Laguna Beach, just a flight of steps away. In fact, guests can choose from four beaches and three pools, including one in the 20,000-square-foot spa. Advisor Ruth Turpin describes her favorite U.S. mainland beach getaway: “This is a marvelous resort with a beautiful beach, fabulous views, great food, and awesome rooms. Service is also some of the best anywhere.” Doubles from $595, including a daily $50 breakfast credit.

The northwestern stretch of the Florida Panhandle is famous for its sand, so fine and white it is called “sugar sand.” Fortunately, the area, kissed by the emerald waters of the Gulf, is still a stunner, having escaped damage from the BP oil spill. The finest lodging in these parts is the 60-room WaterColor Inn, designed by architect David Rockwell in a traditional Southern style. “My favorite beach resort so far in all my travels has been WaterColor Inn. The sand is so fine and pure, just like powder. The service and management are excellent,” says Indiana-based advisor Patti Lehman. The inn anchors a 500-acre beachfront resort development, with a spa, staffed beach club, marina, shops, and several restaurants, including the hotel’s Fish Out of Water, with its wide selection of ultrafresh aquatic delights. Doubles from $415, including breakfast daily, a beach accessories kit, and one complimentary beach-chair setup.

ADVISOR TIP: “The Gulf-view rooms have beautiful balconies, and dune-view rooms on the ground floor have direct outdoor access with a shower on the patio.”  – Patti Lehman

9. Le Taha’a Island Resort & Spa, French Polynesia 
Overwater Indulgence
Le Taha’a is one resort where the beach plays second fiddle to the ocean itself, surrounding each of the 48 stilted overwater suites fanned out from the shore of the hotel’s private island. Don’t pack a beach bag: Just leave your book and towel on your private balcony and step out the door into the inviting waters below your room. In French Polynesia a Technicolor aesthetic prevails, from the blue sky and frequent rainbows to the clear water and plentiful fish – all within a few steps of your bed. “Overall, there is not a more beautiful place on earth,” says Plainview, New York-based travel advisor Lisa Mazzillo. “The service, the food, the sexy and romantic accommodations: Le Taha’a has it all. This resort screams romance.” Doubles from $800, including Champagne on arrival and breakfast daily.

10. The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman
When Cousteau Met Ripert
With a prime location on famed Seven Mile Beach, this is one of the top resorts on earth, where no decadence is overlooked. The frequent award winner gets raves for its food (five restaurants, including Blue, by chef Eric Ripert of New York’s Le Bernardin), its golf (Greg Norman) and tennis (Nick Bollettieri instruction) facilities, and its signature Jean-Michel Cousteau Ambassadors of the Environment ecotours, all beside a vast expanse of white sand in one of the planet’s most acclaimed diving destinations. The 365-room hotel also has one of the best Club Lounges in the entire Ritz-Carlton chain, with savvy concierges and elaborate thrice-daily food-and-beverage service. The large residential suites have dedicated butlers. Doubles from $569, including breakfast daily and a $100 resort credit. 

ADVISOR TIP: “A long-standing favorite for its service, food, activities, and beachfront location – with white powder sand and shallow, warm waters – its no wonder this resort always ranks among the Caribbean’s best.”– Linda Montemarano