I'm a sucker for a great hotel room, but one thing is even closer to my heart: resorts that give guests their own private cottage or bungalow to call home. I've been lucky enough to stay in a number of these during my years of traveling. Here are five of my favorites across the globe.
Royal Davui Island: Beqa Lagoon, Fiji
Setting Fiji is known for its private-island resorts, many with rustic native touches. But I loved Royal Davui for its contemporary treehouse feel. Getting here requires some work; after flying into Viti Levu, the capital island, you take a 20-minute flight on the resort's private jet to Pacific Harbour to catch a 45-minute water taxi. But the setting is worth it -- the resort occupies a 10-acre hill on a private island set in the middle of Beqa Lagoon.
Suites The 16 bungalows (called vales, the Fijian word for "home") are built into the hillside, so they all have incredible views. Floor-to-ceiling windows and two separate sun decks with lounge chairs let you enjoy the setting no matter where you are. (I could keep my blinds open, as there were no neighbors to peep.) The open bathroom is elevated behind the bedroom, so you can even take in the views from the Jacuzzi tub; the shower, stocked with rich Pure Fiji toiletries, has a retractable roof that opens to the sky. But I most enjoyed peering over the edge of my outdoor plunge pool (every vale has one); the ocean was so clear that I could see the sunlight reflecting off the scales of fish swimming beneath me.
Activities Some of Fiji's best diving is found in Beqa Lagoon, conveniently located all around you. The island has its own dive shop, and the reef begins right offshore, so you can just wade in. The sea life is thriving, and with a depth of only 10 to 20 feet, I could scuba while my companion snorkeled on the surface, both of us seeing most of the same sights (my favorite: Dr. Seuss-like Christmas-tree worms that disappear into the coral when you wiggle a finger at them). Deep-sea fishing is big here, and guests can also go sea kayaking or play volleyball (usually staff versus guests; Fijians love this game and are really good at it). I also took a day trip to a village on neighboring Beqa Island, where I bought a wooden kava bowl, Fiji's de rigueur souvenir.
Extras While most Fijian resorts offer communal buffet-style meals, dinnertime at Royal Davui felt more like dining in an elegant restaurant, with a la carte meals served at tables for two on a multilevel wooden deck under a giant banyan tree. The food and wine list are top-notch, and the menu changes daily, offering the expected seafood, plus lamb and beef flown in from New Zealand. Guests mingle at the outdoor bar over sunset drinks and at the weekly hermit-crab races -- silly and totally hilarious.
Calistoga Ranch: Napa, California
Setting Hidden in a forested canyon in upper Napa Valley, this resort feels like a secret. The 46 cedar-shingled cabins rest beside a rocky stream along a long hill. To preserve the pristine atmosphere, cars aren't allowed past the lobby, so guests get around on foot or by golf cart. Resort buildings comprise only a small portion of the 140-acre enclave, which is filled with old-growth trees and a few hiking trails.
Suites My cabin was conveniently close to the swimming pool, but I spent most of the time in my room enjoying the outdoor shower and plush bed fitted with crisp Fili D'oro linens. I loved the blending of indoor and outdoor space: The living room and bedroom areas are in two separate structures, joined by a wooden outdoor deck, where cushy chaises provide a cozy seat for gazing at the surrounding woods. The wood-burning fireplace passes from the living room through to the porch, so you can warm up from both sides.
Activities A prime spot at the top of Napa Valley gives you easy access to the charmingly offbeat town of Calistoga; once a rustic outpost where city folk would come for mud-bath cures, today its wild-west streets are lined with eclectic shops and restaurants. Scores of vineyards dot the region; my favorites were Sterling, accessible by an aerial tram, and Domaine Chandon, where the inspired grounds and artwork are as memorable as the sparkling red wine (it's only sold onsite, so I stocked up). Don't miss dinner at Calistoga's sister resort, Auberge du Soleil; the Michelin-starred cuisine and exceptional service are best savored on the patio, which has unmatched views of the Valley.
Extras At check-in, I was greeted with a bottle of wine from the resort's private label, and dinner at the guest-only restaurant rivaled what I found elsewhere in Napa. The Bathhouse Spa alone (also guest-only) is worth the price of entry -- the outdoor mineral pool allows the regional tradition of "taking the waters"; the therapists are top-notch; and the signature lotion smells like a walk in the California forest. Bonus: The hotel is dog-friendly, and canine companions are supplied with dog beds, food bowls and bone-shaped nametags that say, "I'm a guest of Calistoga Ranch too."
Little Palm Island: Little Torch Key, Florida
Setting About two-thirds of the way down U.S. 1 from Miami, a small sign points to the parking area for this private-island resort. From the moment the valet took my keys, it was a different world, the mainland stress dissipating as I took the 10-minute ride in their custom motorboat. The resort's phone number is 800-3-GET-LOST, and that's exactly how it feels.
Suites Nestled in clusters of palm trees are 30 thatched-roof cottages, each named for indigenous birds (Ibis, Heron) and poised on stilts for better water views. Balinese-meets-British-colonial decor with bamboo furnishings and netting-draped king-size beds complements bathrooms with deep marble tubs and outdoor showers. No in-room TVs or public cell-phone use keeps the real world blessedly far away. Also, kids under 16 aren't allowed, which is a plus for romance in my book.
Activities The resort offers loads of water toys, from kayaks to sailboats. I checked out a kayak and spent one morning paddling around the mangroves. I also went snorkeling at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, where I spied on colorful fish, two turtles and a timid nurse shark. The small but pretty beach is lined with chaises and manned by an attentive staff; when I wanted lunch, I just raised the flag by my chair to signal the attendant. Come afternoon, I'd nap by the pool, shaded by a canopy of palms and ferns. The spa, surprisingly varied for its size, offers fab Indonesian-inspired treatments.
Extras I was charmed when I walked up the path to my room and saw my last name spelled out in blocks on the wall. Another thoughtful touch: Each room has a birding guide and binoculars. I've never been much of a bird-watcher, but the fowl here are so dramatic and showy that I loved spying on them. Dinner at the resort's restaurant is nice, but if you request ahead, you can dine at a table for two in the sand.
Hotel Hana-Maui -- Maui, Hawaii
Setting Most Maui visitors only experience Hana Town as the turnaround point on the twisty Road to Hana. I loved getting the chance to drive the two-lane highway (it's as cool as they say, with lots of rickety bridges and pull-off spots for waterfall hikes) and then ditch the car to stay put for a few days. The fact that the hotel turned out to be so special was just icing on the cake.
Suites The stand-alone Bay cottages, which sit closer to the main building, overlook the garden and pool. But I loved the Sea Ranch cottages; they're duplexes (two per building) but feel completely private. Simple and spacious interiors feature traditional textiles, woven floor mats and sliding-glass doors that open to the lanai. (Request one with an outdoor hot tub; I was in mine like clockwork every evening.) There are no clocks or TVs, and I barely noticed the lack of air conditioning, as the screen doors and ceiling fans kept me nice and cool.
Activities For beach-going, hit nearby Hamoa Beach (it's public, but the hotel keeps an attendant here with chairs, towels and snorkeling equipment). If you have a rental car, drive along the "back side" of the Hana highway, stopping at Oheo Gulch to swim in the waterfall pools. Horseback riding is a must; I got outfitted at Hana Ranch next door and did a two-hour ride into the hills and back along the rocky coast.
Extras HHM stands out for its intimate feel. Many of the staffers have been here for generations and take personal pride in each guest's happiness. It's all in the little touches: The welcome basket in my room contained complimentary fresh fruit and homemade banana bread; the luau performance was totally sweet, as the performers were the staffers' children; free yoga classes are offered poolside every morning; and James Beard-noted chef John Cox sources food from local purveyors, including an organic farm.
Biras Creek: Virgin Gorda, BVI
Setting Staying at this boutique resort on Virgin Gorda, you'd never know you're on the BVI's second-most-populated island. Sequestered on an expansive isthmus on the isle's northern tip, you feel like you're on your own private territory. The 140-acre property has a nowhere-else-in-the-Caribbean asset: It's touched by three separate bodies of water -- the Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean Sea and the North Sound. Walking paths lace the low hills, and guests get around on foot, by bicycle or by hitching a ride on a staffer's golf cart. I loved walking: It allowed me to get out and experience the terrain, counting sunbathing iguanas as I strolled along.
Suites Tidy guest cottages line a rocky stretch of Atlantic beach; even better are the Ocean Suites, closest to shore, where I could actually fall asleep to the sound of crashing waves. Special touches include spacious living areas, patios with chaise lounges and outdoor garden showers for two. Best are the Grand Suites, with indoor soaking tubs and outdoor plunge pools both optimally placed for prime ocean views. (Few things feel more decadent than taking a bath while looking out at the ocean.) A serene color palette -- all white with a splash of color here and there -- ups the sophistication factor.
Activities The BVI are all about water sports, so activity is centered on the protected Caribbean inlet at Deep Bay. Bonus: The resort's current owners bought all-new equipment when they took it over in late 2007. I tried my hand at windsurfing -- a minor disaster despite the instructor's obvious knowledge. You can also zip around the North Sound by motorboat, sign up for a scuba excursion or take a day sail to Anegada Island to sample their delectable lobster. For a change of scene one night, I took the footpath around the shore to the English pub at neighboring Bitter End Yacht Club. They have a full bar (Newcastle Brown Ale on draft!), darts, pool and a dance party on Monday nights.
Extras Each cottage comes with its own pair of bikes, which makes getting around a snap. When I got lazy one night after dinner and caught a golf-cart lift back instead of pedaling, I awoke the next morning to find my bike returned and waiting for me outside my room. The complimentary Boston Whalers have center-engine consoles, so you don't have to deal with an awkward outboard motor while tooling around the North Sound. When it comes to dining, an affiliation with Relais & Châteaux means excellent cuisine is a given; executive chef Jermaine George is a Virgin Gorda native, so he used his classical training to refine and celebrate the local cuisine with which he grew up. When I wanted simpler fare for a change of pace, I went to the Fat Virgin Cafe at the marina next door for grilled burgers.