Glorious Summer Retreats

Beat the heat and treat yourself at one of these distinctively different Southern stays.
Jennifer McKenzie Frazier, Farrah Austin, Cassandra M. Vanhooser

We’re with you―it’s hot in the South right now. That’s why we fanned out in search of cool retreats that soothe the eyes and soul in the three-digit heat of summer. Pleasure, pools, pampering―all yours. Come along to a lakeside resort in Texas, perfect for the family; a luxurious spot for romance in South Florida; and a small-town classic in Virginia where your children will take their children someday (not bad for a mom-and-dad trip either).

Lakeway ResortLakeway, Texas

Who should go?  Lakeway works for the whole family. Prices can be as low as $199 a night, and the rural setting appeals to outdoor types.

This might be the most easygoing, comfortable, stress-free vacation ever. Life melts into perfection when we pull up to this retreat just outside Austin. A welcome committee of docile deer, leisurely grazing the green hills all around, sets the pace.

Even though the place has 168 rooms and a spa and glows from a $20-million renovation, it doesn’t feel big and foreboding. More like home. We while away our first hour simply staring at the azure waters of Lake Travis.

Our next order of biz is to make sure we don’t stress out over the choices we have for relaxation. Three pools beckon: an infinity version where adults mingle and enjoy the swim-up bar, a kiddie version with an awesome twisting slide and lots of splashing room, and yet another with fountains and spouts of water. From each of the pools we can see that glorious lake, the watery jewel of the Hill Country. Do we kayak it, sail it, go on a pontoon ride, or simply sit and watch? Sit and watch, we say.

At Travis Restaurant, we select Texas-size portions of Creole mustard-roasted Idaho trout and lavender- and mint- roasted rack of Colorado lamb. There’s still energy to toast marshmallows at the poolside fire pit (which doesn’t emit enough heat to overpower the totally cool activity). Then we practically crawl back to our cozy rooms. The theme of our dreams? Breakfast on the balcony, the arrival of the doe-eyed greeters, and the chance to do what we came to do. Absolutely nothing.

Lakeway Resort and Spa: 101 Lakeway Drive, Lakeway, TX 78734; www.lakeway.dolce.com or 1-800-525-3929.

 

Biltmore HotelCoral Gables, Florida

Who should go?  Chic-seekers. And lovers of architecture and design. We like to go with the flow of romance and leave the kids at home. The price tag for the glamour starts at $159 at this time of year.

What star might we see today? There’s a buzz around the halls of this elegant hotel, part Mediterranean-inspired villa, part playground for faces you might just recognize. There’s little pretense, but you can see how today’s stars can feel just as glamorous as yesterday’s. (Bing Crosby and Judy Garland used to frequent.) The big bonus is that we feel right in the swing of Biltmore life too.

Comfortable with a white-and-creaminterior, our guest room looks out to the pool (other options are views of the golf course and the manicured landscape of Coral Gables). You’ll definitely want to take a dip in the largest hotel pool in the country. We plunge into a bit of privacy, splurging for the cabana shrouded by leafy palms, hibiscus, and bougainvillea for an extra $150 a day.

So far the stay has been sheer elegance. The zen continues on the Biltmore’s 18-hole golf course, designed by Donald Ross. After that, we rejuvenate in the Chardonnay or eucalyptus baths at the Biltmore spa. We prolong that Chardonnay mood over dinner in the swank Palme d’Or Restaurant, an upper-crust coat-and-tie affair you’ll talk about long after the last morsel.

At Sunday brunch, we make more memories by visiting each of the eight food stations to the beat of a finger-snapping jazz ensemble. There may be stars all around us―but, honestly, we’re so busy feeling like stars ourselves that we totally forget to look.

The Biltmore: 1200 Anastasia Avenue, Coral Gables, FL 33134; www.biltmorehotel.com or (305) 445-1926.

 

Tides InnIrvington, Virginia

Who should go?  Classic people who love the tried, true, and terrific. It’s the perfect setting for a family photo: Grandparents like it, kids adore it, guys propose to gals (then return for the honeymoon). Rates for the memory-making start at around $285.

Two sun-kissed girls in gingham sundresses, their father in tow, dance onto the emerald croquet lawn and plead for a lesson before dinner. Laughter and the crack of mallets against wooden balls add an entertaining touch of humanity for those of us waiting to admire the spectacular summer sunset.

It’s moments like this that make the Tides Inn so very special. Guests have come here for more than 60 years to relax and refuel, hold hands with a loved one, or secure the ties that bind their families together.

Just three stories high, this timeless inn sits at water’s edge, perched on a bluff overlooking Carter’s Creek, a tributary of the Rappahannock. Water surrounds the Tides on three sides. Wide windows in the guest rooms and common areas embrace the outdoors.

We can be as lazy or as energetic as we choose here. Activities include a top-notch spa, a challenging 18-hole golf course, and a sailing school. At the Chesapeake Club, we find both casual and formal dining options.

The wee town of Irvington is just a short walk away. Church bells chime the hour and serenade the tiny hamlet with hymns. A smattering of sophisticated shops entices even visiting city dwellers to linger and open their wallets.

The Trick Dog Café rivals the best restaurants in the region. Our favorites include the classic Caesar salad, crab cakes, and pan-fried soft-shell crabs (in season). We lift a glass to toast Irvington, the Tides Inn, and the memories we make here.

Tides Inn: 480 King Carter Drive, Irvington, VA 22480; www.tidesinn.com, (804) 438-5000, or 1-800-843-3746.

"Glorious Summer Retreats" is from the July 2008 issue of Southern Living. Because prices, dates, and other specifics are subject to change, please check all information to make sure it's still current before making your travel plans.