Dismissed by many for flavorless buffet food and an all-around sense of cheesiness, all-inclusive resorts have developed a bad rap with some travelers. But not every all-inclusive is created equal. There are plenty of luxurious private resorts offering personalized itineraries, extreme adventures and sumptuous spa services. And did we mention amazing food? The eight properties detailed below, found everywhere from Barnard, Vermont to Chiang Mai, Thailand, will have you rethinking that all-inclusive label.
Dunton Hot Springs' list of awards (inclusion on the Travel and Leisure "It List" and No. 4 on Bon Appetit's "Top 10 Food Lover's Hotels in America") is impressive. More impressive is the experience guests are given once arriving at this retreat sheltered deep within the San Juan Mountains. Visitors have reign over the restored ghost town, enjoying hand-hewn cabins and long soaks in the natural hot springs. The ever-changing saloon menu nods to what's in season, and gourmet meals are paired with world-class wine and served at the antique communal table — a throwback to a dining tradition started by outlaws in the Gold Rush days. Join the on-site chef on an early morning forage for chanterelles, help her prepare meals in the open kitchen or simply relax under the stars with a bottle of first-growth Bordeaux.
Riviera Nayarit, Mexico
The only all-inclusive resort in the Mexican Pacific to be awarded the AAA Five Diamond title, Grand Velas' pristine beach, three-tiered infinity pool and award-winning golf courses are enough to win anyone over. Foodies, however, will revel in the resort's five dining offerings, three of which have been honored with the AAA Four Diamond Award. Enjoy Mexican specialties like roasted pork filet with eucalyptus honey at their flagship restaurant Frida, or head to Luca for Italian classics like ravioli with basil and black olive sauce. Live music complements your nightly meals and their specialty cocktails — made with local favorites like reposado tequila and smoky mezcal — are a must.
Nestled within 300 wooded acres in Barnard, Vermont, Twin Farms offers 10 private cottages replete with screened porches and cozy fireplaces. Before check-in, the concierge team makes note of your dietary preferences and needs, and when you arrive you'll enjoy locally-grown produce and seasonal fare. Breakfast is served with house-made preserves, while wine-paired lunches include tamari grilled Cavendish quail and ginger apple slaw. And the gourmet dining doesn't stop there: Dinner options include juniper berry rubbed duck breast served with roasted pumpkin risotto. Before heading to bed, stop by the 20,000-bottle wine cellar for a nightcap.
Isolated from major towns and shopping centers, about 100 miles northeast of Santiago, the focus at Hotel Portillo is on the slopes — which only the hotel's 450 guests have access to. From June to October, Hotel Portillo sells all-inclusive ski week packages that include lodging, lift tickets, four meals a day and access to the resort's numerous entertainment and recreational facilities. The oldest ski area in South America, Portillo is often used by the U.S., Canadian and Austrian national ski teams for summer training. Snow bunnies will love the variety found on the resort's 1,235 acres of skiable terrain (featuring 14 lifts and 35 runs), while non-skiers can relax in a yoga class or at the sauna. At night, mingle with fellow adrenaline junkies in the dance hall, bar or outdoor heated pool.
Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, Kenya
At the Lewa Safari Camp, guests are privy to some of Kenya's most magnificent wildlife. Situated in northern Kenya on the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy's 65,000 acres, the safari camp puts guests within the habitats of more than 70 mammal species, including lions, leopards and jackals. The conservancy is also home to 10 percent of Kenya's rhino population and 20 percent of the world's endangered Grevy's zebra population. When they're not admiring the animals, travelers sleep in thatch-covered tents (there are only 12 on the entire property) with bedrooms, verandas and en-suite bathrooms. During the day, visitors enjoy ranger-guided bush walks, small game drive tours and fly-fishing at nearby Lake Rutundu.
Overlooking a natural bay on Antigua's secluded southwestern shore, Hermitage Bay boasts just 25 suites. Guests are invited to stray from their lush bungalows down to the private beach to enjoy snorkeling, windsurfing and kayaking, among other activities. For a less strenuous workout, sign up for morning Pilates and meditation classes on the spa deck (also included in your room rate). At night enjoy cocktail hour, followed by a mixed menu of traditional Caribbean dishes, modern European cuisine and American classics all made with ingredients from the resort's own organic garden.
Chiang Mai, Thailand
Built in Thailand's Lanna architectural style (think open-air teak pavilions, hand-carved doors and peaked villas), Howie's Homestay sits secluded on 5 acres in Chiang Mai, Thailand — the country's bustling northern city. The property's tropical gardens are enhanced only by the choice views of the Himalayas and the outpost's breathtaking infinity pool. The private, gated estate prides itself on offering the ultimate seclusion: There is never more than one family or group in residence at a time. The limited number of guests means visitors are pampered with bespoke outings like excursions to the waterfalls of Doi Suthep National Park, bamboo rafting through the rain forest or trips to local craft shops in Chiang Mai.
Highgate Springs, Vermont
Run by the Tyler family for five generations, the all-inclusive Tyler Place Family Resort provides special programs for infants, toddlers, children and teens. Meals, sports and activities all take place on the resort's 165 acres, located about an hour-and-a-half southeast of Montreal in Highgate Springs, Vermont. Parents are free to relax while kids take part in supervised activities like ziplining, fishing, mountain biking, kayaking and swimming. Private cottages and suites are nestled into the resort's lakeshore and meadows, with screen porches, hammocks and Adirondack chairs for enjoying the scenery. At night, parents can take partake in the three-hour cocktail and dinner service, while children are kept blessedly busy by the experienced staff.
Ashley Hardaway is a Washington, D.C.-based food and travel writer and the author of "Other Places Publishing guide to Ukraine." You can follow her on Twitter at @ADHardaway, connect with her on LinkedIn or keep up to date on her travels at AshleyHardaway.com.
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