You'll Cry When You Leave: Five Hotels Where You're Not Just a Room Number

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An old but sturdy seaplane awaits to bounce me over the Pacific Ocean and then ease up into flight over seemingly floating islands. Normally this would be the beginning of an exciting adventure but I am headed back to the airport in Nadi, Fiji, and thus my vacation is over. I take one last look at Turtle Island Resort, an eco-hotel nestled on a private island next to the infamous Blue Lagoon. Friendly faces wave to me, singing and smiling, wishing me a safe journey and a speedy return to their paradise. "Mama!" I call out to one of the women, and tears start to roll down my cheeks.


I guess I should point out that the woman who triggered the crying is not actually my real mother. In fact, I have known her for less than a week. But the Bure Mamas, as Turtle Island's personal attendants are called, are so nurturing you can get lulled into believing you are truly part of their Fijian family. I give her one last bone-crushing hug and stifle a sob as the pilot ushers me into my tiny seat. The seat belt clicks, noise-reducing headphones are on and the propellers whirl us around for take off.

My husband is embarrassed by my continued sniffling so he chats with the pilot about aerodynamics, but the staff are not phased by my weeping and I see Mama enthusiastically blowing me a kiss. We remove our flower wreaths from around our necks, and as the plane separates from the azure water and lifts off into the air we open our side windows to throw out our floral gifts into the sea. This is a Fijian tradition that ensures we will someday return.


A week earlier, when I checked into Turtle Island Resort -- and when I say, "checked into" I mean carried across the water from the seaplane in the arms of two Fijian men to an awaiting rum punch -- I overheard an interesting comment. "Here, you are not just a room number and a credit card, here you are family." What sounded like an impossibility and maybe even a bit cheesy, became a total reality for me.

That's why I cried when I left. Not just because I had to leave this tropical utopia, but also because I had to leave good friends behind. That's a real marker of a great trip. A place so beautiful, comforting and cultural that guests feel they are part of the "family," and might even shed a tear when they depart.

Here are five homes away from home that will have travelers using their hankies, while waving au revoir:

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Tucked discreetly off the main drag in downtown Palm Springs, Korakia Pensione is the perfect escape for those wishing to avoid the chaotic mega-resorts in Palm Desert. Divided across two complementary properties, with Greek and Moroccan themes, the 28 rooms of all sizes are an oasis of peace and relaxation in the desert.

Why You'll Cry When You Leave

Guests remain welcome long after checkout. You'll cry as you leave the two salt-water swimming pools behind. Each pool has its own charm, one with fire pits adorning the sides and the other a waterfall. Thanks to flawless service and a masterful layout, Korakia always feels private even when fully booked. Once you stay at the Korakia, check in is a sophisticated experience the next time. No paperwork is necessary, just a handshake and gentleman's agreement to pay when you leave.

Notable Food & Drink

The tyranny of breakfast hours does not apply at Korakia. Guests emerging from their room when they feel like it are greeted with a simple yet delicious breakfast, coffee, and fresh squeezed orange juice.

My Favorite Way To Pass The Time

What takes other hotels multiple designers and refurbishments to achieve, Korakia just does. The rooms are so distinctive that longtime devotees will strike up a conversation based on which rooms they have experienced, and which they hope to. Sneaking peeks into the different rooms is a fun way to explore the property.

Every Family Has Its Issues

The word is clearly out compared to years past, or I wouldn't be revealing this (formerly) secret little gem. Prices are starting to creep higher and higher. The lack of a bar can be a bit unfortunate around 5pm when you don't want to get out of the pool but you didn't plan ahead at the grocery store earlier.

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Part of the excellent Welsh Rarebits family of posh B&Bs, the idyllic Geufron Hall overlooks the Vale of Llangollen and the Dee Valley UNESCO World Heritage Site. Owners Beth and Carlton Boyce are first time hoteliers, but you would never know it. The design is magazine ready without feeling overdone. Fresh farm breakfast, excellent service and cozy nooks to curl up in provide a perfect stay.

Why You'll Cry When You Leave

Those hills and that view. After a few days of clambering around the Northern Welsh countryside by day, with the hearty fires of Geufron Hall by night, I was looking to extend my visit -- permanently.

Notable Food & Drink

Even for Wales, Geufron Hall is renowned for their breakfast. The Boyces are big on self-sufficiency so depending on the season there may be homemade ciders, jams and jellies, or even sloe gin.

My Favorite Way To Pass The Time

Having tea in the common room, reading a book next to the fire, watching the sheep graze on the hills and children play a pick up game of football.

Every Family Has Its Issues

Perhaps because it is such a tiny place check in/out times are brutal, 4pm in and 10am out.

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Located on Nicaragua's fast-growing Pacific coast, secluded Morgan's Rock consists of stunning, huge beach bungalows overlooking sandy beaches and surrounded by a rain forest canopy filled with howler monkeys. A rope bridge connects rooms so walking to dinner in the main building is a scenic escapade. Morgan's Rock calls to both romantics and nature lovers.

Why You'll Cry When You Leave

Of all the hotels on this list, Morgan's Rock makes you truly feel like you have left your cares behind. There is something about knowing you couldn't get home quickly even if you wanted to that is both reassuring and exciting. The bungalows have outdoor patios, screened-in porch areas, and an open-plan main room with indigenous art. Watching the Nicaraguan coast from any of these spots is magical.

Notable Food & Drink

From seafood to poultry to produce, Morgan's Rock sources most of its food from its own farms. Delicious dinners are served as a communal event, and a steaming pot of coffee is discreetly delivered each morning. But my favorite meals were the lunches, when the friendly staff puts together a simple basket of fresh fish, beans and tortillas. Nothing says vacation like a picnic on the beach.

My Favorite Way To Pass The Time

Get in the water - surfing, kayaking, fishing and swimming are the best ways to enjoy the private beaches.

Every Family Has Its Issues

It is isolated and hard to find, tucked away in the hills above San Juan del Sur. You may just get lost on the way there. I certainly did. If it weren't for a kind local surfer who jumped in my car and escorted me to the hotel, I would still be driving around the jungle.

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Overlooking the Pitons, Ladera Resort is built into the hill ("Ladera" means hillside), on Soufriere's oldest and most famous cocoa plantation. The view is so powerful that it creates the illusion of being suspended between the two peaks. Each room is missing the fourth wall and so nature becomes part of the room. Ladera is an adults-only resort and each suite has a private plunge pool that enjoys the same stunning tableau.

Why You'll Cry When You Leave

Sleeping outdoors in a hand-carved canopy bed, watching the light change from dusk to dawn takes Glamping to another level. Architect John Dipol, designed the "open-wall" concept so that even though each room is exposed to the St. Lucian scenery, no one but the birds can see in.

Notable Food & Drink

On-site restaurant Dasheene shares the same breathtaking vistas as the rest of the resort. Sustainable dishes sourced from locally harvested ingredients decorate the menu such as coconut soup, roasted conch, Caribbean lamb salad and my new addiction Shrimp Dasheene.

My Favorite Way To Pass The Time

The staff is so friendly that they will often strike up lengthy conversations. Discovering the interesting history of the place - it was originally a secret getaway for the owner and his paramour - is part of the fun. Splashing around in your own private pool, while still technically in your indoor/outdoor suite, is the best way to while away the hours.

Every Family Has Its Issues

Ladera Resort is not located directly on the beach. There are shuttles to take guests to the sand at another resort, but it is a 10-15 minute ride to the sand and can be inconvenient when you just want a quick dip in the Caribbean's luscious warm water.

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Why You'll Cry When You Leave

Besides the obvious -- leaving behind pure natural beauty and new friends -- Turtle Island has numerous private beaches scattered throughout the island where guests enjoy al fresco dining. Bure Mamas, aka attendants, set up beach blankets replete with packed lunches, beverages and newly hung hammocks. Then vacationers are left to enjoy what suddenly feels like their own private island.

Notable Food & Drink

The year-round garden provides fresh produce and the sea-to-table dishes stand out. There is a bit too much emphasis on American and Euro fare but when the Fijian plates arrive ask for seconds. The authentic Fijian village lunch feast is a highlight. Hungry guests watch their fish caught right in front of them and then help the staff cook on the beach. Another interesting dining option is the oddly chosen but surprisingly scrumptious Mongolian Barbecue night.

My Favorite Way To Pass The Time

Watching the sunset each night from my day bed conveniently located outside but still close to the well-stocked bar. The sun sets over the mountains on a nearby island making it look like the hills are on fire, as the clouds grasp the orange light and pull it across the top in flaming waves.

Every Family Has Its Issues

Turtle Island is exceedingly romantic, but finding alone time with a significant other can be difficult. Staying together as one big communal family brings with it a certain lack of privacy, which is not usually a factor at island resorts of this quality.

The fine art of hospitality can be found at the fanciest five star hotel, or in the most modest bed & breakfast. Do you have a hotel where you feel like you're part of the family? Please share in the comments!