Why camp in Yosemite when you can sleep in a castle? If Yogi the Bear had a platinum card, he would stay at Chateau du Sureau. A stay at the Chateau feels more like an escape to a magical European forest than one in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas. Winding staircases, turrets, stained- glass windows and a private chapel are all the elements needed for a castle. The perfect service of the staff completes the experience. Chef Chris Flint, the former Chef de Cuisine at Eleven Madison Park, tells us we’ll be hearing about new awards soon.
It’s easy to pop into nearby Yosemite, take in some sites like Half Dome or a dramatic waterfall and still be back for dinner. You can book a private tour with Crossroads Tours. They can arrange everything from a private Jeep with a naturalist to a scenic air tour. For hikers, get your pass to hike the famed Half Dome well in advance. Permits for day hikers are distributed by lottery via recreation.gov. Rates start at $495 a night.
Wondering if Death Valley is worth the trip? It is. It’s the largest International Dark Sky Park in the country. You can see the Milky Way (Spielberg filmed scenes from Star Wars here) and it’s always warm.
The Oasis at Death Valley comprises of two hotels, the luxury Inn at Death Valley and the family-friendly Ranch at Death Valley. The original was built in 1927 before the area was declared a National Park, which makes it a true private oasis in the middle of a public desert. The Inn’s swimming pool is fed by natural underground springs and always a toasty eighty-six degrees. The golf course sits 214 feet below sea level. The sub-altitude causes the ball to fly differently and is a good excuse for missing the fairway.
If you’re tired of the fake-out of spring in New England, March weather in Death Valley averages eighty-two degrees with one day of rain. That’s one of the three days it will rain all year. Rates start at $399 a night.
BLUE RIDGE MOUNTAINS
Serious foodies are familiar with The Inn at Little Washington, the highly acclaimed restaurant in a tiny town at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Chef Patrick O’Connell, also known as the Pope of American Cuisine, opened the hotel and restaurant in 1978 in a town so small it didn’t need a stoplight. Nothing here is grand, but everything here is perfect.
The self-trained and self-inspired chef has achieved what some of the most pedigreed Parisian chefs could only dream of—three Michelin stars and the longest tenured Forbes Five Star and Five Diamond property and restaurant. Don’t worry about it being too fancy, though. That’s something O’Connell hates—taking things too seriously. He says the only dress code is no wet bathing suits. Dry bathing suits are just fine. Each of the twenty-three individually decorated rooms is named for chefs and others who’ve inspired O’Connell. (Suite 6 is designed to resemble the Ritz Paris, an inspiration we can all understand.)
The easiest way to enjoy Shenandoah National Park is a scenic car ride along Skyline Drive, which runs a little over 100 miles north and south along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains. For those who want to actually get out of the car, one of the most spectacular hikes in Virginia starts just thirty minutes from town—the hike up to Old Rag Mountain. You’ll need an entrance pass for the park and a separate pass for the hike. Room rates start at $865 a night; dinner starts at $328 per person with an optional $228 for wine pairings.
THE GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS
Owners of the new property, Blackberry Mountain, describe it as a private national park. The Mountain opened in 2019 and gives guests a chance to stay in modern treehouses or sleekly rustic cabins and enjoy twenty-five miles of private hiking and biking trails.
The beloved Blackberry Farm resort offers bucolic white rocking chairs and southern hospitality. Its James Beard Award-winning restaurant, The Barn, and the more informal Dogwood restaurant, were early leaders in the farm-to-table movement.
The Farm and Mountain are seven miles apart at the foot of the Tennessee Smoky Mountains. Whichever property you choose, you can easily explore the national park, which straddles North Carolina and Tennessee. You might be surprised to learn that out of all the national parks, the Great Smoky Mountains get the most visitors. It could be the chance to see black bears, the 850 miles of trails, or because it’s one of the few national parks you can enter for free.
Rates include breakfast, lunch and dinner, starting with dinner on the day of arrival and ending with breakfast on the day of departure, along with all pantry snacks, non-alcoholic beverages, morning group wellness classes and guided morning group hikes.
Blackberry Farm room rates start at $1,045 with a three-night minimum; Blackberry Mountain rates start at $1,595.