Time Out at the Gap
St. Lawrence Gap, Christ Church; 246/420-5021, fax 246/420-5034; doubles from $125. Pack your wild side for Time Out, a 76-room hotel splashed with crazy colors--pink, orange, and purple curtains, olive shutters, neon-blue picnic tables and awnings. After checking in near a maypole hung with streamers, check out the Whistling Frog Sports Pub, which packs in three happy hours a day and a young crowd that looks as if it's from MTV's Real World. Guest rooms are just as playful: sea-themed bedspreads, bamboo mirrors, and space to party. Sign up for a tour of the nearby Mount Gay Rum distillery, or hit Dover Beach, across the road, for round-the-clock volleyball.
Morne Anglais, Giraudel; 767/448-8839, fax 767/448-8829; doubles from $140. The rough road leading to Exotica resembles the scene of an explosion, but not to worry. Co-owner Athie Martin will dispatch a taxi to fetch you, and then settle you into his mountainside "agro-eco resort," with an on-site organic farm and eight tropical hardwood cottages set among royal poinciana. While the tin-roof cottages have solar water heaters, they make a wrong turn with prefab condo furnishings. Still, who can complain when all you have to do is step onto your terrace to watch whales breaching in the distance?
Wilderness Retreat Trafalgar Falls Rd., Trafalgar; 767/448-2287, fax 767/448-2285; doubles from $90. Former guests tend to get religious when describing Papillote. "A heavenly paradise," they exclaim, and it's no wonder. The hotel is surrounded by cathedrals of ferns; statuary glows green with lichens; ghostly mist ascends from waterfalls; and hot mineral baths simmer beneath breadfruit trees. At the restaurant, you can order grilled flying fish with taro puffs for lunch, then hike up to Dominica's Trafalgar Falls. The only thing unholy about Papillote is the country-ruffle décor in the seven rooms (the cool stone balconies, however, warrant a blessing).
Hôtel Frégate Bleue
Le François; 596/54-54-66, fax 596/54-78-48; doubles from $170. This hilltop auberge is usually so uncrowded that you'll most likely get to pick your room. All seven are more than respectable, but consider the corner one called Zinnia, with a mahogany bed and matching armoire, mighty medieval lamp, and glass doors that overlook the horizon of islets and foamy sea. Co-owner Yveline de Lucy de Fossarieu will gladly arrange a lunch and snorkel trip to one of the islets or suggest a proper beach within a 10-minute drive. The pool, with its handy wine cave (a glass of crisp Alsatian Riesling?), is perfect for après-beach.
204-206 Norzagaray, Old San Juan; 787/722-1808, fax 787/724-7360; doubles from $145. "You can get lost here," says 10-year-old Teresina as she guides you up a looping staircase past spidery passages and landings. She should know: the 18th-century inn is owned by her grandmother, artist Jan D'Esopo. On a hill in Old San Juan, the 22-room Gallery feels like a shrine to bohemia, filled with weird and wondrous objets d'art. Rooms have large oils of palomino mares above the beds, dressers painted with pansy petals, and Peruvian cedar throne chairs. You'll think of Vincent Price when you see the music room and its gold velvet sofas, Steinway grand, and cobwebbed candelabra. On the plant-engulfed wine deck (at 250 feet, the city's highest point), Teresina will join you at sunset.
At Wind Chimes Inn
1750 Ashford Ave., San Juan; 800/946-3244 or 787/727-4153, fax 787/728-0671; doubles from $100. Ring the bell at the arched wooden doors to enter the courtyard between a pair of 1930's Spanish colonial houses--San Juan's best deal. Greenery is thin, but don't be dissuaded: the 22 rooms have refreshing sunflower-patterned fabrics, scalloped pedestal sinks, and walls hung with vibrant artwork by owner John Dennis's mother, Mercedes Dennis. The claw-foot chairs, coral rock console, and verdigrised iron staircase in the small lobby heighten civility. Condado Beach is just a block away, but the inn has an alluring swimming pool with a river-rock waterfall.
Villa Serena Las Galeras
Samaná; 809/538-0000, fax 809/538-0009; doubles from $100. Picture living in a cove off a spearmint sea, the gardens bright with crotons and Christmas palms, the swimming pool curved like a comma. That's Villa Serena, where the 11 rooms are not numbered, because proprietor Natasha Despotovic wants you to feel right at home (10 more rooms are being built). And how could you not feel at home in a bedroom that has a bamboo four-poster bed streaming with chiffon, and French windows that open to views of the cliff-studded coast?(Ask for the room with a whitewashed gazebo balcony.) If you decide to venture out, the staff will summon a taxi to take you into the appealing fishing town of Samaná.
Danish Manor Hotel
2 Company St., Christiansted; 800/524-2069 or 340/773-1377, fax 340/773-1913; doubles from $109. The mellow town of Christiansted doesn't stretch down to the sea--it kind of tumbles, in an arty, crumbling maze of 18th-century brick and stone. Slipped into the labyrinth is the Danish Manor, a three-story pink-washed inn with outdoor spaces detailed by an artist's brush: geckos painted on railings, images of fig leaves trailing along walls, eaves and balconies splashed with vivid purple paint. The brick walls around the pool and the coral behind the bar are two centuries old. Not so ancient are the rooms, which mimic a Howard Johnson's. But with a gregarious young staff and the delectable Tutto Bene Café, who minds a little motel motif?