la dolce villa
Cardinals, counts, and Russian aristocrats have called Villa La Massa home; little wonder that the owners of Italy's fabled Villa d'Este hotel chose to turn this 15th-century mansion into a 39-room resort. Under a canopy of plane and cypress trees on the Arno River, the butternut-colored La Massa manages to look both ancient and contemporary. Corinthian colonnades dominate a glass atrium. Wrought-iron four-posters reach to vaulted, frescoed ceilings. At the terrace restaurant, Il Verrocchio, Villa d'Este alumnus Andrea Quagliarella presents unfussy Tuscan fare — thyme-dusted spring chicken, pasta with porcini and wild boar. La Massa is only a 10-minute drive from Florence, but when a chaise longue beckons you into the shade by the turquoise-tiled pool, it's tempting to give the Renaissance capital a pass. Villa La Massa, 24 Via della Massa, Candeli; 39-055/62611, fax 39-055/633-102; doubles from $351. —Paul French
Fashion . . . Destinations . . . Hotels . . . Luggage . . .
l.a.'s fashion revolution
L.A. is shaking off its micromini-suit uniform, thanks to a group of daring boutiques. Ultra-feminine is the theme of Curve (154 N. Robertson Blvd.; 310/360-8008), packed with beaded halters and fringed slip dresses. Horn (140 S. Robertson Blvd.; 310/278-2052) is on a mission to import such rising European stars as Chloé's Stella McCartney. Besides ethereal garb for both men and women, the Swell Store (126 N. La Brea Ave.; 323/937-2096) carries accessories for the body and the coffee table. And at Naked (181 N. Martel Ave.; 323/964-0222), every object is borderline space-age, from cutout Hussein Chalayan dresses to shoes that mold to your feet. —Martine Bury
Mysteriously, on a desolate Mojave Desert road, there stands a phone booth. Computer programmer Godfrey Daniels learned of its existence two years ago and became obsessed. He called the number every day, aching to reach out and touch someone in the sunbaked void. Due to his Web-based crusade (www.cardhouse.com/g), this lonely outpost now receives calls and visitors from as far away as New Zealand. To get there, take the Cima exit off I-15, 30 miles east of Baker, California; then follow the telephone poles 12 miles. Or call 760/733-9969, and let it ring. —Mark Ehrman
the smart set
Identify your bags at 50 paces. Numbed by the preponderance of black wheelies on airport carousels, handbag designers Richard Lambertson and John Truex teamed with Hartmann to create the 2000 Getaway Mobile Traveler, a limited-edition set consisting of a collapsible carry-on, computer case, satin-lined evening bag, and two pouches. The collection comes in four shades of ballistic nylon: orange, blue, green, and silver. $1,495 for the set, from Jeffrey in New York; call 212/243-7671 to order. —Dara Y. Herman
John Rocha becomes the newest fashion designer to try his hand at a hotel with his Morrison, overlooking Dublin's river Liffey. Opened in June with 95 sleek, Asian-inspired rooms, the hotel has already made a splash: it's fully booked for November's MTV European Music Awards. Morrison, Ormond Quay; 800/337-4685 or 353-1/878-2999; doubles from $249. —L.B.
Shops . . . Gear . . . Guides . . . Restaurants . . .
Trend-conscious Londoners are devouring the wares at Mint. Owner Lina Kanafani has filled the Marylebone store with an assortment of unusual furniture, lamps, and accessories from Europe's up-and-coming ateliers. Favoring rich textures and clean forms, Kanafani's picks include felt floor cushions, recycled-rubber urns, and hot-pink gondolier lanterns. For optimistic dinner guests, set the table with glasses marked HALF FULL — save the HALF EMPTY set for the morning after. Mint, 70 Wigmore St.; 44-171/224-4406. —Christine Muhlke
the eyes have it
Outdoor adventure is going high-tech with ITT Night Vision binoculars — like the ones used in Operation Desert Storm for exploring after dark. Hikers at Arizona's Boulders resort (800/553-1717) borrow them to see the night-blooming cacti of the Sonoran Desert. Vail's Lakota River Guides (970/479-0779) employs the goggles on the rapids, or up Castle Peak in a Jeep for a nocturnal view. Or buy a pair (from $1,595; 800/448-8678) for your own night sightseeing. —Mandy Behbehani
like a virgin
The world's hippest airline now has a series of cheeky city guides — Virgin London, New York, and Dublin. There are shopping and neighborhood directories, plus nightlife maps that really work (they've been tested for legibility under West End streetlamps). Globe Pequot Press, 800/243-0495; $16.95. —Kimberly Robinson
welcome to the jungle
Guests who brave the 27-foot "wall of fire" at the entrance to Las Vegas's new Rum Jungle are rewarded with lamb skewers coated in coconut curry, selections from the world's largest collection of rums, and sultry beats emanating from a mammoth hand-carved conga drum. The smoldering melting pot of design is the latest restaurant from the creators of Asia de Cuba and China Grill. Rum Jungle, 3950 S. Las Vegas Blvd.; 702/632-7408; dinner for two $75. —Kristine Ziwica