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Hana Reborn

Who just kissed me?

It wasn't the air-kiss of a summer cocktail party. It wasn't a peck. Nor was it the red stamp of the favorite aunt who squeezed the life out of me as a boy. It was more of a breath, a warm passing breath, and it came from a woman in a long dress with a maternal aura and a fragrant flower in her hair.

Who just kissed me? The concierge just kissed me, in the driveway of the Hotel Hana-Maui. It happened without warning, after she whispered "Aloha" and wrapped a wreath of pink flowers around my neck. I needed a kiss; that was quite a drive. Between Hana and the rest of Maui lie several hours of switchbacks, precipices, and blind curves; an increasingly ominous series of signs warning SLIDE ZONE, FALLEN ROCKS, ONE LANE BRIDGE, NARROW WINDING ROAD, and SPEED LIMIT 10 MPH; and the occasional overripe mango dropping from a tree into my convertible.

I can't really say why, but that was not just another kiss. A few days later someone tried to explain it to me: "To be Hawaiian, to give your breath—you know, it's a very big thing to give."

I could hardly believe this was the same Hotel Hana-Maui I had visited eight years earlier. The legendary resort at the end of the twisting road slipped into a coma and nearly expired during the 1990's, but it has made a miraculous recovery. In 2001 it was bought by Peter Heinemann and Michael Freed of San Francisco, who couldn't bear to watch its decline any longer. Lawyers turned hoteliers, co-founders of the Post Ranch Inn in Big Sur, partners in the Jean-Michel Cousteau Fiji Islands Resort, they wanted to create a stylish Pacific retreat where, Heinemann says, "people can get in touch with their souls."

No need to be uncomfortable while getting in touch with your soul, of course. They wanted the hotel to be luxurious, though there was no going back to the Cristal-and- shoulder pads glamour of the 1980's, when Rosewood remade the hotel into the definitive beige love nest. They also wanted it to be a little earthy, but not the calculatedly homey family affair that Paul Fagan ran here in the 1950's and 60's.

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