Sunny skies and an open road are our prescription for cabin fever this season. Here are five great warm-weather drives to get your motor running.
SAN DIEGO TO ENSENADA
WHY Gringos have been beating a path from southern California to northern Baja ever since Prohibition days, and the area is still known for its legendary nightlife. Take a two-day jaunt from San Diego down to Ensenada—the route covers about 80 miles' worth of fish tacos, margaritas, sandy beaches, and excellent surf. Since U.S. auto insurance is not valid in Mexico, it's wise to stop by one of the insurance shops at the border (coverage costs about $20 for 24 hours, $30 for a weekend). ITINERARY U.S. I-5 to Mexico's Highway 1D. HEAT FACTOR Mild winter days top out in the mid sixties. MUST-DO The entire 800-mile Pacific coast of Baja is lined with gnarly surfing spots, including the famous right break at Playa San Miguel, at Km 101 on the toll road just north of Ensenada. Rent a board at K38 Surf & Skate (2225 Huitzilac, Col. Morelos, Tijuana; 52-664/685-0717; from $20 per day). PIT STOPS Lobster is a major local industry, and you'll get a great one at the convivial Ortega's Patio (Puerto Nuevo; 52-661/614-0345; dinner for two $30), where a marimba duo serenades you on the bougainvillea-covered deck. Raise a glass or two at Hussong's Cantina (113 Avda. Ruiz, Ensenada; 52-646/178-3210), one of the liveliest in all of Baja, with sawdust on the floor, nonstop mariachi music, and a storied past starring such Hollywood luminaries as Marilyn Monroe and Steve McQueen. WHERE TO STAY At Las Rocas Resort & Spa (Km 38.5, Carretera Libre Tijuana, Ensenada, Playas de Rosarito; 888/527-7622 or 52-661/614-0354; doubles from $74), all the rooms have private balconies overlooking the ocean; treat yourself to a heated basalt rock massage or relax in the infinity pool. ON-LINE INFO www.northbaja.com; www.enjoyensenada.com.
CAIRNS TO DAINTREE NATIONAL PARK
WHY Want to play Croc Hunter for three days?Drive north along the coast 124 miles from Cairns, Queensland, to Daintree National Park, and you'll find yourself in a wild setting perfect for having your own fair dinkum (translation: authentic) adventure. The Cape Tribulation section of the park is the only place on earth where two World Heritage National Parks meet. Just beyond the sandy beach stretches the Great Barrier Reef, a vast snorkeling and scuba diving Eden teeming with innumerable species of fish and coral. Inland lies the world's oldest rain forest, a 110 million—year—old primordial swath of green inhabited by 20-foot-long crocodiles and five-foot-tall cassowaries, flightless birds that look like a cross between a giant turkey and an emu and can kill a man with a single swipe of a claw. For a closer view of the canopy (from a seven-story tower), visit Daintree Rainforest Environment Centre. ITINERARY North from Cairns on Captain Cook Highway. HEAT FACTOR December is one of the hottest months in tropical Cairns, with an average high of 88 and low of 73; it's also the peak of the rainy season, when the forests soak up nearly 11/2 feet of precipitation per month, through March. MUST-SEE Infused with Aboriginal history, bounded by towering cliffs, and shot through with rock pools and tumbling waterfalls, Mossman Gorge, an hour south of Daintree, is among the most beautiful spots on the continent. Take a course in bush medicine with Hazel Douglas, an Aboriginal guide of the Ku Ku Yalanji people, available through Native Guide Safari Tours (58 Pringle St., Mossman; 61-7/4098-2206; www.nativeguidesafaritours.com.au). PIT STOP Red Ochre Grill (43 Shields St., Cairns; 61-7/4051-0100; www.redochregrill.com.au; dinner for two $65) specializes in creative preparations of Aboriginal delicacies like wattle seed, emu, wallaby, and crocodile. WHERE TO STAY Daintree Eco Lodge & Spa (20 Daintree Rd., Daintree; 61-7/4098-6100; www.daintree-ecolodge.com.au; doubles from $260) has 15 secluded rain-forest bungalows. Splash in the resort's crystal-clear waterfall, sign up for a nighttime bush walk, or just kick back in the spa. If living in the trees, like Tarzan, is more your style, overnight it at Silky Oaks Lodge (Finlayvale Rd., Mossman; 61-7/4098-1666; www.poresorts.com/silky; doubles from $350), a resort-on-stilts at the edge of a crystal-clear river. ON-LINE INFO www.australia.com; www.daintree-rec.com.au.
MARRAKESH TO FEZ
WHY The road that runs 430 miles along the southern flank of the High Atlas Mountains from Marrakesh to Fez travels through some of the most photogenic desert in the world. The stunning panorama of mountain passes, rolling sand dunes, and nomadic Berber camps has lured cinematographers for everything from Lawrence of Arabia to Jewel of the Nile. Four days gives you time to explore area highlights, including the stretch from Ouarzazate to Tineghir called the Road of the Thousand Casbahs, after the crumbling forts and citadels along the way, built through centuries of tribal warfare. But don't let your eyes wander from the road for too long: dangers include aggressive drivers, narrow passes, and precipitous drop-offs, as well as wandering pedestrians and livestock. Make sure to rent a four-wheel drive. ITINERARY P31 from Marrakesh to Ouarzazate, P32 to Er Rachidia, P21 to Azrou, P24 to Fez. HEAT FACTOR The average daily temperature in December is 66 degrees, but desert nights can be a cool 45. Must-See At Boulmane du Dadès, on P32, turn left and ascend the fertile valley of the Dadès River, which winds down a red-limestone gorge from the heights of the Atlas Mountains. Beyond Ait Oudinar, the valley becomes more rugged, with switchbacks and spectacular vistas of the barren gray-brown mountains. PIT STOP Many of Fez's small Andalusian palaces now offer classic "palace dinners" of couscous and b'steeya (a sweet pastry of chicken, almonds, and spices), accompanied by belly dancers and other traditional entertainment. At La Maison Bleue (2 Place de L'Istiqlal, Fez; 212-55/636-052; www.maisonbleue.com; dinner for two $95; doubles from $265), the descendants of a once celebrated astrologer, Fe Mohammed el-Abbade, welcome guests to his 1915 palace. Where to Stay Ever since its opening in 1923, celebrities have flocked to the famous Hotel La Mamounia (Ave. Bab Jdid, Marrakesh; 212-44/444-409; www.mamounia.com; doubles from $285), in the heart of the city. The new celebrity favorite is Amanjena (Rte. de Ouarzazate, Marrakesh; 212-44/403-353; www.amanresorts.com; doubles from $800), with its modern Moroccan design and impeccable service. The 17th-century Kasbah Ben Moro (24 miles east of Ouarzazate; 212-44/852-116; doubles from $60), in the oasis of Skoura, looks out over groves of date palms to the fortress complex of Casbah Amerhidil. ON-LINE INFO www.tourism-in-morocco.com; www.morocco.com.
SAVANNAH TO CHARLESTON
WHY The rivers move slow 'n' easy in the low country between Savannah, Georgia, and Charleston, South Carolina, and you'll want to as well. By the odometer, these genteel rival cities are just 110 miles apart, but it's worth taking a few days between them to poke around the estuarine countryside. Before the war—that's the War of Northern Aggression, darlin'—powerful rice-plantation families ensconced themselves in Gone with the Wind—style extravagance in towns like Beaufort, where visitors today can sample a bygone lifestyle at historical lodgings such as the Beaufort Inn (see Where to Stay). The Penn Center (16 Penn Center Circle W., St. Helena Island, S.C.; 843/838-2432) preserves the history, language, and culture of the Gullah, descendants of the African slaves whose labor made possible their owners' refined luxury. ITINERARY Northeast from Savannah on 1-95 to Route 17, with a detour south on Route 21 to Beaufort. HEAT FACTOR Average December highs are in the low sixties. MUST-SEE Some 350,000 acres of former rice plantation bounded by the Ashepoo, Combahee, and Edisto rivers have been turned into a wildlife refuge; find out about the winding, paddle-friendly waterways, alive with osprey, bald eagles, and egrets, at the ACE Basin Visitor Center (10232 ACE Basin Pkwy., Greenpond, S.C.; 843/844-8335; www.theacebasin.net). PIT STOP Located in a former Texaco station, Harold's Country Club (Hwy. 17A-21, Yemassee, S.C.; 843/589-4360; dinner for two $20) still sells gasoline and live bait, but owners Harold and Mary Peeples cook up a hearty potluck dinner on Thursdays and rib-eye steak on Saturdays for area hunters and fishermen. WHERE TO STAY Built in 1897, the Beaufort Inn (809 Port Republic St., Beaufort, S.C.; 843/521-9000; www.beaufortinn.com; doubles from $145, including breakfast) has lavish rooms with bay windows and four-poster beds. ON-LINE INFO www.savannah.com; www.southcarolinalowcountry.com.
THE BIG ISLAND
WHY Take a leisurely four-day, 228-mile drive around Hawaii's Big Island, where fresh guavas and pineapples are sold roadside, humpback whales frolic just offshore, and the sound track is the crashing of surf and towering waterfalls. Kilauea has been spewing lava continuously since 1983; the flow of the world's most active volcano can be seen from Chain of Craters Road in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, where the lava meets the sea. At night, the confluence of 2,100-degree molten rock and 75-degree water sends a seething plume upward, glowing eerily red against the night sky. ITINERARY Kailua-Kona to Hilo on Route 19, Hilo to Kailua-Kona on Route 11. HEAT FACTOR There are no seasons in Hawaii: average highs are about 80, lows are in the mid sixties. MUST-SEE Each winter, some 5,000 humpback whales congregate in the shallow waters around Hawaii, and the northwest Kohala coast is one of the best places to view them (especially from the white sands of the popular Hapuna Beach State Park). PIT STOPS Humble plastic chairs at Keei Café (mile-marker 106, Rte. 11; 808/328-8451; dinner for two $50) belie the flavorful fusion cooking at this hideaway: fresh ahi and ono, Brazilian seafood chowder, red Thai curry. After-dinner Kona coffee comes courtesy of the surrounding plantations. If you want to find out more about the celebrated Big Island bean, drop in at the Kona Blue Sky Coffee Co. (76-973A Hualalai Rd., Holualoa; 877/322-1700; www.konablueskycoffee.com) for a complimentary coffee-tasting and plantation tour. WHERE TO STAY Overlooking Hilo Bay, Shipman House (131 Kaiulani St., Hilo; 800/627-8447 or 808/934-8002; doubles from $154) was once owned by a family of powerful plantation owners; it's now a five-room inn run by family descendant Barbara Ann Andersen and her husband, Gary. ON-LINE INFO www.bigisland.org; www.gohilo.com.
Closed for three years between 2006 and 2009, the hotel glows again thanks to Jacques Garcia, known for gems like Paris’s Hôtel Costes. The 1923 property has been completely restored and modernized, a three-year project that included cleaning and repairing countless mosaics, moldings, and paintings and adding new furniture, fabrics, and woodwork, much of it made by local artisans. Garcia chose a garnet tone as the Marrakesh palace’s signature color; it shines on the grand piano in the Majorelle Gallery and reappears on the fleet of Jaguars and Range Rovers parked outside. The gardens have been enlarged, as has the pool, now the size of a small lake.
Built in 1899 during the monarchy era, the Shipman House bed and breakfast is surrounded by five acres of bamboo, ferns, palms, and fruit trees on Reed's Island in Hilo. The white Victorian is trimmed in black with a turret and wrap-around veranda. There are three rooms in the main house and two in the plantation-style guest house; all are comprised of cream-colored walls, floral fabrics, woven lauhala mats, and dark koa wood furniture. Enjoy a breakfast of muffins, granola, fresh eggs, and fruit grown on the property while chatting with the knowledgeable owners (fifth generation Shipmans).