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The It List 2006

Thailand

Four Seasons Tented Camp

Chiang Rai, Golden Triangle

The mountains of northern Thailand now harbor one of the world's most luxurious campsites. Fifteen tents with polished teakwood floors; handwrought, copper-clad bathtubs; and other well-chosen sybaritic interventions take the edge off roughing it (guests must walk beneath bamboo trees and jungle ferns and across a suspension bridge to reach the spa, restaurant, and two bars). Days are dedicated to exploration (trips to local villages), adventure (riding elephants—there are six in residence), and relaxation (nine different treatments are on offer at the spa). ROOM TO BOOK Tent No. 15 offers the most privacy, and prime pachyderm-watching—it overlooks the elephants' own camp and pool. T+L TIP Arrange a day trip to Mae Fah Luang, the Royal Thai–sponsored agricultural project, to sip locally grown coffee and visit hill tribes. DON'T MISS A Thai massage on your private sundeck at dusk, when a chorus of frogs and birds can be heard along the Ruak River. THE FACTS 800/332-3442 or 66-53/931-200; www.fourseasons.com; doubles from $1,200, all-inclusive.

United States

The James

Chicago

What do you call an upstart brand that blends the cheeky tone and smart looks of design hotels with the user-friendliness and affordability of mid-level chains? We call it a welcome relief. Stephen Hanson's first James hotel, in Scottsdale, Arizona, was a runaway hit. Now the restaurateur-hotelier is shaking things up in the Windy City. The 297 guest rooms are inviting exercises in mid-aughties minimalism—dark-wood platform beds, leather cube stools, cocoa-brown carpeting, slate-tiled bathrooms with brushed-chrome and marble sinks, and an orchid placed just so. Amenities, however, are anything but spare: in addition to Wi-Fi and a 42-inch plasma TV, each room has a stereo with an iPod dock. ROOMS TO BOOK Any of the 550-square-foot Loft rooms, which have views of installations by Chicago artists. DON'T MISS A cut of dry-aged beef from Kentucky's renowned Creekstone Farms, at chef David Burke's Primehouse, the hotel's requisite steak joint. (This is still Chicago, after all.) THE FACTS 55 E. Ontario St.; 877/526-3755 or 312/337-1000; www.jameshotels.com; doubles from $250.

South Africa

Marataba

Marakele National Park, Limpopo

Hunter Hotels already has a corner on the golden-era safari experience in coastal South Africa. Gorah and Tsala Treetop Lodge both offer variations on the same crystal-decanter, high-thread-count "wilderness" environment. You'll find all of those bells, whistles, and amenities at Marataba, which opened just in time for New Year's. Prouvé-style furniture adorns the 15 tented suites; handcrafted architectural lighting hangs from rough-hewn beams in the main lodge; and an enfilade of sleek chaises waits beside the 40-foot plunge pool. But Marataba's biggest asset is its location: Marakele National Park is not only home to ample numbers of the Big Five but is also a sanctuary for rare antelope species—roan, sable, mountain reedbuck—and more than 400 kinds of birds, including the endangered Cape vulture. ROOM TO BOOK Those seeking privacy will prefer Suite 1, the most secluded, reached by a walking bridge and featuring a vast picture window with spectacular views of the Waterberg mountains. T+L TIP Request a dinner served in the boma, under the starry African sky. THE FACTS 27-44/532-7818; www.hunterhotels.com; doubles from $828, all-inclusive.

Argentina

Palacio Duhau, Park Hyatt Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires

Walking up the sweeping stone staircase of Palacio Duhau is like walking into a private mansion. Just three blocks from the elder statesman of Buenos Aires elegance, Alvear Palace Hotel, the new Park Hyatt has all of Buenos Aires eagerly anticipating its grand opening later this summer. Carefully restored oak floors and carved wood paneling dating back to the 1930's provide a backdrop for furnishings in muted browns, tans, and whites. A garden planned by Carlos Thays—who designed the city's botanical gardens—eases past a tiered waterfall up to the new 17-floor Posadas building, which houses most of the 165 rooms, all of them equipped with the latest modern luxuries (marble baths, high-speed Internet). At the Ahin spa, treatments come with tea and music selected specifically for the time of day. ROOMS TO BOOK The 23 rooms in the palacio have antique chandeliers and oversize tubs. Ask for one that looks onto the garden. T+L TIP Vinoteca's menu has some 3,500 bottles and 40 Argentine cheeses. DON'T MISS A swim in the indoor pool, where 750 colored bulbs simulate the changing of light from dawn to dusk. THE FACTS 800/233-1234 or 54-11/5171-1234; www.buenosaires.park.hyatt.com; doubles from $410.

Indonesia

Bulgari Bali

Uluwatu

A coupling of Italian refinement and Asian hospitality defines Bulgari's first resort, opening next month on a 500-foot-high headland on Bali's southern tip. The 59 villas are built of ylang-ylang thatch, volcanic stone, and dark tropical woods. The Milanese style of designer Antonio Citterio is apparent in the sleek Bangkiray wood and chocolate tones of the clifftop bar, the geometry of the bamboo-beamed ceilings, and the clean lines of the black terrazzo bathrooms. But Citterio has also integrated the work of island artisans: centuries-old rice-barn walls are on display in public spaces. A helicopter and vintage Harley-Davidsons are available for use, but the hotel's best feature is an untouched beach worthy of Robinson Crusoe. ROOMS TO BOOK Oceanfront villas closest to the bar are an ideal perch for viewing fiery sunsets and theatrical storms that roll in from the sea. T+L TIP Stroll the beach and watch surfers at Dreamland, a dramatic sweep of sand a 10-minute drive away. DON'T MISS Climbing the stone kul-kul tower at the temple on the grounds. THE FACTS Jalan Goa Lempeh, Banjar Dinas Kangin; 62-361/847-1000; www.bulgarihotels.com; doubles from $1,250.

Reported by Aric Chen, Tina Isaac, Sarah Kantrowitz, Xander Kaplan, Peter Jon Lindberg, Rob McKeown, Shane Mitchell, Bridget Moriarity, Ian Mount, Maria Shollenbarger, and Valerie Waterhouse.

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