October 2006


Reader's Find California
Last month, my girlfriend and I stumbled upon a new sixties-inspired boutique hotel in Palm Desert, California, and we're still raving about it to friends and family. The moment you get to the Mod Resort [73758 Shadow Mountain Dr.; 888/663-1970 or 760/674-1966; ; doubles from $159 ], the owner, Laura Slipak, warmly greets you with a welcome cocktail in hand. Slipak made us feel as if we were visiting our favorite rich (and cool) aunt. My girlfriend loved the in-room massages, and I couldn't stay out of the huge saltwater pool. We both appreciated the discreet vibe—on our last night there, a well-known A-lister told us it's her home away from home.—John Wert, New York, N.Y.

Can you recommend a few great culinary tours of China?

Lauren Shopp, Lancaster, PA.

To explore classic cuisines, sign up for the 12-day trip with Imperial Tours (888/888-1970; ; $7,730 per person, double ), which takes you to Beijing, Chengdu, and Shanghai to sample Szechuan, Shanghainese, and Cantonese specialties. On the eight-day Tastes of Hong Kong itinerary offered by Eastern Journeys (852/2544-5488; ; from $1,800 per person, accommodations not included ), instructors at the Chinese Cuisine Training Institute will teach you to make stir-fried prawns with tea leaves before you head out for a wine and beer tasting in Kowloon. Or have Asia Transpacific Journeys (800/642-2742; ; from $300 per person, per day, double ) customize your tour, arranging trips to Xian, a former royal city, and lessons in making dumplings fit for an emperor.

How much time does a rental-car agency have before notifying a customer of damage-repair costs?

Dan Kellum, New York, N.Y.

There really is no simple answer to your question, because policies among rental companies vary. As a rule of thumb, the customer is accountable for all damages not covered by an extra policy, regardless of how long it takes the agency to round up the paperwork. "Typically, the time lag between returns and damage notification is 30 days—it depends on how soon an assessment can be made," National Car Rental spokesperson Charles Pulley says. Renters should familiarize themselves with the rental contract and terms of insurance, advises Jean-Marc Lehu of the American Council on Consumer Interests. If the company does not explicitly state what their time frame is for addressing damages, the customer may not be legally obligated to pay for everything and should check with an attorney. Usually, problems are assessed quickly. "We have a bona fide interest in informing the responsible party as soon as possible," says Susan McGowan of Avis. "It makes things easier for everyone."

I would love to go to a surf school in Mexico. Which are the best?

Kathy Baily, Phoenix, Ariz.

Try Instructional Surf Adventures (541/563-6944 or 52-755/103-0018; ; one-week course from $1,000, accommodations not included ) for a week in Playa Troncones, on Mexico's west coast. With a 4:1 student-teacher ratio, you'll be hanging diez in no time. Teampaty Eco-Surf Camp (52-612/145-0882; ; three-day trips from $850 ), in southwestern Baja's Los Cerritos, begins every day with an hour-long yoga session, followed by intensive surf lessons. In Nayarit, 40 miles north of Puerto Vallarta, Las Olas Surf Safaris for Women (831/625-5748; ; seven-day packages from $1,995 ) is great for a group getaway. Besides extensive lessons, you have plenty of free supervised surf time, and can learn to make authentic guacamole and to salsa dance.

Where can my husband and I find an affordable seaside hotel in Turkey?

Joan Beddingfield, Chicago, Ill.

On a peninsula where the Mediterranean meets the Aegean, the 57-room Inn at Swissôtel Göcek, Marina Resort (800/637-9477; ; doubles from $204 ) has panoramic views of the island-studded waters and mountains beyond—with boat excursions, a private beach, and an overwater massage cabana. And on the western edge of the Turquoise Coast, just minutes from tony Bodrum, the Butterfly (90-252/313-8358; ; doubles from $150 ) was originally built as a luxury home, then remodeled into a chic boutique hotel. Each room in this modern retreat is done up differently; a helpful staff is on hand to arrange chauffeured visits to authentic Turkish baths for a day of royal pampering. In Antalya, the luxe beachside Hillside Su hotel (90-242/249-0700; ; doubles from $253 ) is a stark, all-white refuge, where you can spend hours at the beach sipping Turkish tea, then head back to your private balcony for a daybed nap to the soothing sound of the sea.