(CNN) — From hotels situated in billion-year-old landscapes to the snowiest ski resort in the world, these places prove that the resort experience is so much more than lounging by the pool with masses of other sunburned tourists.
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1. Best foodie resort: Meadowood, California
Dine out in style at Meadowood.
Each dish at The Restaurant is a tribute to the Napa Valley region. Chef Christopher Kostow cooks with ingredients from Napa Valley’s terroir. This includes curing Wagyu beef with pine needles from the Meadowood property, and sourcing fresh produce from its garden.
Meadowood takes its wine seriously as well. On top of maintaining an 11,000-bottle cellar, the property’s owners also founded the exclusive Napa Valley Reserve.
Located near the entrance of Meadowood, this wine club is said to entertain only 500 members around the world, including Tom Cruise, the Beckhams, Robert Redford and several U.S. ambassadors and captains of industry.
Facilities such as tennis courts, croquet courts, golf courses, hiking trails and a swimming pool complete the country club experience.
900 Meadowood Lane, St. Helena, California, United States; +1 (800) 458 8080
2. Best ecological resort: Cousine Island, Seychelles
The 25-hectare island, situated 1,600 kilometers east of Kenya, is one of the few islands in the world that are free from alien mammals (apart from humans, that is.) The island has four villas that can accommodate a maximum of 10 people at one time “to minimize human impact.”
Endemic plants take up 95% of the island’s vegetation. With carbon footprint kept to a minimum, it’s little wonder that the resort frequently wins green tourism awards. Funds generated from tourism are used to finance the island’s conservation work.
There’s more to visiting the island than walking around on tiptoe and staring at birds through binoculars. Cousine Island also offers standard resort activities such as a spa, deep sea fishing and a host of water sports.
Cousine Island, Victoria, Mahe, +248 321107
3. Best golf resort: The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs, New Zealand
Amazing views — just don’t forget to take a swing occasionally.
The pace of play is reportedly an issue, because golfers can’t stop gawping at their surroundings.
Visitors who don’t like golf will appreciate the pleasant diversions back at the lodge. There’s an award-winning spa that is accessible by a road that winds through a totara tree forest.
The property has three private beaches, one of which is covered with pink sand. There are infinity pools, tennis courts, mountain bike courses, and even opportunities for game hunting.
And don’t worry about having to share the facilities with the masses. The Lodge only has 22 guest suites and two owner’s cottages, so guests will have hundreds of hectares to themselves.
Matauri Bay Road, Matauri Bay, Northland, New Zealand, +64 9 407 0010
4. Best beach resort: Esperanza Resort, Mexico
The fantastic location is matched by the superlative service.
Many rooms afford views of humpback whales in migration in the winter. Their oceanfront restaurant serves fresh catch from the sea.
Each Wednesday, executive chef Gonzalo Cerda cooks Argentinean barbecue on the beach for guests with tiki torches, a bonfire and millions of stars as backdrop.
The genuine concern and care of the staff at Esperanza Resort is frequently commented on by guests.
7 Carretera Transpeninsular, Punta Ballena, Los Cabos, Baja California Sur, Mexico, +52 624 145 6400
5. Best spa resort: Pangkor Laut, Malaysia
Whoever said money can’t buy happiness never spent it on a Pangkor Laut massage.
Treatments from China, Japan, India, Thailand, Bali and Malaysia are on the menu, including a “Chinese Foot Pounding” enjoyed by concubines in ancient China, and treatments for couples inspired by ancient Malay wedding rituals.
Guests with cash to burn might want to splurge on a full day at the Belian Spa Pavilion, which is a private compound complete with an outdoor whirlpool, a yoga pavilion, a nap gazebo and a steam room.
With a spa this lavish, it’s little wonder that celebs such as Keira Knightley, Jimmy Choo, Elle Macpherson, Martha Stewart and Rubens Barrichello all turn to Pangkor Laut for their downtime.
Pangkor Laut Island, 32200 Lumut, Perak, Malaysia, +60 5 699 1100
6. Best ski resort: Hilton Niseko Village, Japan
Remember to look up, and you could spot the Pacific Ocean.
The town of Niseko, on Japan’s Hokkaido island, has four ski resorts, each with separate, but interlinked, ski areas, adding up to 887 hectares all of which can be accessed with one ski pass.
It’s also one of the few ski resorts in Japan with boisterous nightlife, which perhaps explains why it’s the most popular ski destination in Japan among Australians.
Regulars rave about skiing into chest-deep dry powder without resistance. Niseko is also famous for off-piste and night skiing.
Situated on the southern slopes of Annapuri Mountain, Niseko Village utilizes the protruding area of the mountain to offer a wealth of terrain changes for more daring skiers. The runs at the top part of the resort offer a glimpse of the Pacific Ocean on a clear day.
Higashiyama Onsen 048-1592 Niseko N, Niseko-cho, Japan, +81 136 441111
7. Best budget resort: Hotel Banana Azul, Costa Rica
The most relaxing vacations are sometimes the simplest.
There isn’t air conditioning in all the rooms, but with a perennial sea breeze wafting through, there’s hardly any need for it.
The 14-room resort, which was built using local hardwood, has its own free-form swimming pool and a Jacuzzi that can fit eight people. Guests regularly rave about the friendly staff and the black sand beach just next to the property.
Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, Limon, Costa Rica, +506 2750 2035
8. Best family resort: Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort, Hawaii
The island of Oahu in Hawaii is made for young families. Surf schools claim to have taken infants as young as six months out to sea, and there are submarine rides, a maze and horseback tours on the island to give kids something to talk about for years.
2005 Kalia Road, Honolulu, Hawaii 96815, United States, +1 (808) 949 4321
9. Best adventure resort: Amangiri, Utah, United States
Don’t try to do everything on offer or you’ll need another vacation right after this one.
Soar over the rugged Utah landscape in a hot air balloon and take in lakes, mountains and cliffs billions of years in the making.
Later on in the day, make your way through sandstone towers and ancient sand dunes with your personal guide, or hop aboard a motorboat to tour a lake that’s visible from space. At night, unwind in a spa that is inspired by Navajo healing traditions.
Amangiri also offers challenging trails and off-road tours through ancient sandstone canyons, fly-fishing on the nearby Colorado River or horseback rides through the desert tundra.
1 Kayenta Road, Canyon Point, Utah, United States; +1 435 675 3999
10. Best party resort: Mayrhofen, Austria
From the piste to the party.
Each April, crowds flock there not for the skiing but for the “Snowbombing,” the biggest music festival in Europe held during the ski season.
The skiing at Mayrhofen is decent as well, with 159 kilometers of runs, the steepest of which hits a gradient of 78 degrees.
Mayrhofen-Hippach Holiday Region, Dursterstraße 225 A-6290, Mayrhofen, Zillertal, Tirol, +43 (0) 5285 6760
Editor’s note: This article was previously published in 2012. It was reformatted and republished in 2017.