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Four Seasons Hualalai, an exceptional resort on the Kohala Coast

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Four Seasons Hualalai, an exceptional resort on the Kohala Coast
photo by Andrew Collins
Even by luxury Hawaii standards, the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai at Historic Kaupulehu (72-100 Kaupulehu Dr., Kailua-Kona, 808-325-8000) - which lies just a bit north of Kona International Airport along the starkly mesmerizing black-lava fields of the Kohala Coast - is both astoundingly beautiful and considerably expensive. But if I could spend a week at any hotel in Hawaii, this would be my first choice, and I'm not along in this view. The Big Island Four Seasons was one of the pioneers in site-sensitive design, eschewing the usual model of mammoth hotel buildings that dominate their settings in favor of a rambling collection of low-slung bungalows set in a series of crescents, some facing the ocean and others one of the state's most dramatic golf courses (designed by Jack Nicklaus).

The effect of the design is that units have private exterior entrances and very private balconies or ground-floor terraces that mostly look out at nature rather than at other buildings, and that staying here feels more like spending time in a peaceful, albeit ultra-exclusive, village than at a gargantuan hotel - in fact, there are just under 250 rooms, including a number of super-spacious and swanky deluxe suites, which were added most recently. And although rates start around $625 nightly here, even the so-called standard rooms are extraordinarily large and handsomely outfitted, and the hotel offers a number packages throughout the year, including substantial credits toward dining, the spa, and on-site shops if you book more than four nights. If it's a special-occasion vacation you're planning, this serene and supremely elegant compound nestled amid neatly tended gardens and overlooking white-sand beaches is hard to beat.

The Four Seasons Hualalai offers a full slate of sports and resort amenities - a large sports club and gym, a central pool overlooking the ocean, roughly a half-mile of beachfront, eight tennis courts, the acclaimed 18-hole Hualalai Golf Course, and what may very well be the most relaxing and aesthetically pleasing spa on the Big Island. There are also a pair of lounges and three different restaurants: the casual and alfresco Beach Tree, which serves California-Mediterranean-influenced fare at lunch and dinner; the open-air Pahu i'a, open for breakfast and dinner daily and facing the ocean; and the Pan-Asian-style Hualalai Grille, which overlooks the golf course and dinner each day as well as lighter fare and cocktails throughout the day.

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