When I'm traveling, however, I look on breakfast in a different light. It becomes a celebration of the new day and new surroundings. Recently, I visited three very different inns in three very different parts of the country: northern California, Puerto Rico and Colorado. What these places have in common are bountiful breakfasts, beautiful surroundings and serious hiking just steps away from the breakfast room. Talk about having your cake--or, in this case, your breakfast--and not only eating it, but burning it off, too!
HORNED DORSET, PUERTO RICO
I love waking up at the enchanting Horned Dorset Primavera on Puerto Rico's largely unspoiled west coast. I hear the roosters first, then the squawking of the more exotic birds that inhabit the grounds. If I look out one window, I see lumpy green hills; in the other direction, the pale blue Caribbean shimmers in the early-morning light. I stay in bed for another half-hour, taking in all this beauty. Then I put on a bathing suit and head for the pool.
At 30 by 70 feet, the pool is huge by Caribbean hotel standards and is an ideal place to work off last night's dinner before getting down to this morning's breakfast. I go straight from the pool to the breezy veranda, where Danny, who has been with the Horned Dorset since it opened in 1988, offers a good-morning smile along with a silver pot of coffee and another of hot milk. After a cup of this brew, I am ready for citrus bread and a plate of carefully arranged tropical fruits: mango, papaya, pineapple and tiny bananas. With this under my belt, I hardly need, but never resist, the soft local bread (pan de agua) with butter and preserves. And I definitely don't need to order the pancakes or the omelet with tropical vegetables. But if I do, I don't feel guilty, because the beach awaits.
Armed with hat, T-shirt, sunscreen and towel, I set out from the front of the hotel for a stroll. About a hundred yards to the north, my first stop is the tiny village of Barrero, where a couple of little red, blue and yellow boats, called yolas, are parked in the sand. Beyond Barrero, when the tide is high, I climb some makeshift wooden stairs to the top of a seawall, originally the track bed for a train that ran round the island from San Juan to Ponce. After a short stretch atop the seawall, another set of stairs leads back to the beach, near a whimsical concrete pavilion in the shape of a boat. Built to mark the spot where Columbus landed on Puerto Rico in 1493, it is one of many such monuments on this coast of the island, where almost every village lays claim to the great discoverer.
Then the big, wide, beautiful beaches begin--the stuff of beachcombers' dreams, with golden sands, palm trees and virtually no people. When I reach a spectacular crescent called Almendras, I take a dip and dry off under one of the almond trees for which the beach is named. Sometimes I continue on to the town of Rincón, a top surfing center, three miles from the hotel. Then I turn around. After all, I don't want to miss lunch.
SARDY HOUSE, ASPEN
As lovely as Aspen is in winter, most locals you meet during ski season insist that the best time here is summer. It's true. The mountains are as grand as ever, but where there was once fresh white powder, you now find lush meadows carpeted with wildflowers. The air is different too; still crisp and invigorating, it smells sweeter, infused with the scents of pine and sage. But the biggest change is the endless variety of activities in the summer season, from the highly cultural (ballet, opera, jazz, chamber music, wine tasting) to the highly energetic (white-water rafting, mountain biking, hang gliding).
One reason I stay at Sardy House is that this 20-room inn, built within and around a turreted 1892 Victorian mansion, is right on Main Street, within walking distance of most of Aspen's concerts and dance performances. I love my room, a clean, bright, almost Scandinavian space with wood-paneled walls and ceilings, overstuffed armchairs and sofas and drop-dead mountain views. And I love having breakfast in Sardy House's small, sunny dining room.
In the morning I have the French Toast Sardy, made with cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla ice cream. A few cups of Sardy House's special coffee, flavored with roasted vanilla beans, and I'm ready to take on one of Aspen's classic hiking trails.
Until I've adjusted to the 7,000-foot-plus altitude, I stick with the Rio Grande Trail, which takes off three blocks north of Sardy House. Flat and paved for the first mile and three-quarters, this route follows the historic Roaring Fork River. By the second or third morning, I'm ready for the famous Ute Trail at the base of Aspen Mountain. From here, it's up, up and up as the trail switches back and forth, rising some 1,700 feet in just over a mile.
The great reward at the end of the trail is the panorama of majestic mountains, some still snowcapped, stretching all the way to the top of Independence Pass 20 miles to the east. When I find myself taking a deep, deep breath up here, it's not just because I'm at 9,700 feet.
BELTANE RANCH, GLEN ELLEN
It happened twice. Driving along Highway 12 in California's Sonoma wine country, I was intrigued by a pretty yellow ranch house with wraparound verandas. I stopped and found not a soul to show me around, although a blackboard did inform guests whose room was whose. Now I finally have a reservation at that pretty yellow house, Beltane Ranch, and it is somehow fitting that I am greeted by that same blackboard, which tells me my room is the first at the top of the stairs. The room (one of four) is actually a small suite. Attractively furnished with iron beds and antique odds and ends, it is pleasant enough, but as soon as I unpack, I head straight for a porch swing on the veranda to take in Beltane's glorious view of gardens, vineyards and mountains. This is the scene that mesmerized the food writer M.F.K. Fisher, who lived just down the road during the last decades of her life. Soon, I am joined by a fat tabby cat and a limping Labrador--but still no human beings. Is some Agatha Christie mystery about to unfold?
Before my imagination runs wild, Beltane's soft-spoken, no-nonsense proprietor, Rosemary Wood, appears to welcome me and to see if I'll need a dinner reservation in nearby Glen Ellen or Sonoma. Then she disappears, leaving me alone once more with the animals and the view.
The next morning, while I fill up on scones and buttermilk pancakes, Rosemary presents me with a map of Beltane's basic eight-mile hike. This trek normally takes from three to four hours, but since I need to catch a plane in San Francisco, Rosemary agrees to drive me to a starting point that will lop a couple of miles off the route.
Riding in an open Jeep on a twisting road, we pass Beltane's Zinfandel, Merlot and Chardonnay vineyards as Rosemary fills me in on the history of the ranch. The house was designed and built in 1892 by Mary Ellen Pleasant, a successful madam from San Francisco. Rosemary's family purchased the 1,600-acre property back in the 1930s and raised cattle, sheep and turkeys before getting into the vineyard business in the 1970s and the bed-and-breakfast business in 1981.
A jackrabbit scampers across the road as Rosemary stops the Jeep in front of a locked gate at the edge of a vineyard. "You'll have to climb over," she informs me with a grin. At first I don't do much hiking because the beauty of the vistas is paralyzing: green slopes, vineyards and silvery ponds give way to layers of misty mountains that look like a Chinese painting. But if I am to make my plane, I've got to keep moving. After a good half-hour climb through a dark forest of oak, pine and bay trees, I'm crossing a sunny green meadow to which 20 or so grazing cattle seem to have a prior claim. I make my way gingerly round the beasts, all of whom eye me suspiciously. Soon I'm in another magnificent open expanse, this time happily cattle-free, at the highest point of the trail. The tall pointy pines in the distance make it look like a location for The Sound of Music, but as I begin my descent, the stands of fragrant eucalyptus and towering redwoods remind me that I'm in northern California. Down and down I go, beside fern-covered cliffs and rushing streams, one of which I get to know intimately when I slip off a log. When I finally make it back to the ranch, I am soaked and exhausted and supremely happy. My only regret is that airplane I have to catch because I can think of nothing better than spending the rest of the afternoon on Beltane's veranda.
Richard Alleman is a contributing editor at Travel & Leisure and Vogue.