What makes these places so special? Glorious settings--a modernist retreat in the foothills of the Australian high country, a white-clapboard inn on a Pacific Northwest shore and a chalet surrounded by the summits of the Catalan Pyrenees--play a large part. Even more compelling are the unique sensibilities of the chefs, who create brilliant food with a regional flourish. A meal at one of these off-the-beaten-track destinations is a total experience, since each offers overnight accommodations and, in some cases, other activities that transform a quest for dinner into an extraordinary culinary vacation.
AUSTRALIA As if getting to Australia itself wasn't the mother of all schlepps, Victoria's Howqua-Dale Gourmet Retreat is a three-hour drive from Melbourne. That is, if you don't set a course via the Healesville animal sanctuary to visit the wombats or stop off at some Yarra Valley wineries for a tipple or two.
The striking complex is run by a pair of exceptional women. Marieke Brugman, who presides over the huge glassed-in kitchen, is an art historian turned chef. The equally accomplished Sarah Stegley, who spent two years with a United Nations team in South Africa, plays the roles of sommelier, innkeeper and mistress of chitchat.