If you've ever dreamed of ditching for a few days the husband, kids, work and the cat that shredded your new wallpaper, then maybe it's time for a girlfriends' getaway.
You can always go to New York, San Francisco or Paris -- good getaways, all. But if you really need a late summer or early fall escape or just an excuse to have an adult-style, ladies-only pajama party, rethink these extraordinary, off-the-beaten-path destinations scattered across three continents and suited to every budget.
Walk and bicycle throughout the historic city filled with public gardens and squares, or grab a bottle of Bordeaux and picnic in the in the countryside (yes, it's legal). No question, you come for the scenery as well as an education in wine, and you must take the time for an introductory class on Bordeaux wines to learn about the region's 8,000 to 10,000 wineries. Bordeaux enchants the soul, and to best explore all of it, with its host of elegant restaurants, medieval villages such as Saint-Émilion, and regal chateaux, rent a car and just drive the back roads edged with more than 300,000 acres of vineyards.
When to go: For wine harvests, fall is spectacular with color. If you prefer the awakening of the vines, visit in spring.
Why it's great for girlfriends: If you have been to Napa and Sonoma with your gal pals, you'll love Bordeaux and its storybook elements of wine and the French countryside.
Who to contact and where to stay: Visit www.Bordeaux-Tourisme.com or www.Bordeaux-city.com. Sign up through the tourism office for the "Bordeaux Uncorked" wine class, held July through September. In town, stay at the Hotel de Normandie or in the country at a historic castle such as the luxurious Chateau de Camperos.
Amelia Island Plantation
This 1,350-acre resort on the Atlantic Ocean at the very northeast corner of Florida is a destination unto itself. Sure, there's championship golf, fishing, tennis and bicycling and hiking under the deep canopy of gnarled oaks, along with upscale shopping, but there's also a range of award-winning restaurants including the elegant Ocean Grill known for its seafood dishes and the less formal Verandah, Beach Club, and Marche Burette. Later, you can enjoy martinis at the aviation-themed Falcon's Nest. And absolutely don't miss the spa. With yoga, signature treatments and workshops about everything from losing weight to quitting smoking, it's one of the most well-rounded spas that I've ever seen. Visit the nearby town of Fernandina for a history-laden excursion.
When to go: It's a year-round destination, although fall is far less crowded.
Why it's great for girlfriends: The Amelia Inn has luxurious hotel rooms, while the Villas of Amelia have 1-, 2-, and 3-bedroom units. And it's a quiet getaway.
Who to contact:888-261-6161; www.aipfl.com.
Fredericksburg and the Texas Hill Country
There's just something about the Texas Hill Country that draws you to its soul. Maybe it's the wineries or the fields of wildflowers or even the historic Main Street of Fredericksburg with its myriad shops and restaurants. Perhaps it's because of its intersection of Texas and German cultures. In any case, there's plenty to do. A must-see is the National Museum of the Pacific War. Then drop by Luckenbach for a beer and the twang of Waylon, Willie, and the boys. Hike to the top of Enchanted Rock, the second largest granite dome in the U.S. And come for the unique German- and Texas-style food that has no equal. Try the Airport Diner, the Rather Sweet Bakery & Cafe, Cabernet Grill, the Peach Tree Gift Gallery and Tea Room, Altdorf Restaurant and Biergarten, and Der Lindenbaum.
When to go: Late summer and early fall to tromp lavender fields and for wine harvests and tastings at local vintners such as the Becker Vineyards, GrapeCreek Vineyard and Torre di Pietra Winery. Visit during the holidays for spectacular Christmas shopping in more than 100 specialty stores. In spring, come for the glorious wildflowers.
Why it's great for girlfriends: Everything about Fredericksburg is just too cute.
Who to contact and where to stay: Call 888-997-3600 or visit www.fredericksburg-texas.com. Stay at the Hangar Hotel, a former airplane hangar that is one of the coolest hotels ever, or at a bed-and-breakfast.
During late summer and fall, kayak or bicycle along the "whale route" of the St. Lawrence Seaway for sightings of blues, belugas, minkes and humpbacks. Along the way, you'll pass venerable lighthouses, see a variety of seals and dolphins, and have opportunities to sample seafood, freshly baked bread and scrumptious Quebec cheeses and beers. There are tons of national parks to explore for photo ops, and for the brave at heart, try your hand at ziplining. Visit the Jardin des Glaciers in Baie-Comeau to learn all about Quebec's magnificent glaciers.
When to go: Spring through fall. It's usually cool, even in August and September, so it's a nice respite from summer heat and hot flashes.
Why it's great for girlfriends: The people of the Quebec Maritimes are wonderfully and whimsically friendly, so it's the ideal destination for brushing up on your French skills.
Who to contact and where to stay: Call 888-447-2020 or visit www.QuebecMaritime.ca or. Fly directly into Baie-Comeau from Montreal or drive from anywhere in the U.S. Enjoy the food and accommodations at Hotel Le Manoir in Baie-Comeau or Hotel Tadoussac in Tadoussac.
The Maasai Mara is the most stunning natural wildlife spectacle on earth. Plus there's the Out of Africa connection with visits to Bogani, Karen Blixen's former coffee plantation. Several women-only tour operators run trips to Kenya, including WildTrek Safaris with a comprehensive introduction to the East Africa way of life. This fully escorted women-only safari in the midprice range includes visits to some of the best known parks in Kenya, including the Mara, where you'll have the opportunity to experience a wealth of activities including the great wildebeest migration, traditional cultures and drives through the intricately picturesque landscape. Accommodations are at renowned lodges and tented camps such as El Karama Ranch, Stanley Hotel in Nairobi, Mount Kenya Safari Club, which was once the retreat of Stephanie Powers and William Holden, and Elsamere Conservation Centre, which is the former home of George and Joy Adamson of Born Free fame.
When to go: Late summer and early fall during the height of the migration.
Why it's great for girlfriends: Women feel safer in numbers when traveling to destinations as exotic and far away as Kenya. Tour operators like WildTrek Safaris keep their groups small and intimate for higher quality of travel.