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Places of the heart : ‘Where rainbows bend across the heavens . . . where guests arrive as young lovers and later return as grandparents.’

<i> Times Travel Editor</i>

If you’re not a romantic, chances are this could bore you silly--because we are updating our tome titled “Lovers’ Hideaways.”

Today our theme deals with romantic discoveries across the United States.

Our highest honor is bestowed on a find that was profiled in these pages a year ago. It is Stonepine, a new resort whose centerpiece (the Mediterranean-style mansion, Chateau Noel) evokes memories of exquisite villas along the French and Italian rivieras.

Set on a 330-acre estate in California’s Carmel Valley, Chateau Noel rises behind a row of stone pines at the end of a meandering, peaceful path that leads from the Carmel Valley Highway. Sunlight floods the valley and filters through ancient oaks and the stone pines for which the former ranch was named.

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Occasionally, a resort is introduced that is without fault. Stonepine, with its chateau, magnificently manicured grounds, carriage rides and handsome paddock house, is that rare exception. To this exquisite property we award Five Hearts: .

In San Francisco, cares dissolve and romance glows at a superb 26-room hotel on Bush Street, Petite Auberge. Nearly 2 1/2 blocks off Union Square, this French-style country inn radiates Old World charm. Fireplaces grace nearly every room, and rather than mints, maids place a single red rose and Swiss chocolates on the guest’s pillow nightly.

Along with robes, complimentary bottles of wine are delivered. Tea is an afternoon ritual, and a buffet breakfast is served in the lounge each morning. Petite Auberge with its aura of romance is deserving of Three Hearts: .

Turning south, our next choice is Maison de Ville, the oldest structure operating as a hotel in New Orleans’ French Quarter. Cited as “one of the finest small hotels in America,” Maison de Ville dates from 1742. A former private residence, it overlooks a flowered patio directly behind the Court of the Two Sisters. Breakfast is served in the courtyard or one’s room. In the evening there is the glow of lamps, a fountain spills musically, and the quiet air is redolent with the perfume of flowers. This is old, old New Orleans with an immense charm, and so we bestow upon Maison de Ville Four Hearts: .

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In the French Quarter other romantics choose Soniat House at 1133 Chartres St., with its French and English antiques and four-poster beds. Like Maison de Ville, Soniat House is old, with loads of Southern atmosphere and a spiral staircase that curls to an upstairs porch. There guests study by gas lamps flickering on across the street at about the same hour the houseman at Soniat House is lighting candles along a bricked courtyard with its fountain, potted plants and carriage lamps. Soniat House--a Three Heart winner: .

In this survey of romantic hideaways there comes to mind the little nine-room Centre Bridge Inn in New Hope, Pa., with its period furniture and priceless antiques. River-view rooms feature Oriental rugs, beds with hand-crocheted canopies and early American wallpaper.

The proprietor, Stephen R. DuGan, refers unabashedly to his inn as one of America’s “great romantic hideaways.” This is due in part to the restaurant with its California and imported wines, country-styled pate, veal and lamb dishes, fresh fish, duck and lobster.

DuGan, a classical pianist, entertains on occasion for his guests while candles glow at each table. Rooms at Centre Bridge Inn are booked during certain seasons up to three months in advance, and with autumn’s colors there’s always a full house. Our award to Centre Bridge Inn--Five Hearts: .

Among recent additions to our list of hideaways for romantics is the newly renovated Hotel Jerome in Aspen, Colo., where guest rooms feature Victorian antiques, king-size beds with down comforters, custom-made carpets and Italian marble baths with Jacuzzi tubs. Stepping through the front door of Hotel Jerome is like stepping back into Colorado’s opulent past, when mines operated round the clock, producing fortunes in silver and gold.

In the lobby, circular settees and sofas are scattered beneath fluted chandeliers that shed their light on marble-top tables and an ancient piano. It is a scene lifted from 19th-Century Aspen. The Jerome--the most perfectly restored hotel in the Rockies--is a Five Heart winner: .

In this survey of hideaways noted from earlier columns, there comes to mind L’Auberge de Sedona, a splendid resort in Sedona, Ariz. Made up of a new $7-million lodge and a cluster of log cabins with interiors resembling rooms in a French country inn, L’Auberge de Sedona contains hand-crafted brass beds and canopies, and yards of fabric by Pierre Deux. Off the main highway leading to Oak Creek Canyon, L’Auberge de Sedona is like a breath of Burgundy.

This is particularly true of its restaurant that features such delights as a French herb pasta, yogurt bisque, a spinach and hazelnut salad, tournedos with green peppercorn, duckling with peaches and grilled fillet of salmon with basil and pine nuts. Candles glow at the table, and background music provides the mood for romance. On warm evenings, couples sip wine on the terrace while soothing the soul with Sedona’s fiery sunsets. To L’Auberge de Sedona we give our Five Heart rating: .

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Turning back to California, our top award goes once again to Ken Irwin’s La Mancha Private Club and Villas in Palm Springs. Without question, La Mancha ranks as the most prestigious small resort in the desert. With nearly all of its 50 villas featuring private swimming pools or Jacuzzis (or both), the emphasis is on romance.

Irwin spends lavishly. Each of the one- to four-bedroom units contains a kitchen with a microwave oven, push-button fireplaces, a wide-screen TV, a stereo, a library of film discs and king-size beds featuring $1,500 mattresses.

Surrounded by an adobe wall, La Mancha represents privacy in a setting reminiscent of Old Spain.

La Mancha’s small, intimate dining room lets guests dine outside under the stars--weather permitting. The resort offers a “Romantic Interlude” package that features champagne, a candlelight dinner (available again beginning Nov. 15), breakfast in bed and the use of a luxury convertible. La Mancha is another Five Heart winner: .

On Northern California’s Mendocino coast we zero in on that widely heralded resort, Heritage House, where Alan Alda starred in the romantic film “Same Time Next Year.” No inn along the entire California coast enjoys greater popularity. Heritage House, with its 19th-Century main building, provides a cluster of cottages that rise in meadows or on cliffs overlooking the ocean.

The resort is booked to capacity, year-round. Guests arrive as young lovers and, years later, return as grandparents. One unit disguised as a water tower contains a spiral staircase. Flowers grow on sod roofs, ducks swim in ponds, and guests stroll through gardens blooming with hollyhocks and along beaches strewn with driftwood. Heritage House offers romance without television or even a swimming pool. Only the cry of the wind and the thunder of ocean waves. Romantics give it Five Hearts. We agree: .

A recent discovery among our “Lovers’ Hideaways” is Susan and Bill Fletcher’s green and white Turtleback Farm on Washington state’s Orcas Island. A B&B; with seven bedrooms and seven baths, it is the choice of honeymooners seeking seclusion. Rising on 80 acres, Turtleback is tastefully furnished with the Fletchers’ private collection of antiques, and beds are graced with down-like comforters. Guests dine on a sun deck facing lush meadows and trout and duck ponds that share the scene with Canada geese, domestic mallards and lambs. Our rating for Turtleback Farm--Two Hearts: .

A repeat nominee this year is Salishan Lodge, that low-key, high-quality resort facing Oregon’s storm-battered central coast. Rising beside groves of fir, spruce, hemlock, cedar and pine, Salishan appears to have evolved from the soil itself. Covered walkways lead from guest accommodations to the lodge, with its award-winning restaurant and a menu that reads like a gastronomic symphony. Guests play golf and wile away the day in saunas, gymnasiums, a swimming pool and Jacuzzi--or else stroll along a beach littered with driftwood. Salishan is another Five Heart hideaway: .

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And what romantic could resist the appeal of Kona Village on the Big Island of Hawaii, where couples exchange wedding vows barefoot on the beach. At Kona Village there are no cars, no crowds. Only the symphony of the sea and the voice of the wind. Few resorts offer the peace found at Kona Village. Romantics occupy thatched cottages, and the air is fragrant with plumeria and other blooms. Remote and peaceful, Kona Village is a rare discovery worthy of our Four Hearts: .

For two in love, I can think of no more peaceful retreat than Hawaii’s popular low-rise Hotel Hana-Maui. Reached by a narrow, twisting, two-lane road, it rises on 20 acres of this earth’s loveliest terrain. We’ve rated it before, a place where rainbows bend across the heavens and waterfalls feed peaceful ponds, and where sunbathers go to repose on Hamoa Beach, that sandy shore that so impressed James Michener. Again, Five Hearts: .

Our nominees:

--Stonepine, 150 E. Carmel Valley Road, Carmel 93924; (408) 659-2245. Rates: $150/$500 double. Evening five-course meals: $40. Facilities: swimming pool, health clubs, tennis, archery, croquet, riding.

--Petite Auberge, 863 Bush St., San Francisco 94108; (415) 928-6000. Rates: $105/$155 double.

--Maison de Ville, 727 Rue Toulouse Ave., New Orleans 70130; (504) 561-5858 or toll-free (800) 634-1600. Rates: $110/$185 double.

--Soniat House, 1133 Chartres St., New Orleans 70116; (504) 522-0570 or (800) 544-8808. Rates: $115/$250.

--Centre Bridge Inn, Box 74, Star Route (River and Old York Roads), New Hope, Pa. 18938; (215) 862-2048. Rates: $70/$100 weekends, $60/$100 weekdays.

--Hotel Jerome, 330 E. Main St., Aspen, Colo. 81611; (303) 920-1000. Rates (depending on the season): $98/$650.

--L’Auberge de Sedona, 301 Little Lane, Sedona, Ariz. 86336; (602) 282-1661. Rates (depending on season): $250/$300 for cabins; $120/$140 for rooms in the lodge. Cabin prices include breakfast, dinner and tax. There is no tipping.

--La Mancha Private Club & Villas, 444 Avenida Caballeros, Palm Springs 92262; (619) 323-1773. Rates (depending on season): $117/$155 for a mini-suite; villas, $135/$850 (the latter is a three-bedroom, three-bath bungalow with a sunken tennis court and swimming pool).

--Heritage House, 5200 N. California 1, Little River, Calif. 95456; (707) 937-5885. Rates: $115/$270 double.

--Turtleback Farm, Route 1, Box 650, Eastsound, Wash. 98245; (206) 376-4914. Rates (depending on season): $50/$90, breakfast for two included.

--Salishan Lodge, U.S. 101, Gleneden Beach, Ore. 97388; (503) 764-23371 or (800) 547-6500. Rates: $115/$152 double.

--Kona Village, P.O. Box 1299, Kailua-Kona, Hawaii 96745; (808) 325-5555 or (800) 367-5290. Rates: $310/$510 double, with three meals.

--Hotel Hana-Maui, Hana, Hawaii 96713; (808) 248-8211 or (800) 321-HANA. Rates: rooms, $455/$855 double; suites, $555 double; cottages, $755/$855 double.


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