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Best of the Best 2008: Vacation Properties

Mike Nolan, Samantha Brooks and William Kissel

Nestled on the eastern shore of Lake Keowee in the Blue Ridge Mountains of South Carolina is the Cliffs at Keowee Springs (866.435.5127, www.cliffscommunities.com), a vacation-property development with an unusual value proposition: Membership includes a commitment to the wellness of all members.

Here, not far from Clemson University, Lake Residences (from $1.5 million to $5 million) punctuate 1,600 wooded acres, their native-stone facades and slate roofs blending tastefully into the hilly terrain. Home interiors feature wide-plank, hand-scraped oak flooring and floor-to-ceiling windows that frame dramatic vistas of the lake and surrounding mountains. Enormous verandas link interiors with sylvan grounds and the forests beyond.

Other residential options include Lodge Cottages (priced from $1.5 million to $1.8 million) and golf condos (from $610,000), which are situated on a Tom Fazio–designed course, scheduled to open in August.

Beyond golf, the Cliffs at Keowee Springs offers sporting opportunities on the lake and miles of hiking and bridle paths. In late 2009 or early 2010, the Keowee Springs Lodge and Spa, said to be the first luxury family wellness resort in the country, will open on-site. —Mike Nolan

Although sprawling beachfront homes have an undeniable appeal, convenience and hassle-free maintenance make the Residential Suites at the Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua (866.665.9184, www.livingkapalua.com) a tempting alternative for those looking to buy in paradise. Completed in January as part of the Ritz-Carlton’s $160 million renovation, the 107 one- and two-bedroom units range from 872 to 1,325 square feet and include spacious living rooms with pull-out sofas. The stylish kitchens cleverly obscure appliances to maintain a resortlike ambience. Owners have access to all of the Ritz-Carlton’s amenities, including the six restaurants, beachfront activities center, and 15,000-?square-foot spa.

These whole-ownership units start at $895,000, with the three-bedroom penthouse priced at $6.4 million. The Ritz lets owners stay in their suites as often as they like, and it also offers a program that allows owners to rent their units to other vacationers. —Samantha Brooks

At Palazzo Tornabuoni (866.753.6667, www.palazzotornabuoni.com) in Florence, Italy, a fresco by Renaissance painter Agostino Ciampelli depicting the biblical story of Esther and Ahasuerus dominates the living room of a particular apartment. During the 16th century, the palazzo’s owner, Alessandro De’ Medici—the future Pope Leo XI—often used this room to host state visits.

Five hundred years later, this historic space and the eight towering structures that make up the 15th-century palazzo are being transformed into 36 luxury apartments to create Italy’s first urban private residence club. In addition to living among the classic works of art and intricate frescoes that adorn each unit, members will enjoy a host of services and amenities, including household staff, a personal concierge, a library and cigar room, a spa and fitness center, tastings in the palazzo’s private wine cellar, and preferential access to local museums and cultural events.

Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts will manage the club when it opens this summer. Residents will pay between $332,000 and $835,000 to purchase a one-eighth share in a membership category. Available categories include studios and one-, two-, and three-bedroom apartments. —William Kissel

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Copyright by Adriaan Louw
Photo by Darren Setlow
Photo by Mikhail Starodubov/Shutterstock