by Martha Cooke | March 01, 2004

The sumptuous pool at the Salish Lodge & Spa outside Seattle

As the nationwide competition for meetings business heats up, more top-of-the-line hotels are turning up in cities that sometimes fail to make the A list in planners’ site selection itineraries. Indeed, some of the hospitality industry’s best-kept secrets are luxe, lavish resorts tucked into beautiful settings within an hour’s drive of better-known destinations. The following pages feature some of these properties, all of which prove that when it comes to accommodations, second-tiers can lay out a first-class welcome mat.

Amelia Island Plantation
Amelia Island, Fla.
(904) 261-6161

Built in the early 1970s’ flush of environmental awareness, Amelia Island Plantation glories in surroundings of 1,350 acres of live oaks, Spanish moss and salt marshes. Guests stay in one of 249 rooms at the Amelia Inn or in one of 411 additional rooms in a “village” of one- to three-bedroom villas.
   On-site meeting accommodations also take full advantage of the resort’s natural setting. In addition to 48,000 square feet of indoor event and pre-function space, the Plantation has a 10,000-square-foot tented pavilion for open-air functions.
   Attendees can fly into Jacksonville International Airport and take the half-hour ride to the resort with Jacksonville-based First Coast Arrangements (, which can provide town car or limo service.
   As with any island retreat, the recreational possibilities of water are a big draw here. Guests can join a fishing expedition that leaves from downtown Amelia Island, or go horseback riding on a strip of unspoiled beach. Got a group with its feet planted firmly on the ground? The resort offers shuttle service to the downtown district, a shopper’s paradise with its quaint Victorian collection of small stores and boutiques.
   The Plantation added a spa in 2001, and the facility offers treatments ranging from the decadent like a couples’ massage to the esoteric. The signature treatment, Watsu, is a form of massage during which the bathing-suit-clad subject floats in a pool of water alongside the therapist.
Attendees also can unwind on three well-manicured 18-hole golf courses as long as they don’t mind sharing the fairway with majestically nonchalant herons and egrets.