A few years ago, producer Christina Wayne decided to close out a trip to Rome by spending a night at La Posta Vecchia, a Renaissance villa once owned by John Paul Getty that features marble staircases, stone fireplaces, and silk drapes that frame views of the Tyrrhenian Sea.
Its best amenity, though, is it's easy access to Leonardo da Vinci Fiumicino Airport. "Our flight out was very early," says Wayne, chief executive officer of Assembly Entertainment. She chose La Posta Vecchia as a high-end alternative to an airport hotel, a move that paid off handsomely when she learned her flight had been canceled. "We wound up having to stay the weekend," she says. "It was glorious!"
Airport hotels, in or next to an airport that cater specifically to people in transit, have upped their game in recent years. The Fairmont Vancouver Airport, which sits directly above the international departures terminal, has a soundproofed spa and serves afternoon tea. Adjacent to the Denver International Airport's Jeppesen Terminal is a Westin that offers mountain views and a rooftop pool. Next year, the TWA Hotel will debut in the Eero Saarinen-designed terminal at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport to provide retro-styled relief to tired travelers.
But for the most part, airport hotels feel like utilitarian sleep boxes; even the best have a you-could-be-anywhere vibe. They're great if you have a four-hour layover and just need a shower and some shuteye, but if you're staying longer, they're not the only option.
Some savvy travelers are booking five-star retreats that are almost as convenient. They're located close enough to the airport to work for long layovers, early departures, brief business meetings, and international rendezvous, but because they're designed as destinations rather than stopgap lodging, they offer distinctive design, memorable meals, and even some serious leisure activities.
At the new Solis Two Porsche Drive near Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta, guests can learn to drive sports cars. The Westdrift Manhattan Beach, 10 minutes from Los Angeles International Airport, has a nine-hole golf course. Farther afield, at the Roseate House New Delhi, a five-minute drive from Indira Gandhi International Airport, you can wander in acres of gardens or take a dip in the 100-meter swimming pool.
While these hotels may not be within walking distance from the luggage carousels, they don't require a trek downtown. Since many airports are located in outlying areas, an open-minded traveller can find a country property with lots of character. In the United Kingdom these are grand estates-turned-resorts; in France, it's manors and country inns.
In less cosmopolitan areas, the options can be even more rewarding: Consider the Umstead Hotel and Spa, just a seven-minute drive from Raleigh-Durham International Airport, where you can get 24-hour room service instead of a bowl of bagels. At the seven properties below, all fewer than 20 minutes from a terminal, you'll be praying for a flight delay.
Westdrift Manhattan Beach
A 10-minute taxi from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)
Instead of battling the city's notoriously tangled downtown traffic, head toward the beach. Though it's not directly on the ocean, the Westdrift has a laid-back, modern feel-like West Elm, in a good way. Amenities include an outdoor swimming pool, a nine-hole golf course, a crossfit-inspired gym, and an indoor-outdoor restaurant.
From $185 a night
Roseate House New Delhi
Five minutes from New Delhi's Indira Gandhi International Airport (DEL)
Delhi's airport has not one but several five-star hotels nearby-including a JW Marriott, an Andaz, and the distinctive Roseate. Thai architect Khun Lek Bunnag gave the property a striking contemporary design with dome ceilings, 20-foot-high doors, and a meandering manmade waterway crisscrossed by paths. The Roseate's eight acres of gardens, 100-meter-long swimming pool, and three restaurants also happen to be five minutes from the airport.
From about $155 a night
A 20-minute drive from Heathrow Airport (LHR)
Though it might not be obvious to the just-passing-through, Heathrow is set in a posh part of the English countryside-Windsor Castle is just 20 minutes away. So is the Dorchester Collection's Coworth Park, an elegant Georgian estate set in 240 acres of parkland near Ascot. (For speedier access, the property also has its own helipad.) Instead of a departures board, you'll find smoked-oak floors, a spa, three restaurants, and even a polo field.
From about $800 a night
Lansdowne Resort and Spa
A 15-minute trip from Dulles International Airport (IAD)
You don't have to choose between a chain hotel or a 45-minute slog to downtown Washington. At Lansdowne, overlooking the Potomac River, you can book a treatment in the 12,000-square-foot spa or hike one of the trails winding through the 476-acre property.
Deluxe suites from $845 a night
Solis Two Porsche Drive
Five minutes from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL)
Go from the airport to the racetrack in 300 seconds flat. The year-old Solis overlooks the Porsche Experience Center at the carmaker's North America's headquarters. Guests can watch the action from the rooftop or partake in it, choosing from a fleet of dozens of vehicles and learning from an expert "drive coach." There's also an indoor swimming pool, a 24-hour fitness center, and an airport shuttle every 30 minutes.
From $265 a night
Four Seasons Resort and Club Dallas at Las Colinas
Ten minutes from Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (DFW)
True to Texas stereotype, this resort does it big. Spread over 400 acres, it has three swimming pools, two golf courses, indoor and outdoor running tracks, and a sandy beach-all just minutes from the airport. If you get in late, there's 24-hour room service. And if you haven't had enough time in the air, you can sign up for an aerial yoga lesson.
From $675 a night