By Michael Matthews
May 13, 2010 -- A few years ago, flying at 35,000 feet en route to I forget where, I watched a movie called The Bucket List. You know, the oddball, odd-couple, oldster thing starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. Since then, there has been a proliferation of books and travel articles on "things to see before you die."

This week's column is going to be the start of yet another bucket list. My list of ten, twenty, or maybe more, "boutique" hotels and resorts that I think you must experience before you depart for that greater bucket in the sky.

The rules for my bucket list are simple enough: The hotel or resort must have fewer than 60 rooms. It must be a full-service property. More importantly, I personally must have stayed in it sometime over the past couple of years. That way what I write will at least be fairly current. And, of course, I must love it and find it unique in some way and I must find it absolutely vital for you to visit.

I might also add that I fully expect you to act like our Congress: Vehemently agree or disagree with my choices, but, please, don't spit on me.

I'll start in North America with a property that I have stayed at many times. In the spirit of full financial disclosure, it's a hotel that have done some work for in the past. My own involvement notwithstanding, however, I feel it is simply the finest boutique resort on the West Coast of the United States.

It's the San Ysidro Ranch in Santa Barbara, California.

San Ysidro is owned by the Beanie Baby inventor Ty Warner. According to Forbes, Warner is worth a few billon dollars and he spent two years remodeling the resort to the tune of a reputed $1.5 million a room. That's right: $1.5 million. That's totally nuts, of course, because he will never see a return on his money. But that's good for you because he has created something at San Ysidro Ranch that will never be duplicated.

The 41-room resort sits on nearly 500 acres in the Montecito foothills with views of the Santa Ynez Mountains and the Pacific Ocean. The resort is laid out on a single level; 60 percent of the lodgings are freestanding cottages. (One, many moons ago, was used as a honeymoon haven by Jack & Jackie Kennedy.). The accommodations are huge by most standards and have every possible accouterment--even pooch beds, bowls and a bow-wow beanie toy should you so require equal comfort for your loved one. All have fireplaces of hand-cut masonry.

The king-size beds are swaddled in 750-count Egyptian cotton sheets and there's a choice of pillows on the very comfortable mattress. The stupendous bathroom fittings allow for play while you bathe with Italian Acqua di Parma toiletries. Each room has its own library of up-to-date books and current magazines. Some accommodations have outdoor rain showers and cedar hot tubs. Most have patios.

The décor throughout the San Ysidro Ranch is dignified and restrained. It has a natural feel of warmth and homeliness. But it's sophisticated, too, and everything is done with exquisite taste. It is impossible to fault anything. The attention to detail is amazing.

There's a pool, fitness center and a bowling/croquet lawn all set in the incredibly beautiful landscaped grounds. Seasonal flowers bloom all year round. Ty Warner was so fastidious that he moved two large oak trees so the views would be maximized. They were moved just four feet, by the way.

There's fine dining on an exceptional level and a pub with more modest fare, including macaroni and cheese. Both The Stonehouse restaurant and Plow and Angel pub are housed in a 19th-century citrus-packing house. Everything coming out of the kitchens is fresh and prepared with local ingredients. It has to be. The kitchens purposely have no freezers. The wine list is massive.

Unobtrusive service is what you'd expect at this level of resort. Every whim is attended to immediately. The welcome is genuine and the farewells are tinged with gratitude that you have been a guest.

The resort is under the command of one of the world's most able and amiable managing directors, Seamus McManus, who carries a pedigree from hotels in London, Boston, Hong Kong and Dallas. Rosewood Hotels lends its reputation and label to the overall governance of the resort.

If you have to know the nightly rate, you probably can't afford a stay at San Ysidro Ranch. But do try it once before going to the big bucket.

Editor's note: Even if you can afford it, you might like to know what San Ysidro Ranch charges. Weekday packages available through July 2 start at $495 a night a couple. Packages include breakfast and dinner for two at the Stonehouse restaurant. Lodging-only weekend rates start at $1,200 a night.

ABOUT MICHAEL MATTHEWS Michael Matthews has managed and marketed fine hotels around the world for more than 45 years. He spent 14 years in Hong Kong building the legendary Regent International group. He has also worked with St. Regis, Ritz-Carlton and Rosewood hotels. Matthews is currently based in Arizona. He began writing Do Not Disturb in early 2004.

THE FINE PRINT Joe Brancatelli makes this space available to Michael Matthews in the spirit of free speech and to encourage editorial diversity and the wider discussion of important travel issues. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property of Matthews. This column may not be reproduced in any form without the express permission of Michael Matthews.

This column is Copyright © 2010 by Michael Matthews. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2010 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.