Learn more Vietnam Travel guide at: http://www.alotrip.com
There’s no reason to hibernate this winter when there are new beaches, slopes, sports, and festivals to discover. This year’s list of best winter trips is a global collection of 15 editor-recommended destinations. Find the one that inspires you and start packing. —Maryellen Kennedy Duckett
Photograph by Thierry Chesnot, Corbis
Paris is at its most Parisian in winter. Without the crowds, there’s space to linger over a morning café crème and croissant at Le Bar du Marché and wander through the Louvre. The low tourist season means some lower rates too. Several museums and monuments offer free admission on first Sundays (November-March), and the first of the biannual Soldes (state-mandated, six-week sales) begins on January 8. The nationwide discounts (up to 50 percent or more in every store) are designed to make room for the upcoming season’s wares. The sales return in June, but by then, so will the crowds.
When to Go: December-March; Les Soldes, January 8-February 11; several Christmas markets (including Champs-Elysées, Saint Germain des Prés, and Montmarte) remain open through January 5 or 6.
How to Get Around: Buy a Paris Visite card online for unlimited multiday bus, metro, tramway, and RER (commuter rail) travel in either zones 1-3 (the city and close suburbs) or zones 1-5 (which includes both CDG/Orly and Versailles airports).
Where to Stay: November to February is low season, so it’s easier to find a room at the intimate Hotel Relais-Saint Germain. Each of the 22 rooms is named and styled after a different author connected with Paris, such as Balzac, Hemingway, Joyce, and Proust. The hotel, comprising side-by-side townhouses, is a short walk from the Louvre and a block from the Odeon metro station, particularly helpful when it’s raining or cold outside.
What to Eat or Drink: Les Papilles takes the stress (and guesswork) out of ordering in French. The retour du marche (seasonal market menu) is set daily, so make a reservation and arrive ready for whatever chef Bertrand is preparing (like potato leek soup, poached cod, and blue cheese and dates). The venue (a delightful combination of bistro, wine shop, and grocery) and price (about $42 for starter, main course, cheese, and dessert) add to the comfort level.
What to Read or Watch Before You Go: Woody Allen’s romantic comedy Midnight in Paris (2011) was filmed entirely in the city.
What to Buy: Scoring the best Soldes bargains requires planning and patience. Arrive with a short wish list of Parisian luxury items (Longchamp tote, Repetto flats, Hermès jacket), identify a few shops that carry what you’re hunting for, and be willing to wait—but not too long. Prices and inventory get lower with each passing week, so if the item you want is in short supply, you may want to shop early and pay a bit more.
Cultural Tip: Indoor spaces (restaurants, shops, cafés) tend to be smaller and more intimate in Paris than in the U.S. Instead of complaining about the tight quarters, embrace the coziness and esprit de corps—and remember to use your “inside” voice.
Fun Fact: Paolo Veronese’s wall-sized "Wedding Feast at Cana" (1563) is the largest painting on exhibit at the Louvre, yet it’s not the biggest attraction in the room where it’s displayed. That distinction goes to a much smaller portrait, the "Mona Lisa," which hangs on the wall opposite Veronese’s masterpiece.
Whitefish Winter Carnival World Ski Joring Championships, Whitefish, Montana
Photograph by Kat Gebauer/Green Kat Photography
The Big Sky brand of equestrian skijoring (derived from the Norwegian snörekjöring or “driving with ropes”) is wild, western, and guaranteed to get the adrenaline pumping. At the Whitefish Winter Carnival World Ski Joring Championships, horse (or mule) and rider teams pull daredevil skiers on high-flying runs around a snowy, 800-foot-long horseshoe-shaped course. Slalom gates, curves, and jumps increase the thrills—and the potential for spectacular spills.
When to Go: The World Ski Joring Championship races are held January 25-26 (registration events are January 24), two weekends before the main Whitefish Winter Carnival, February 7-9.
How to Get Around: Whitefish is in northwestern Montana, 60 miles south of the Canadian border. Flights arrive at Glacier Park International Airport, located 11 miles southeast of Whitefish. Amtrak’s Empire Builder arrives twice daily at the Whitefish Depot. Rental cars are available at both locations. The skijoring competition is held at the Whitefish Municipal Airport, one mile east of town. December 7 to April 6, a free SNOW (Shuttle Network of Whitefish) bus connects downtown Whitefish to the Whitefish Mountain Resort and several locations in between.
Where to Stay: Kandahar Lodge at Whitefish Mountain Resort is a comfortably elegant alpine inn located on the free SNOW route, seven miles from Whitefish. The 50 rooms and suites, including six lofts with full kitchens, are styled with warm cedar-and-pine architectural details. Spend the day on the slopes, then ski back to the lodge to sip hot cider in front of the wood-burning, river-rock fireplace.
Where to Eat or Drink: You can’t get more local than the Great Northern Bar and Grill, where 12 kinds of burgers top the menu, dozens of signs from defunct Whitefish businesses line the walls, and live music is featured four to five nights a week. At Pescado Blanco in the Railway District, chef David Lewis specializes in fresh, mountain-Mexican fusion fare, like bison enchiladas and elk chorizo.
What to Buy: Visit the Montana Coffee Traders on Highway 93 for a roasting facility tour (Monday-Friday at 10 a.m.) before buying a bag of their whole beans or ground coffee. Locally inspired flavors include Huckleberry and Flathead Cherry, or choose a signature blend like Montana, Glacier, or Grizzly.
What to Read Before You Go: The short stories and novellas in Norman Maclean’s A River Runs Through It and Other Stories are set in western Montana.
Fun Fact: Equestrian skijoring races have been held in St. Moritz since the early 1900s. When the Swiss resort town hosted the 1928 Winter Olympics, skijoring was included as a demonstration sport.
Phu Quoc, Vietnam
Photograph by Michael S. Lewis/National Geographic Creative
Some of Vietnam’s best beaches are on heart-shaped Phu Quoc island, making them closer to Cambodia than the Vietnamese mainland. Located in the Gulf of Thailand just off the Cambodian coast, Phu Quoc once housed the so-called “coconut tree prison” (now a museum), where Vietcong prisoners of war were held through 1973. What’s bringing international travelers and, so far, restrained development to Phu Quoc today are its warm, turquoise waters; secluded, deep sand beaches; and lush, mountainous interior (protected as a national park).
When to Go: December-March is dry season, with average daytime temperatures between 77° and 82°F.
How to Get Around: The new (2012) Phu Quoc International Airport is located near the midpoint of the island’s western coast in Duong Dong, the largest town. Most resorts are located south of the airport on Long Beach, and provide airport transfers to their guests. The most convenient way to travel around the island is by motorbike taxi or (with extreme caution) by motorbike.
Where to Stay: All 70 rooms and suites at the upscale, French Colonial-style La Veranda Resort are steps from Long Beach and have either a private balcony or terrace. The lush, tropical foliage can partially obstruct water views, so choose a second floor “sea view” room or suite facing the pool.
Where to Eat: Pull up a plastic chair and sit under the stars at the bustling Dinh Cau Night Market to try whatever local fishermen hauled in that day (sea urchin, prawns, clams, squid, scallops, sardines). Held most evenings near Cau Temple in Duong Dong, the market has dozens of stalls and is a good place to shop for souvenirs (although most items aren’t produced locally).
What to Read Before You Go: Vietnam: A Traveler’s Literary Companion (Whereabouts Press, 1996) features 17 stories by contemporary authors living in Vietnam and abroad.
Fun Fact: Phu Quoc is Vietnam’s nuoc mam (fish sauce) capital. The island’s signature (and powerfully pungent) sweet-sour Phu Quoc sauce is the essential Vietnamese condiment and, in 2013, became the country’s first product granted European Union Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status.
Lake Baikal, Siberia, Russia
Photograph by Bruno Morandi/Getty Images
Called the “sacred sea” by locals, Lake Baikal is the world’s deepest and oldest (20 million to 25 million years) existing freshwater lake. For intrepid adventurers equipped for a Siberian deep freeze (air temperatures can plunge to minus 40ºF) Baikal in midwinter is a roughly 12,200-square-mile crystal ice rink. Local outfitters like Baikal Explorer and Green Express lead Jeep, dog-sled, and snowmobiling tours across the glassy surface. There’s also ice diving, rafting (in sections that don’t freeze), skating, and fishing, plus opportunities to volunteer with the Great Baikal Trail, a local conservation group. Environmental threats, including industrial pollution, prompted World Heritage site designation for Baikal in 1996. A pulp-and-paper mill built near the lake in 1966 closed permanently in 2013, but significant ecological threats remain.
When to Go: February and March are when the ice typically is thickest and most ice-related tours are offered.
How to Get Around: Irkutsk is the closest airport to Lake Baikal’s more developed western shore. The most scenic, albeit slower, route to Irkutsk is via a private or regularly scheduled Trans-Siberian train. Book passage through a reputable tour operator like MIR Corporation or Lernidee Trains & Cruises. From Irkutsk, it’s about an hour and a half by marshrutka (fixed-route minibus) to Listvyanka, the lake’s main western shore tourist village.
Where to Stay: Lodge in simple, locally owned homestays and hostels like Baikaler Eco-Hostel. Located on a wooded hillside in Listvyanka about a 20- to 30-minute walk from the lake, the hostel features four bright and airy guest rooms and one dorm room (sleeps eight). The property’s two wood, chalet-style buildings include eco-friendly features like solar panels.
What to Eat: Proshly Vek (Last Century) Cafe in Listvyanka dishes out traditional Siberian fare. Order the local whitefish, Baikal omul, smoked, dried, fresh, or in a creamy soup. The café is on the ground floor, while the dining room and the best view of the lake are upstairs. For snacking, try the Siberian pine nuts and larch-tree tar chewing gum sold at local markets.
What to Buy: In Irkutsk and Listvyanka, shop for handmade soaps and clay whistles; Russian souvenirs, including birch bark art and wooden matryoshka nesting dolls; and traditional Buryat (indigenous Mongol) items like ongons. These shamanist dolls (or small masks) are commonly made from wood, leather, felt, or straw, and are displayed in homes to protect the inhabitants from harm.
Cultural Tip: English isn’t widely spoken in local villages, and information is provided in Russian only at Baikal Limnological Museum (the freshwater science museum and aquarium). For day trips, including the museum tour, consider hiring a local, English-speaking guide service.
What to Read Before You Go: Anton Chekhov’s About Love and Other Stories includes works like “The House With the Mezzanine,” inspired by the author’s 1890 visit to Lake Baikal.
Fun Fact: About two-thirds of the estimated 1,500 animal species living in and around Lake Baikal are found nowhere else on Earth. The best known resident is the nerpa, the world’s only exclusively freshwater seal.
Santa Margherita Ligure, Italy
Photograph by Steven Gillis HD9 Imaging/Alamy
Portofino may be the jewel of the Liguria Riviera, but neighboring Santa Margherita Ligure is an equally captivating—and more affordable—gem. Ensconced in a rocky inlet on the Gulf of Tigullio, the small, relaxed resort town enjoys mild winters—ideal for strolling past the gleaming yachts and cruisers moored in the harbor, touring the terraced gardens of 16th-century Villa Durazzo, and hiking the mountain road to Portofino for lunch (and for the spectacular coastal vistas along the way).
When to Go: February and March; February 2, International Half-Marathon of Two Pearls
How to Get Around: The closest airport is in Genoa. Take the shuttle bus or a taxi to the train station. From Genoa, it’s only a 25-minute (high-speed) or 35-minute (regional) train ride to Santa Margherita.
Where to Stay: Built in 1903 and restored to its original splendor, the 84-room Grand Hotel Miramare on the harbor-front promenade is old school Italian Riviera: white stucco; art nouveau facade frescoed with trompe l'oeil and floral decorations; elegantly appointed interiors; and stately, manicured gardens. Walk from here to Portofino (about an hour) or to the train station (about a half mile).
What to Eat or Drink: Sample some of the smaller restaurants off the main square and near the port. La Paranza serves the day’s fresh catch (clams, mussels, squid, sardines) paired with homemade pastas (try the gnocchi) and desserts. At about $40, the three-course set menu is extremely affordable by Riviera standards, and filling, too.
What to Watch Before You Go: Academy Award-nominated Enchanted April (1992) is set on the Italian Riviera and includes several exquisite scenes shot in and around Portofino.
Fun Fact: Guglielmo Marconi used to moor his yacht l'Elettra (the Electra) in the Santa Margherita harbor, stay in the Grand Hotel Miramare, and conduct short-wave radio experiments between the two. A plaque inside the hotel commemorates Marconi’s first shore-to-ship broadcast of telegraph and radio telephone signals in 1933.
Nosara Beaches, Costa Rica
Photograph by Rob Francis/Robert Harding World Imagery/Corbis
Surfers and expats have discovered Costa Rica’s Pacific Nicoya Peninsula, yet the Nosara beaches—Playa Guiones, Playa Pelada, and Playa Nosara—remain relatively undeveloped and uncrowded. Each beach has its own personality. Low-key Guiones is an expat community and surfing hub. Rocky Pelada is a favorite with locals. Black-sand Nosara is isolated, accessible only by fording a river. Sign up for a weeklong Nosara Paddlesurf SUP (stand-up paddle) Camp to explore this idyllic section of the Costa Rican coastline.
When to Go: December-April is dry season, which typically means little or no rain. SUP Camp weeks are offered monthly (more weeks may be added), December-April and July.
How to Get Around: From Liberia International Airport it’s about a 2.5- to 3-hour drive to Nosara. Nosara Paddlesurf SUP Camp rates include round-trip airport transfers. Car rentals are available at the airport.
Where to Stay: Sustainable surfboards, made using green chemistry and renewable materials, are the newest guest amenity at eco-friendly Harmony Hotel. The 24-room Playa Guiones retreat (10 rooms, 13 bungalows, and 1 two-bedroom suite) includes the hotel's Healing Centre with outdoor yoga studio. Bungalow 15 and the suite are closest to the ocean, or book bungalow 12 for an up-close look at the local monkeys that hang out in the pochote tree on the private deck.
Where to Eat: After yoga or a SUP excursion, recharge with a banana nut butter smoothie at the Harmony Hotel Juice Bar. The hotel incorporates ingredients grown at its farm into many menu items (try the arugula avocado roll in the main restaurant) and plans to open an al fresco Sushi Lounge in 2014. At lunch, pair a healthy veggie wrap with a scoop of homemade “coffee to wake the dead” ice cream at Robin’s Café & Ice Cream in Playa Guiones. For sunset views and fresh fish tacos, head to the beachside La Luna restaurant in Playa Pelada.
Cultural Tip: Most restaurants and shops in Nosara will accept both U.S. dollars and Costa Rican colones. Prepare to pay in cash since some restaurants don’t accept credit cards or add on a usage fee.
What to Read Before You Go: Leading Costa Rican writers are showcased in Costa Rica: A Traveler’s Literary Companion, a collection of 26 stories organized by region.
Fun Fact: Ostional National Wildlife Refuge is one of the world’s primary nesting sites for the olive ridley sea turtle and the only Costa Rica location where it’s possible to observe sea turtles nesting year-round.
Winter Wolf Viewing, Lamar Valley, Yellowstone National Park
Photograph by Henry H. Holdsworth
When snow blankets the nearly treeless Lamar Valley, it’s easier to spot Yellowstone’s elusive wolves—and their bison and elk prey. Watchful winter visitors to this remote wolf territory typically are rewarded with multiple wildlife sightings. A pending proposal to remove the gray wolf from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife, however, could impact future winter wildlife viewing. Observe and learn about the wolves this season during a multiday tour like the Yellowstone Association Institute’s Winter Wolf Discovery or Natural Habitat Adventures’ Yellowstone Wolf Quest.
When to Go: Winter Wolf Discovery trips depart December 22 and 29; January 5, 12, 19, and 26; and February 2, 9, 16, and 23. Yellowstone Wolf Quest, March 1-6, 5-12, and 13-20.
How to Get Around: In winter, the North Entrance (near Gardiner, Montana) is the only way into the park by wheeled vehicle. Car travel is permitted on the park road from the North Entrance to the Northeast Entrance (closest to the Lamar Valley), but mud or snow tires or tire chains may be required. A limited number of guided commercial snowcoach and snowmobile tours operate within the park. Winter Wolf Discovery and Yellowstone Wolf Quest viewing tours include in-park transportation.
Where to Stay: Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel is the only in-park winter lodging accessible by car and is only open December 20-March 3. A new winter shuttle service is available from Bozeman-Yellowstone International Airport to the hotel.
Where to Eat or Drink: In Bozeman, taste locally sourced fare at Montana Ale Works, housed in a restored railroad freight house. Menu items include bison pot stickers, Kobe burgers made with Montana Wagyu Cattle Company beef, and an extensive selection of regional craft brews like Big Sky Brewing Company’s Moose Drool brown ale and Trout Slayer wheat ale.
What to Read Before You Go: Revised and updated in 2012, the Decade of the Wolf: Returning the Wild to Yellowstone, by Douglas Smith and Gary Ferguson (Lyons Press), examines the years since the wolves’ 1995 reintroduction to Yellowstone.
Cultural Tip: Use binoculars or a camera with telephoto lens to view wildlife from a safe distance for both you and the animals. Getting within a hundred yards of a wolf or bear is prohibited in the park, and doing anything to willfully disturb or displace any wildlife (from any distance) is illegal.
Fun Fact: Northern Rocky Mountain wolves are indigenous to Yellowstone, and packs existed here when the park was created in 1872. By the 1940s, wolf packs were a rarity due, in part, to a government-subsidized wolf eradication program launched in 1915. Wolves were successfully reintroduced to Yellowstone in 1995 and 1996.
Masquerade Games, Pernik, Bulgaria
Photograph by Petar Petrov/AP Images
Western Bulgaria’s rural masquerade rituals are fueled by a primal energy: animalistic masks, beating drums, fire jumping, rhythmic chanting, clanging bells. It’s all on display at the Surva XXIII International Festival of Masquerade Games, staged in Pernik each January to banish evil spirits and clear the way for a prosperous year. Folkloric dancers, musicians, and children’s groups join in the spectacle, but the real competitors are the thousands of masked and costumed kukeri (male mummers) performing mystical routines rooted in ancient pagan traditions.
When to Go: Surva XXIII International Festival of Masquerade Games, January 24-26.
How to Get Around: Pernik is about 18 miles from Sofia, Bulgaria’s capital and largest city. Public buses and trains connect Sofia Airport and Sofia to Pernik.
Where to Stay: Sofia’s luxury lodging options are limited to international chain hotels. Of the bunch, Kempinski Hotel Zografski has the best views of Sofia from its hilltop perch above the city center. The utilitarian design—twin white high-rises—isn't exactly welcoming, but there’s more to love inside, like a heated indoor pool, spa (sauna, massage, and aromatherapy), and six restaurants.
What to Eat: For a full-immersion Bulgarian cultural experience—traditional cuisine, music, decor—head up the mountain from Sofia to Restaurant Vodenitzata in Vitosha Park. The extensive menu (with English translations) includes regional dishes like tarator (cold yogurt soup) and the go-to Bulgarian comfort food, kavarma, a hearty pork (or chicken) and vegetable stew.
Cultural Tip: Smoking is socially acceptable in Bulgaria. Although the government instituted a total ban on indoor smoking in public places in 2012, efforts are under way to permit smoking in specific venues like designated rooms in larger restaurants, and in bars, clubs, and casinos after 10 p.m.
What to Read Before You Go: Masquerade and Postsocialism: Ritual and Cultural Dispossession in Bulgaria, by Gerald Creed (Indiana University Press, 2011) isn’t light reading, but the expert insights into mumming rituals will enrich your festival experience.
Fun Fact: Bulgarians traditionally celebrate both their birthdays and their name days. The latter is the Bulgarian Orthodox feast day of whatever saint shares your name. People who aren’t named for a saint (or who were born on their saint’s feast day) miss out on the extra celebration.
Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia
Photograph by Oliver Strewe/Getty Images
Queensland’s second largest city, Gold Coast, is best known for its beaches (some 40 are in the metro region, stretching from just south of Brisbane to the New South Wales border). But it’s the combination of sun-drenched coastline and rain forest-shrouded hinterland that’s the Gold Coast’s real draw. Spend a morning watching world-class surfers at Snapper Rocks, head inland for a picnic lunch at O'Reilly's Canungra Valley Vineyards, and, after sunset, visit Natural Bridge cave in Springbrook National Park where thousands of glowworms put on a nightly bioluminescence display.
When to Go: Australian Sand Sculpting Championships, February 14-March 2, Surfers Paradise; Quiksilver Pro (men’s) and Roxy Pro (women’s) ASP World Surfing Tour events, March 1-12, Coolangatta; Bleach Festival, 17-day music, arts, and cultural celebration, March 7-23, various Gold Coast locations.
How to Get Around: Gold Coast Airport is located 14 miles south of Surfers Paradise, the region’s major tourist hub. The Gold Coast Tourist Shuttle connects the airport to beach communities. Purchase multiday shuttle passes for unlimited local bus trips, plus theme park and airport transfers. Rent a bike at Get on Your Bike to explore some of the Gold Coast’s more than 373 miles of cycle ways (designated bike trails and roadway bike lanes).
Where to Stay: For a less crowded, more tranquil beach experience, head south to white-sand Kirra Beach in Coolangatta. At the opulent Nirvana by the Sea, the luxuriously appointed two- and three-bedroom apartments (some with private patio plunge pools) have floor-to-ceiling window views of the ocean, full kitchens, and easy access to Kirra Beach.
Where to Eat or Drink: Support (and likely meet) the lifeguards who patrol Gold Coast beaches at local, oceanfront Surf Life Saving Clubs or Surf Clubs. Located up and down the coast, these hyper-local clubs, like BMD Northcliffe and the Currumbin Beach Vikings, are open to visitors for food and drinks, and purchases help fund lifeguard education, training, and equipment purchases. Each club—and community—has its own personality, so visit a few.
What to Read Before You Go: Set in the mid-1840s on the Queensland coast, David Malouf’s acclaimed Remembering Babylon (Vintage, 1994) is the tale of a shipwrecked boy rescued and raised by Aboriginals.
Fun Fact: The runway at Gold Coast Airport is in both Queensland and New South Wales. Since New South Wales follows daylight saving time and Queensland doesn’t, it’s possible to land on the runway at 6 p.m. and, a few minutes later, enter the terminal (located in Queensland) at 5 p.m.
Skiing in the Caucasus, Gudauri Ski Resort, Kazbegi Region, Georgia
Photograph by Oleg Gritskevich/GUDAURI.TRAVEL
Climbing above 13,000 feet, the jagged snowcapped peaks of the Greater Caucasus form Georgia’s formidable, yet strikingly beautiful, northern border. Set within this dramatic backdrop is Gudauri, a sprawling mountain resort built in a wind-protected basin at the base of 9,862-foot Mount Kudebi. Relatively unknown to North American skiers and boarders, Gudauri is a wide-open winter playground with abundant snowfall and above-the-tree-line slopes. Runs range from beginner to expert, or blaze your own trail through deep, untouched powder on a Heliksir backcountry heli-skiing trip.
When to Go: Ski season is December-April, and heli-skiing typically is available from January to mid-April.
How to Get There: Gudauri is less than two hours from Tbilisi International Airport via the Georgian Military Highway. Taxis and shared mini-buses are available; however, it’s more convenient to prebook airport transfers through your hotel or tour provider.
Where to Stay: Gudauri Marco Polo is a ski-in, ski-out hotel located near Gudauri’s Lift No. 1. Ski down to the lift (and the ticket hut) in the morning, ski back in the afternoon, and store your gear in the hotel’s first floor “ski depot.” Rates include breakfast and dinner, and there’s an indoor heated pool facing the slopes.
Where to Eat: On the ride from the airport, stop at Kotsos Duqani in the village of Pasanauri for regional khinkalis (dumplings) filled with spiced meat (or potatoes, mushrooms, or cheese), herbs, and onions. At the Hotel Gudauri Hut restaurant, sample a variety of traditional (and highly addictive) Georgian pkhalis. These bite-size appetizer balls are made from finely chopped fried or boiled vegetables (eggplants, beans, spinach, beetroot), blended with crushed walnuts, vinegar, herbs, garlic, and spices.
What to Watch Before You Go: Since Otar Left, winner of the 2003 Cannes Film Festival Critics' Week Grand Prize, follows three generations of Georgian women living together in a Tbilisi apartment.
Cultural Tip: While credit cards typically are accepted in more expensive hotels and restaurants, U.S. visitors have reported incidents of credit card fraud and identity theft. Pay in cash (Georgian lari) when possible, and closely monitor your card activity online to spot any fraudulent use.
Fun Fact: The Russian army built (over an ancient route) the Georgian Military Highway in the early 19th century. The spectacular, and in some places treacherous, road snakes its way from Tbilisi over the Caucasus. Due to the closed Georgia-Russia border, the highway no longer leads into Russia, ending instead in Stepantsminda (formerly Kazbegi), about six miles short of the former crossing.
Winter Festivals in Miami, Miami Beach, and Coral Gables, Florida
Photograph by Joe Raedle/Getty Images
From ultrahip South Beach to laid-back Coconut Grove, greater Miami and its miles of beaches tick all the boxes for a white-hot winter getaway. Along with the sun, surf, and world-class dining and shopping, festivals like the Food Network South Beach Food and Wine Fest, Carnaval on the Mile, and Calle Ocho celebrate the region’s Latin and Caribbean-inspired flavors and rhythms.
How to Get Around: Renting a car offers greater flexibility, but traffic and parking can be difficult. If you don’t plan to venture beyond South Beach, Coconut Grove, Little Havana, and Coral Gables, take a taxi or the Metrorail Orange Line from the airport, then get around on foot and via taxi, mass transit (including Metrorail, Metrobus, and the electric-powered Metromover, and the Miami Trolley).
Where to Stay: The new (opened December 1) Redbury South Beach exudes the glitz of Miami Beach’s Rat Pack glory days with its midcentury modern architecture, vintage-style record players and vinyl collections, archival Miami Beach images, and classic neon signs. Guests in the 69 individually styled rooms and suites can lounge by the rooftop pool or use the nearby beaches and pools at the equally glam SLS Hotel South Beach and the Raleigh.
Where to Eat or Drink: Sip freshly squeezed guarapo (sugar cane) juice and try homemade picadillo empanadas (turnovers filled with minced meat and vegetables) and other Cuban specialties on a two-hour Little Havana Food and Cultural Walking Tour. Stops include one of Little Havana’s ubiquitous restaurant or grocery store ventanitas (walk-up Cuban coffee windows). Cafécito (Cuban-style espresso) is potent, so you may want to start with a cortadito (a small cup of pre-sweetened espresso and steamed milk).
What to Buy: Shop for a classic Latin guayabera (four-pocket, lightweight men’s shirt) at “the king of the guayaberas,” Ramon Puig, or have Marce Shirtmaker in Coral Gables custom tailor a shirt for you. The Bookstore in the Grove, Coconut Grove’s independent bookseller and café, showcases local authors and has a wide selection of South Florida titles.
What to Read or Watch Before You Go: Jennine Capó Crucet’s award-winning short story collection, How to Leave Hialeah (University of Iowa Press, 2009), is a window into the Cuban-American experience in South Florida.
Cultural Tip: The tab at most South Beach restaurants includes the tip, so check your bill before adding a gratuity.
Fun Fact: In Miami, 3:05 p.m. is cafecito time. A local public relations representative launched the effort to establish 3:05 p.m. (chosen to honor Miami’s original 305 area code) as the city’s official Cuban coffee-break time, and Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado made it official in April 2013.
Almond Blossom Season, Mallorca, Spain
Photograph by David C Tomlinson, Getty Images
White-sand Mediterranean beaches ring 1,405-square-mile Mallorca, the largest of Spain’s autonomous Balearic Islands. And by November, the mountainous island’s highest peaks can be covered in brilliant white snow. But the landscape is at its most dazzling white (and pale pink) in winter, when Mallorca’s millions of almond trees come into full flower, blanketing the valleys, hills, and plains with a layer of delicate blossoms.
When to Go: Almond trees typically begin to bud in late January and bloom through mid-February. Actual dates vary yearly based on weather conditions.
How to Get Around: The airport is located in Palma, Mallorca’s largest city. From here, rent a car or use Mallorca’s interurban public transportation (bus, metro, and train) network. The Island Tour’s vintage narrow-gauge railway and tram connect Palma to the northwest coast. Primarily for tourists, the train travels through the countryside, a particularly scenic route during almond blossom season.
Where to Stay: Agritourismos (farm stays) offer close proximity to the blooms and more authentic Mallorca experiences. Six-room Sos Ferres d’en Morey near Manacor is a restored 19th-century stone farmhouse set on 148 acres. There are almond and fig orchards, grazing sheep, and sweeping views of Alcudia Bay. Book one of the senior suites at the back of the house for private terrace views of the almond trees.
What to Eat: Start the day with two Mallorca classics—golden brown ensaimadas (coiled breakfast pastry) and hot chocolate. C’an Joan de S’Aigo prepares both fresh daily and has been serving customers since 1700. Visit their old town location for breakfast, and come back later in the day for another specialty of the house (and the island), almond ice cream.
What to Read Before You Go: Winner of the PEN Translation Prize, Albert Vigoleis Thelen’s 1953 The Island of Second Sight (Overlook TP, 2013) was published in English for the first time in 2010 and is a fictionalized take on the German author’s pre-World War II life in Mallorca.
Fun Fact: Spanish professional tennis player Rafael Nadal, who ended 2013 ranked number one in the world, was born in Manacor, Mallorca, and lives on the island.
Muscat-to-Salalah Coastal Route, Oman
Photograph by Angelo Cavalli/Corbis
The roughly 120-mile gap that construction has not yet reached on Oman’s new (and relatively empty) coastal expressway is one reason why now is the time to make this epic frontier drive. Linking Muscat on the Gulf of Oman with Salalah on the Indian Ocean, the high-speed route passes through several little-visited sections of the starkly beautiful sultanate, delivering, in most sections, spectacular Arabian Sea views to the east or south and rocky Hajar mountain vistas to the west or north. The unfinished sections provide the added thrill of rumbling over unpaved roadbeds, an increasingly rare experience as Oman’s highway building boom rolls on.
When to Go: November-March
How to Get Around: Rent a four-wheel-drive Toyota Land Cruiser at the Muscat Airport or book a custom road trip (private vehicles; English-speaking, Omani driver-guide) with an Oman tour expert like Corinthian Travel, which specializes in luxury Middle East travel experiences. The coastal route begins in Ruwi (Muscat’s central business district) and continues south to about Ras Mandrakah (as of November 2013), before resuming near Hasik. At the southern terminus in Salalah, retrace the route or take the 95-minute flight back to Muscat.
Where to Stay: Lodging options are extremely limited between Muscat and Salalah. Corinthian Travel itineraries typically include private camping (including beach camping) in tents equipped with beds and Arabian carpets. In Salalah, the 82-room Juweira Boutique Hotel at the marina promenade is a relaxing place to recharge after making the coastal drive. Request an Indian Ocean view, and prebook the hotel’s free airport shuttle if you’re flying back to Muscat.
What to Eat: If you’re traveling without a guide, stock up on food and water, since coastal highway services (restaurants, gas stations) haven’t kept pace with construction. In Muscat, splurge on dinner (reservations required) at the regally appointed Al Angham, located next to the Royal Opera House. The set menu features traditional Omani dishes like shiwa (spiced lamb slowly cooked underground for at least 24 hours), harissa (a thick, oatmeal-like dish containing meat), and rukhal (thin, round bread).
What to Read Before You Go: Sir Wilfred Thesiger’s 1959 travelogue Arabian Sands (Penguin Classics, 2008) recounts his 1940s treks through the 225,000-square-mile Rub al Khali, or Empty Quarter, the world’s largest sand sea.
Cultural Tip: Know—and follow—Omani traffic laws. Enforcement is strict and penalties can be severe, such as mandatory 48-hour detention for running a red light and possible jail sentences for violations like talking on a cell phone while driving or operating a dirty vehicle.
Fun Fact: The new coastal highway passes through Sur, home to Oman’s only remaining shipyard, where traditional dhows (wooden-hulled Arabian boats, curved at both ends) are still built by hand. Construction takes place outside, so it’s easy to watch the dhow craftsmen at work.
Sauti za Busara Music Festival in
Stone Town, Zanzibar, Tanzania
Photograph by Peter Stanley
Staged inside the sultan of Oman’s 17-century Old Fort, Sauti za Busara (Kiswahili for “Sounds of Wisdom”) is a preeminent African music festival with a purpose. In addition to celebrating the continent’s diverse sounds—from Arabic-influenced taarab to emerging East African electronica—the event serves as a platform for participants to speak out on issues like women’s empowerment, religious tolerance, and human rights. The schedule includes more than 30 main-stage performance groups plus an open-air African Music Film Program, carnival parade, and Busara Xtra fringe events like dhow races, jam sessions, and dance lessons.
When to Go: Sauti za Busara Music Festival, February 13-16
How to Get Around: Fast ferries and flights operate daily between Dar es Salaam and the island of Zanzibar. If arriving by air, take a shared taxi or private minibus from Zanzibar International Airport to Stone Town, or see if your hotel offers transportation. Arriving by the ferry is the more convenient option since the terminal is in Stone Town, a World Heritage site best explored on foot.
Where to Stay: Tucked within Stone Town’s web of alleyways, Emerson Spice is an intimate courtyard inn run by long-term expats Emerson Skeens and Lén Helen Hörlin. Restored by local craftsmen and opened in 2012, the 11-room urban oasis with rooftop teahouse includes multiple historic structures, including a 19th-century Swahili sultan’s palace. Each room is individually styled with antiques and luxurious textiles, and only one—Mimi—doesn’t have a private balcony.
Where to Eat: Join the queue at Lukmaan’s, where a few dollars can buy a heaping plate of Zanzibari favorites like pilau (a fragrant, one-pot seasoned rice mixture) and biryani (seasoned rice served with a portion of meat, seafood, or vegetables). At the festival and at street markets, look for vendors selling juisi ya miwa (sugar cane juice with a hint of lime and ginger); urojo, or “Zanzibar mix,” a spicy potato soup garnished with herbs, boiled egg, and chili sauce; and mishikaki (skewered meat kebabs).
What to Buy: At the festival marketplace inside the Old Fort and next door at the House of Wonders, shop for locally made handicrafts such as kanga, the traditional women’s wrap with poetic messages woven into the design, and hand-woven palm baskets, mats, and fans. For a one-of-a-kind Zanzibari-style shirt or dress, buy a piece of colorful kitenge fabric and bring it to a local tailor for a custom design.
What to Read Before You Go: Drawing from her life as Sayyida, Princess of Zanzibar, Emily Ruete’s autobiography Memoirs of an Arabian Princess from Zanzibar (Dover Publications, 2009) recounts 19th-century life on the island.
Cultural Tip: Focus on architectural details, not faces, when taking photographs in Stone Town. Residents typically prefer not to appear in other people's photos. If you want to take someone’s photo, ask first and respect his or her wishes if permission is declined.
Fun Fact: Freddy Mercury, the late lead singer of Queen, was born Farrokh Bulsara in Stone Town in 1946. At the time, Mercury’s father was working as an accountant for the British government in the House of Wonders, Stone Town’s largest building. The historic landmark, built in 1883 as a sultan’s ceremonial palace, is included on the 2014 World Monuments Watch list of at-risk cultural heritage sites.
Le Massif de Charlevoix, Petite-Rivière-Saint-François, Quebec
Photograph courtesy Le Massif de Charlevoix
Start with the highest skiable vertical drop (2,526 feet) east of the Canadian Rockies; add trails that appear to disappear into the St. Lawrence River; then infuse the panache of Le Cirque du Soleil co-founder Daniel Gauthier. The result is Le Massif de Charlevoix, Gauthier’s ingenious, four-season mountain-train-hotel experience. Little about Le Massif fits the norm: The “base” lodge is at the summit; a rail shuttle delivers skiers to the slopes; and sledders, not skiers, take the wildest ride down a 4.5-mile “rodeling” (luge) track.
When to Go: December-March for winter sports; June-October to ride the train.
How to Get Around: Le Massif includes three elements: the mountain (ski area), about an hour northeast of Quebec City via Highway 138; the hotel (L’Hôtel La Ferme), 12.5 miles north of the ski area in Baie-Saint-Paul; and the train, which runs June-October between Quebec City and La Malbaie. In winter, the most convenient way to get to the ski area is via the rail shuttle (new for 2013-14) from L’Hôtel La Ferme. Park your car in Baie-Saint-Paul, carry your skis onboard the shuttle, and ride directly to the lifts.
Where to Stay: The übermodern Hôtel La Ferme, completed in 2013, is built on a former farm run by nuns from a neighboring convent. Named for the farm it replaced, the Baie-Saint-Paul hotel has 145 rooms furnished entirely with Canadian products, like bath soap made by hometown Quai des Bulles. Rooms ranging from dorms to luxury suites are in five pavilions honoring different aspects of the site’s history. Minimalistic Le Clos is evocative of a cloister (down to the white church pews), while La Basse-Cour (barnyard) is a kid-friendly lodge with family suites and bunk beds.
Where to Eat: The regional fare served at the Chez Bouquet eco-bistro in Baie-Saint-Paul is prepared using Charlevoix-sourced ingredients like Maison Maurice Dufour cheeses and Centre de l'Émeu de Charlevoix emu steaks. Open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
What to Buy: At family-owned Laiterie Charlevoix in Baie-Saint-Paul, sample and buy the Labbé family dairy’s specialty cheeses. Two cheeses—1608 and L’Origine de Charlevoix—are entirely made from the milk of Quebec’s Canadienne cow, the only breed developed in North America. The 1608 is named for the year that Samuel de Champlain is said to have introduced the cows to Quebec.
What to Read Before You Go: Willa Cather was inspired to write Shadows on the Rock (Vintage, 1995) after becoming enamored with French Quebec during an unplanned visit in 1928.
Fun Fact: Le Massif has only been open for organized skiing since 1980, when a chalet was built on the summit. Advance reservations were required to get a snowmobile tow from the main road into the ski area. Since there weren’t any lifts, getting back to the top after a run required taking off your skis and riding up the mountain in a van.
Kandahar Lodge at the Whitefish mountain resort is surely one of the best places to stay in Montana. Skiing there feels like roaming in the heaven. Also, the Miami festival is electric, especially wandering on the beaches during winters. Been there ever?
Looking for Holiday Rental Accommodation ? try http://www.goholidaylets.com - Rent Direct from owners, Negotiate with them directly - No Commission fee from traveller - its a transparent System !!
All those destinations are great! For those that want to stay in North America but still have a nice vacation this winter you can take a look at
Phu Quoc is nice except that the locals throw their trash in the ocean. The island is well developed and you can now explore caves. You will not see a sea turtle while snorkeling or diving because the locals eat them.
A good unbiased resource for phu quoc is http://www.phuquocislandguide.com and the wiki sites
Welcome from Viet Nam. Hopefully ONE day you will visit #Vietnam
Tour Mu Cang Chai - The paradise of North Vietnam 6 days 5 night
Region for different ethnic minority groups, colorful traditional hand-made clothes and busy local market on its gathering day
And join with group Tourist Love Vietnam: https://www.facebook.com/TouristLoveVietnam
In addition to How to Get Around: Paris Metro Pass (Paris Visite) https://www.conciergerie.com/paris/pass/paris-metro-pass.php
Driving over the lake's beautiful thick ice, and visiting the incredible ice formations around Olkhon island, with a Baikal Explorer guide was simply amazing. I have been to 105 countries, and would rate this experience as being up there with seeing the pyramids in Egypt, Mayon Volcano in the Philippines, Machu Picchu in Peru and Mount Everest in Tibet.
The log cabin we stayed in was of special interest to me, especially the amazing brick, wood stove that kept the place toasty warm. Also, the meals were substantial and superb, even for me, a vegetarian. Siberia in winter... go for it!
The pictures are truly beautiful, some even breath taking... It is so nice to see the world through someone else's eyes... thank you for sharing!!!
Masquerade Games, Pernik, Bulgaria
Carpool there with Aha!Car
More information about Gudauri from local tour operator GUDAURI.TRAVEL: http://gudauri.travel/en/
Great travel blog about Georgia: http://www.georgiatraveller.com
More from Bulgaria, Pernik and Masquerade Games:http://www.inter-view.info/2014/01/2014-national-geographic-best-winter.html
I like the story, Please! Dont miss the special event of the year SAUTI ZA BUSARA MUSIC FESTIVAL will take place in Zanzibar from 13-16 Feb 2014
Mirando el mar.
el mar cerca
y ligera como
el canto del
viene la aurora.
Great place and full of fun. Perfect for winterscape photography. Other next closes place is in Mudajiang, Harbin province, China.
Actually, smoking in Bulgaria is totally banned. There are no rooms in restaurants, no clubs, bars or casinos which allow smoking.
Félicitations au Massif de Charlevoix! C'est vraiment une expérience époustouflante avec la vue sur le magnifique Fleuve St-Laurent!
Le Massif de Charlevoix est l'une des très rares stations de ski -- et possiblement la seule -- qui peut se targuer d'offrir une véritable expérience de "ski on sea". Même le Lac Tahoe n'offre pas cette même expérience.
2015 Traveler Photo Contest
Do you have what it takes to win? Submit your best shots today and find out.