There’s no reason to hibernate when new adventures await on every continent. From fat snow biking in the Tetons to rumbling across Aruba by Jeep, our editor’s list of 10 best winter trip destinations—plus a bonus “Reader’s Choice”—includes unexpected ideas for both snowbound and sun-splashed vacations. —Maryellen Kennedy Duckett
Go on a Reindeer-Drawn Sleigh Ride Safari, Lapland, Finland
Photograph courtesy Visit Finland
For centuries, the indigenous Sami people have traveled with their herds of reindeer across the Sápmi region (commonly referred to as Lapland), which comprises the northernmost regions of Finland, Norway, Sweden, and the Russian Kola Peninsula. Here, above the Arctic Circle, snow can last for 200 days, making reindeer sled, snowmobile, and skis the preferred modes of transportation. Experience the frosty thrill of gliding through the snow-covered forest in a reindeer-drawn sleigh at northern Finland’s Jaakkola Reindeer Farm. Located near Luosto in the Finnish province of Lapland, the family-owned farm offers a variety of reindeer safaris and tours led by English-speaking guides. Many tours include opportunities to feed the reindeer, learn about reindeer husbandry, and warm up with coffee and pastries (or cook sausage over an open fire) in a kota, or herder’s hut. November to February, the farm’s four-hour evening sleigh-ride excursion for two (adults only) includes the possibility of an enchanting bonus: the watercolor glow of the northern lights illuminating the sky, ice, and snow.
How to Get Around: Luosto is a ski resort village in the greater Pyhä-Luosto recreation area. The closest airport is in Rovaniemi, an hour-and-15-minute direct flight from Helsinki. At the Rovaniemi airport, take the Pyhä-Luosto SkiBus for the 90-minute trip northeast to Luosto. Jaakkola Reindeer Farm is about seven miles northwest of Luosto. Take a taxi from your hotel to the farm.
Where to Stay: The Wintry Week package (January 5-April 19) at Santa’s Hotel Aurora in Luosto includes seven nights’ lodging in a double room with private sauna, daily breakfast and dinner, and an Aurora Alarm to alert you to when the northern lights are visible. The main lodge has 30 mainly north-facing rooms (request one with a fireplace). New for 2015: a separate wing with ten glass-roofed Arctic View rooms (available beginning February 15) offering panoramic views of the northern lights. The hotel is on the SkiBus route to and from the airport.
What to Eat: Ravintola Kerttuli in Luosto looks like a traditional timber Lapp house (octagonal shape and vaulted ceilings) and serves several Lappish dishes. The menu changes seasonally, but you’re guaranteed to have a reindeer option, such as sautéed reindeer with mashed potatoes or reindeer pepper steak. Start with a cup of creamy porcini mushroom soup served with flat bread. Reservations suggested.
What to Buy: Light purple to dark violet amethyst extracted from the nearby Lampivaara Amethyst Mine (in Pyhä-Luosto National Park) are sold as gemstones and jewelry at Luosto’s Little Mine Shop. Buy tickets there for mine tours, including transportation via the Amethyst Pendolino snow train.
What to Read Before You Go: A Reindeer Police officer in Norwegian Lapland is the protagonist of Forty Days Without Shadow: An Arctic Thriller (Grand Central Publishing, English edition, 2014, translated by Louise Rogers Lalaurie), the debut novel by Stockholm-based journalist Olivier Truc, who directed the 2009 documentary Reindeer Police.
Practical Tip: Winter in northern Finland is intensely cold, yet dry. Pack and dress accordingly. The mean monthly temperatures in Luosto can range from about 7°F in January to about 19°F in November and March.
Fun Fact: Only Sami can legally own reindeer in Norway and Sweden. In Finland, reindeer ownership is open to any European Union citizen who meets specific criteria, such as living within a designated Finnish Herding Area and being a member of the local reindeer herding district, the organizational body charged with protecting the reindeer, promoting reindeer husbandry, and preventing reindeer from causing damage or trespassing into other districts.
Embrace Winter at Montréal en Lumière, Montreal, Canada, February 19-March 1
Photograph by Frédérique Ménard-Aubin, Montréal En Lumière
Montreal is at its most magical blanketed in snow. Bundle up, get outside, and celebrate winter at the 16th Montréal en Lumière, the city’s biggest winter arts, music, and food festival. The eclectic lineup includes live music, theater, and dance performances; dazzling pyrotechnics and light shows; and circus acts, children’s activities, and dance parties, plus ice sliding and ice-skating. Mixed in are fine-dining events pairing top Montreal chefs and over 50 city restaurants with culinary masters from the United States and Switzerland, the festival’s featured country for 2015. Save some energy for the final night’s Nuit Blanche à Montréal, a dusk-to-dawn party packed with more than 200 indoor and outdoor activities. Most events are free, and some are held under the stars or, if you’re lucky, the lightly falling snow.
How to Get Around: Montreal’s efficient Metro and Underground City pathways make it easy to get around the city without a car. If arriving by plane, take the 747 Express Bus (runs 24 hours a day, 365 days a year) from the airport to the central bus terminal. From here, ride the Metro to your hotel and to the Quartier des Spectacles entertainment district, site of the festival’s major outdoor events. During the Nuit Blanche, move between event locations via the Metro and the free shuttle service.
Where to Stay: For convenience, choose the 12-story Zero 1, an urban minimalist-style hotel located close to Place des Festivals in the Quartier des Spectacles. Its 120 modern rooms are compact, yet suitable for sleeping. For more space, book one of the hotel's 43 suites. Best views: the one-bedroom Panorama suites with floor-to-ceiling windows.
What to Eat: At the foodie-favorite Quebec Chefs and Cheeses evening event, February 21 at Fairmont: The Queen Elizabeth hotel (reservations required), taste and judge the culinary creations of four competitors from Radio-Canada’s popular Les Chefs! TV show. The celebrity chefs will prepare three courses made with Quebec cheeses and paired with wine. Diners double as the jury and determine which chef will walk away with the $5,000 grand prize.
What to Buy: Shop for Quebec-grown and -produced items such as farm cheeses, chocolates, and artisanal baked goods, including natas (Portuguese egg tarts), blueberry muffins, and macaroons at the historic Jean-Talon Market, opened in 1933 and considered one the largest farmers markets in North America. Quebec eco-luxury brand Harricana by Mariouche specializes in sustainable outerwear, clothing, scarves, hats, and other accessories made from recycled fur (including beaver, otter, fox, and raccoon) and silk. Tour the Fashion Design Economuseum at the Harricana flagship store on Saint-Antoine Street West to see how old furs are restored and repurposed to limit consumption and promote wildlife conservation.
What to Read Before You Go: Acclaimed Canadian satirist Mordecai Richler grew up in Montreal’s historic Mile End district, and the neighborhood (including iconic locations like Schwartz’s Montreal Hebrew Delicatessen) is featured prominently in his novels The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz (Gallery Books, reprint, 1999) and Barney’s Version (Vintage International, reprint, 2010).
Cultural Tip: “Speak Franglais,” says Catherine Binette, a city resident and spokesperson for Tourisme Montréal. “We know you have some remedial elementary school French somewhere, so don’t be shy about using it. Mixing Molière and Shakespeare is common among locals.”
Fun Fact: Montreal’s Nuit Blanche is part of a series of arts-and-culture all-nighters staged throughout the year in cities around the world. The Nuit Blanche, or White Night, concept began in 2002 in Paris, when multiple museums, galleries, and public places kept the lights on and doors open from dusk to dawn, welcoming visitors for free.
Join the 2015 European Capital of Culture Opening Ceremony, January 17, Pilsen, Czech Republic
Photograph by Pavel Nemecek, AP Images
The Czech city of Plzeň, or Pilsen, is one of two 2015 European Capitals of Culture (the other being Mons, Belgium). To kick off the yearlong Plzen 2015 calendar of cultural activities, special exhibits, and visual and performing arts events, the city is hosting a colossal opening ceremony on January 17. Join one of five celebratory processions into the old town’s Republic Square, where you can watch performances by Swiss tightrope walker David Dimitri and other acrobats and see medieval buildings transformed by high-powered projection and cutting-edge audiovisual effects into canvases of light and sound. You’ll also hear the four bells of the Gothic St. Bartholomew’s Cathedral ring for the first time since World War II, when the original bells were melted down by occupying Nazi forces. The opening ceremony marks the beginning of Pilsen’s circus season (January-November), when world-class circus performances are staged in tents erected throughout the city.
How to Get Around: The closest international airport is in Prague, located about 58 miles northeast of Pilsen. Ride the Airport Express (AE) shuttle bus to the Prague Main train station (35 minutes). Trains depart regularly from the station for the 90-minute trip to Pilsen. Walk and use public transportation (tram, trolleybus, and bus) to get around the city. Maps are available at the Tourist Information Center in the old town.
Where to Stay: Located opposite the Pilsner Urquell brewery and a short walk from the historic core and central train station, Hotel Angelo is a convenient, contemporary choice. The 132 rooms and 12 suites are styled in a bold red, black, and white color scheme. Executive rooms (fourth floor) include free Internet access, early check in, and late checkout.
What to Eat: Pilsen is best known for its signature pale lager, Pilsner Urquell, first brewed here in 1842. At Na Parkánu, located next door to the Brewery Museum, try an original Pilsner Urquell—unfiltered, unpasteurized, and naturally conditioned in a barrel that’s delivered from the brewery via horse-drawn cart. The pub fare includes hearty Czech dishes, including goulash, cubed pork shoulder roasted in black beer, and duck confit served with cabbage, onions, and dumplings.
What to Buy: Visit the bustling weekend outdoor market in Republic Square to shop for traditional Pilsen crafts such as Pilsner glasses and ceramics. Local artisans and retailers both set up tents on the square, so look carefully to distinguish between handmade and mass-produced items.
What to Read Before You Go: The Unbearable Lightness of Being (Harper Perennial Modern Classics, reprint edition, 2005) is Milan Kundera’s classic novel of love and politics during the Soviet occupation of the former Czechoslovakia.
Cultural Tip: Locals tend to dress conservatively, so wearing brightly colored or wildly patterned winter garb is a sure way to stand out as a tourist.
Fun Fact: Otevřete si Plzeň!, the overarching theme of Pilsen’s 2015 European Capital of Culture celebration, can be translated both as “Pilsen, open up!” (as in expanding creativity and diversity) and “Open your Pilsner!" (as in the city’s signature beer).
Take a Winter Wonderland Train Ride Into the Canadian Rockies, Vancouver to Calgary
Photograph by Heeb Christian, Alamy
Winter passengers on The Canadian, VIA Rail Canada’s iconic train linking Toronto to the Pacific Coast, are treated to spectacularly dramatic views of the snow-covered Canadian Rockies. To stay and play (on snowshoes, skis, or skates, and by dogsled and sleigh) in the mountains, join Fresh Track Canada’s Rockies Rails Winter Wonderland tour. This small-group trip includes a two-day, one-night train ride; hotel stays in Jasper, Lake Louise, and Banff; a Maligne Canyon ice walk and Icefields Parkway scenic drive; and a heli-tour of Banff National Park. “It’s such a thrill to fall asleep by rail and then, in the morning, draw back the curtains and realize you are in the heart of the mountains,” says Katherine Foxcroft, a Fresh Tracks Canada product manager who has taken the trip. “Mountains rise up around you and, even as a native, I was blown away by how thickly the snow hangs on the branches. You really are in the ‘land of a million Christmas trees.’”
How to Get Around: The eight-day Rockies Rails Winter Wonderland tour can begin and end in either Vancouver or Calgary and includes two days and one night on The Canadian; ground transportation between Jasper, Lake Louise, Banff, and Calgary; and a return flight to your departure point. Start dates are available through April 2. To ride The Canadian through the Rockies without a tour (no excursions or overnight stops), purchase tickets from VIA Rail. In winter, the train departs Vancouver’s Pacific Central Station on Tuesdays and Fridays at 8:30 p.m. and arrives at Toronto’s Union Station three days and ten hours later.
Where to Stay: During the one night onboard The Canadian, Winter Wonderland guests stay in private cabins for one or two. If traveling on your own, buy a Sleeper Plus Class ticket (meals included) and choose either a private cabin or a berth (couch-size seat that opens into a bed) in a group sleeping car. Economy fares don’t include food or beds, but if you're comfortable sleeping in reclining seats, the ones in the glass, bubble-top Panorama car are the best “rooms” with a view.
Where to Eat or Drink: Try caribou, bison, elk, and other lean game dishes (mainly sourced with local meats) at the O’Connor family’s Canadian Rocky Mountain Resorts, which include Emerald Lake Lodge in Yoho National Park, Deer Lodge on Lake Louise, and Buffalo Mountain Lodge in Banff. The O’Connors raise elk, cattle, and bison on their Canadian Rocky Mountain Ranch, located southwest of Calgary, where they also have a store selling fresh meats and prepared items such as buffalo chili and elk jerky sticks (closed Sundays and Mondays).
What to Buy: The Canadian Pacific Store inside the luxurious Fairmont Banff Springs (built in 1888 as a Canadian Pacific Railway (CP) resort hotel) stocks railroad-related gifts and memorabilia, including reproductions of vintage CP travel posters, Canadian train travel books and DVDs, and antique silverware used in CP trains, steamships, and hotels.
What to Read Before You Go: The murder mystery in Dick Francis’s detective novel The Edge (Berkley, Reissue edition, 2005) unfolds over the course of a long-distance train trip across Canada and captures both the majesty of the Canadian Rockies and the romance of riding the rails.
Cultural Tip: Know the meaning of tuque or toque (pronounced “tuke”), the Canadian term for a knitted, wool, or fleece beanie hat, and pack one along with lots of layers of warm winter clothing and waterproof snow boots. Winter Wonderland tour guests are repeatedly reminded to “bring their tuque” to stay warm during off-train excursions.
Fun Fact: In 1871, British Columbia agreed to become part of Canada only after Prime Minister John A. Macdonald promised to build a transcontinental rail route linking the Pacific Coast to the rest of the nation. The Canadian $10 bill depicts images of The Canadian, the Rockies, and Macdonald to honor the integral role the railroad played in establishing and preserving the Canadian confederation.
Witness the Monarch Butterfly Migration, Mexico
Photograph by Joel Sartore, National Geographic Creative
Following a nearly 3,000-mile flight path established at least 10,000 years ago, tens of millions of monarch butterflies migrate south from the northeastern United States and eastern Canada each fall to winter breeding colonies in central Mexico. January through March, butterflies blanket the forests of the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve World Heritage site, which includes four butterfly sanctuaries: El Rosario, Sierra Chincua, Cerro Pellon, and Piedra Herrada. Conservation concerns, including habitat deforestation, pesticide use, and climate change, threaten the monarch’s survival, making now the time to witness the migration and promote awareness of the reserve. “It’s a moving experience to be surrounded by tens of millions of butterflies and see 10,000 of them at a time bursting off an Oyamel fir tree like fireworks,” says Natural Habitat Adventures conservation travel specialist Court Whelan, who leads treks into the monarch breeding grounds. “The more people who see this, know about this, and care about this, the more financial and regulatory support there will be to ensure the monarch migration continues for millennia to come.”
How to Get Around: The most central town for visiting the reserves is Angangueo in central Mexico’s Michoacán state, about a four-and-a-half-hour drive from Mexico City. Since tourist services are limited and getting to the colonies can be difficult, book an all-inclusive excursion such as Natural Habitat Adventures' Kingdom of the Monarchs tour, which includes ground transportation, lodging and meals, and naturalist-led butterfly hikes.
Where to Stay: The best choice among Angangueo’s limited lodging options is the 30-room Posado Don Bruno (website in Spanish), a family-run hotel with a small onsite restaurant. If you’re not traveling with a group, it helps to know basic Spanish, since the staff doesn’t speak English. Some rooms have fireplaces (worth the extra fee if available); otherwise, the hotel is unheated. Ask for extra blankets, and, at bedtime, bundle up in sweatpants, a sweatshirt, and a fleece or knit cap.
Where to Eat or Drink: The restaurant at Don Bruno serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Start the day with the house version of chilaquiles, a rib-sticking Mexican breakfast casserole made with leftover (and slightly stale) tortilla chips, red enchilada sauce, and cheese and topped with an over-medium fried egg. Outside some of the butterfly colonies, local women cook quesadillas and other dishes over wood-fired oil drums. The specialty to try here is la trucha, fresh mountain trout stuffed with cheese, onions, and tomatoes and steamed in aluminum foil.
What to Buy: Vendors stationed outside the colony entrances sell a mixture of handmade crafts (such as sweaters, scarves, and gloves) and mass-produced souvenirs (including monarch T-shirts). The sturdy pine-needle baskets for sale are woven (often onsite) from needles collected in the surrounding forest.
What to Read Before You Go: Four Wings and a Prayer: Caught in the Mystery of the Monarch Butterfly (Vintage, reprint edition, 2002) by Sue Halpern details the author’s quest to learn why the monarchs return to the remote central Mexican highlands each year and the factors threatening the species’ survival.
Practical Tip: The butterfly colonies are located in high-altitude mountainous terrain (typically 9,500 to 11,500 feet). Although horses are available to transport you part of the way, hiking is required. The actual hiking distance depends on where the monarchs are located during your visit.
Fun Fact: A monarch’s wings are covered with a mosaic of tiny monochrome scales containing color pigments. These scales are shed naturally as a fine powder as the butterfly flaps its wings and flies. When thousands of monarchs alight from a tree in unison, the mass shedding of scales produces one of the most awe-inspiring sights visible in the butterfly colonies—a brilliant orange and black glitter that falls through the air like an ethereal dust.
Go Fat Biking in the Tetons, Grand Targhee Resort, Alta, Wyoming
Photograph by Patrick Nelson, Teton Mountain Bike Tours
Jackson Hole is Wyoming’s best known ski destination, but laid-back and low-key Grand Targhee Resort is the place to go to ride a fat bike in the snow. Located in northwest Wyoming on the western slope of the Tetons, the 2,600-acre ski area was the first in the nation to open its groomed Nordic-trail system to mountain bikes tricked out with big-volume, low-pressure, and super-stable fat tires (at least 3.7 inches thick). Rent a fat snow bike at the resort (or in a nearby town) and buy a Nordic trail pass to hit Grand Targhee’s hard-packed tracks and loops. “Riding a single-track trail through the woods on giant balloon tires is an amazing way to experience winter,” says mountain biker and Grand Targhee Resort special events coordinator Andy Williams, who introduced fat snow biking to the resort in 2012. “You’re not going as fast as you would on a mountain bike, so you can take in all the scenery. Plus, it’s so much fun. Everyone who tries fat snow biking for the first time ends up grinning from ear to ear.”
How to Get Around: The closest airports to Grand Targhee Resort are Jackson Hole (about 90 minutes southeast) and Idaho Falls (about two hours southwest). Rent a car at either airport, and monitor road conditions carefully, since ice and snow can cause highway closures. If staying in Jackson or Teton Village, take a fat-biking day trip to Grand Targhee by reserving a seat on the daily Targhee Express, a round-trip shuttle service (December through mid-March). Rent a fat snow bike at the resort or in nearby Idaho at Peaked Sports (Driggs) or at Fitzgerald's Bicycles (Victor).
Where to Stay: Choose location over luxury and opt for the resort’s comfortable but basic slopeside lodging. For families, Sioux Lodge Suites offers the convenience of in-and-out biking (or skiing), plus the option to spread out (bi-level suites sleep eight; loft and studio suites sleep four). Every suite has at least one bunk bed. Rates include free snowshoe rentals and naturalist-led snowshoe tours, plus in-room microwave, mini-fridge, Wi-Fi, and access to the resort’s outdoor heated pool and hot tub.
Where to Eat or Drink: There are salads on the menu, but Wildlife Brewing and Pizza in Victor is a loud and crowded local favorite for pizza, beer, and games (including pool, shuffleboard, and darts). The microbrews on tap (try the flagship Mighty Bison Brown Ale) are crafted onsite, as are more than 25 variations of gourmet pizza, including the half carnivore (various meats) and half herbivore (assorted veggies) Husband and Wife.
What to Buy: Burgess Custom’s fun and functional outerwear is designed, cut, sewn, and sold at the company’s Main Street shop in Victor (open Tuesday-Friday, 12-7 p.m.). The shop also stocks locally made jewelry and art, plus sunglasses, gloves, and other accessories, but the signature item is the waterproof and vented snow pant. Ideal for snow biking, the pants are available in a variety of funky patterns, including the original patchwork design, and sized to fit men, women, or children. The CEO and head designer can also custom fit or design snow pants (by appointment).
What to Read Before You Go: Pulitzer Prize-winning author Annie Proulx's short story collection Close Range: Wyoming Stories (Scribner, paperback edition, 2000) is a literary road trip through Wyoming’s rugged and often forbidding natural landscape, with a look into the lives of the ranchers, cowboys, and other characters who live there.
Practical Tip: Hard-packed snow is best for fat bikes. If your tires leave a rut, the snow is too soft, making it difficult to climb or descend trails.
Fun Fact: Grand Targhee Resort is located in the Caribou-Targhee National Forest, which extends into parts of western Wyoming, eastern Idaho, and northern Utah. The forest takes it name from two legendary local figures: Carriboo Jack (Jesse Fairchild), a prospector from central British Columbia’s Carriboo region who struck gold near the present-day Caribou Mountains in eastern Idaho in 1870, and the Bannock Indian Chief Targhee, who, according to local legend, was killed during the Nez Perce Battle of 1877.
Take a Wild Off-Road Tour Through Arikok National Park, Aruba
Photograph by Jochem Wijnands, Alamy
Renting a Jeep or taking a guided Land Rover tour puts the wonders of Aruba’s Arikok National Park within reach. Soak in the remote Natural Pool; visit caves (some with resident bats or Arawak Indian drawings); stand atop limestone cliffs overlooking the Caribbean Sea; and look for the resident wildlife, including burrowing owls and whiptail lizards. “Exploring by off-road vehicle is the best way to see the park, since no paved roads lead to one of Arikok’s most beautiful sights, the Natural Pool, called Conchi in Papiamento (Aruba’s official language),” says Aruba Tourism Authority spokesperson Sanju Luidens. “Conchi essentially is a big basin that juts out from the mainland and is surrounded by giant boulders. While you float in this protected pool, huge waves crash into the rocks, fanning salt spray over your face.”
How to Get Around: Arikok National Park is located on the island’s southeastern coast, about a 20-minute drive east of Queen Beatrix International Airport. Rent a Jeep at the airport, or book a guided off-road tour with local outfitters such as ABC Tours or De Palm Tours.
Where to Stay: Skip the high-rise resorts and book one of the 14 individually styled casitas at the Boardwalk Small Hotel in Oranjestad. The intimate resort, run by Aruba-born twin sisters, is located on a lushly landscaped former coconut plantation. The cheery interiors are painted in bright Caribbean pinks, yellows, blues, and greens. Choose from studios and one- and two-bedrooms, each with a kitchenette or kitchen, hammock, and outdoor grill. There’s a small pool onsite, but no beachfront. Guests do have free access to the Moomba beach club on white-sand Palm Beach, about a 15-minute walk from the hotel.
What to Eat or Drink: Sit in the open-air courtyard of the Ellis family’s Papiamento manor house restaurant and order fresh seafood (such as mahimahi, shrimp, and lobster) cooked and served sizzling on a hot stone. For authentic Aruban fare, including stewed goat and keshi yena (Dutch Gouda cheese stuffed with chicken, raisins, capers, olives, and cashews), visit The Queen’s Traditional Kitchen in the Palm Beach Plaza Mall.
What to Buy: Since 1890, Aruba Aloe has been producing lotions, gels, and other personal care items made from island-grown aloe vera. Visit the Aruba Aloe plantation in Hato to tour the company’s museum and factory, see how an aloe plant is fileted and processed, and shop for Aruba Aloe bath, body, hair, and sun care products in the factory store. Closed Sundays.
What to Read Before You Go: Novelist Daniel Putkowski’s crime thrillers An Island Away (Hawser Press, 2008), Under a Blue Flag (Hawser Press, 2011), and Dark Currents (Hawser Press, 2012) are set in Aruba.
Practical Tip: Make advanced reservations for the ranger-led tours of Arikok National Park included in the entrance fee (adults, $10; ages 17 and under, free).
Fun Fact: The bats roosting in Arikok’s caves play key roles in preserving Aruba’s biodiversity. The frugivore (fruit-eating) bats pollinate plants such as aloe and certain types of columnar cacti, which only bloom at night. The insectivore (insect-eating) bats help control the island’s insect population by consuming up to 300 bugs nightly.
Celebrate New Zealand’s Biggest Street Performance Festival, Christchurch, January 15-25
Photograph by ZUMA Press, Inc./Alamy
Street performers from around the world take center stage at the annual SCIRT World Buskers Festival in Christchurch. The ten-day schedule is chockablock with entertainment options: performances by comedians, fringe artists, musicians, dancers, acrobats, vaudevillians, and more. “No two hours of programming are exactly the same,” says festival associate artistic director Tim Bain. “In the morning there are family-friendly comedy, juggling, dancing, and fire shows. By afternoon, the acts become more daring, with contortion, stunts, and high-flying antics. At night, the raunch factor gets ramped up with some of the world’s hottest burlesque artists.” Shows begin at 11 a.m. daily in North Hagley Park (renamed Busker Park for the duration of the festival) and at indoor and outdoor venues throughout the city’s central business district. And, in keeping with busker tradition, most events do not have set ticket prices. (A limited number of reserved, set-fee seats are available for some evening events.) Instead, spectators are encouraged to make a “recommended donation” (ranging from $5 to $15 depending on the event).
How to Get Around: Devastating earthquakes in September 2010 and February 2011 radically reshaped Christchurch, the largest city on New Zealand’s South Island. The reemerging Central City is compact and accessible, making it easy to travel between festival venues on foot or by bike or bus. Take a Super Shuttle (reservation required), Metro bus, or taxi for the 15-minute ride from Christchurch Airport to the central business district.
Where to Stay: No fire-juggling is allowed in the lobbies, but you're likely to see some of the more than 50 visiting street performers at Busker Festival host hotels, such as the urban-sleek, 138-room Rydges Latimer Christchurch; the intimate, 15-room Classic Villa inn; and The George, a luxurious, 53-room boutique hotel overlooking Hagley Park.
What to Eat: Central City’s earthquake-ravaged Strange & Co. department store site was reborn in 2013-14 as Strange’s Lane, a multilevel glass-and-brick dining and entertainment hub. Inside are five distinct venues: Vespa Bar, Strange & Company, Nucleus Elixir Trading Co., Orleans, and Lower 9th Diner. The latter two celebrate the culture and food (crayfish rolls, jambalaya balls, chicken and waffles) of New Orleans, a fellow city reshaped by natural disaster.
What to Buy: The Re:START shopping center is a testament to the resilience of city retailers following the 2011 earthquake. More than 50 stores are housed in brightly colored metal shipping containers, arranged in a playful building block-like jumble around an open-air courtyard. Hapa primarily stocks handmade and locally produced New Zealand items, including Kiwiana gifts such as traditional Maori pounamu (greenstone), Toki-symbol pendants, and wire letters spelling aroha (“love” in Maori).
What to Read Before You Go: New Zealander Eleanor Catton’s 2013 Man Booker Prize-winning novel The Luminaries is set in seaside Hokitika during the height of western New Zealand’s 1860s gold rush. To take an overnight trip to the region, ride the spectacularly scenic TranzAlpine Rail Journey from Christchurch to Greymouth (50 minutes north of Hokitika). The four-and-a-half-hour trip brings you through 16 tunnels and offers panoramic South Island mountain, river, forest, and gorge views.
Practical Tip: For evening shows, reserve a space online or at the Buskers Booking Booth at Busker Park (donation required). For daily shows, half the seats can be reserved online and half are made available on the day of the show. The line for same-day seat vouchers can start forming outside the booth as early as 7:30 a.m.
Fun Fact: Gap Filler, a post-earthquake urban regeneration initiative, works with Christchurch artists, architects, and designers to infuse the city’s vacant spaces with creativity, color, and commerce. The temporary installations have included a coin-operated dance floor, a sound garden where passersby can create music from improvised instruments, and the Pallet Pavilion outdoor music venue.
Ski and Soak in a Traditional Hot Spring Village, Nozawa Onsen, Japan
Photograph courtesy Nozawa Onsen Tourism Association
Japan’s Nozawa Onsen Snow Resort turns up the heat on the traditional après-ski hot tub experience. Following a day on the slopes on 5,413-foot Mount Kenashi, the resort’s skiers head down to the cobblestone lanes of Nozawa Onsen and its 13 community soto-yu (bathhouses). These indoor onsen (thermal spring) pools are owned collectively by the villagers, protected by the Yu-nakama (friends of the hot spa), and have no entrance fee. Each bathhouse has separate areas for men and women, since traditional bathhouse rules require soaking au naturel. “You will get the chance to meet locals in a soto-yu,” says Michiko Kono, spokesperson for the Nozawa Onsen Tourism Association. “But please understand that [many] people are so shy and serious that they may not seem very friendly to you.”
How to Get Around: Nozawa Onsen is located about 30 miles northeast of Nagano. From Tokyo Narita Airport, take the Narita Express (NEX) train to Tokyo Station (one hour). From there, take the Nagano Shinkansen Asama bullet train northwest to Nagano Station (about two hours). Take a bus (80 minutes) to Nozawa, or the train (one hour) to Togarinozawa Onsen Station, then a taxi or bus (20 minutes) to the village.
Where to Stay: The Nozawa Onsen Tourism Association maintains a list of ryokan (traditional Japanese inns) and hotels that welcome international visitors. Most blend traditional Japanese elements—including tatami-matted rooms and onsite onsens—with modern amenities such as Western-style toilets and Wi-Fi. The family-run Kiriya Ryokan has both Japanese and Japanese-Western rooms and is located close to shops, restaurants, and the Yu-Road (covered moving walkway) linking the village to the ski resort.
What to Eat or Drink: After a hot soak, quench your thirst and try a Nozawana-zuke (low-salt pickle) at the Libushi pub and brewery. The amber Libushi IPA and other pours on tap are brewed onsite using local spring water, and the popular pickled snack is made from locally grown turnip leaves.
What to Buy: Nozawa Onsen’s most famous traditional craft is hato-guruma (a pigeon, or dove, on wheels), a handwoven children’s folk toy made from akebi vines (known as chocolate vines due to their brownish eggplant color and vanilla-like scent). The Sankyu Kogei studio makes and sells hato-guruma and other akebi craft items.
What to Read Before You Go: Kusamakura (Penguin Classics, English translation by Meredith McKinney, 2008) by Natsume Soseki (1867-1916) is an enchanting, haiku-style classic set in a Japanese mountain hot spring resort.
Cultural Tip: If naked communal bathing is outside your comfort zone, bring a “modesty towel.” Bathhouse rules require stripping down and scrubbing clean before entering the water, but you can, temporarily, use a towel to cover up before climbing in.
Fun Fact: Nozawa Onsen’s annual Dosojin Fire Festival (January 15) pits local men ages 25 and 42 (considered yakudoshi, or unlucky) against the remaining village males in a sake-and-flame-fueled battle that, surprisingly, hasn’t ever resulted in any casualties. The festival calls for the yakudoshi to build a wooden tower, which the 42-year-olds climb, the 25-year-olds defend, and other (torch-bearing) villagers ultimately burn down.
Swim in a “Fountain of Youth,” Warm Mineral Springs, North Port, Florida
Photograph by Adam Bartolotta, ROI Media
When winter snowbirds from Canada and the northern United States flock to Florida’s sun-splashed coast, many locals head inland to the state’s freshwater springs. Due to the state’s geology, weather, and subsurface water flow, Florida has more springs than any other state. Legends have long extolled the supposed restorative powers of the mineral-rich waters, most of which stay a constant 68 to 70 degrees. While no spring purports to be the mythical fountain of youth, swimming in the state’s only naturally formed warm-water mineral spring, the aptly named Warm Mineral Springs, is a relaxing way to spend a winter’s day. As part of a broader effort to restore and protect the spring, the City of North Port became sole owner of the former tourist attraction in September 2014. The hourglass-shaped sinkhole plunges down nearly 250 feet in the center and has a round swimming pond at the top. “Warm Mineral Springs maintains a water temperature between 85 and 87 [degrees Fahrenheit] year-round, which feels good in any kind of weather,” says City of North Port community outreach manager Erin Bryce. “All it takes for a calming getaway here is a lounge chair, a good book, and the desire to soak.”
How to Get Around: Warm Mineral Springs is in North Port, located about an hour and 20 minutes south of Tampa and an hour north of Fort Myers. The closest major airport is Sarasota Bradenton International, located about 40 miles north. Rent a car at the airport, and follow Interstate 75 south to North Port exit 191.
Where to Stay: When acclaimed Sarasota school of modernism architect Victor Lundy designed North Port’s Warm Mineral Springs Motel in 1958, his intent was to symbolize the fountain of youth. The motel's features include flowing inside-outside spaces and 75 concrete umbrellas illuminated from within at night to appear as if they were floating. A pool, air conditioning, and added rooms have slightly altered the motel’s original look. However, the mid-century modern design, motor inn ambience, and wavelike reception desk remain. Winter rates are $79 to $89 per night, and Warm Mineral Springs is less than a mile away.
Where to Eat: Make a 5 a.m. pilgrimage to family-owned Abbe’s Donuts for coffee and a fresh-baked donut (like PB&J with a chocolate glaze), plate-size cinnamon bun, or gooey apple or banana pull-apart fritters from the day’s first batch. Abbe’s, which started dishing out donuts more than 30 years ago, has two North Port area locations: one tucked away in the nondescript North Port Center strip mall and a second in Port Charlotte (ten miles southeast).
What to Read Before You Go: Finding the Fountain of Youth (University Press of Florida, 2013) by graphic designer and native Floridian Rick Kilby examines the environmental issues threatening the freshwater springs' survival and includes hundreds of images of vintage postcards, travel posters, and kitschy fountain of youth-related memorabilia used to entice tourists to visit Florida’s “magical” waters.
Practical Tip: Before visiting a Florida spring, call or check the website to confirm the spring is open for recreational use. All warm-water springs designated as manatee sanctuaries (including several in the Crystal Springs River National Wildlife Refuge) are closed to swimmers from November 15 to March 31, and environmental factors such as low visibility and flooding can cause temporary closures.
Fun Fact: Warm Mineral Springs was listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1977 in recognition of its importance as an underwater archaeological site. During exploratory dives in the 1950s, the well-preserved remains of a prehistoric hunter and other humans were discovered there. Other archaeological artifacts extracted from the spring include evidence of sabertooths and giant sloths.
Readers' Choice Winner: Hit the Beach at Table Mountain National Park, Cape Town, South Africa
Photograph by Neil Austen, Getty Images
Boost the adventure level of the standard family beach vacation by bringing the kids to Table Mountain National Park. Stretching north to south along the Cape Peninsula, from Signal Hill in Cape Town to Cape Point on the Cape of Good Hope, the park boasts both Atlantic seaboard and False Bay beaches. Spend a morning playing in the calm bay waters at Boulders Beach, home to a colony of some 3,000 African penguins. In the afternoon, ride the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway up 3,562-foot Table Mountain. At the summit, take in the 360-degree views of the park, Cape Town, and Table Bay, and look out over the Atlantic to see the curve of the Earth on the horizon. The next day, head to Cape Point to ride the Flying Dutchman Funicular up to the old Cape Point lighthouse; look for Cape mountain zebra and eland, the world’s largest antelope; and wade in the tidal pool at Buffels Bay, where you’ll likely see members of the local Chacma baboon troop. The baboons can be aggressive if you have food, so don’t pack a picnic.
How to Get Around: Cape Town International Airport is about 12 miles east of the city center. From the airport, rent a car to drive to your hotel and to take day trips into the park. Use GPS coordinates and destination routes to travel to specific Table Mountain National Park locations.
Where to Stay: The Twelve Apostles Hotel and Spa has the Atlantic Ocean on its doorstep, Table Mountain National Park out back, and family-friendly perks such as two pools and free use of a 16-seat cinema (movie and popcorn included). Best rooms for families are the nine sea-facing suites: separate bedroom and living room, breakfast included, and kids 16 and under stay free.
What to Eat: Blue Water Café on Imhoff Farm (closed Mondays) is housed in a restored Cape Dutch homestead circa 1743. Request an outside table so the kids can let off steam on the nearby jungle gym. Main dishes include local fare like the West Coast Mussel Bowl and Cape Malay Chicken Curry, and there’s a kid’s menu (burgers, macaroni and cheese, milkshakes, and more). After the meal, visit the adjacent Higgeldy Piggeldy Farmyard to meet alpacas, goats, pigs, rabbits, and other animals.
What to Buy: Artists from Cape Town’s townships famously repurpose castoff pieces (soda cans, bottle caps, wire, beads) into model cars, jewelry, animal sculptures, and other one-of-a-kind pieces. Shop for township art and other South African-made ceramics, textiles, clothing, and accessories at the V & A Waterfront’s new Watershed craft and design center, opened in October 2014.
What to Read Before You Go: Originally published in 1948, Cry, the Beloved Country (Scribner, paperback, 2003), Alan Paton’s profound narrative about the distinct worlds inhabited by black and white South Africans in the 1940s, remains one of the most important novels in South Africa’s history.
Cultural Tip: The Twelve Apostles Hotel and Spa collects Pack for Purpose art and school supplies, educational games, and musical instruments for the nonprofit Amy Biehl Foundation, which sponsors cultural and educational programs for underserved township youth. You don’t have to be a hotel guest to participate. Simply purchase a requested item, pack it in your luggage, and drop it at the hotel when you arrive in Cape Town.
Fun Fact: Mensa (Latin for “table”), a constellation in the southern hemisphere, is a celestial tribute to Table Mountain by astronomer Nicolas Louis de Lacaille (1713-1762). Of the 88 modern constellations, Mensa is one of the faintest—and the only one named for a real geographic feature.
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