Winter Hot Spots
by Lisa Arcella
Where in the world do you want to go to get away from it all this winter? We have some ideas for you. Whether it’s snow or sand, the world is waiting for you.
PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC
Prague is perhaps one of the most beautiful and underrated cities in Europe. Prague is a big place, so there’s an endless list of things to see and do. Museums, great architecture and galleries abound. Many of the attractions are located in the old town. A visit to the Prague Castle and a stroll across the Charles Bridge are musts. The Prague Beer Museum and Lokal, a classic Czech beer hall, are also worth seeing. If you are under the impression that Germans make the best beers in Europe, you haven’t been to the Czech Republic!
There are restaurants here for virtually any taste or budget, but one favorite is Restaurace Pálffy Palác, which has a fantastic view of the castle.
Innsbruck is synonymous with winter fun. People from around the world know it as the cold weather sports mecca that hosted the 1964 and 1976 Winter Olympics. Of course there are amazing Tyrolean ski slopes and villages nearby, but the city is also filled with history and beauty. The Cathedral of St. James or a trip back into Hapsburg history at the Altstadt von Innsbruck are worth the price of admission.
If sticking with outdoor activities is your thing, be sure to check out the insane views of the city from the Hungerburg Funicular. Once you are at the top of the mountain make the hike back into town. Lichtblick is one of the many places in town to get an excellent meal and the Grand Hotel Europa is an amazing property with wonderful views of the Alps.
For many Europeans, Courchevel is the place to go when you want to get serious about hitting the slopes. The location was home to the 1992 Olympics and is part of the Three Valleys, which make up the biggest connected ski area in the world.
The rich and famous flock to ski here because despite getting big crowds, the exceptional lift system means there are rarely any lines. There are also many places to chill out like a dedicated snowboarding park, ice skating arena, tobogganing runs and ice climbing.
L’Apogee Courchevel and Le Kilimandjaro Mountain Resort are two of the best places to stay but there are dozens of places to relax in front of the fire and take in spectacular views of the mountain. Le Bistrot du Praz, Le Farcon and the Black Pearl are the best spots for fine dining après-ski.
AMALFI COAST, ITALY
There is so much about Italy to love, but the Amalfi Coast, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site as a cultural landscape might be the most beautiful spot in a country of beautiful spots.
The drive along the coastline from Positano to Amalfi and its steep cliffs leading to the sea is legendary, but be sure to wait until it’s over before indulging in the favorite local liqueur—limoncello.
The coast is also a great place to explore on foot with well-marked trails frequented by local travelers. Don’t miss Pompeii, Herculaneum or Mt. Vesuvius during the trek.
The cliff-top resort town of Sorrento is a must stop and where you will find some of the best restaurants in the country. The two Michelin-star Ristorante Don Alfonso 1890 is a top pick. At Villa Rufolo in Ravello you can see a 14th century tower surrounded by some of the prettiest gardens imaginable. Belmond Hotel Caruso, which sits on a cliff overlooking the sea in Ravello, is an absolute dream destination.
The Amalfi Coast is a hugely popular destination in the summer but winters are very mild and present an ideal time to visit without crowds everywhere.
Kauai is the fourth largest of the Hawaiian Islands but perhaps rates number one in beauty. Green valleys, dramatic mountains and tropical forests and waterfalls combine to make this island one of the best vacation spots in the world.
Of course the beaches in Kauai are well known, but there is so much more to do here. Exploring many of the tiny towns that dot the island, zip lining, hiking or snorkeling are great ways of enjoying this amazing landscape.
There’s no ideal time to travel here. Temperatures remain around 84°F throughout the year, with the ocean ranging from 71°F to 81°F degrees. If you plan on exploring the lush interiors of the island, renting a car is a must. The best hotels have shuttles to stunning Waimea Canyon (called the Grand Canyon of the Pacific) and charming Hanalei town, but they don’t always allow enough time to really get to know the place.
When you do decide to hit the beach check out Kealia or Haena Beach Park, but try to steer clear of Queen’s Bath, which locals consider extremely dangerous. Aloha!
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL
Could there ever be a moment when lounging on Copacabana and Ipanema beach was a bad idea? But scooping out beautiful bodies in teeny weeny bikinis isn’t the only fun thing to do here. Taking in a soccer game at the Maracana Stadium, a Plataforma Samba Show or going for a helicopter ride high above the iconic Christ the Redeemer statue are unforgettable experiences.
Locals in Rio are very friendly and don’t be shocked if a complete stranger wants to start a conversation by kissing you three times on the cheek. But while the people may be touchy feely, touching your food with bare hands is considered rude. So ask for a knife and fork with your hamburger!
Of course every imaginable dining experience can be had in Rio. A favorite for seafood is Satyricon while Porcao Rio, which has a room with an amazing view, is perhaps the best place in the city for steak and barbecue. If you happen to be lucky enough to be in town for Rio’s famed Carnival in February, try and get a seat at the open-air Sambadrome where you can watch all the local samba schools compete and even take a lesson or two yourself!
In French it’s Saint Martin, in Dutch it’s Sint Maarten and either way this is one of the most beautiful destinations in the Caribbean with a distinctively European flair. In 1648 the island was divided in two by France and The Netherlands and there is still a distinctly different style between the two sides. Today it is the smallest landmass in the world to be shared by two sovereign nations. Surrounding the island are pristine beaches, including Maho Beach, a diving and fishing paradise where you can swim while jets above come in low for their landings at Princess Juliana International Airport.
After all that fun in the sun be sure to check out the Buccaneer Beach bar or the Princess Casino. There is also no shortage of fine dining on both sides of the island. In fact, in a place that’s just 87 square kilometers, there are over 400 restaurants to be found. Our favorites are the Caribbean Blend Bar & Restaurant and Le Mini-Club for a yummy combo of French and Caribbean cooking. Front Street is the place to be for the best shopping on the island and every place is tax and duty free, so bring an extra bag for all the goodies you’ll be lugging home.