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Winter Break

The seaside pool at Jordan's Kempinski Hotel Ishtar.  

Spend the morning at the gym, with sumos.

Hours From New York: 13
TYPE OF VACATION: Family Friendly

On your next trip to Tokyo, after you drop your bags at the excellently indulgent (and supremely well located) Four Seasons Marunouchi (from $500 per night; 800-819-5053 or, shop your way through architect Tadao Ando’s newest retail masterpiece, the vast, luxe, and almost entirely subterranean Omotesando Hills megamall in Harajuku. Then travel back through the winking lights of Ginza to dinner at Ippoh (81-3-3289-5011), for high-style tempura that’s brilliantly light and elegant. Shuffle home, sleep off the flight, and for once, be grateful when you wake up at 5 a.m.: In one of those rare jet-lag-is-a-boon situations, early morning is the perfect time for going to see sumo. Not the big matches—which can yawn on for hours and cost a fortune—but at the sumo “stables” themselves, where you’ll witness apprentice and master wrestlers thumping and heaving close up. Practice begins at about 7 a.m. at the famous Takasago Beya, and if you go during the week, you won’t just be the only Westerner there—you’ll likely be the only visitor. Make your way into the bland, sixties-era building and settle quietly onto one of the pillows on the floor; these are some of Japan’s most revered sports stars, so they won’t acknowledge your presence with more than a glance. You can easily pass the better part of the morning watching dozens of brief, incredibly intense mini-matches, in which one gargantuan, half-naked man heaves another one out of a dirt-floored ring. Just have the hotel call ahead (the entire team is sometimes off touring), don’t point your feet at the wrestlers (it’s a sign of disrespect), don’t talk loudly, and don’t use a camera flash.

Amman, Jordan
Float on a sea that’s below sea level.

Hours From New York: 11

Neighbors like Egypt have always gone after the luxury tourist, but it’s taken Jordan until now to play the ancient world–meets–Frette sheets game. This summer, it took a step in that direction with the opening of the Kempinski Hotel Ishtar (from about $200; 962-6-461-5922 or Set on the silent shores of the Dead Sea—1,300 feet below sea level and 75 minutes from Amman airport—the 114-room retreat is surrounded by the Jordan Valley’s sheer cliffs, and far removed from any hint of civilization except for the lights of Jerusalem flickering in the distance. Make it your base for a week of relaxing at the Earth’s lowest point. Float on the sea’s salt-rich waters; soak in the resort’s massive, beachfront Infinity-edge pool; and enjoy mineral scrubs in its new Anantara Spa. In between, hide out in your airy, seafront mod-Arabian-design room and eat in the alfresco restaurant. In case you get restless, Petra—Jordan’s ancient pink-sandstone pride and joy—is a three-hour drive south. Slightly farther on is Wadi Rum, a series of towering, multihued canyons made famous in Lawrence of Arabia and an equal to Petra’s better-known palaces. There are early-Christian pilgrimage sites like Mt. Nebo for the Bible scholars, and Greek and Roman ruins at Jerash for classicists. When you’re ready to experience population density again, spend a day in Amman. Start with the Corinthian columns of the Citadel atop Jebel al-Qala’a hill, with its abundance of Bronze Age ruins. Next, head for Jordan River Designs (962-6-461-3081), a Save the Children–sponsored boutique stocking stylish, locally made rugs, quilts, and leather goods. Have a late lunch at Abu Ahmed (962-6-464-1879): fresh salads, grilled meats, just-baked breads, all served in an old stone cottage. Expect noticeable security and metal detectors at all hotels and historical landmarks. Jordan may be relatively safe and calm, but considering its neighbors, you can never be too careful.

Ljubljana, Slovenia
Fly down a torchlit mountain.

Hours From New York: 10

Night sledding—or sledging, as the Slovenians call it—is a rush that makes snowboarding look dull. For 45 euros, Label, a snowboard shop in Ljubljana (, will hook you up with snowshoes, sleds, a head lamp, a guide, and a lift to Velika Planina ( You trek up to the empty ski trail on snowshoes, surrounded by looming, craggy mountains, past tiny houses heavy with snow. The temperature often dips to the teens, so belt down a warm blueberry brandy in the lodge before you jump on the sled, which screams down the mountain (like it or not, so will you). The only way to stop is by veering into a snowbank or dragging your feet, Fred Flintstone style. After a few runs, hang with the locals over a Union beer on tree-stump seats beneath the star-packed winter sky and think about how you’re going to recover tomorrow in the saunas and mineral-rich thermal baths at the Vitarium Spa of the Smarjeske Toplice Health Resort ( The next day, hike up to Ljubljana Castle for a great view and unexpectedly good contemporary art. Make sure to walk through Tivoli Park, where you’ll see some pretty hip graffiti. Stay at the Art Nouveau–style Grand Hotel Union (from $114; 01-308-1270 or, and don’t skip the hotel’s massive breakfast, especially the gibanica, an airy fruit-filled pastry.

Big Sur, California
Hang out with a llama at a time-warp retreat.

Hours From New York: 9

Driving the ribbon-candy coastline of California’s Highway 1 at sunset is something everybody should do at least once. The place to stay after negotiating the hairpin turns and breathtaking vistas is the bohemian, eccentric, time-warped Gorda Springs Resort (from $225; 805-927-3918), which feels very much like a place that hippies settled and never left. The sprawling complex is set into a mountainside; there are llamas, goats, and sheep wandering casually around the property; and all the rooms (which are decorated in early Salvation Army) face the Pacific. There are no telephones, televisions, or radios—and there is no cell-phone reception—but each has a Jacuzzi filled with mountain-spring water, and the baked goods at the Gorda Market have fans up and down the West Coast. Gas up somewhere else, though: Big Sur has some of the highest prices per gallon on the coast.

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