FOR OLD EUROPE
The place: Dubrovnik, Croatia
Why go now: Once upon a time, Dubrovnik, with its fairy-tale fortresses and pristine Adriatic beaches, was a prime summer vacation spot for Europeans. Then the shelling started in 1991. Now, after several years of stability and an influx of international aid, this medieval city is reestablishing itself as the “Jewel of the Adriatic.”
Don’t miss: Placa Stradun, the main promenade, runs the length of the town from Pile Gate to the Old Town. Along the way, stop at the Sephardic synagogue (385-20-321-028), the second-oldest in Europe. Dubrovnik nightlife is generally tame, but you’ll find a few bars and pubs interspersed with cafés along Bana Josipa Jelacica, a lively street just outside the city walls—more than a mile of them dating back to the eighth century. Hike up Srd mountain for a bird’s-eye view of everything.
Where to eat: For a crash course in authentic Croatian fare (homemade breads, smoked cheese, veal, lamb), head to Konavoski Dvori (385-20-79-10-39).
Where to stay: The Villa Dubrovnik (38-520-422-933; villa-dubrovnik.hr; from $230), once Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton’s favorite haunt, is perched on the edge of a cliff. Each room has a balcony with views of the Adriatic and Old Town.
FOR ART LOVERS
The place: Dallas–Fort Worth
Why go now: Stop rolling your eyes. Renzo Piano’s Nasher Sculpture Center (214-242-5100) just opened in Dallas, displaying one of the world’s foremost sculpture collections, from Rodin to Picasso to Richard Serra. Last year, Fort Worth got the Modern Art Museum (817-738-9215), designed by celebrated Japanese minimalist Tadao Ando, and housing one of the country’s most prestigious collections of postwar art. These institutions joined the already well-regarded Amon Carter (817-738-1933) and Kimbell Art museums in Forth Worth (817-332-8451). Add in the pending Dallas Arts District makeover, which will include a new opera house as well as an outdoor performance space designed by Rem Koolhaas, and suddenly Dallas–Fort Worth as art mecca doesn’t sound so silly.
Where to eat: The just-opened Aurora (214-528-9400) in Dallas is the hottest reservation in town.
Where to stay: The poshest digs in the Big D are at Rosewood’s Mansion on Turtle Creek (214-559-2100; from $475).
The place: Buenos Aires
Why go now: Cities recovering from political corruption or economic meltdown have a tendency to turn into creative hothouses—think of the arts explosion in seventies Madrid or New York’s downtown scene in the eighties. Now it’s Buenos Aires’s turn. The fashion scene in particular is booming. The city’s signature Europe–meets–South America style—lots of leather, woven fabrics, and delicate lace with a gaucho influence—is turning up on runways in Paris, Milan, and New York. And unlike those other fashion capitals, the dollar is still strong here. Bring an empty suitcase.
Where to eat: At Cabaña Las Lilas (54-11-4313-1336), the city’s best Argentine beef sizzles on wood-burning grills.
Where to stay: For accommodations fit for a king, or queen, try the Alvear Palace Hotel (54-11-4808-2100; from $410), where the Spanish royal family stays.
The place: San Sebastián, Spain
Why go now: The northern coastal town of San Sebastián must have more Michelin stars per square meter than any city, including Paris. Building on the increasingly popular “author cuisine” (creating unexpected dishes by mixing together traditional ingredients in seemingly outrageous combinations), local chefs are spritzing poached eggs with squid ink, mixing licorice and ginger with seafood, and even lacing codfish with Pop Rocks. No wonder the world’s best chefs—Thomas Keller, Charlie Trotter, Michael Lomonaco—are visiting in search of inspiration.
Don’t miss: Michelin three-star chef Martín Berasategui (34-943-36-64-71) limits himself to just 45 meals per seating at his eponymous country restaurant; try the mille-feuille with green apple, smoked eel, and foie gras. At the cozy 25-table Michelin three-star Arzak (34-943-27-84-65), Juan Mari Arzak and his daughter-protégée Elena serve up lamb medallions sprinkled with ginger and painted with a paste of brandy, almond sauce, and olive oil. The view from Pedro Subijana’s two-star Akelare (34-943-31-12-09), a chalet-style mountaintop restaurant, is almost as delightful as the oysters in bacon broth with sunflower shoots.
Where to stay: Opened in 1870, the beachfront Hotel de Londres (34-943-44-07-70; from $110) is San Sebastián’s most popular place to snooze off a five-course meal.
FOR ROCK AND ROLL
The place: Stockholm
Why go now: Forget Ikea and H&M; right now, Stockholm is all about the music. A host of alt-rock acts like the Hives, the Soundtrack of Our Lives, the Sahara Hotnights, the Sounds, and Citizen Bird have recently landed the Nordic capital on the rock-and-roll map. And wherever bands emerge, a hot nightlife is sure to follow. Top D.J.’s from New York, London, and Paris—including François Kevorkian of Body & Soul fame, drum-’n’-bass D.J. Danny C, and D.J. collectives Positive Sounds and Trans Europe Express—have all added Stockholm to their itineraries.
Don’t miss: Café Opera (46-8-676-58-07), a cavernous club-restaurant in the old opera house, is packed with upscale revelers getting down to house and pop. Williamsburg hipsters will feel right at home at Debaser in Slussen (Karl Johans Torg 1), a rock venue on the edge of the Old Town. Tranan (46-8-527-28-100) in Vasastan serves up traditional Swedish fare (herring, beef rydberg) on the ground floor, and hip-hop and soul in the basement nightclub.
Where to eat: French-influenced Fredsgatan 12 (46-8-24-80-52) is a favorite of Aquavit chef Marcus Samuelsson’s.
Where to stay: The Berns (46-8-566-322-00; from $270), a boutique hotel with a nineteenth-century baroque exterior, is where music bigwigs like Oasis, Alicia Keys, and Prince bunk; Lydmar (46-8-566-113-72) has a permanent D.J. spinning in the bar-lobby, where everyone from the Roots to Isaac Hayes and Mike D have played.
The place: Shanghai
Why go now: Shanghai is new China and old China rolled into one. It’s a town where Jean-Georges’s latest restaurant is just streets away from a ceremonial tea house; where avant-garde art galleries sit next door to communist bookstores; where sparkling glass towers share the skyline with pagodas; and where hyper-trendy nightclubs are often hidden behind ancient stone gates.
Don’t miss: Wake at dawn and join the locals at Fuxing Park for morning t’ai chi. Cross the Bridge of Nine Turnings for a traditional tea ceremony in Shanghai’s oldest teahouse, the Huxinting (86-21-6373-6950). Stroll the Xintiandi district in the former French Concession, where you’ll find plazas and stone alleyways lined with chic shops, bars, and cafés.
Where to eat: Über-hot-spot Shintori (86-21-5404-5252) features Japanese food. For a mind-blowing traditional Chinese meal, reserve a table at 1221 (86-21-6213-6585).
Where to stay: 88 Xintiandi (86-21-5383-8833; 88xintiandi.com; from $180) epitomizes the city’s dual personality. Half the rooms look out over the bars and restaurants of the trendy Xintiandi neighborhood; the rest have balcony views of a peaceful lake.
The place: Cocoa Island, the Maldives
Why go now: These days, it takes more than high-thread-count sheets and 80-minute massages to impress the sybaritic spa guest. Flawless service, healthful yet inventive meals, and utter exclusivity are musts. This winter, Cocoa Island, the latest and most luxurious in the world’s private-island portfolio (96-044-1818; from $420), should top every spoiled traveler’s checklist. It’s hardly convenient (the Maldives are in the middle of the Indian Ocean), but it’s worth the trip for the empty beaches, crystal-clear waters, outstanding Shambhala spa, and, of course, the bragging rights.
Don’t miss: Try the Javanese Royal Lulur Bath—a two-hour indulgence that begins and ends with massage, with a body scrub and flower-filled bath in between. Or the Indian Head Massage—a full hour devoted to ironing out head, neck, and shoulder kinks.
Where to stay: Propped up on stilts, the 23 “Dhoni” rooms are designed to look like the traditional fishing boats of the same name.
Where to eat: The island’s only restaurant, Ufaa, offers an Indian- and Sri Lankan–influenced menu heavy on fresh local seafood.
FOR BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE
The place: Morro de São Paulo, Brazil
Why go now: In Brazil, beaches go in and out of fashion faster than you can say male thong. Right now, the most coveted strip of sand is in Morro de São Paulo, on the tiny island of Tinharé (a two-hour boat ride from Salvador). Young, affluent Brazilians vie for weekend invitations to this no-cars town, famous for its four gorgeous beaches and the deeply tanned, skimpily clad garotas who flock to them.
Don’t miss: First Beach is the surfer’s choice. Second Beach is the most popular party spot (most nights, the action begins at the clubs along the Rua Caminho da Praia, the larger of Morro’s two streets, and ends back at Second Beach the next morning in a sea of empty cocktail cups). Snorkelers and divers use Third Beach to explore Morro’s coral reefs and marine life; and Fourth Beach is the place to go for a dose of morning-after serenity.
Where to eat: Ponto de Encontro (Meeting Point), a new restaurant on the main street, serves up seafood, vegetarian meals, and a delectable baked chocolate-and-pear dessert (75-483-1058).
Where to stay: Book a room at the Pousada O Casarão, offering Colonial-style rooms and bungalows in the center of town (75-483-1022; from $60).
FOR CARIBBEAN CHIC
The place: Carlisle Bay, Antigua
Why go now: Most Caribbean accommodations fall into two categories: the sprawling resort and the tiny inn. So when a modest-size hotel with five-star service opens, it’s worth noting. The Carlisle Bay (268-484-0000; carlisle-bay.com; rooms start at $595 until December 19), opening next month, promises 88 spacious suites, a screening room, a library, and a full-service spa, as well as access to snorkeling, scuba diving, sailing, windsurfing, deep-sea fishing, kite-surfing, and, of course, beach lounging. Conceived by the owner of London’s swank One Aldwych, Carlisle Bay hopes to attract the same roster of notables as its British sibling. Let’s hope Cher, a One Aldwych regular, still looks good in a bikini.
Where to eat: Carlisle Bay will feature two restaurants, East (Asian fare) and Indigo on the Beach (health-conscious food). Also check out Curtain Bluff (268-462-8400), whose kitchen is headed by Alain Ducasse protégé Cristophe Blatz.
FOR UNDERSEA ADVENTURES
The place: Palau
Why go now: It was Jacques Cousteau who first put this nation of more than 300 barely touched islands near the Philippines on the map when he ranked its diving among the best in the world. After last year’s sars scare and the general downturn in far-flung tourism, Palau’s relatively empty white beaches and royal-blue waters are emptier than ever.
Don’t miss: Palau’s mushroom-shaped Rock Islands are home to one of the world’s most diverse barrier reefs, populated by hundreds of species, including exotics like rays and 200-pound clams. There’s also a watery graveyard of downed World War II ships and planes off the island of Angaur.
Where to eat: Check out Fuji Restaurant (680-488-2774) for Palauan specialties like Mangrove crab, steamed fish, and all manner of sushi.
Where to stay: The beachfront Palau Pacific Resort (680-488-2600; palau.panpacific.com; from $225) has pretty views, comfortable rooms, and a dive center.
FOR WINTER GOLF
The place: Costa Rica
Why go now: Tropical jungles, ancient ruins, unspoiled beaches on two coasts, and adventure travel out the wazoo have put Costa Rica on every hip traveler’s checklist. Now there’s world-class golf too. Top designers like Arnold Palmer and Robert Trent Jones Jr. have all built courses here, and the Four Seasons Peninsula Papagayo, the country’s best golf resort to date, opens this winter.
Don’t miss: In addition to the Four Seasons course, tee it up at San José’s Meliá Cariari Country Club, a Tom and George Fazio classic long considered the best in Central America (506-293-3211). A short drive away lies the challenging and gorgeous Parque Valle del Sol (506-282-9222), with a 630-yard uphill par-five to finish.
Where to stay: The Four Seasons Resort at Peninsula Papagayo opens January 19 (800-332-3442; fourseasons.com; from $395). Until then, stay at the Los Sueños Marriott Ocean and Golf Resort; its Ted Robinson Jr. course is another worthy attraction (800-228-9290; marriott.com; from $185).
Where to eat: Pioneering nueva–Costa Rican cuisine, Restaurante Grano de Oro (506-255-3322) is numero uno in the capital of San José.
The place: Gstaad, Switzerland
Why go now: Gstaad has long been a favorite for wealthy boomers from around the world. Now their kids are turning up. This winter you’re liable to find Zani Gugelmann, the ubiquitous Hilton sisters, designer Holly Dunlap (who cites Gstaad as the inspiration for her fall 2003 collection of Hollywould shoes), and Marisa Noel Brown. You don’t even have to ski. “You go because the streets are filled with beautiful people,” says Brown. “I once rented skis and boots for four days and never once put them on.”
Don’t miss: If you do decide to strap on the boards, the Gstaad SuperSki Region pass gives you access to the Gstaad, Chateau d’Oex, Rougemont, Saanen, Villars, and Leysin ski areas, and the Diablerets glacier—enough terrain to keep ten Jonny Moseleys entertained.
Where to eat: In December, Alain Ducasse’s newest restaurant, Spoon des Neiges, opens in the two-story Le Chlösterli chalet, Gstaad’s oldest. After dinner, the crowd will most likely turn up at the new, as-yet-unnamed après-ski club, also opening in Le Chlösterli.
Where to stay: With a new cinema, wine-tasting cellar, and wellness center, the newly rebuilt Grand Hotel Bellevue (41-33-748-0000; bellevue-gstaad.ch; from about $280) is where the elite meet to sleep.
FOR FRESH TRACKS
The place: Silverton, Colorado
Why go now: It’s not often that an entire mountain opens to skiers. Geared toward expert schussers and riders, Silverton (which shares a name with its former mining-town home) limits its 1,600 pristine acres of powder to 40 patrons a day. The developers vow that the cliff drops, open powder fields, and ungroomed skiable exposures—more Alaska than Colorado—will remain unspoiled.
Don’t miss: There are no trails per se at Silverton. Certainly none that are named. Think of this as a lift-served backcountry experience. After weighing the day’s conditions, your guide will lead you to the best secret powder stashes. Decompress from vertical overload at Grady’s (970-387-5706), a raucous bar right on the mountain.
Where to eat: There’s no fine dining in town, but Trails End Public House (970-387-5117), in a 100-year-old building, is a good bet for burgers, Tex-Mex, and Italian.
Where to stay: Next year, the resort will offer slopeside accommodations, but for now lodging is available in rustic inns and B&Bs in downtown Silverton. The Alpine House (970-387-5628) is simple, comfortable, and centrally located.
FOR DEEP SOLITUDE
The place: The Colorado Rockies
Why go now: For a true backcountry experience, wax up the X-C boards and head for the 10th Mountain Division’s hut-to-hut trails. Named for the legendary alpine Army unit that trained in the area, the network of 350 miles of paths and 29 huts links a fantasyland of powder-blanketed backcountry. Mind you, this isn’t X-C skiing in your local nature preserve: Depending on your route, you may need to knock off 1,500-foot climbs at altitudes of up to 12,000 feet. Paragon Guides (970-926-5299; paragonguides.com) offers trips ranging from three to six days; prices start at $990, including meals.
Don’t miss: At the trailhead for the Memorial Hut on the Continental Divide, at the 10,400-foot Tennessee Pass, you’ll catch staggering views of glacier-scoured peaks and aspen-dappled wilderness. Watch for elk as you ski through alpine meadows to the hut, situated at the edge of an untouched powder bowl hard up against 13,200-foot Homestake Peak.
Where to stay: The huts are relatively spartan, but four—Janet’s, Francie’s, Vance’s, and the Shrine Mountain Inn—are equipped with wood-burning stoves and saunas (970-925-4554; huts.org).
Where to eat: You have to melt snow for drinking water, but the kitchens are fully equipped—proper stoves and all. Paragon meals are hearty—think baked salmon with fresh vegetables, and fresh-baked bread in the morning. Last year, a group of guests hauled turkeys in a sled to one hut and fixed a Thanksgiving feast.
FOR PARTY SKIING
The place: Whistler-Blackcomb
Why go now: What Killington is to the East Coast, Whistler-Blackcomb is to the West. The mountain’s world-class powder and backcountry are matched by an equally excellent bar scene—96 restaurants and night spots in a town of just 18,000—that rocks nonstop from November till May.
Don’t miss: Speed freaks face off at the Dave Murray Olympic downhill course on Whistler Creekside, while boarders can be found catching air off half-pipes and jumps in the Terrain Park on Blackcomb. Cap off your day by skiing onto the patio of the Longhorn Saloon (604-932-5999). Later, move on to clubs like Garfinkel’s (604-932-2323) and Tommy Africa’s (604-932-6090), known for go-go dancers.
Where to eat: Araxi (604-932-4540), a Pacific Northwest fusion spot, is the best high-end restaurant in town. More laid-back options include Sushi Village (604-932-3330), La Brasserie des Artistes (604-932-3569), and Dubh Linn Gate (604-905-4047)—all attached to bars.
Where to stay: Book a room at the posh Fairmont Chateau Whistler (800-441-1414; from $166 until Christmas, from $462 for the rest of the season).
The place: Mammoth Mountain, California
Why go now: Snowboarders are second only to surfers in their worship of sun and fun, so it’s no surprise that Mammoth and its sister peak June mountains are considered holy spots. Tucked into California’s eastern Sierras, Mammoth and June offer postcard views of Yosemite, cutting-edge half-pipes and terrain parks, and A-list competitions like the Vans Triple Crown. Oh yeah: The sun shines more than 300 days a year at Mammoth, and the average annual snowfall tops 30 feet.
Don’t miss: Off the 11,000-foot summit, Huevos Grandes, Climax, and Hangman’s Hollow all earn their monikers. For gapers, ride the Thunderbound Express lift and watch the action below in the Main Park. When the boots finally come off, head to La Sierra’s on the access road (800-mammoth), where you’ll find loud music, cold drinks, and lots of shredders with goggle tan.
Where to eat: The Lakefront (760-934-2442) is arguably the area’s best restaurant (try the wild-mushroom-and-Swiss-cheese strudel).
Where to stay: Cozy and new, with gas fireplaces and Jacuzzis, the Village at Mammoth is choice (800-mammoth; from $155). The gondola leaves practically from your front door.
FOR HORSE WHISPERERS
The place: Santa Barbara
Why go now: Sorry, you won’t find Robert Redford here to play the handsome horseman to your Kristin Scott Thomas. But you will find a great equestrian vacation. The Alisal Guest Ranch and Resort, just northwest of Santa Barbara, lures equine-minded families with warm-weather riding through 10,000 acres of rolling green hills, gin-clear creeks, and alisal (Native American Shumash for sycamore trees) in the Santa Ynez mountains. Kids 7 and older hit the trails with a horse that’s assigned according to their riding abilities (most of the mounts are quarter horses); younger children ride in pony corrals.
Don’t miss: On Wednesdays and Saturdays, wranglers host two-hour morning rides to an adobe camp, where a singing-cowboy duo do their thing and serve flapjacks around a campfire ($60).
Where to eat: Classic Western grub like biscuits and gravy, chicken potpie, lamb stew, and steak are served under wrought-iron chandeliers in the Ranch Room, along with some nice Napa reds.
FOR GETTING SWEATY
The place: Hawaii’s Big Island
Why go now: Just once, we wish our parents had said: “To hell with Colonial Williamsburg. Let’s go mountain biking in Hawaii!” This December, adventure outfitter Backroads (800-462-2848; backroads.com; $2,398 per person) offers several multi-sport family trips to the Big Island. On each of the trip’s six days, you’ll be offered different sporting options—biking, hiking, kayaking—with vans shuttling you from your hotel to (and from) the launching point for the day’s outing. Activities include exploring Parker Ranch, the largest privately owned ranch in the U.S. (about 225,000 acres); hiking in lush rain forests and around the Kilauea crater; biking through black lava fields and macadamia orchards; and paddling kayaks among sea caves. On the tamer side, there’s snorkeling, tennis, and golf. Or stay behind at the hotel for a day of lounging by the pool and spa treatments.
Where to stay: As you make your way around the island, you’ll switch hotels several times, laying your weary head at the Volcano House, perched on the edge of the Kilauea crater; the Fairmont Orchid, set on a secluded beach and private lagoon; and the Ohana Keauhou resort, which offers tennis courts, an oceanfront pool, and those spa treatments we mentioned.
FOR FLORIDA (SANS DISNEY)
The place: The Everglades
Why go now: A cartoon mouse is neat, but if you really want to see your kids’ eyes go wide, show them a live alligator. Southwest Florida’s Everglades National Park offers 1.5 million acres of untamed flora and fauna, from gators and rare bald eagles to the famed ghost orchid.
Don’t miss: Ranger-led swamp walks (you’ll be up to your knees in muck) through the Big Cypress National Preserve (239-695-4111) are free. If you’d rather do your sightseeing a bit farther from the critters, call Everglades Island Airboat Tours (239-695-2333). Glades Haven Marina (239-695-2579) arranges fishing tours for snook, tarpon, and redfish. The trading post and post office at the Historic Smallwood Store Museum (239-695-2989) date to 1917.
Where to eat: Try the Ghost Orchid Grill (239-695-3299), which opened last year to raves for its gator chowder, or Moore’s Everglades Kitchen (239-695-3474), specializing in fresh seafood—like grouper straight from the water to your plate.
Where to stay:The Rod & Gun Club (239-695-2101), established in 1925 as a gathering place for hunting and fishing enthusiasts (Ernest Hemingway, Dwight D. Eisenhower), oozes lodgey atmosphere. The Ivey House (239-695-3299) in Everglade City is popular with paddlers; the owners operate a guide-and-canoe-rental service.
The place: Club Med Crested Butte
Why go now: Club Med usually calls to mind sex and the beach. But Club Med Crested Butte was built for snow and families. Recently remodeled, the ski-in, ski-out facility at the popular Colorado ski resort offers all-inclusive four-day, three-night family packages starting at $576 for adults and $176 for kids; meals, lift tickets, and ski lessons included (800-clubmed; clubmed.com).
Don’t miss: Crested Butte’s fourteen lifts provide access to 85 trails, a half-pipe, two terrain parks, the experts-only Extreme Limits (a 450-acre park with serious steeps), and a brand-new tubing hill for kids. Off the hill, check out the dogsled tours and horse-drawn-sleigh rides, or hire a private guide to lead your family on a snowshoeing tour. Mini Club Med offers puppet shows and snow-sculpting contests for the 4-to-10 set. Junior Club Medders (ages 11 to 17) have access to pool tables and an arcade.
Where to eat: Since the cost of your trip includes huge buffet spreads, you’ll probably want to take advantage of the resort’s food. If not, Timberline (970-349-9831) in the village serves high-end New American cuisine worth leaving the club for.
Contributors: Sarah Bernard, David Howard, Tara Mandy, Joel Muzzey, Larry Olmsted, Denise Penny, Courtney Plummer, Aaron Rasmussen, Rima Suqi, Jeff VanDam, Jada Yuan.