Hot and Cold
Find the right temperature for your next winter escape at one of these ten top travel destinations
Whether the winter season has you dreaming of snorkeling off a private island or carving through knee-deep powder, the world’s your oyster of destinations. “Today, more people want experiential travel; they want to get out of their comfort zones,” says Pat Eisen of New Canaan TravelWorld. Others crave unplugged downtime in remote areas with no Wi-Fi. Whichever camp you’re in, you’ll be inspired by your neighbors’ adventures. We asked local jetsetters about their favorite spots in climates hot and cold. Their stories will bring out the wanderlust in anyone with a love of adventure.
Moscow & St. Petersburg, Russia
Russia may be notorious for its frigid winters, but its culture and people are heartwarming. For Mary Jane Bolin of New Canaan, the country is so intriguing she’s visited forty times, originally as part of an arts program for teachers and most recently as the leader of a group of eighteen, many from the First Presbyterian Church choir. The music is what initially enchanted her. “It spoke to my soul,” she says. The New Canaan group toured the new Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, ate dinner in a private Russian home, watched ballet at the newly renovated Bolshoi Theatre, heard a Tchaikovsky concert at the Moscow Conservatory and checked out diamonds inside the Kremlin. Moscow or St. Petersburg? Asking Bolin which city she prefers is like asking a mom to pick her favorite child. “I love Moscow for the vitality and big-city feeling,” she says. “St. Petersburg is very European-oriented.”
If You Go: One amazing place to stay is located outside of St. Petersburg. The Fortress BIP boutique hotel was built by the son of Catherine the Great and transformed into a luxury hotel with antiques in every room. Another beautiful, historic destination is The Hotel Astoria (thehotelastoria.com) in St. Petersburg. It has survived the Bolshevik Revolution, two world wars, Perestroika and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Today it’s managed by a British hotelier.
White Mountains, New Hampshire
For Lynne and Lloyd Byrne of Darien and their four active boys, the best getaways are focused on enjoying nature and family time. Lloyd’s family has been visiting the White Mountains for nearly 100 years; in the early 1900s, they bought 120-acre Cotton Farm on Squam Lake, where On Golden Pond was filmed. About eight years ago, the main house was in disrepair when Lynne and Lloyd rescued it, turning it back into an idyllic mountain retreat. The Byrnes are passionate about hiking, hitting the trails with their boys almost every day of vacation. They have completed the entire Squam Range and they’re working on climbing all of the New Hampshire 4,000-footers (with fourteen already under their belts). It’s while hiking that Lynne, a photographer, discovered her talent for capturing moments in nature. “I’m obsessed with the details in the natural world around us; the patterns and textures that are hidden until you take a more deliberate look,” says Lynne, whose third photography show was recently held at Darien Nature Center. An outdoor family, the Byrnes also enjoy sports such as kayaking, paddle boarding, waterskiing, fishing and, in the winter, skiing. Nearby ski areas include Gunstock, Cannon Mountain and Waterville Valley.
If You Go: Consider the Squam Lake Inn (squamlakeinn.com) or The Manor on Golden Pond (manorongoldenpond.com). Elsewhere in the White Mountains, check out the family-oriented Mountain View Grand (mountainviewgrand.com), an 1865 inn focused on sustainability, or the waterfront cottages on Lake Winnipesaukee at Mill Falls (millfalls.com).
Emerald Coast, Nicaragua
“It was my husband’s fiftieth birthday and he wanted to do something off the beaten path,” says Michelle Maschoff of Darien. During their two-week adventure in the land of lakes and volcanoes, Michelle, Kurt and their son and daughter spent the first week on the Pacific coast at Rancho Santana (ranchosantana.com), a resort with villas set on a 600-acre nature preserve. Also known as the Emerald Coast, this region of Nicaragua is a hotspot for fishing, surfing and horseback riding; the Maschoffs tried all three. To take in the local culture, they spent a day in colonial Granada. However, the highlight of their adventure was the time they spent on an isolated island on the Caribbean side of Nicaragua (one plane trip and two boat rides away). “Little Corn Island was paradise,” says Michelle, who adds that the people were lovely, the sunsets phenomenal and the snorkeling world-class. It’s a spot with no TV, minimal Wi-Fi and a forty-five minute walk to town past hut-style homes. Here, “you have to realize that things don’t work all the time,” says Michelle. And that’s the beauty of it.
If You Go: “Nicaragua is really an up-and-coming destination,” says Kelly Grumbach of Quintessentially Travel in Manhattan. There are several brand-new luxury resorts in this Central American country, dubbed the next Costa Rica, including Yemaya (littlecornhotel.com), where the Maschoffs stayed on Little Corn Island. Mukul (mukulresort.com) is a boutique hotel and spa on the Emerald Coast with twelve villas and two dozen bohios, or sustainable tree houses.
“It was the trip of a lifetime,” says Jim Rickards of Darien, about his travels with his wife, Ann, to the rainbow nation. A recent vacation took them to Cape Town, whale watching in False Bay, and on safari to see the big five—lion, rhino, elephant, leopard and Cape buffalo. There was even game spotting en route to the Cape of Good Hope, where Jim says they drove through a reserve and saw elan and ostrich before arriving at the spectacular headland at the tip of Southern Africa. For safari, the Rickards stayed in Sabi Sabi, a private game reserve at the luxe Earth Lodge (sabisabi.com). In addition to the traditional safari by jeep with expert guides, they tracked giraffe on foot. “We felt like we were on the National Geographic photo team,” says Jim. The Rickards say this is a trip where you definitely want expertise, which is why they booked through Darren Humphreys, a South African based in Norwalk (travelsommelier.com). “He’s lived all over the world, but he’s known there,” says Jim.
If You Go: “Craving beach time after safari? Hop a short flight from Mozambique to Benguerra Island, where “going in the water is like jumping into an aquarium,” says Humphreys. Take advantage of South Africa’s stellar food and wine scene, too: Try a wine-making course, or dine at an outstanding restaurant such as The Greenhouse in Cape Town.
St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands
Those who want a family vacation spot with a relaxed vibe should look here. “It’s this low-key, gorgeous island,” says Mary Ann Freeman, who visited last spring with her husband, Tripp, and their two boys. Many people don’t realize that St. Croix is home to a rainforest and an outstanding nature preserve. The Freemans, from Darien, stayed in a private home and explored the island’s twisty roads on mountainous terrain by jeep, stopping at white sandy beaches along the way. They also sailed a catamaran to Buck Island. “The snorkeling is unbelievable,” says Mary Ann. “You swim down deep in these coral reefs with gorgeous fish,” but there are also many shallow spots ideal for younger kids. Thanks to the island’s family-run organic farm, the food is top-notch, too, with outdoor markets where you can buy fresh fruits and vegetables. Fish such as snapper and mahi can be bought right off the boat.
If You Go: Villa and house rentals are available through Vacation St. Croix (vacationstcroix.com). Prefer a hotel? Check out the historic Buccaneer (thebuccaneer.com), which was a sugar mill in the 1700s. It has three beaches and a top-rated restaurant. Wherever you stay, pack light. “It’s very casual,” says Mary Ann, who brings more T-shirts than dresses.
St. Anton, Austria
For a taste of Europe, world-class skiing and perhaps even a Royals sighting, St. Anton in Arlberg, birthplace of modern alpine skiing, is king of the hills. Edith Middleton, a New Canaan mom of two girls and an adventurous skier, experienced the best conditions imaginable there last February. “We got stuck in a blizzard. For the first two days, we couldn’t open the door,” says Middleton. “But the rest of the trip, the weather was spectacular.” She and her boyfriend at the time stayed in a chalet at the base of the mountain, comparable to Chamonix in its allure for expert skiers. “There are thousands of people when the morning begins, but everyone quickly spreads out and soon it’s like you have the mountain to yourself,” she says. During runs, skiers can pop into bungalows buried into the side of the mountain and grab a soup or beer. Lively après-ski gatherings last for several hours; later, says Middleton, “people put on a little makeup and go out in their minks.”
If You Go: For five-star accommodations, consider Raffl’s St. Antoner Hof (antonerhof.at). Middleton found her chalet through friends, but you can book online at sites like skitotal.com. Also popular in the Alps are catered chalets, which include a staff (cateredskichalets.com).
Harbour Island, Bahamas
“The pink-sand beaches are incredible, with layers of turquoise in the water like nothing you’ve ever seen,” says Wilson Point resident and photographer Barbara Erdmann, who’s long been inspired by the natural beauty of this island. Located on the north side of Eleuthera and accessible only by boat, Harbour Island is a frequent setting for fashion photo shoots (a swimsuit issue for Sports Illustrated was done here). Erdmann and her family have been vacationing in this tropical locale for fifteen years; her husband, Jeff, has been traveling to Harbour Island since he was a baby. While Erdmann is charmed by the patterns she sees in the sand and water, which she captures in her work, Jeff and the boys love the fishing. “My kids snorkel and spearfish; they bring lobsters up to cook on the beach.” The locals are friendly and cater to visitors, she says, often taking them out for private fishing excursions.
If You Go: Book early. You can rent a private house through Dunmore Realty (dunmorerealty.com), as the Erdmanns do. Or, try the plantation-style retreat designed by India Hicks called The Landing (harbourislandlanding.com). Other top resorts include The Pink Sands (pinksandsresort.com), The Coral Sands (coralsands.com) and The Rock House Hotel (rockhousebahamas.com), which has some of the best food on the island.
Families tend to come back year after year to vacation on this Gulf Coast barrier island and the Majors of Darien are no exception. Every April, Kim and David Major and their three boys return to this upscale but understated resort. “It’s old Florida, kind of like Palm Beach without the glitz,” says Kim. “You get there and get your golf cart and bikes and you don’t see your car for days.” They stay at the Gasparilla Inn & Club, a 100-year-old resort, where they spend much of their time at the beach. Golfing is huge, but the Majors also do a lot of kayaking and paddle boarding. Every night after dinner, guests gather downstairs at the inn. Kids play ping-pong and games while the gentlemen sip scotch and the ladies enjoy glasses of wine. “It goes back to what family vacations should be about—spending time outdoors with family,” says Kim.
If You Go: This year The Gasparilla Inn & Club (the-gasparilla-inn.com) is celebrating its centennial with special events. Consider booking during the Food & Wine weekend in January to enjoy cooking classes with leading chefs, wine tastings and culinary demonstrations.
Park City, Utah
Thanks to direct flights from New York, this Rocky Mountain skiing mecca can be reached almost as quickly as northern Vermont. Originally a silver-mining town, Park City retains its Old West flavor, yet it’s home to Deer Valley, Canyons and Park City Mountain ski resorts, with Snowbird and Alta nearby. This convenience and versatility attract many families from our area, including clients of Pat Eisen of New Canaan TravelWorld. She sends one New Canaan family with three children to Deer Valley every December. “It’s almost like a second home for them,” she says. “They return because they feel they know it.” While dad and the kids are out hitting the slopes, mom has no shortage of entertainment, including a cooking school, art galleries and plenty of great shopping in town. Says Eisen, “She also loves to use the spa and is happy to have time for R & R.”
If You Go: Consider making Stein Eriksen Lodge (steinlodge.com) your home base. “It’s a classic with great history and unbelievable service,” says Eisen. And it’s located mid-mountain for excellent skiing access. The 23,000-square-foot spa is the top-ranked in the state. Another premier option: The Montage Deer Valley (montagedeervalley.com), a newer, Craftsman-style resort with ski-in/ski-out access to more than 200 acres of peaks and gladed terrain.
Some people travel abroad wanting to hit every tourist destination in Europe, but for the Ford family of Darien, it’s all about the culture. Julia Ford, who was born in Belgium, raised in Europe and has traveled extensively, likes sharing the experience of living in another part of the world with her husband, Boomer, and their children. “It’s a really great bonding opportunity,” she says. During a six-week trip, they spent two weeks in the Andalusia region of Southern Spain at Fuegoblanco (fuegoblanco.com), a small eco hotel in the white hill town of Alora that’s home to a Moorish castle. “When you stay in a B&B or apartment, you meet more locals,” says Ford. “Your kids wind up playing with local kids and it’s these moments they remember.” One of the highlights of their living-like-locals vacation was exploring El Torcal de Antequera and climbing on the limestone foundations. “It’s like a city of rocks,” she says. Another must-see archeological wonder, according to the Fords, are the ruins of Bobastro, an ancient church carved out of sandstone.
If You Go: After exploring the hill towns, consider a visit to the city of Seville. For a night in a luxury historic location, check out the completely restored Hotel Alfonso XIII (hotel-alfonsoxiii-seville). Costa del Sol is the place for beach time, and the Puente Romano (puente (romano.com), recommended by Quintessentially Travel, is known for its exceptional tennis club first run by Bjorn Borg and played by many pros.