It's the beginning of a new year and with the excitement of the holidays over what is there to look forward to? Odds are the winter doldrums will soon set in, so the next step is planning a relaxing vacation to provide some not-so-necessarily-well deserved distraction. Whether the colder months inspire visions of sun, surf and basking on a sandy beach, or snow, schnapps and hot toddies in front of a fireplace, somewhere out there is the perfect locale for your winter wonderland vacation and we're here to help you find it.

Cooler Climates

Whistler Blackcomb, British Columbia
A serious contender of the much desired claim to fame "World's Best Ski Resort" Whistler Blackcomb is one of the premier winter destinations to ride or board. With over 7,000 acres of mountain terrain there isn't much to complain about. The variety is endless and the compliments keep flowing. Numerous fans of the dual mountain resort area say it is the greatest place on earth and another believes the snow conditions in May far outrank the best California conditions in February.

When you get off the slopes, or even if you want to take a day off, there is plenty to do in the village snuggled between the two mountains. For the outdooraphobe shopping is always an option; you can also enjoy a massage and facial at one of their day spas, check out the art galleries, do a brewery tour or even some indoor rock climbing. And once you've worked up an adequate appetite a plethora of dining choices are available throughout the village with places to listen to music, dance and just plain old lounge.

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Lake Tahoe Area, California and Nevada

OK, I admit this is a biased opinion, because quite simply I love Lake Tahoe. But there are numerous reasons to spend your hard earned cash visiting the area. One reason is the lake itself -- a beautiful and pristine sight to behold it is the 8th deepest lake in the world, boasts the startling purity of 99.1 percent and is known for its remarkable clarity. In addition, the Tahoe area lays claim to numerous excellent mountain terrains to either ski or board, just a few of which are: Heavenly, Kirkwood, Squaw Valley (home of the 1960 Winter Olympics) Northstar and Alpine Meadows.

And because for many the economy has taken a rather large bite out of their ever diminishing wallets, for those on a tighter budget the Lake Tahoe area offers scruffy snowboarders and families alike options at more reasonable locales such as Boreal, Homewood and Donner Ski Ranch. Nightlife includes great bars in both the North and South shores and who can resist a little slot action at the casinos on the Nevada side. Nearly every large casino has an auditorium for performances and if you're lucky you might catch a great act like George Carlin who has been known to perform at Caesar's. Lodging options range from five star hotels to Motel 6ish accommodations, making Lake Tahoe an affordable and beautiful destination for practically anyone.

Zermatt, Switzerland

Considered by many to be Switzerland's top ski resort Zermatt is the perfect place to visit if you desperately want to escape the sight and sounds of city life, but still want the hustle and bustle of a lively community. The village is nestled among glorious mountains with the magnificent Matterhorn in full view. Upon entering the town true city folk will immediately notice a strange void - no rush hour traffic. Not one single honking car will threaten to run you over because thankfully none are permitted in this beautiful village. Instead, pedestrians and horse drawn sleighs fill the cobbled streets, but don't let the quaintness fool you there is plenty of nightlife to be found.

Zermatt is surrounded by 29 of the highest mountain peaks in Europe at over 13,000 feet, so let it suffice to say the view is spectacular. The three ski areas have excellent snow conditions and some of the longest runs you will ever experience. If you can afford it Zermatt is where it's at.

Sunnier Options

Cancun and Cozumel, Mexico

If warm waters versus freezing snow if more your speed then consider a flight down to Cancun. It can be done on almost any budget and there are plenty of activities to choose from, such as snorkeling, deep sea fishing, dinner cruises or checking out the local Mayan historical sites. Or you can just plant yourself down on the powder soft white sand and get a tan, but be sure to slather on the sunscreen.

About 12 miles off the Yucatan coast is the island of Cozumel where you can indulge in some of the best snorkeling available. The water is crystal clear, allowing for better visibility to inspect the teeming multitudes of sea life swimming in and out of stunning coral reefs. In fact, the Palancar Reef is the second largest coral reef in the world and Jacque Cousteau dubbed it "the best diving area in the world." For snorkeling connoisseurs it is an opportunity of a lifetime.

United States Virgin Islands, Caribbean

If you long for a tropical paradise and have grown tired of Hawaii, but still want the comfort of home, give the Virgin Islands a whirl. With over fifty islands to explore, the island hopping combinations are endless. One of the most popular ones to try is St. Thomas. It has some of the best beaches in the world and committed sun worshippers can't get enough of it. Plus, the non-stop nightlife and duty-free shopping can't be beat.

Another popular island is Aruba whose unique charm is due to its Dutch influence. It lies in the heart of the Southern Caribbean off the coast of Venezuela where tourists take advantage of the year-round sunshine and pristine white beaches. The South and West coasts are covered in soft white sand, while the windward shore of the Northeast coast is more rugged and wild. Popular activities include windsurfing due to consistent winds all along Aruba's west coast and of course snorkeling in the clear waters among rainbow colored fish and sunken ships.

Now, as long as you have the monetary means, all you have left to do is decide which of these glorious vacations appeals to you the most. So what are you waiting for? Start packing your bags!

Travel to Italy for Less!


© Melt Magazine 2003