Travel way, way back in time
One of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, Matera is known for the Sassi, the Paleolithic cave dwellings carved into the limestone hillsides. Why go now? The hundreds of events tied to its status as a 2019 European Capital of Culture. Celebrate on January 19 with a gigundo kickoff parade featuring more than 28 marching bands from across Europe. The yearlong event includes walking tours, opera performances, and films inspired by revolutionary poetry.
Stay:Those prehistoric caves? You can spend the night in one at the new Aquatio Cave Luxury Hotel & Spa (from $170).
Swing through the low country on a budget
Charleston, South Carolina
Low-cost carrier Frontier Airlines (from $39) launched two flights this year that get you to Charleston in just over two hours. Download the new Historic Charleston Foundation app for oral histories and maps, then design your own walking tour — winter temps are spring-like. Stroll past the famously vibrant houses on East Bay Street, a.k.a. Rainbow Row, and through the Unitarian Church Cemetery, which inspired Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “Annabel Lee.”
Stay:The luxurious Beach Club at the Charleston Harbor Resort & Marina offers big rooms, Cooper River views, and — this time of year — bargain rates (from $169).
Go extreme skiing without leaving the Midwest
Nearly an eight-hour drive north, the Upper Peninsula’s steep, expert-only Mount Bohemia got more alluring two years ago when the resort launched the first (and still only) backcountry snowcat skiing ($150 a person or $1,850 for the whole vehicle) east of Colorado. Pile into a bare-bones, tank-like truck with two guides and up to 17 pals to climb the private Voodoo Mountain (vertical drop: 700 feet) and you’ll have fresh tracks and serpentine runs all to yourselves.
Stay:Rough it without really roughing it at Aqua Log Cabins on Lac La Belle (from $170, breakfast and dinner included).
Luxuriate on your own private island
Isla Palenque, Panama
Two reasons to jet to Panama this winter: an increase in direct service via Copa Airlines, which operates 18 flights a week from December to January, and the debut of Isla Palenque Resort, the sole inhabitant of a 400-acre island. Nature buffs can hike on jungle-shrouded trails and kayak, paddleboard, and fish in secluded lagoons. Sustainability-minded folks will appreciate that its restaurant serves mostly organic food and its furniture is made from felled trees.
Stay:A six-room villa (from $2,100) is ideal for groups; the open-air casitas (from $807) — just 50 feet from the water — are a no-brainer for everyone else. (Rates include meals and onsite tours.)
Hide away in a minimalist retreat
Rice Lake, Wisconsin
Sample the austere life without chucking all your stuff: Earlier this year, the 160-acre Canoe Bay Escape Village opened a collection of diminutive Prairie-style “cottages” — essentially swanky trailers — becoming the first tiny-home village in the Midwest. The digs include a fireplace, kitchen, TV, deck, and, mercifully, a compost-free Toto toilet. Find quietude (no kids allowed) and a view of hardwood forests, or venture out to snowshoe, cross-country ski, or ice-fish. At night, spiff up for a locally sourced three-course dinner at Canoe Bay’s lakeside dining room (from $170 for two).
Stay:Book the 175-square-foot Vista house, perched on a hilltop with lake views (from $200).
Find your chi at a wellness resort
Opening this month on 220 acres along Lake Travis, Miraval Austin is the first resort outside Arizona from the well-being brand. If your definition of balance is incomplete without beekeeping, equine meditation, private yoga, and hiking in the wilds of Texas Hill Country, then this is your place. There’s a 21,000-square-foot spa with a hammam, too, offering body scrubs, couples massages, and Ayurvedic body wraps.
Stay:The spa vibe continues in the luxe hillside lodges (from $529, all-inclusive).