In 2012, the best place to . . .

It’s the little things that matter, so resolve to make the most of them in 2012 - starting with our micro sampler of random hot spots around the world

Hotel Bel-Air in New York.


Maestro Enrique Francés beat the Bauhaus architects to the punch by roughly seven centuries. His 13th-century design for the Gothic León Cathedral in León, in northern Spain, called for slender columns framing stained glass windows that rose 112 feet to the vaulted ceilings. Long before the Bauhaus glass curtain wall, Maestro Enrique invented a cathedral with glass where every other builder put stone. (Flying buttresses held it up.) It took 700 years to fill the windows with color, resulting in a chronicle of liturgical stained glass imagery from simple rosettes to coats of arms to Bible stories that celebrate the joy of creation. When the sun shines in, every worshiper is bathed in a kaleidoscope of color.



This euphemistic term is used by skiers to describe a stinging blast of dry, deep powder to the face as they skim down a hillside. Chatter Creek, British Columbia, is the largest snowcat skiing operation in the world. For those pining for perfect powder there’s no finer terrain. In an average winter Chatter receives over 30 feet of snow on its 57 acres, which include glades, bowls, and glaciers. In addition to the skiing, the lodge reached by helicopter sports fine dining and plush accommodations, perfect for resting up after a 30,000-vertical-foot day of sliding. A fleet of snowcats and tenured guides ensures a safe and unforgettable experience. And the best part: Chatter is just a few hours from Calgary.



Forget about the language, food, and in-ground toilets, here’s the biggest culture shock for any American visiting Tokyo: beer vending machines. From the country that gave us Sony Walkmans, instant noodles, and karaoke machines, the robotic bartender may be Japan’s greatest technological innovation. Vending machines are stationed on virtually every Tokyo street corner, and they are just as likely to be stocked with cans of Sapporo as Coca-Cola. Pop a few yen in these automated sidewalk liquor shops, and grab a domestic brew such as Asahi or Kirin Ichiban or perhaps an import (although a Guinness in Japan doesn’t seem right). Try doing that in the States.




“Fish and chips are the English equivalent of a hamburger - quick and easy,’’ says Duncan Robson, whose family has run the Magpie Cafe in Whitby, England, since the 1950s. But fast food need not be slapdash and the Robsons’ attention to detail has made the cafe the favorite of beachgoers on holiday. Diners have a choice of haddock or “meatier’’ cod dipped in secret-recipe crispy batter. Fish and potatoes are deep-fried in beef tallow and served with homemade tartar sauce. The Magpie offers small and regular portions - Yorkshire-speak for big and bigger. Most diners go small to save room for a side dish of mushy peas (an acquired taste) and sticky toffee pudding for dessert.



Get The Weekender in your inbox:
The Globe's top picks for what to see and do each weekend, in Boston and beyond.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

Everybody knows that Crane Beach in Ipswich is an inviting stretch of sand in any season. Here’s the secret: When you enter the beach parking lot, pull over to the far right-hand side. Instead of taking the boardwalk to the beach, follow the marked trailhead here (it is located on the righthand side of the parking lot). It leads to a wondrous landscape of towering coastal dunes and pitch pine forest on Castle Neck, with views of the bay, marshlands, and offshore islets. Rippling sand meets shimmering water, to dazzling effect. “You never know what you’ll see around the next bend,’’ a fellow hiker exclaimed. Indeed, the next moment, an antlered buck hurtled over a dune, right in front of us. Part of the Bay Circuit Trail, this 5.5-mile network of hiking paths is amazingly undiscovered.



C-Colzani was voted the “Best Coffee in Italy,’’ yet I was skeptical. I mean, isn’t all the coffee in Italy fabulous? So I took a road trip to Cassago Brianza, located off the highway about 25 miles north of Milan. Expecting to find a tiny, dimly lighted hole in the wall, I was surprised to discover C-Colzani is a spacious, sleek, and contemporary coffee bar and restaurant attached to an equally snazzy spa and hotel. Long rows of glass cases, resembling high-end jewelry displays, were filled with sweet treats: chocolate tarts, biscotti, jam and crème filled pastries, nut-studded cookies, sorbet and gelato. Sandwiches, salads, and light meals were also available. And the coffee? I have to say sublime.



Out in Ireland’s unspoiled west, the R335 dips into Doo Lough Valley, a mystical dale of serenity. Barren green mountains scoured by white rivulets soar above boggy moors. In the distance, the roadway snakes around the cobalt waters of Doo Lough (Irish for “Dark Lake’’) like a thin black string drizzled from the heavens. The rushing wind bears the random jangling of bells hanging from the necks of resident sheep. Along the roadside, however, is a haunting reminder that the valley’s blissful isolation could also be lethal. A simple stone cross memorializes scores of Great Famine victims who perished here in a desperate quest for food. Spend a few minutes at Doo Lough, and you will understand why Ireland is called the “terrible beauty.’’



The masters painted not to cover the walls of museums but to decorate luxurious homes. Hill-Stead Museum in Farmington, Conn., the former home of architect Theodate Pope, is filled with her father Alfred’s personal collection of art by Monet, Manet, Degas, and other French Impressionist masters, displayed as they were intended - on a dining room wall, above a fireplace, over a piano. In some instances, rooms were furnished or decorated to complement the art: In the dining room, celadon Chinese pottery on the mantel picks up the soft green of the grass in Degas’ “Jockeys’’ hanging above. The 15 masterpieces are vivid and surprisingly accessible - you will probably never get closer to Monet’s shimmering pink haystacks than here.




After a few days in Kauai, the oldest of the main Hawaiian Islands, I began to suspect projectors had been set up to create postcard-perfect rainbows wherever I looked. But they were no trick of the eye. At the center of this paradise in the Pacific, near a mountain rising more than 5,000 feet, is one of the wettest places on the planet, where nearly 500 inches of rain fall a year. With the showers often suffused by a strong sun, the result is a glistening, multicolor show painted on the sky, with scarlets and indigos and marigolds building rainbows more vibrant than any I have witnessed elsewhere. I saw deeply hued arches in the island’s lush interior, resplendent semicircles on hikes along the beach, and multiple, full-spectrum arcs hugging the green hills and disappearing into the sea. The highlight was a helicopter ride to the waterfall-covered mountain. As we approached, I saw something I never knew could even exist: rainbows that form a complete circle. We flew through two of them in awe, with the soundtrack of “Raiders of the Lost Ark’’ playing in our headphones.



Sunlight and season dictate the rhythms of life in southwest France’s bucolic department of Lot. Near medieval Cahors, wild boar and fallow deer thrive in forests of chestnut and dwarf oak; vines carpet the hillsides. Beside the meandering River Lot, visitors rarely stray far from an auberge, or hostelry, where promethean portions of foie gras, goat’s cheese, and meaty cèpe mushrooms make the tables groan. Each January, tasty stews of goose and duck are given an added kick, after specially trained pigs have unearthed the season’s truffles.



This may be your year in Provence, or Mumbai, or Shanghai. No matter where you travel, you will be whiling away time in terminals and on tarmacs. Dull, you say? Hear this: I’ve just flown in from Singapore’s Changi Airport and, well . . . I want to go back. I had read that baggage handling there was among the best in the world. But no one told me I would be walking through groves of tropical trees, past waterfalls coursing down walls of polished stone. Changi’s Terminal 3 features the world’s first butterfly garden in an airport. If butterflies bore you, dive into the Balinese-themed rooftop swimming pool and dry off at the open-air cactus plantations. Back inside, your children can spiral down the world’s tallest slide in an airport or maybe learn something at the rare fern conservatory. Did I mention the orchid garden?



No fences protect La Paya, a ruined citadel built by the indigenous Diaguita people, who once thrived in the sun-scorched valleys of northwest Argentina’s Salta province. Visitors enter the ancient site by clambering over the low walls of what were once the Diaguitas’ temples and homes, abandoned almost overnight when Spanish conquistadores herded the inhabitants elsewhere. Amid a cracked, desiccated landscape of rocky outcrops, stunted grasses, and cardón cactus, fragments of Diaguita pottery - bowls, jugs, and cups, some decorated with faint images of human figures - still lie in the dust. The thrill lies in finding them, so leave them in place for the archeologists to record.


. . . GET LOST

In Marrakech’s main souk you slip into one entrance, snake your way past stalls selling bright leather slippers, glass tea sets, and tin hanging lanterns, and then turn down an alleyway, only to emerge into a quiet square holding a mosque. Another turn takes you past stands selling sticky dates, roasted nuts, and platters of sugar-syrup drenched sweets. Turn again and you see kiosks filled with conical baskets, red, yellow, and blue tagine sets, and square leather change purses. Where was that silver bracelet you saw the day before? Could it be down here? You head down a cobblestoned passageway, which leads to a small market filled with plump women in jellabas and vendors selling heaps of dried mint, cumin, and paprika. Another turn reveals a pink stucco wall displaying round copper and brass trays and woven rugs on pegs. Turn again. Another lane. Another turn. Nothing looks familiar under this straw canopy in the dim light.




The original Spanish Colonial architecture and its signature pink facade are still intact, along with the oval pool, where Marilyn Monroe had one of her last photo shoots. And don’t you fret about those three swans, which can still be seen wading in the man-made lake surrounded by the towering California oaks and the flowering shrubs. The major changes at Beverly Hills’ Hotel Bel Air, reopened in October after a two-year, $100 million renovation, are a dozen new hillside villas with their own private plunge pools, and a La Prairie spa to please any sybarite. Wolfgang Puck is now at the helm of the dining room, redesigned with far more panache courtesy of the Rockwell Group. This being Los Angeles, you could say the aging starlet has had her makeover and is now ready to be back in the limelight.



On any night of the week, within a two-block stretch of Frenchmen Street in the Marigny neighborhood of New Orleans, you can follow a brass band down the street, catch a reggae groove at Cafe Negril, and swing dance at Mimi’s and the Spotted Cat. Just across the street, get down with rootsy rock and brass at d.b.a. and at the corner, grunge out at Check Point Charlie’s, a serious rock ’n’ roll dive where you can also do your laundry. A few doors up, hear some excellent funk at Blue Nile with Big Sam’s Funky Nation, and support local talent at the Apple Barrel Inn. Hungry? Frenchmen is also a great spot for cheap ethnic eats, like Italian at Adolfo’s and Middle Eastern from Mona’s, along with assorted food trucks that keep things cooking. Window shop for a tattoo at Electric Ladyland before finishing the night at Snug Harbor, a straight ahead jazz club.



With no reservations, a bottle of malbec, and an endorsement from our innkeeper, we took a shot that Centre Street Bistro would not turn us away. As we entered the 18-seat Nantucket B.Y.O.B. spot, warm folk guitar and seductive aromas greeted us. A large, jovial party infused the shoebox-sized room with good spirit as we settled into an intimate two-seater in the corner. Hidden in a meeting house-turned mini-mall, this bistro on the faraway island is luminous and lovely. Visit off-season when the whipping wind makes the lentil and butternut squash soup all the more gratifying. Because of the acoustics, we had to lean in close to hear each other, the flame of our candle adding drama to our talk. Knocking knees and sharing forkfuls of delicate lobster risotto, smoky beef tenderloin, and sipping robust red, we toasted to five years of marriage.