5 Spectacular Resorts for Ski-Lovers and Ski-Skeptics
If you've never skied before, the idea of strapping yourself into a slippery device atop a mountain can seem like a recipe for a prolonged hospital visit. I know I wasn't too keen on the concept. It took a friend of mine who is an experienced skier to convince me to try it. "C'mon, if a 2-year-old can learn how to ski so can you," he told me. "Two-year-olds have a lot less far to fall than I do," I retorted. But nonetheless, I took him up on the challenge and we headed up to the Stowe Mountain Lodge in Vermont-a resort that's known for its expert runs with vertical drops of over 2,300-feet and a stellar beginner program that gets newcomers off the lifts and down the slopes within an hour.
What really convinced me to try my luck on skis wasn't the idea that I would enjoy the sport. I was pretty convinced I would hate it. It was the après-ski scene that lured me-hot chocolate by a crackling fire, romantic mountain-top dinners against a backdrop of swirling snowflakes, hot tubs overlooking the valley.
As it turns out, two days on the slopes, a ski lesson, and only one bruise later, I am a convert. I love the sport. And, as every experienced skier knows, all of that exercise and adrenaline makes the fireside hot chocolate that much more enjoyable.
Whether you're a beginner like me, or a family with small children (and if you are, check out our favorite ski resorts for families), the key to having a good time is to find the right resort. You need experienced instructors, beginners-only slopes, and a place that separates the hard runs from the easy ones so that newbies don't make the mistake of winding up on a black-diamond run by accidentally taking a wrong turn. At the same time, you need the kind of action-packed runs that will challenge the more serious skiers in your party.
With that in mind, here are five resorts that cater equally to newbies and experts. Some of them are a bit more expensive than others, but each is a worthy splurge.
Stowe Mountain Lodge, Vermont
The Stowe Mountain Resort is one of the few east coast destinations that can rival the ski options out west. Indeed, serious skiers will find themselves challenged on the black-diamond runs of Mt. Mansfield, the highest peak in Vermont at 4,395 feet. Beginners benefit from top-notch instruction (Ski Magazine recently named Stowe's ski school one of the best in the Northeast) and a separate mountain on which to practice their snow-plows and turns. An annual snowfall of 333 inches per year means that newbies and experts alike have plenty of fresh powder to plow through and a recent 4.7-million-dollar investment in snow-making machines means that even the odd warm day won't ruin your ski trip.
Where to Stay: The 5-year-old Stowe Mountain Lodge gets it all right, from the ski valet who will get your gear ready for you in the morning, to the in-room fireplaces you can turn on at the push of a button. Best of all, most of the 312 rooms come with a fully equipped kitchen—a benefit for families who want to save on meals (though their Solstice Restaurant, which serves the best in local produce, is worth the splurge). 7412 Mountain Rd., Stowe, VT, stowemountainlodge.com, from $399 per night
Jiminy Peak, Massachusetts
Nestled in the heart of the Berkshires, Jiminy Peak rises 2,380 feet above the town of Hancock, Massachusetts. Experienced skiers and snowboarders come for the terrain parks, such as Coyote Ridge with its wall ride and a 30-foot flat box. Jiminy's GETSkiing series ensures that newcomers and little ones will have a good time too. Not only does the program incorporate special skis designed specifically for beginners, but they guarantee that you'll leave your lesson knowing how to stop, turn, and put on your gear—or the next lesson is on them. The mountain region also offers night skiing-a boon for folks who want to keep their adrenaline pumping long after the sun sets.
Where to Stay: Each of the 102 rooms at the Country Inn comes equipped with a king-sized bed, a living room with a queen-size sleep sofa and a fully equipped kitchenette, not to mention free WiFi. 37 Corey Rd., Hancock, MA, jiminypeak.com, from $199 per night.
Northstar-at-Tahoe, Nevada, California
The Tahoe region is synonymous with skiing. With over 3,100 acres of skiable terrain and an elevation of 8,610 feet, it's no wonder ski gurus come far and wide to try out its 92 trails and terrain parks, including a 22-foot superpipe. That said, 13 percent of the region is dedicated specifically to beginner trails and they have a lesson program that caters to adults and kids who are new to the sport. Intermediate skiers can take advantage of a complimentary tour of the mountain that will introduce them to trails and features that are best for their level.
Where to Stay: Located at the base of the mountain, the Village Lofts provide ski-in, ski-out access to Northstar's trails. Full kitchens and gas fireplaces make for a homey stay. 5001 Northstar Dr., Truckee, CA northstarattahoe.com, from $274
Breckenridge Ski Resort, Colorado
Even non-skiers have heard of Breckenridge—the historic gold-mining town in Colorado with a long, ski history. The resort has the highest chairlift in North America, which isn't surprising when you consider that the summit is 12,998 feet high. There are 155 trails spread out across the 2,358 acres of terrain, including the kinds of features that make that adrenaline junkies and skilled skiers salivate (the kinds of bowls and jumps that make less experienced skiers like myself weak in the knees). They also have one of the strongest programs in the nation for new skiers, including over 500 professional instructors and a wide range of lesson programs.
Where to Stay: Choose from a studio or a four-bedroom condominium at The Village at Breckenridge Resort. With the exception of studios, all units come with wood-burning fireplaces and full kitchens. It's also conveniently located at the base of the mountain and right next door to the Quicksilver Ski Rental. 535 S Park Ave., Breckenridge, CO, breckresorts.com, from $250
Deer Valley, Utah
Deer Valley has serious cred among powder junkies. It hosted multiple events at the 2002 winter Olympics, including the freestyle moguls and the alpine slalom. In addition to sublime snow, there are six mountains with dozens of trails for skiers of all aptitudes. Plus, The Deer Valley Ski School has a well-established reputation of getting novices up on skis and hitting the trails with confidence. Their policy of allowing no more than four people per group lesson means that new skiers are guaranteed the kind of attention and direction that they need to master the sport.
Where to stay: Rustic elegance is the word at The Lodges at Deer Valley, where guests can choose between traditional hotel rooms and one to three bedroom condominiums with full kitchens. The property is practically a village in itself with everything from a general store to a fitness center to a liquor store. 2250 Deer Valley Dr. S, Park City, UT, deervalley.com, from $132
Do you ski? What are your favorite resorts?
10 Coolest Small Towns in Europe
America hasn't cornered the market on Coolest Small Towns! Sure, we love London and Paris as much as the next traveler. But over the years, some of the most charming, delicious, historic, and, well, cool places in Europe that we've covered in Budget Travel have been off-the-beaten-path villages and towns. As the saying goes, good things really do come in small packages. SEE THE TOWNS! CESKY KRUMLOV, CZECH REPUBLIC One of the oldest villages in the Czech Republic, Cesky Krumlov is set in a valley in Bohemia south of the Blansko Forest and circled by the Vltava River. The village grew up around the 13th-century Gothic castle of the Lords of Krumlov, which has 40 buildings and palaces, gardens, and turrets and today is a major performing arts location. The cobblestone streets of Cesky Krumlov's Old Town are lined with Gothic, Baroque, and Renaissance buildings housing art galleries, cafes, and quaint B&Bs. One of the best ways to experience the town is to take a ride down the Vltava on a wooden raft ($24, en.ceskykrumlov-info.cz). How to Get There: Prague, about 110 miles away, is connected to Cesky Krumlov by a three-hour bus ride ($10 each way; jizdnirady.idnes.cz). PALMANOVA, ITALY Founded in 1593 as a stronghold of the Venetian Republic, this UNESCO World Heritage town was built in a unique, 18-sided octadecagon shape. When viewed from above, the fortress community looks like a delicately made paper snowflake, with streets radiating out of the structure like sunbeams. Tucked into a valley with a lagoon running into the Adriatic Sea, the land surrounding Palmanova yields high-quality Chardonnay, while the local waters are stocked with mullet, sea bass, and other delicious fish. In town, look out for the symbol of a leafy bough, or a frasca, hanging outside of restaurants to pinpoint ones serving regionally sourced food, such as the classic Venetian dish baccalà, made with dry-salted cod. At night, the city's earth-and-stone defensive works are lit up like a movie set. How to Get There: Palmanova sits between Venice and Trieste in northeastern Italy. It's accessible by car along the A4 and A23 motorways and Highway 352. Venice is 75 miles to the southwest, while Trieste is 34 miles to the southeast. The town also sits close to the Cervignano del Friuli station and is serviced by the Udine railway (prices vary). ROTHENBURG OB DER TAUBER, GERMANY Germany's so-called Romantic Road—which slices north to south through the southern German state of Bavaria—earned its name for its string of stunning castles. But most of the region's bastions are stand-alone tourist attractions, not thriving municipalities. A charming exception is Rothenburg ob der Tauber, a red-walled town set up on a hill above the Tauber River. It has all the pastoral views and scenery of the Romantic Road's other castle stops yet has a strong civic pulse, too. Walt Disney was so taken by the town, in fact, that he used it as inspiration for the village in the movie Pinocchio. An earthquake destroyed the castle's main tower in 1356, but the town's red-roofed medieval and Renaissance houses have endured for centuries and were fully restored after World War II. Visitors can tour the castle's stone towers—protected beneath covered walkways—and stop by its base, where crafts shops sell everything from antique clocks to handmade garden gnomes. Cuisine is celebrated here in a way it isn't in larger German cities like Frankfurt or Berlin, let alone in castle canteens elsewhere. You may come here for the shining armor—but you'll return for the delicious renditions of Bavarian comfort foods (more spätzle, anyone?). How to Get There: The closest major tourist city to Rothenburg ob der Tauber is Munich, which sits about 130 miles southeast. Train service runs between the two cities and takes about three hours (tickets from $67). You can also drive: The A7 autobahn runs right past town. BIBURY, ENGLAND Located on the River Coln in hilly west-central England, Bibury was described by 19th-century artist-writer William Morris as "the most beautiful village in England"—which is saying something in a country known for its watercolor views. Honey-colored 17th-century stone cottages, the Saxon Church of St. Mary, and a still-working 1902 trout farm are some of the ancient village's must-sees. The most photographed spot is Arlington Row, a collection of 14th-century stone buildings that were converted into weavers' cottages in the 1600s. How to Get There: The closest train station to Bibury is 12 miles away, in Kemble. Multiple trains make the 80-minute journey from London's Paddington Station (nationalrail.co.uk, round trip from $57). Cirencester, seven miles away, is linked to London by daily buses (nationalexpress.com, round trip from $30). There is no public transport directly to Bibury, but taxis are available and local hotels will often arrange transport for guests. DÜRNSTEIN, AUSTRIA On the banks of the Danube, in the shadow of a castle from the Middle Ages, Dürnstein is one of those impossibly quaint towns where everything, from the red-tiled roofs to the baroque clock tower to the winding cobblestoned alleys, seems lifted straight from the Brothers Grimm. Just an hour downriver from Vienna, Dürnstein is an under-explored retreat and a gateway to the surrounding Wachau valley, a grape region prized for crisp, dry Rieslings and Grüner Veltliners. To experience the area like a local, take a seat inside a Heuriger, a cozy tavern that sells only indigenous wines, namely those from the most recent harvest. Authentic establishments hang fir branches above their doorways to welcome the thirsty, while Schrammelmusik (traditional fiddle-and-accordion folk music) plays from within. Although the Wachau is known for its grapes, it is the Marille (apricot) that sets the region apart. In early April, the valley erupts in pale-pink blossoms, and the fruit begins showing up in strudels, pork dishes, and Marillenknödel (apricot dumplings rolled in butter-toasted bread crumbs). Wieser Wachau Shop & Café, with locations throughout the valley, sells apricot soap, schnapps, and marmalade (wieser-wachau.at). How to Get There: The town is best reached by car and is only about an hour drive from Vienna on the A1 autobahn. For a more picturesque route, opt for a day trip river cruise on the DDSG Blue Danube MS Admiral Tegetthoff (ddsg-blue-danube.at/eng, round-trip $39). BINN, SWITZERLAND Life moves slowly in the village of Binn—and that's by design. Years ago, the residents of this tiny Alpine town (pop. 150, two and a half hours from Bern) decided to stave off development by preserving the surrounding valley as a park. Today, instead of the posh ski resorts and multilane highways in much of southwestern Switzerland, Binn remains a time capsule of village life. Gravel lanes wind between neat pine chalets. Flower boxes filled with geraniums hang from every window. The town's 16th-century bridge is traversed by hikers and goats instead of cars. Up the Binna River, visitors will find even smaller hamlets and picture-perfect meadows, where they can spread out a picnic of local wine and raclette cheese and listen to the cowbells ring down from the high pastures. About a mile from Binn along mountain trails, the riverside Restaurant Imfeld is a timber chalet at 4,983 feet with a terrace overlooking the Alps. Hikers can stop in for fresh trout and Valais air-dried beef—prepared by rubbing salt, herbs, and spices into raw beef and leaving it to dry in a wooden barn for at least six weeks (011-41/27-971-4596, entrées from $9). How to Get There: Because of Binn's remote location, it's not exactly an easy trip to get to the town from major cities. On PostBus Switzerland, you can get from Zurich to Binn in a little over three hours with two bus transfers—not a terrible trek to reach total untouched seclusion (postbus.ch, one way from $56). TRÉMOLAT, FRANCE While Provence is justifiably famous for its rosé and rustic gîtes (holiday rental homes), that celebrity comes at a high price. Nearly a straight shot across the country, close to Bordeaux, the cluster of market towns known as Périgord Noir offers weekly cottage rentals at nearly half the cost—and the small-town experience is no less picturesque. One of the quaintest towns in the area, Trémolat sits on a horseshoe-shaped bend in the Dordogne River and is dominated by a fortresslike Romanesque church that dates back to the 11th century. But the highlight of the town is farm-to-table restaurant Les Truffières. Yanick Le Goff oversees a classic ferme auberge—a working farm that serves the food it grows (011-33/5-53-27-30-44, six-course family-style meal with wine $34, reservations required). Plates like barbecued duck, garlic-and-goose-fat soup, and house made foie gras are paired with local wines like a lavender-tinged aperitif or a rosé. The surrounding area is best known for its dark oak forests, hillside vineyards, medieval châteaux, Stonehenge-like megaliths, and, of course, the prehistoric cave paintings at Lascaux with haunting images of bison, horses, and traced human hands estimated to be an astounding 17,000 years old. How to Get There: From Paris Montparnasse station, Tremolat is a five hour and twenty minute ride with one transfer at Bordeaux St. Jean (raileurope.com, from $78). TENBY, WALES The city walls of the seaside resort town of Tenby might have kept attackers out during the Middle Ages, but today they can't quite contain the pastel Georgian buildings spilling right out onto the sand. The view from the harbor is rightfully renowned, but you can get an even better taste of Tenby's medieval past by taking a ramble down one of its narrow, winding alleys—like the quirkily named Lower Frog Street, a canyon of color. (No amphibian greens, though—Tenby's hues skew lighter.) The town is always popular with holidaymakers, but it's getting an extra boost this year with the recent opening of the Wales Coast Path, an 870-mile meander along the country's edge that includes Tenby on its route. Trekkers can enjoy shades as sweet as the seaside treats sold by candymaker Lollies. How to Get There: Trains from London to Tenby on the National Rail service take roughly five hours, with one change in Swansea (nationalrail.co.uk, one way from $24). ERICEIRA, PORTUGAL With its cobblestoned streets and tiled buildings, Ericeira looks like a quintessential Portuguese fishing village. But north and south of the village center, scalloped cliffs give way to white-sand beaches and—much to surfers' delight—consistent right-hand reef breaks. Thanks to its seaside location, Ericeira is also well-known for its seafood. Though the town's name is said to come from the Portuguese word for sea urchins, the regional specialty here is lobster, which are bred in nurseries along the rocky coast. How to Get There: Ericeira is a mere 37-minute drive northwest of Lisbon. VESTMANNAEYJAR, ICELAND From their base in the capital city of Reykjavik, most visitors to Iceland will follow the usual tourist circuit of the Blue Lagoon, Gullfoss (Golden Falls) waterfall, and thermodynamic geysers. The Westman Islands, a wild volcanic archipelago off Iceland's southern coast, feel a world away. The 15 islands are named not for the Norse settlers that conquered these parts but for the Irish they enslaved; the Norse referred to the Irish as Vestmenn, or Westmen. The inhabitants on Heimaey—the only inhabited island in the bunch—and the main port town of Vestmannaeyjar are still mostly a mix of Norse and Celtic descendants. The principal industry is commercial fishing, and the wharf is lined with unassuming seafood restaurants. The just-caught fish—cold-water species like cod and halibut—are usually prepared in a traditional European style, sautéed in brown butter. Adventurous travelers can explore the islands by hitching rides with local fishermen. If a professional operation is more your speed, go with Viking Tours (boattours.is, 90-minute island circle tour $40). The 90-minute ride circles Heimaey, yielding picture-perfect vistas of rugged sheer cliffs, with killer whales splashing offshore, plus a healthy population of puffins. Venture inside Klettshellur, a sea cave formed by crashing waves; a crew member will likely play a tune or two on a saxophone to demonstrate the dramatic acoustics. How to Get There: The most direct route between Reykjavik and Vestmannaeyjar is a 20-minute flight on Eagle Air (ernir.is, one-way from $169). A cheaper option, the Herjólfur ferry, departs from Landeyjahöfn, a new harbor on Iceland's southern coast that opened in 2010 (eimskip.is, 30-minute ferry ride from $10)—the harbor can be reached by bus from the capital.
10 Best Budget Destinations for 2013
Year after year, friends and family of the Budget Travel staff inevitably ask us the same question: "Where's the coolest and most affordable place to go next?" Luckily, we work hard to get at the right answers for them. Each year before the holidays, the BT team combs through piles of data regarding new flight destinations, airline prices, places aggressively building new hotels, cities experiencing cultural booms, currency charts, and other statistics to compile our list of the 10 best Budget Destinations for the upcoming year. Some destinations were more interesting to us because they were so full of new and unique attractions (Northern Ireland!), and others were standby dream vacation spots that were suddenly more affordable than they've been in recent years (the Loire Valley, France). But the one thing they have in common is that they're completely accessible and ripe for exploring now. So read up, pick a place, and get planning! SEE THE DESTINATIONS! 1. TORONTO, CANADA Why in 2013: Toronto is seriously having a moment. The cultural, entertainment, and financial capital of Canada has not only undergone a huge building boom (with more than 30,000 new homes being built over the past year alone) but New York City exports are opening up here at rapid pace, like the new Thompson and Trump hotels, and David Chang's Momofuku empire. (In fact, foodie-ism is at its prime in Toronto—the St. Lawrence food market, with its 120 specialty vendors, is regularly considered one of the world's best.) But what makes it a great budget destination is that unlike the rest of the world, hotel prices didn't increase at all in the first half of 2012, with the cost of an average room remaining at $148, according to the 2012 Hotels.com Price Index. Like any good bustling North American city, there are myriad cultural options to be found here, from museums, great theater, art galleries, and shopping, but because this is a harbor town off Lake Ontario, there are also plenty of affordable outdoorsy activities like hiking, biking, and canoeing, especially around the Toronto Islands. And because about half of the population was born abroad, the ethnic food scene is as good as it gets anywhere in the world. Beyond Chinatown, Little Italy, and Little India, there is also a Koreatown, Little Portugal, Little Jamaica, and neighborhoods specializing in Polish, Japanese, and Greek cuisine. One last dollar-saving factor? You don't need a car while visiting. The TTC, or Toronto Transit Comission, is the third largest transit system in North America, and completely simple to navigate. When to Go: Peak visitor season is in the summertime, which means both airfare and hotel costs are much higher. If you're aiming to save some money, try September through November, or March through May. Where to Stay: The downtown Bond Place Hotel is a contemporary and charming hotel with ultra-modern rooms and an eye for urban-design—and is extremely affordable. The prime location at Yonge-Dundas Square is a quick walk from the Theater District and Eaton Centre (an enormous indoor mall), as well as within walking distance of many of the universities (65 Dundas St. East, bondplace.ca, doubles from $79). 2. ANTALYA, TURKEY Why in 2013: If you've never heard of the Turkish Riviera, you're not alone—Americans have thus far rarely ventured to the southwestern Mediterranean coast of Turkey for holiday, unlike Eastern Europeans, who have been flocking here in droves for years. All that seems likely to change this year for several reasons: Average hotel prices have significantly and notably dropped from last year (from $193 to $146, almost 25 percent), and in 2011 it beat New York City to become the world's third most visited city by international tourists. The word is out about this city that's part beachfront, part metropolis, and part ancient town. And even though many of the tourists here are of the incredibly wealthy European variety (the city even boasts a megaresort, Rixos Sungate Hotel, with the world's second largest spa!), the 5-star all-inclusive resorts on the beaches offer rates as low as $100 a night. More adventurous types will also get a huge kick out of the city's proximity to some of the oldest known architectural ruins in the world. The nearby Catalhoyuk Mound is one of the oldest and best-preserved Neolithic site to date, existing from 7500 BC to 5700 BC. When to Go: It gets well into the 90s in the middle of summer, so it's best to visit in September through October, or May through June. While it never gets particularly cold in the winter months, you won't want to take a dip in the chilly Mediterranean then either. Where to Stay: If you love history and immersing yourself in local culture, skip the beachfront resorts for Kaleici, the charming old city that's teeming with mosques, churches, Turkish baths, open-air markets, and bazaars. The Puding Suite Hotel is a 300-year-old mansion built out of Roman stone walls located in the heart of the old town, which is a thick tangle of small, cobblestone streets. (Beware the cars zooming around the corners—this is not a pedestrian village.) The rooms have been properly modernized and include flat screens and Jacuzzi tubs, and there's also a heated swimming pool, spa, and one of the best restaurants in town onsite (Mermerli Sok. 15, pudingsuite.com, doubles from $146). 3. LOIRE VALLEY, FRANCE Why in 2013: According to the 2012 Hotel Price Index, the historic wine and chateaux region known as the Loire Valley (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) saw a 19 percent price decrease in average hotel rooms, bringing them to $128—pretty good, considering going to France isn't generally considered a budget affair. And in November of this year, the Euro hit a two-month low against the dollar due to bailing out debt-burdened member nations. Bad news for Europeans, but it adds to your advantage when traveling right now. (As of press time, 1 Euro equalled $1.27.) The best way to see the area is to rent a car in Paris and drive 150 miles south until you reach the middle stretch along the Loire River. You'll want to be able to drive to the various vineyards—the fertile land is home to the regions of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé, as well as Muscadet. Add to the fact that there are hundreds of small country inns, charming B&Bs, and chateaux-turned-hotels here, ranging from as low as $70 a night, and you're looking at an attainable dream trip in 2013. When to Go: July and August are the most crowded, so we suggest aiming for spring and fall. The weather is still warm here in September, and the rolling hills take on a gorgeous golden hue. Where to Stay: The supremely charming, family-run Hotel Diderot in Chinon was once an aristocratic house from the 17th century, and its 27 rooms have of course been modernized, though the interior décor still hints at its noble past—the spiral staircase is from the 18th century and the fireplace in the breakfast room is from the 15th century. The beds are antiques, and exposed beams and hardwood floors throughout the home complete the overall grand vibe. Breakfast is served on the terrace in the warmer months, and includes over two dozen homemade preserves to slather onto your fresh baked breads (4 Rue de Buffon, Chinon, hoteldiderot.com, doubles from $67). 4. PALM SPRINGS, CALIFORNIA Why in 2013: With its towering namesake palms and countless pools, Palm Springs has long been heralded as California's desert oasis, where the stars and golf aficionados fled when they needed a little R&R. Now, with a 6 percent drop in airfares amid near-universal increases nationwide, it's also a refuge for bargain-seeking travelers. Along with the decrease in ticket prices, Palm Springs International Airport is seeing a spike in traffic—over 16 percent more passengers flew through in 2012 than in 2011—and it's also expanding its reach with new, nonstop routes from New York launching in December through Virgin America. On the ground, the town has been rolling out the red carpet for visitors, making as much room as possible for the new surge of sun-seekers. The city gained over 1,600 new hotel rooms since 2008 through an aggressive tourism incentive program designed to boost the local economy, and it's also among the top 10 domestic markets for new vacation rental listings. When to Go: With not-yet-scorching temperatures, winter and early spring remain peak seasons. Crowds descend on the area for big-ticket events in January (the Palm Springs International Film Festival) and April (perennially popular Coachella), and occupancy rates remain high in between. Opt for fall instead to beat both the heat and the masses. Where to Stay: Alcazar Palm Springs, an intimate 34-room property opened in 2011, makes an ideal retreat with its soothing décor in crisp white, black, and chrome. Owner and Palm Springs native Tara Lazar parlayed the success of her restaurant, Cheeky's, into the boutique hotel and onsite Italian restaurant, Birba (622 N. Palm Canyon Dr., Palm Springs, alcazarpalmsprings.com, doubles from $79). 5. KO PHI PHI, THAILAND Why in 2013: Even if Ko Phi Phi isn't familiar by name, you still might recognize its turquoise waters, leaf-blanketed limestone peaks, and signature longtail boats—the hallmarks of this island paradise off the coast of Thailand inspired wanderlust the world over when it was spotlighted in the film The Beach, the drama that launched a thousand backpackers. An archipelago comprised of two main islands, Ko Phi Phi was on the rise as a holiday destination when it was devastated by the tsunami of 2004. Eight years and a rigorous rebuilding effort later, it's now well on its way to becoming a luxury tourist spot. Because of its high tourist concentration and the construction of plush new resorts such as the Outrigger Phi Phi Island Resort and Spa, Ko Phi Phi can be somewhat expensive by Thai standards. This year, however, hotel rates have dropped by 27 percent to an average of $151 per night, compared with a 13 percent increase in nearby Phuket. When to Go: Spring (March, April) offers a sweet spot between the peak tourist season of the holidays and the onslaught of the rainy season in May. Where to Stay: Located in a quiet corner of the busier Phi Phi island is the Mama Beach Residence, which has 24 rooms that combine modern touches (WiFi, satellite television, and air conditioning—which is harder to come by than you might expect in these parts) with island necessities (beach access and sun decks outfitted with cushy chaises). You can also book day trips to uninhabited Ko Phi Phi Leh and its famed Maya Bay, beloved by snorkelers and divers. (199 moo 7 Tambon Aonang, Ko Phi Phi, mama-beach.com, from $98). 6. NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE Why in 2013: In the new hit ABC drama Nashville, a political powerbroker describes his hometown as "a thriving, prosperous city, an industrial and cultural juggernaut." In other words, the home of the Grand Ole Opry is going a little heavy on the "grand," while easing up considerably on the "ole." You might say life imitates art. This spring, a brand-new, $585 million, 118,000-square-foot convention center will open downtown, which will in turn help fuel the city's ongoing hotel construction boom. To meet the needs, over 1,000 rooms are currently under construction, with five new hotels potentially slated for the SoBro (South of Lower Broadway) neighborhood alone—a move that is expected to drive average daily rates down in the city. But growth in Nashville isn't solely related to real estate. In a city known primarily for its "hot chicken" and "meat and three sides," chefs are helping to transform Nashville into a new culinary powerhouse, along the lines of Charleston, with all the requisite James Beard nominations and placements on top American restaurant lists. On the other end of the spectrum, buzzy food trucks are hitting the streets of hip neighborhoods like East Nashville and The Gulch, the first LEED-certified green neighborhood in the South. When to Go: Gourmet restaurants and architecture aside, Nashville is still the capital of the country music world. From June 6 through 9, the city will play host to the CMA Music Festival, which attracts a who's who of country stars, including Carrie Underwood, Brad Paisley, Rascal Flatts, and Miranda Lambert (cmaworld.com/cma-music-festival, four-day passes from $125). Where to Stay: Don't be fooled by its location near the airport: Hotel Preston is much cooler and more refined than an airport hotel has any right to be. Think complimentary pet goldfish, lava lamps on request, and a "spiritual menu"—in lieu of Bibles in the nightstand, you can request any number of holy texts, including the Koran, the Torah, the Book of Mormon, or the Bhagavad Gita (733 Briley Parkway, Nashville, hotelpreston.com, doubles from $93). 7. NORTHERN IRELAND Why in 2013: Northern Ireland has been a bit, well, troubled for the better part of the 20th century, thanks to the bloody religious conflict known as The Troubles. Peace has since been restored, but that didn't immediately skyrocket Northern Ireland to the top of travelers' bucket lists. So how's the outlook in 2013? Just ask the aptly named Oaky Dokes, the red squirrel mascot of Derry/Londonderry, Northern Ireland's second city and the first ever U.K. City of Culture (cityofculture2013.com). The 6th-century walled city beat out finalists Birmingham, Norwich, and Sheffield, and will spend $25 million in new cultural programs designed to bring in tourism, including performances from the Royal Ballet and the London Symphony Orchestra, a new punk musical, and the premiere of a Sam Shepard play. The city itself has also gotten a makeover. Ebrington Square, former military parade grounds, reopened in 2012 as a new public space for outdoor concerts and festivals, and it also saw the opening of the Peace Bridge, which links the predominantly Catholic and Protestant sides of the city. Best of all, Northern Ireland is now easier (and cheaper) to get to: Beginning in fall 2012, EasyJet and Aer Lingus added more flights between Belfast and London, which is expected to increase competition with British Airways and thus further lower airline prices. When to Go: The UK City of Culture program will run throughout 2013, but late March is a particularly rich period. On March 18, the London Symphony Orchestra will present the works of John Williams, with excerpts from Jurassic Park, Jaws, and Raiders of the Lost Ark. And on March 30-31, the Royal Ballet will perform for the first time in Northern Ireland in two decades. Where to Stay: The Beech Hill Country House Hotel, a Georgian estate set among lush woodlands two miles from Londonderry, is filled with period antiques. The property once housed U.S. Marines during World War II (32 Ardmore Rd., Londonderry, beech-hill.com, doubles from $87). 8. SLOVAKIA Why in 2013: After their amicable split in 1993, the Czech Republic and Slovakia took very different approaches to singledom. The Czech Republic, led by majestic Prague, became a major stop on the backpacker circuit and eventually caught on with jetsetters. Slovakia, on the other hand, has always remained more of a quiet hidden gem. But on the 20th anniversary of its independence, with one of the fastest growing economies in the EU, Slovakia finally seems ready for its close-up. In recent years, the capital Bratislava has seen the construction of a luxury riverside five-star resort and a brand-new community-run Jewish cultural center. Despite its growth, the capital has remained surprisingly affordable: According to the 2012 Priceoftravel.com Backpacker Index, Bratislava is more than half as cheap as nearby Vienna for travelers, ranking as the 10th biggest bargain among major European cities. But 2013 is really all about Slovakia's second city, Košice, which shares the European Capital of Culture designation with Marseille, marking the first time a Slovak city has held the title (www.kosice2013.sk/en). The well-preserved city, which dates back to the 12th century, boasts the largest cathedral in Slovakia, the Gothic St. Elizabeth. In 2013, however, the focus will be on the future. The city's 19th-century military barracks have been converted into Kulturpark, a creative district that will promote contemporary art, experimental theater, and modern dance, with performances and exhibits throughout the year. When to Go: Capital of Culture events are scheduled throughout 2013, but one that shouldn't be missed is the Biela Noc, or White Night, on October 5, 2013. The program, which started in Paris in 2002 and has since spread across Europe, brings musical performances and art installations out into the streets of Košice well past sunset. Their slogan? "We guarantee you won't fall asleep." Where to Stay: Part of the Historic Hotels of Slovakia association, the Hotel Bankov dates back to 1869, making it the country's oldest surviving hotel. The onsite restaurant serves Slovak specialties, such as roasted quail with leek fondue (Dolný Bankov 2, Košice, hotelbankov.sk/en, doubles from $108). 9. BORACAY ISLAND, THE PHILIPPINES Why in 2013: As tourism from east Asia and the United States grows each year, the white-sand beaches of this southeast Asian archipelago should move from your bucket list to your see-it-before-it's-overrun list—especially since Royal Caribbean made its first call to Boracay in October, a move that's sure to incite other cruise lines to do the same. This will no doubt have a universal impact on Philippines tourism and its still-affordable hotel prices. But it's also rather remarkable considering that tourists never even set foot on Boracay until the 1970s. Now there are more than 300 resorts and hotels for visitors to choose from on this thin speck of prime oceanfront real estate (less than a mile wide and less than four miles long) and last year the area saw more than 900,000 visitors. Regional airlines like Airphil Express make the hour-long flight from Manila to Boracay's new airport for less than $25 round-trip. When to Go: January to May is typically the best weather, but unless you're keen to celebrate Easter with thousands of other tourists, skip Holy Week (March 24 to 31 in 2013), when major cities are packed with visitors. While heavy rain is always possible here, the second half of the year is typhoon season and best to avoid. Where to Stay: Crown Regency Resort and Convention Center in Boracay offers upscale rooms with kitchenettes, a pool, onsite restaurants, and easy beach access (Boat Station 2, Boracay, crownregencyhotels.com, doubles from $110). 10. THE BAHAMAS Why in 2013: If it seems as if the Bahamas are an annual fixture on you-can-afford-to-go-here lists, well, they are—for good reason. According to Travelocity, fares to the islands, north of Cuba in the Atlantic ocean, fell 4 percent this year even as the number of visitors to the islands increased by 8 percent—the average airfare to the Bahamas in 2012 was $463. From northernmost Grand Bahama, with its three national parks, underwater caves, and urbane nightlife, to the bustling port of Nassau, home to iconic Cable Beach and historic Bay Street lined with shops and cafes, the Bahamas remain a favorite "stylish steal" for savvy travelers—just take a look at hotel prices, which fell 2.5 percent from 2011 to 2012 according to the Bahamas Hotels Association. For a taste of authentic Bahamas cuisine, stop into Twin Brothers for mixed platters of local favorites like conch, snapper, and grouper (Arawak Cay, Nassau, twinbrothersbahamas.com, grilled combos from $20.50). When to Go: Mild trade winds keep the average temperatures in the 70s and 80s pretty much year-round, but rainy season is May through October, making the islands most hospitable in late fall, winter, and early spring. Where to Stay: Wyndham Nassau Resort & Crystal Palace Casino, with gorgeous Cable Beach just outside, is a good home base for exploring Nassau and New Providence Island. Three bars and four restaurants (including the Black Angus Grille, serving steaks and seafood) are onsite, and the casino offers table games and slots. Suites with balconies are available but you're probably going to be happier hitting the sand and surf (West Bay Street, Cable Beach, New Providence Island, wyndhamnassauresort.com, doubles from $112).
Nominate Your Town for America's Coolest Small Towns 2013!
The race for America's Coolest Small Towns 2013 is on! For the seventh year, we're setting out to find the best small–town communities around the country. We're still reeling from the excitement of last year's contest, which resulted in 368,000 total votes (crashing the site!) and ended with our first ever tie between Beaufort, NC, and Hammondsport, NY. Think you live in one of America's Coolest Small Towns? Nominate it now thru Oct. 15th! As of 1 p.m. on Friday, Bay St. Louis, MS, is in the lead with 6,146 votes, and Watkins Glen, NY, is right behind with 5,782. Eagle River, WI, is in third with 1,924 votes, while Elkhart Lake, WI, is in fourth with 1,759. Camden, ME, is currently in fifth place, holding its own with 1,293 votes. Before you nominate your favorite small town, check to see if it is already on the list—if it's already been nominated, just add your vote and leave a comment about what makes it so special. Towns must have a population of 10,000 people or less, and should have a certain quality that sets it apart from the rest, whether it's known for the arts, home to plenty of quirky shops, or just has a special energy about the place. Hoping to get more votes for your town? Share any of the contest–related posts from our Facebook page, or tweet about how great your favorite small town is on Twitter and use the hashtag #AmericasCoolestTowns to help spread the word from Budget Travel's Twitter feed. Or visit the Coolest Small Towns board on the Budget Travel Pinterest page and repin! MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL 12 Awe-Inspiring American Castles 33 Most Beautiful Places In America 20 Places Every American Should See
5 Best BYOB's in New York City
There is something just so charming about a restaurant that lets you bring your own beer or wine. Not only is does it cut back tremendously on the bill, but it also feels more personal because you get to choose exactly the kind of tipple you know and love. As an ode to their affordable charm, I thought I would share five of my local favorites, discovered in over a decade of living in New York. If you find yourself in the city, look up one of these places—I can't promise that they won't be crowded as they're all local favorites, but I can promise a satisfying meal and an equally satisfying feeling when you pay the bill. Tartine This pocket-size French bistro is as charming as they come. Guests line up outside for affordable French fare that tastes all the sweeter because you know you're not going to be paying a restaurant-mark-up for the wine in your glass. West Village, 253 W. 11th St, 212-229-2611 A A has an almost cult-like following of folks who keep coming back for French-Caribbean cuisine that is at once creative and comforting (grilled avocado topped with spinach mousse, for example). Upper West Side, 973 Columbus Ave., 212-222-2033, entrees from $14 Tea & Sympathy Entering Tea & Sympathy feels like walking straight into Great Britain—the walls are decorated with British paraphernalia, the staff have accents, and they even deliver their supplies in an old-timey British car. Best of all, the English comfort food served here can be enjoyed with a cup of tea—or any bottle of wine you want to bring. Chelsea, 108 Greenwich Ave., Teaandsympathynewyork.com, entrees from $10 Angelica Kitchen This Asian-inspired vegan restaurant focuses on fresh, local ingredients, which means that the menu changes according to what's in season. One thing you'll always find on offer is their three bean chili—a satisfying mix of kidney, pinto beans and lentils simmered with sun-dried tomatoes and chiles. East Village, 300 E. 12th St., Angelicakitchen.com, entrees from $9 Lucali One word: Pizza (some might even say the best in all of Brooklyn). The thin-crust, brick-oven pizzas are the reason why there is always (and I do mean always) a line outside of this popular restaurant. Plan to arrive right when they open at 6pm to put in your name or you might not get in as they fill up fast. Brooklyn, 575 Henry St., 718-858-4086 SEE MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL: How to Be a Packing Genius 8 Spy Gadgets That Can Improve Your Vacation 10 Places You'd Rather Be on a Wednesday