From the Carolinas to south of the equator and north toward the Arctic, this year's top travel destinations let you have it all.
If you are a devoted traveler, it's oftentimes the winter months that mean a lull in splashy escapes. Holiday vacations are, for the most part, family affairs: yearly obligations to loved ones and nearby friends whose invitations keep coming in even as you pine to check out.
So let this year be the winter of escape, not discontent.
And because in the Carolinas, winter months can mean either remote snow-covered luxury hotels or beachside spas, take your pick between embracing winter or fleeing from it. Between the scenic mountain ranges in the western end of the Carolinas and the temperate climate of the Lowcountry, there is plenty to explore stateside.
Or go international. Jetting to parts of the world where winter is a way of life could be a spectacular way of learning how to appreciate the cold. You could also find a stunning, private beach somewhere warm for the perfect cold-weather hibernation.
The choice is yours. Winter travel never seemed so good.
Embrace the holiday season with these all-inclusive packages:
The Biltmore (Asheville, N.C.): Nestled dramatically in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains in Western North Carolina, what was once the nation's largest single-family home - George and Edith Vanderbilt's 250-room French Renaissance chateáu - now houses an esteemed resort with its own winery, spa and shopping that beckons travelers worldwide. The sprawling estate opened to friends on Christmas Eve 1895, and today, The Inn on Biltmore Estate beckons with its annual Candlelight Christmas Evenings, a tradition involving Christmas readings, groups of carolers and festive dancers. With the front lawn of Biltmore House sparkling in holiday illumination and evergreens bathed in thousands of twinkling lights, it's one Christmas experience you have to see to believe.
DETAILS: The Enchanted Christmas Package (Dec. 23-26 or Dec. 24-26) includes accommodations, daily chef's breakfast buffet, Christmas Eve and Christmas dinners, estate admission, and more. Two-night package starts at $1,498 in a deluxe room. Three-night package starts at $1,877. For reservations or to review other holiday packages, call (800) 411-3812 or visit Biltmore.com.
The Greystone Inn (Lake Toxaway, N.C.): Despite the technical label of a bed and breakfast, The Greystone doubles as a four-diamond country inn that resides in the full service of Lake Toxaway Country Club, deep in the North Carolina mountains. The luxurious 1915 Swiss architectural style mansion is furnished with period furniture and reproductions. It boasts its own golf course and signature spa. Have tea on the sun porch overlooking the regal lake, and indulge on a champagne cruise on the 26-passenger mahogany "Miss Lucy." It's mountain living that Thomas Edison, Harvey Firestone and Henry Ford experienced before you (with modern updates, of course).
DETAILS: The Christmas package starts at $1,550 and includes complimentary glittering garlands, a stocking gift and candle-lighting ceremony. New Year's brings a lively celebration with gourmet dining, lively dancing all night and a champagne toast. Call (800) 824-5766 or visit GreystoneInn.com.
The Sanderling Resort and Spa (Outer Banks, N.C.): It might seem a bit out of the ordinary, but this long stretch of beach can be a divine getaway during the winter months, especially if you stay at a place like the Sanderling. Throughout the holidays, the resort is decorated throughout. Warm cookies and hot tea await you by the fireplace, and trees and garland greet you in the lobby, making for a cozy and festive experience. The New Year's Eve package includes a two-night stay in a King Bedded North Inn guest room and includes dinner in the Lifesaving Station, all for $250 per night. Other packages are available as well. Visit the luxurious spa and Pine Island Racquet and Fitness Center during your stay.
DETAILS: 1461 Duck Road, Duck, NC 27949. Reservations: (877) 650-4812 or visit www.thesanderling.com.
Russian Getaway (St. Petersburg and beyond): Curious about Russia's ancient imperial way of life? Exeter International's holiday package includes the Tsar's New Year's Eve Gala Ball. The caviar- and-vodka-filled evening culminates with fireworks and champagne, as you await the stroke of midnight in the golden ballroom in Catherine Palace. The rest of the tour includes four nights in St. Petersburg followed by three in Moscow. Embark on a troijka sled ride through the snow-covered gardens at Pavlovsk Palace, a performance at the famous Marlinksy Theater and tours of the Hermitage, diamond vaults and the Armoury Museum in the Kremlin. The Russia whirlwind begins Dec. 28 and ends Jan. 4, with prices starting at $7,400 per person. If you're looking for something quaint, tour the Golden Ring, an ancient cluster of villages that surround Moscow. Horse-drawn carriages make their way past wooden homes with intricately carved roofs and window boxes, and classic Russian fortresses still stand as a symbol of an Old World mentality.
Alpine Adventure (St. Moritz, Switzerland): Desiring some fun in the sun - and snow? This exclusive resort town, gorgeously situated in the Engadine Valley, is home to the highest summit in the Eastern Alps, as well as more than 300 days of sunshine yearly. Stay in the luxurious Kulm Hotel St. Moritz, the oldest hotel in town, and enjoy gourmet meals at one of its five deluxe restaurants. The Panorama Spa will be hard to resist - ideal after a long day of watching polo on a frozen lake or skiing down the alpine slopes.
DETAILS: Rates vary. Book through Kulmhotel-stmoritz.ch/ or your travel agent.
For those who want to beat the cold and turn up the heat:
The Sanctuary at Kiawah Island Golf Resort (Kiawah, S.C.): With some of the largest luxury suites in the country, this award-winning beachfront resort offers an ocean view to nearly all of its 255 guestrooms. Marble walk-in showers, access to some of the most esteemed golf courses in the world and a luxury spa are just a few features available to guests. Throughout the holidays, special events include cookie-decorating workshops, fireside chats, Christmas meals in the renowned Jasmine Porch, Ocean Room and Atlantic Room restaurants, as well has numerous New Year's Eve dinners and a dance. During the winter months, the natural habitats of the Lowcountry surrounding the resort still abound with interest.
DETAILS: The winter vacation deluxe package includes a garden-view room, breakfast for two daily and dinner for two each night. Starts at $395 per room, with other packages available. Call (800) 654-2924 or visit Kiawahresort.com for details.
Charleston Place (Charleston, S.C.): Situated in Charleston's historic downtown, Charleston Place offers spas, the award-winning Charleston Grill and, of course, the charm and excitement of one of the nation's most preserved cities at your disposal. Hotel packages abound, from the Breakfast Inclusive, featuring daily a la carte meals in the Palmetto Café, to the Perfect Golf Excursion, where one round for two at the famed Links Course is included in addition to your luxury accommodations (the weather rarely dips below golf-playing temperatures). Time your visit around the holidays and enjoy the city's Holiday Festival of Lights.
DETAILS: Rates vary for deluxe and executive suites. Call (888) 635-2350 or visit Charlestonplace.com for details.
The Sea Pines Resort (Hilton Head Island, S.C.): During the winter months, this award-winning, 5,000-acre oceanfront retreat still has plenty to offer the most discerning traveler, including tennis, golf and fireside chats with your special someone. It is the only hotel on the island to be listed on Condè Nast Traveler's 2009 "The World's Best Places to Stay, Gold List" and to receive a Mobil four-star award. This winter, if you reserve three to six nights, you will receive 20 percent off nightly rates for select villas and homes, complimentary bicycles, unlimited use of the fitness center and two hours of complimentary tennis daily.
DETAILS: Call (866) 561-8802 or visit Seapines.com to plan your stay.
Southern Exposure (Buenos Aires, Argentina): Known as the Paris of the South, Buenos Aires is an ideal destination for anyone looking for old-city charm with Latin energy. Visit Eva Peron's tomb, learn how to tango and indulge in local cuisine - a carnivore's dream of grilled, breaded and fried meats, be it from a street cart or a Michelin-starred bistro. Visit the 48 districts, or barrios, that comprise the city and range from Boedo, a tango hotspot, to San Telmo, home to wrought-iron lanterns and history on every street. There are at least 10 five-star hotels to choose from, including a Four Seasons and, our recommendation, the Legado Mitico.
DETAILS: Visit Argentina.luxurytravel.com for vacation details and Legadomitico.com for hotel arrangements.
A Turkish Adventure (Turkey): Considered by some to be "the new Dubai," this riveting country offers the mystique of the Far East with the comforts of the western world. Artisans of Leisure offers personalized Turkish tours that depart daily and can be customized to suit anyone's interests or schedules. Visit Istanbul, home to the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman empires, or jaunt along the ancient Mediterranean coastal towns of Aphrodisias, Ephesus, Bodrum and Troy. Tours from this New York-based travel company include deluxe rooms in premier luxury hotels, private guides and drivers, gourmet restaurant reservations, shopping recommendations, tickets to cultural festivals and exclusive access to local events.
DETAILS: Call (800) 214-8144 or visit Artisansofleisure.com.