These Three Awesome Trips are perfectly Cool Alternatives to their more expensive counterparts (and quite possibly more unique and idyllic). As you look into your vacay budget for the new year, get creative: the back roads of North America are teeming with possibility.
1. If you can’t get to the City of Light (Paris), opt instead for magnifique Montreal. Just north of the Canadian border, Montreal is the second-largest French-speaking city in the world. A combination of old-world charm and modern sensibility, it’s the ideal destination for chicks seeking a cultural escape . Vieux-Montréal (Old Montreal) in the heart of the city boasts beautiful views of the St. Lawrence River and Montreal’s own Notre Dame Basilica. Popular for both shopping and dining, the hip Le Plateau neighborhood has great boutiques showcasing local designers. After perusing the goods, enjoy a steak frites and glass at wine L’Express, the perennially chic brasserie. The music scene in Montreal is tres chaud. Head to boulevard Saint-Laurent where indie venues playing local favorite Arcade Fire and fashionable cafes dot the street. For centrally located digs, lay your head at Fairmont the Queen Elizabeth, site of John and Yoko’s 1969 “love-in.” The adorable Auberge de La Fontaine is a cozy and reasonably priced alternative. And not only do you get a cool 10 percent discount on everything you buy because of Canada’s exchange rate, you also get a tax refund on goods or hotels (see above). Ladies, start your shopping! Check out www.tourismmontreal.com for more information.
2. Instead of visiting vineyards in La Rioja or Tuscany, head south of the border for world-class wines and idyllic scenery. Located two hours south of San Diego, California, Mexico’s preeminent wine region, El Valle de Guadalupe, offers a stunning desert setting, gorgeous boutique hotels, and superb dining. Unlike crowded wine regions in California or Europe, the area boasts only 19 public wineries. While some have public tasting rooms, others require reservations. Monte Xanic, which produces Bordeaux-like wines, shouldn’t be missed. Casa de Piedra, with its superb Cabernet, is another must-try. Accommodations here are few, but fantastic. At the Mexico-meets-the-Mediterranean villa Las Brisas del Valle, you can relax in one of the six warmly decorated rooms, swim in the pool overlooking the valley, and stargaze while taking a night-time hike on the property. They also offer a lovely champagne brunch. You’ll feel like nobility in the six-room, hacienda-style bed-and-breakfast at the Adobe Guadalupe winery, which offers on-premises cooking classes and boasts a stable of native Azteca horses that you can ride through the vineyards. For lunch or dinner, try Laja for an innovative take on Mexican cuisine. Don’t forget to stop by La Casa de Dona Lupe and pick up organic marmalades and hot sauces for friends and relatives back home! Check out visitmexico.com for more information.
3. Always wanted to get lost in Patagonia? Why not head to Big Bend National Park? Located in the southwest corner of Texas, Big Bend is one of the country’s largest national parks with 801,000 acres of land. It’s also one of the country’s least-visited parks, so it can provide a true sense of the wild. Raft down the Rio Grande or hike the Chisos Mountains to view the massive canyons. Camping grounds are available at Big Bend, or stay at Lajitas, an upscale resort 42 miles east of the park.
Another stellar scene is nearby Fort Davis, Texas. It’s one of the darkest spots in North America, which makes it the ideal home for the McDonald Observatory. Open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, the observatory is a must-see for fledgling astronomers. Because the area’s skies are so unobscured, meteor showers and comets provide awesome galactic fireworks that aren’t visible elsewhere. You can even see Andromeda, our closest neighboring galaxy, with the naked eye. An affordable, and charming, place to stay is at Hotel Limpia in downtown Fort Davis. While you’re in the area, take a drive to the town of Marfa and check out installation artist Donald Judd’s Chinati Foundation, an art museum that houses permanent large-scale installations on 340 acres of land.
For more information about the park, visit www.nps.gov/bibe.