The Good Life

Charity begins at home, but it may be more fun to donate your time in an exotic locale. Volunteer vacations not only afford opportunities to work with locals and see sites often closed to the public, but also make you feel good--and give you unmatched bragging rights. So what if the food isn't up to Michelin standards?

The Earthwatch Institute organizes volunteers to track elephants in Kenya or lemurs on Madagascar, where they record feeding habits and behavior patterns (2,095 euros; ). Other Earthwatch volunteers scuba-dive around Truk Lagoon in Micronesia, where the Americans blew up a Japanese naval base during World War II. There they record the condition of ship and airplane ruins (1,195 euros for 13 days).

Projects Abroad organizes trips to remote Mongolia, where volunteers live in ger s--large round tents--and become part of a nomadic family by helping take care of livestock like yak and cattle (2,095 euros for a month; ). The organization also has a program in Addis Ababa where volunteers teach English in primary and secondary schools. They stay with local families and receive briefings on teaching techniques (1,845 euros for four weeks).

Cross-Cultural Solutions has programs in such countries as Russia, Peru and Thailand. Two programs in India--in New Delhi and Dharmsala--organize volunteers to work on projects ranging from helping with disabled children to showing local women how to market their crafts. In Dharmsala, CCS also has a cultural-learning component, offering lectures, Hindi lessons and excursions to local sites (1,895 euros for two weeks; ).

The posh set used to take the waters at the ancient Roman baths. Today the city retains the elegant feel of another time.

SOAK in the thermal baths, now open to the public again after extensive renovations. Or receive any number of other spa treatments, from body wraps to massages ( ).

SHOP in the splendid boutiques in and around Milsom Street, which sell Marc Jacobs and Diane von Furstenberg, among others. Or visit Jollys, one of Britain's oldest department stores ( ).

EAT roast-pumpkin-and-sage soup or slow-roasted chicken at the appropriately named Hole in the Wall ( ).

STROLL down York Street to see Bath Abbey, founded in 1400, with its dramatic flying buttresses. Cross over to Parade Gardens for a taste of greenery with lovely views of the city.

-- G.B.

Hard hit in 2004 by Hurricane Charley, the resort island off Florida's southwestern coast is finally coming back. This Italian oasis stands out amid all the typical seafood and burger spots.

Ambience: Set back from the road within a forest of palms, the restaurant has a delightful patio, where diners can enjoy a cocktail before heading in for Italian fare with a Florida twist. The dark furnishings and soft lights create a relaxed mood, enhanced by a chanteuse singing jazz classics.

Starters: Try the delectable Louisiana crawfish and crab cake, with creole spice and a chipotle remoulade. Or indulge in the chilled oysters dello Tzar--six oysters served with caviar, sour cream and wasabi cocktail sauce.

Entrees: You can't miss with the scampi and lobster ravioli, scallop fettuccine or focaccia-breaded veal medallions.

Dessert: You're on vacation, so why not? Try the coconut flan brulee, caramel-crusted and served with a pina colada sherbet. Or try the version of Florida's ubiquitous Key lime pie, with a graham-cracker crust, seasonal berries and mint creme anglaise.

Wine list: Bottles from Italy, France and California dominate. The Owner's Reserve wine list includes a 1981 Chateau Margaux for $450 and Louis Roederer champagne for $275.

-- G.B.

Experimental breweries are producing hundreds of unique beers. But since they push taste-bud boundaries, some can take getting used to. At 17 percent alcohol, Dogfish Head's Fort is the world's strongest fruit beer. Effervescent and brewed with pureed raspberries, it is reminiscent of champagne ($18; ). Guinness fans should try Stone Brewing Co.'s Imperial Russian Stout, a thick, heavy brew that grows more complex with age ($5-$8; ). For a real splurge, try Sam Adams's Utopias. Uncarbonated and 25 percent alcohol, the brew has less in common with Coors than with a nice cognac. A 750-milliliter mini-kettle goes for $100, but previous years' releases sell for $375 on eBay ( ).

-- Barrett Sheridan

Slip into winter's hottest trend: the sweater dress. Inspired by that cozy, oversize jumper once stolen from your boyfriend or father, the latest pieces are versatile enough to let you dress down for the country-casual look or snazz up to become the picture of urban chic. Try Salvatore Ferragamo's luxurious turtleneck sweater dress in electric blue (648 euros; ). Stella McCartney's ribbed V-neck dress can be worn off the shoulder or paired with a chunky belt (909 euros; ). For pure bohemian cool, slip into Missoni's wool-knit dress in the house's signature zigzag pattern (1,060 euros; ). Trendsetters will love Emilio Pucci's stunning cashmere dress in fuchsia, complete with balloon sleeves and a black satin tie-belt. For a proper '80s revival look, team it with skinny jeans or opaque tights (954 euros; emilio ). Who says you can't relive the past?

-- Jessica Au

Coldwater surfers brave the waves when most people dare not leave the house. They're drawn by bigger swells, sparser crowds and improved wet-suit technology that makes off-season boarding less bone-chilling. Coldwater hot spots include New England, Alaska, British Columbia and Nova Scotia--all places known for consistently huge waves. "The ultimate is to have the waves all to yourself," says Peter (Pan) Panagiotis, a Rhode Islander who will teach at this year's 39th annual New England Mid-Winter Surfing Championship ( ) on Feb. 17 ($50, wet suit and board provided; ). Ralph Bruhwiler teaches winter lessons on Long Beach and Chesterman's Beach on Vancouver Island ($75 for two hours; ). Stay warm!

-- Paul Tolme

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