The Good Life

Start the new year high--real high. Cold weather is the best time for hot-air ballooning. The clear winter air affords better visibility, sometimes letting you see as far as 100 kilometers in the distance. Tame the wild winds long enough for a ride, and you'll find yourself flirting with snowy mountaintops while floating peacefully through postcard-perfect scenes of blue skies and craggy peaks. Most winter hot spots from the Alps to the Rockies offer this unique escape. "Every season has its charm," says Gérard Issartel, director of Alpes Montgolfière, a hot-air-balloon company not far from Megève, France, which offers trips near Mont Blanc (€245 per person; alpes-montgolfiere.fr ). "[But] winter weather gives an impression of immensity, and the snow makes for great vistas."

The cold is not as bad as you might expect. "A misnomer of winter hot-air ballooning is that it is cold," says Daren Wilde, owner of Morning Star Balloons in Park City, Utah, which offers one-hour flights in the Wasatch Mountains, where some Winter Olympics events were held in 2002 (€150 per person; morningstarballoons.com ). "In fact, it is often warmer in the balloon than on the ski slopes." Indeed, the residual heat from the flame warms the inside of the gondola, and traveling with the wind eliminates the wind chill you feel on the ground.

Weather permitting, most rides set off at daybreak (when winds tend to be calm) and stay aloft for an hour and a half. And since you can never be certain where the wind will take you, each trip is unique.

The Alps Crossing is a breathtaking five-hour flight that begins in Italy's Aosta Valley (€500 per person; mongolfiere.it ). "The direction taken and the distance traveled depend on the wind," says pilot Igor Charbonnier of the Aerostatique Mont Blanc Club, which organizes the trip. "You can end up in Italy, France or Switzerland." So reach for the sky this winter; just don't forget your camera, or your passport.

Like so many of the treasures in this Moroccan city, Le Tanjia looks like nothing special from the outside. But step inside to discover an oasis of opulence in the charmingly chaotic old Arab quarter.

Ambience: The space is filled with intriguing overhead lamps, some with a funky twist on the more traditional metal and glass ones sold in the souks. The terrace, with billowy brown curtains hanging from a carved wooden lattice, affords fabulous views of the lively streets below. Grab a window seat--plush cushions included--and sip your sweet mint tea.

Starters: The mozzarella, tomato and pesto salad features tomatoes like you've never seen --big, juicy and a vibrant red. The wonderfully fragrant traditional meze plate includes aubergine salad and hummus. Or try the pigeon pastilla, the tempting traditional dish of minced pigeon cooked with onion, parsley and spices, wrapped in dough and topped with confectioner's sugar.

Entrees: The vegetable tangine is served sizzling hot and spiced to perfection. The delectable kebabs--fish, lamb or chicken--are beautifully complemented by a side of green beans.

Drinks: Indulge in a glass of crisp white or hearty red Moroccan wine. The selection is not expansive but flatters the seasoned fare.

--Ginanne Brownell

Established by the French in 1608, this Canadian jewel boasts history and charm in abundance. But don't forget to dress warmly.

STROLL along the Dufferin Terrace, which overlooks the St. Lawrence River. Ride a sled down the 87-meter-high toboggan track--reaching speeds as high as 65 kilometers per hour--before ending on the wooden boardwalk.

SIP afternoon tea--and gorge on scones, petits fours and chocolates--at Le Champlain restaurant inside the majestic Château Frontenac hotel (fairmont.com/frontenac).

SHOP along the tiny Rue du Tresór , a unique open-air art gallery where artists hang their work under brightly colored awnings (ruedutresor.qc.ca).

SEE the old town in a caleche , a traditional Québécois horse-drawn carriage. Bilingual drivers bring to life the history of this U.N. World Heritage Site (quebecregion.com).

Thanks to the growing availability of private estates for rent, it's easier than ever to become king or queen for a day (or a week). The Chateau Rhodes, in the south of France, sleeps 20 and features flower gardens, a pool, a hot tub, tennis courts and a large terrace--making it perfect for wedding parties (€€6,000-€8,000 per week, including chef and housekeeper; chateaurhodes.com ). The stunning medieval Castel Merle near Monpazier is furnished with antiques and houses a library, a bar, a grand salon and five plush guest rooms (€5,670 per week, including chef and housekeeper; au-chateau.com ). For a taste of historic Italian splendor, stay at the Villa Saraceno, just outside Venice, where you can dine al fresco in the loggia--just like the Renaissance nobleman for whom it was built (€2,280 per week; landmarktrust.org.uk ). Or hike up to Ireland's majestic Clomantagh Castle, perched on a hilltop in Kilkenny. Guests are free to wander through the buildings, which include a 12th-century tower house, a parish church and a Victorian farmhouse (€€990-€1,820 per week, sleeps 10; irishlandmark.com ).

Many Japanese women adore silk kimonos but have a tough time justifying the expense for something they may wear only once or twice in a lifetime. Now Kyoto Kimono Yuzen Co. has a solution: the Tokyo-based company has just introduced a kimono that converts to a party dress. The wearer puts on the elegant, floor-length dress first, followed by an under-vest, a jacket and finally an obi belt. Missing are all the layers worn under the traditional kimono. The design, three years in the making, is known as Dress-Furisode, which means dress-kimono with long sleeves; the company is considering making a short-sleeved version as well. It allows a young woman or her parents to buy a kimono for her traditional coming-of-age celebration, then enjoy a dress for years to come (from $3,560; kyotokimonoyuzen.co.jp/collection /dress.html ).

--Akiko Kashiwagi

No need to settle for lukewarm coffee. Mountain climber Ed Viesturs won't leave base camp without the Element 5 20-oz. travel bottle, designed to balance on uneven surfaces and to keep drinks warm for 24 hours, even on Mount Everest ($40; thermos.com ). Thermos's 34-oz. Nissan bottle offers the same temperature control but comes with a folding handle and detachable shoulder strap, and is available in camouflage for hunters ($47; thermos.com ). Porsche's aluminum-alloy travel mug is designed to fit snugly in the cup holder of--what else--a Porsche. It's vacuum-insulated to keep espresso steaming, even when the top's down ($40; porsche.com ).