TRAVEL: A BOAT AWAY FROM HOME

Tired of wearing yourself out resting up? There's one vacation that will force you to throttle back and relax: a houseboat holiday. Try meandering along beautiful waterways or exploring a scenic lake--then dropping anchor and bunking down. tip sheet explores some great winter getaways:

Amazonia, Brazil: Swallows and Amazons Tours offers all-inclusive boat trips down Brazil's Amazon and Rio Negro. The company's riverboats sleep eight--in hammocks--while the posher houseboats have six air-conditioned cabins that each sleep two. Enjoy bird watch-ing, fishing for piranha and swimming--but keep your eyes peeled for alligators. A cook provides home-style meals including local fish, tropical fruits and regional vegetables. (Seven nights, $1,050 per person; 11 nights, $1,450 per person; swallowsandamazonstours.com)

Kerala, India: There's no better way to see the idyllic backwaters of India's southern tip--a huge network of canals, lagoons, lakes and rivers--than by houseboat. The huge, creeping barges, called kettuvalloms, that now serve as luxury houseboats once carried rice and spices. The boats have all the creature comforts of--and some advantages over--a good hotel. For one, you can angle for fish from your balcony. Casino Group, a well-known Indian hotel and tour company, offers various Spice Coast Cruises. ($275 per couple per night in peak season; casinogroup.com/spiceboat_home.htm)

Lake Wanaka, New Zealand: Just an hour north of Queenstown, Wanaka is a beautiful lake at the base of New Zealand's snow-capped Southern Alps. You can enjoy the breathtaking scenery from the rooftop deck of the fully kitted Lady Pembroke while you grill some freshly caught trout. The houseboat sleeps 10 and comes with kitchen, bathroom with hot shower, TV, video and stereo system. Be sure to take a break from the water and explore Mount Aspiring National Park, a wilderness reserve where ancient Maori trails crisscross high mountains and river valleys. ($710 per day; houseboats.co.nz)

Rain Forest, Costa Rica: A cruise down the Rio Colorado, Rio San Juan or Rio Indio Rica on the luxurious Rain Goddess offers anglers the chance to catch some of the world's most exciting sport fish--including tarpon, snook and machaca--without hiking through the jungle or sleeping rough. The boat, which can accommodate 12, has two staterooms on the main deck and four on the upper deck, 24-hour air conditioning and hot showers; onboard cell phones are available for those who need to keep in touch with the office. But why would you want to? (Five days and four nights, $1,795 per person for anglers, $850 for non-anglers; wheretofish.com)

Verona :Only For Lovers

Still haven't made plans for Valentine's Day? Try this enchanting medieval Italian town, home of Shakespeare's star-crossed pair:

Sleep at the historic Hotel Gabbia D'Oro, which has 27 sumptuous rooms with shuttered windows. Write love poetry in the divine Orangerie over afternoon tea (from 217 euros; hotelgabbiadoro.it).

Eat classic Veronese dishes like risotto all'amarone at the romantic 12 Apostoli (46 euros). Lunch at Osteria al Duca in Romeo's family home (from 15 euros).

Drink wines by the glass at Bottega del Vino, Verona's oldest wine tavern, or hip cocktails at the concept store Square.

Shop for your sweetheart on the marble-paved Via Mazzini and Corso Porta Borsari, lined with Italian designers like Dolce & Gabbana and Prada.

See the balcony at Casa di Giulietta, where Juliet lived; scribble a message to your beloved on the graffitied courtyard walls.

Michelle Jana Chan

Technology: For That Long Shot

Who has time to fumble for a camera while whipping down a black-diamond trail? Samsung's new Sports Cam Xtreme, available in March ($799; samsung.com for info), is an MPEG4 digital video camera with a lens that straps onto your helmet. Sports enthusiasts will love its pocket-size, water-resistant exterior--durable enough to survive wipeouts. An image stabilizer records footage in a range of weather and speed conditions. Also, the gizmo doubles as a handheld with 512 megabytes of memory and a 5cm LCD screen.

Peter Suciu

Road Test | Audi A6

A Car With Muscle

One of the best perks of reviewing cars is that, occasionally, I get to hang with the folks who design and build them. So it was recently, on a trip through the hilly roads of Sonoma, California, when I tested the redesigned A6 seated next to its designer, Achim Badstubner, who had flown in from Germany. Of course, it's a thrill only when you like their work; otherwise it's an awkward drive. Fortunately, the A6's new contrivance is satisfying in every way. Badstubner discarded the old A6's flabby appearance, giving it a strapping, masculine architecture with high shoulders and an elegant front dashboard. It's also slightly longer and roomier than the pre-model.

The redesigned A6 is faster, too, with a 3.2-liter, V-6, 255-horsepower engine (35 more ponies than the outgoing model). And it's packed with technology, like full-time all-wheel drive, Tiptronic transmission and computer-guided steering and braking programs that make this sport sedan safer, with noticeably keener handling. And, with its 34 percent stiffer and somewhat lighter body than the old A6, I see Audi's midsizer taking on BMW's 5 Series for the first time. And now it's a real Teutonic battle.

Tip: Get exhilarating power and better standard features on the V-8, 335-horsepower model for about $10,000 more.

Tara Weingarten

Uncorked | Australian Reds

Australians took France's Syrah grape and made it their own under the alias Shiraz. But there are plenty of other red wines from Down Under, including a new wave of intense and fruity wines that blend Shiraz with French grapes like grenache and Mourvedre.

93 | $55 | Clarendon Hills Grenache Clarendon Kangarilla Vineyard 2002 This grenache has impeccable balance, with tightly wound berry, cherry and rose-petal flavors.

92 | $30 | Coriole Lalla Rookh Old Vines McLaren Vale 2002 This blend glides across the palate with peppery, floral-scented dark berry and cherry flavors.

90 | $18 | Hamilton's Ewell Grenache-Shiraz Barossa Valley Stonegarden 2002 This wine has minty, dark-chocolate notes matched by cherry and pomegranate flavors.

89 | $22 | Penfolds Bin 138 Barossa Valley 2002 From a well-known name in Aussie wine, Bin 138 shows raspberry, cherry and spice notes, which linger impressively.

88 | $10 | d'Arenberg The Stump Jump Red McLaren Vale 2002 This value with a bright and vivid style is from a vineyard that's been producing for nearly a century.

Food: The Art Of Eating

Not all masterpieces hang on museum walls. Sometimes they can be found on a plate in their eateries. Some picks for the best of museum-cafe food:

The Modern (MoMA, New York City): Chef Danny Meyer's sleek new 85-seat restaurant, which opens this week, already has patrons salivating for such exotic dishes as Arctic char tartare with daikon and trout caviar.

Blueprint Cafe (Design Museum, London): Set off by a spectacular skyline view, Terence Conran and chef Jimmy Lee's menu is an ever-changing and eclectic blend of seasonal ingredients.

Restaurante Guggenheim Bilbao (Bilbao, Spain): Only 26 years old, Spanish rising superstar Josean Martinez Alija serves high-flying cuisine that complements the soaring Gehryarchitecture.

Queen Alice Aqua (National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo): Former "Iron Chef" star Yutaka Ishinabe cooks up subtly flavorful French cuisine.