Rachael Sage

Winter Escapes

Puerto Rico, Norway and Stowe, VT with Ski Bums
Looking for a change of scenery this season? Destinations both warm and wintery await you.

PUERTO RICO
Looking for a travel destination that’s both exotic and not too far from home? Look no further than the sunny beaches of Puerto Rico. Whether you prefer the gay-friendly capital San Juan or a more secluded island like Vieques or Culebra, you’ll never need a passport or foreign currency to visit this Caribbean paradise.

What to See
If you’re more into the mainland, check out San Juan’s Condado Beach, where the annual Gay Pride Parade is held the first Sunday of June. For a taste of Puerto Rico’s history, be sure to visit Old San Juan, especially the cobbled street of San Sebastián, where locals don traditional Puerto Rican masks (vejigantes) and enjoy live music for the annual street festival from January 17–20. You can also stroll on the Paseo de la Princesa (“promenade of the princess”), and take in magnificent views of the San Juan Bay.

For those interested in one of Puerto Rico’s chief exports, the Bacardi Rum Distillery (a.k.a. “The Cathedral of Rum”) in Cataño, southeast of San Juan, is accessible by ferry and offers free tours where visitors learn how sugar cane is made into rum. At the end of the tour you can sample the booze and visit the Bacardi gift shop.

If you are looking for a more low-key vacation, or if you’re into scuba diving, be sure to visit the Culebra Islands, northeast of mainland Puerto Rico. These sparkling gems boast unspoiled, white-sand beaches and brilliant waters filled with reef fish. In fact, Culebra’s Flamenco Beach is ranked second in the world for its breathtaking beauty.

What to Eat
While a bit on the expensive side, Parrot Club (363 Fortaleza Street, 787-725-7370) is one of San Juan’s best restaurants for Nuevo Latino cuisine, and a famous weekend brunch spot to boot. Be sure to taste the fried chicharrones, the restaurant’s specialty. The Escambrón Beach Club (escambron.com), also in San Juan, is sure to please every palate with its extensive menu. Try the Escambronazo, a plate of assorted Puerto Rican delights. In Vieques, Blue Macaw (58 Calle Antonio Mellado, Isabel Segunda, Vieques, 787-741-1147) combines waterfront views with top-notch seafood, including wasabi-crusted tuna.

Where to Party
The Santurce district in San Juan is without a doubt the nightlife destination for party-goers, gay or straight. For a ladies-only atmosphere, check out Cups (1708 Calle San Mateo), San Juan’s only exclusively lesbian bar, which combines live music, dancing and billiards. Krash Klub (krashklubpr.com) is the most famous two-level mixed disco on the Island. Starz (starzclub.com) is a popular dance club on the weekends, and their Sunday after-beach party is definitely worth attending.

Where to Sleep
If you’re staying in San Juan, it’s hard not to hear about the Atlantic Beach Hotel (from $100, atlanticbeachhotel.net), the best-known gay-friendly hotel in Puerto Rico. Located right on Condado Beach, the Atlantic is famous for its ground-floor indoor/outdoor gay bar, where tourists and locals can party on the beach. If you’re single, be advised that Atlantic does not allow guests to take visitors up to their rooms.

The San Juan Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino (from $199, marriott.com), also on Condado Beach, is great for those seeking four-star service and a first-rate casino.

If you’d rather stay in Old San Juan, try Hotel El Convento (from $170, elconvento.com), an uber-romantic luxury resort housed in a beautifully renovated convent.

In the Vieques Islands, Crow’s Nest Inn (from $124, crowsnestvieques.com) features breath- taking views of the mainland. Inn on the Blue Horizon (from $160, innonthebluehorizon.com) is another good bet, with its classic décor and magnificent pool.

SKI BUMS
Who says winter travel only means heading south? Some vacationers actually enjoy colder temperatures, and can’t wait for skiing and snowboarding adventures. Instead of planning a trip on your own, consider letting someone else do it for you; Ski Bums (ski-bums.org), a New York-based travel company for LGBT skiers and snowboarders, hosts more than a dozen trips per year. We’ve got our eye on their late February trip to the gay-friendly resort town of Stowe, Vermont, from February 26–March 1.

The charming, tree-lined village of Stowe is home to dozens of quaint shops, galleries and cafes, and is making a new, concerted effort to draw gay and lesbian travelers. During winter months, the Stowe Mountain Resort (stowe.com) boasts some of the most exciting skiing and snowboarding on the East Coast, thanks to the impressively scenic Mount Mansfield, the highest mountain in the Northeast.

The Ski Bums weekend at Stowe begins with check-in at the comfortable Stoweflake Mountain Resort and Spa (stoweflake.com). You can choose one of its well-appointed three-bedroom mountain homes, complete with fully stocked kitchens and cozy fireplaces, or an adjoining hotel. If you’re in the mood to make new friends, Ski Bums will even arrange a house share for you.

After you’ve checked in, head to the complimentary welcome reception, where you’ll meet the Ski Bums staff and the weekend’s other participants—about 75 skiers and snowboarders, mostly from the New York City area. The Ski Bums weekend guides will answer your questions, provide an itinerary and even introduce you around while you sample local beers from Magic Hat Brewery (magichat.net) and Long Trail Brewery (longtrail.com).

Bright and early Friday morning, you’ll join other skiers and boarders who like the same type of trails as you, whether you’d like to take

it easy on a green circle cruiser, or tear up the mountain on an steep black diamond run. Stowe’s recent multi-million dollar expansion program provides new lifts and an expanded base area, and you’ve got three full days to tackle the terrain. Experts won’t want to miss the famous Four Front trails, a collection of steep slopes that offer some of the most thrilling runs in the East. Intermediates, take heart: sixty percent of the slopes are right up your alley. Be sure to take a moment on the long, thigh-burning Ridge View trail to marvel at the gorgeous winter scenery.

Skiing is an excellent workout; ladies who want to relax with a visit to the award-winning Stoweflake Spa (stoweflake.com/spa.aspx) will find a gal-friendly staff and more than forty different treatments to ease sore muscles. Your legs will thank you for a Shiatsu, Reiki, or even Ashiatsu foot massage (from $140). Feeling romantic? Try the side-by-side couples massage or the sumptuous Organic Roses treatment ($145), which begins with hot towel compresses and a body peel, followed by an organic rose petal mask and a full-body massage with moisture-rich, aromatic rose lotion. Other signature spa treatments include hot oil, eucalyptus herbal body wrap and Vermont Maple Sugar Body Polish ($180), an exfoliating full-body massage that’s almost too sweet to believe.

While strolling through Stowe, be sure to dip into Gracie’s Restaurant and Gourmutt Shop (gracies.com). Dog lovers will appreciate Gracie’s devotion to hundreds of different breeds, celebrated through knick-knacks, toys and items for the home. Gracie’s also serves up one of the best breakfasts in town.  A short drive away, you’ll enjoy afternoon tea and home-baked confections at the Austrian Tea Room at the Trapp Family Lodge (trappfamily.com), where the famous family from The Sound of Music runs an expansive alpine retreat. Meet back up with your fellow Ski Bums for après-ski and down a pint at Ye Olde England Inn (englandinn.com), where dozens of imported beers flow freely and the European hosts invite you to relax and be yourself.

Thankfully, the fun doesn’t have to end there. Back in the city, reconnect with your fellow winter-fun enthusiasts at Ski Bums’ social events, including their all-girl party Pow.Wow., held at various locations throughout NYC. And—new this year—Ski Bums presents Girl Powder ($100, ski-bums.org), their first all-female daytrip on a private chartered bus to Belleayre Mountain on Saturday, January 24. It’s the perfect chance to meet other women who know that wintertime is no excuse to hibernate.


NORWAY
Take an international retreat to one of Europe’s most gay-friendly locales: nature-powered Norway, which recently became the world’s sixth country to legalize same-sex marriage.
In addition to its tolerant cultural outlook, Norway boasts some of the world’s most beautiful landscapes—from fjord country in the South to arctic landscapes and snow-capped mountains in the North.  The nation is also home to Oslo, Scandinavia’s oldest capital city.  Surrounded by breathtaking vistas, Oslo is full of nightlife, shopping, restaurants, cultural activities and entertainment, plus a thriving gay and lesbian scene.

Sights to See
Thrifty travelers can experience Oslo without breaking the bank. Thanks to Norway’s law of allemannsrett (“all man’s right”), everyone enjoys free access to Norway’s snow-covered mountains, so they can experience the wonders of friluftsliv (“open air life”).  The capital city is a short metro ride away from biking, boating, kayaking, skating, fishing, and even cruising through the fjords for just $40 with Norway Yacht Charters (norway yachtcharter.com).

Purchasing an Oslo Pass (from $31, visitoslo.com) is an easy and inexpensive way to experience all the city has to offer.  The Pass lets you avoid the hassle of booking and buying multiple tickets by providing free access to 33 museums and attractions, public transport, parking, a lunch cruise and more.

Take a romantic detour with your partner to experience this Nordic paradise first-hand.  Architectural Detour (norway.org) is a program that integrates contemporary architecture into Norwegian landscapes, and features 200 scenic rest points and viewing platforms along the roadsides.

The most recent addition to Oslo’s cultural backdrop is the new Oslo Opera House (operaen.no), home to the Norwegian Opera and Ballet. The Opera House’s unique rooftop park overlooks the fjord, several bars, restaurants and shops, and is a destination for all travelers, not just opera and ballet fans.

More than 50 museums and cultural attractions are located in Oslo, including Vigeland Sculpture Park, Viking Ships Museum, the National Gallery (visitnorway.com), and Munch Museum (munch.museum.no), home to such masterpieces as Edvard Munch’s  Scream.

What to Eat
Gays and lesbians in Norway will find themselves welcome at any restaurant or bar to sample the local cuisine, which features some of the world’s most mouthwatering seafood. Fresh salmon, cod or king crab, anyone?

For lunch or dinner, head to Elsker Bar & Café (Kristian IVs gate 9), a mixed gay hangout with a full menu and a dancefloor. For a traditional pub atmosphere with a mixed queer crowd, head to Bob’s Pub (Grønland 1). 

Tuesdays, check out Café Sara (Hausmanns gate 29) and ask at the bar for jentepilsen, an informal girls’ beer night at the popular restaurant and pub.

If you’re looking for a more romantic setting, visit Ett Glass (Karl Johans gate 33), a candlelit bar/restaurant with a Mediterranean-influenced menu.

Where to Party
Gay and lesbian nightlife in Oslo is not as segregated as it can be in other cities.  Many cafés and bars that serve food during the day transform at night into pulsing nightclubs,  featuring weekly gay parties.

Don’t miss Oslo’s most famous gay bar since the 1970s, London Pub & Club (C J Hambros plass 5). The downstairs pub, complete with billiard tables, is dimly-lit and cozy, while upstairs is a bar and disco, home to London’s Tuesday karaoke night.

For a taste of retro, pop into Bar Boca (Thorvald Meyers Gate 30), a tiny ‘50s-themed gay bar said to make the best specialty cocktails in Oslo.

Where to Sleep
Relax and recharge at the gay-friendly Hotel Continental (email booking@hotel-continen
tal.no
for rates, hotel-continental.no), a five-star luxury experience in the heart of Oslo, and a member of the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association.

Budget-minded travelers flock to Clarion Hotel Royal Christia (clarionroyal christiana.no), Norway’s second largest hotel and the official hotel for EuroPride Oslo 2005.

Where to Escape
Hop a train to northern Norway, also called the Kingdom of Light. Named for such  astronomical phenomena as the Northern Lights (November–January) and the Midnight Sun (May–July), the Kingdom is sure to please romantics and nature-enthusiasts alike. Pass through waterfalls, glaciers, streams and mountains and descend more than 2,800 feet into the Flam valley on the Bergen and Flam Railways (flaamsbana.no/eng/) or book a Northern Lights safari (fjordtravel.no/pro  gram_arctic.html). 

Sail along the coastline through fjords and islands on the Hurtigruten (hurtigruten.us) cruise ship. The voyage begins just west of Oslo in the city of Bergen and travels across the Arctic Circle to the coastal town of Kirkenes, home to many recent immigrants from nearby Finland and Russia.

LGBT Events in Oslo
February 13–15
Raballder Cup

(raballdercup.com/front.shtml)
Raballder Cup is Scandinavia's largest annual gay and lesbian sporting event. This year's events are volleyball and “floorball,” or Swedish floor hockey.

Year-Round
Homohuset

(llh.no/Oslo)
Homohuset, meaning “gay house,” is the headquarters of the Norwegian LBGT Association, which hosts activities throughout the year.
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