Sochi, Russia (wikicommons)
When the London Olympics come to a close, we'll have less than two years off before the winter Olympics burst to life in, oddly enough, Russia's unofficial "Summer Capital": Sochi. Russians will never understand why the winter Olympics should take place in the subtropical south, but their palm-lined Sochi isn't short on natural beauty worthy of a global audience, sandwiched as it is between the Black Sea and the Caucasus. With beaches and mineral springs to enjoy in the summer within view of downhill ski slopes popular in the winter, it's no wonder the resort's been a fashionable retreat for the Russian elite for nearly two centuries. Though its visitors are almost exclusively domestic, with the world converging on the "Black Sea Pearl" in 2014, it's sure to gain the international attention it deserves.
Where to Stay: Radisson SAS Lazurnaya Hotel (Rates start at $250/night)
Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy
Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy (creative commons/Navin75)
The "Pearl of the Dolomites," Cortina D'Ampezzo is as upmarket a mountain town as you'll find anywhere in the world. In the 1960s -- after the 1956 Winter Olympics exposed the city -- you'd see the likes of Sophia Loren, Clark Gable and Brigitte Bardot rubbing shoulders down the Corso Italia. Though it's aged slightly since then, the resort town still packs a fur-clad, ski-averse crowd to its designer boutiques and posh art galleries. Most normal people, however, allot plenty of time to gape up at the bewitching mountains and head just out of town to the world-class downhill slopes.
Where to Stay: Rosapetra Spa Resort (Rates start at $180/night)
Grenoble, France (wikicommons)
Grenoble, scene of the 1968 Winter Olympics, is one of many cities dueling for the right to be called "Capital of the Alps." Its city center is a maze of modern and medieval structures packed like colorful sardines in a lively can and, though there are plenty of opportunities to stay active, many prefer instead to hunker down at the city's restaurants and cafes to admire the grandeur of the mountain setting: Chartreuse to the north, Vercors to the southwest and the Italian Alps to the east.
Where to Stay: Grand Hotel Grenoble Centre (Rates start at $140/night)
Squaw Valley, California - USA
Squaw Valley (Squaw Valley)
Tiny Squaw Valley, the smallest place in the world to host the Olympic Games (winter 1960), sits near the better known tourist draw of Lake Tahoe. More a ski village than an actual town, Squaw Valley was predominantly undeveloped and virtually custom- built for the Olympic Games between 1956 and 1960 at a cost of roughly $80 million. Now, it's the second-largest ski area at Lake Tahoe with 33 chairlifts and the only funitel lift in the U.S. Nature trails through the Sierra Nevada coupled with other outdoor pursuits make it a four-seasons destination.
Where to Stay: Squaw Valley Lodge (Rates start at $129/night)
Innsbruck, Austria (creative commons/meironke)
Twice Olympic host (first in 1964 and again in 1976), idyllic Innsbruck pairs old-world charm with high adventure. The town, with a history going back 800 years, was coveted by empires throughout history but is perhaps best known today as an international center for winter sports. It sprawls beneath the Nordkette Mountains and is Austria's only major city with the towering Alps on its doorstep. The Olympics helped usher in Innsbruck's tourist trade. Several holiday villages have popped up in the surrounding hills promising rural traditions within reach of the urban center, which, buoyed by its large student population, has a youthful vibe with brewpubs, beer gardens and a lively nachtleben (nightlife).
Where to Stay: Try one of holiday villages nearby like Kermaten, Rum or Zirl.