It's hot. Way too hot. It's mid July, and depending on where you live, you may already be sick of summer, of the sweaty, beating, multiple-shower stickiness of it all. You want to get away.
There are some cool destinations out there for folks who can't stand the heat of summer. I don't mean windward-breeze, Bermuda-pleasant low 80s, either: I mean some pleasantly brisk sweater weather. No, they're not all rainy all the time, they're just places where nature never got the memo that July and August are the time to turn up the heat.
Four strategies to cool off with a quick trip this summer:
You don't have to go to the North Pole to cool off this summer. There are some more civilized destinations that can keep you from breaking a sweat.
My top pick is Iceland. The utterly misnamed country never does get very icy, but temperatures also rarely rise above the mid-sixties in summer. Iceland has a little bit of everything: daylight all night during the summer, a heck of a nightlife in the capital city of Reykjavík, volcanoes, glaciers, volcanoes under glaciers, whale watching, amazing hikes, moonscapes and a Penis Museum. The interior of the island is uninhabited, for adventure travelers; the west and south coasts have charming towns, for everyone else; and the national sport is hot-tubbing. The only down side: summer is high season in Iceland, and flight prices can be high.
The only way to get to Iceland is Icelandair (www.icelandair.com), which also serves Bergen, Norway. That's a great way to combine an Iceland trip with the Hurtigruten, (www.hurtigruten.us) the famous cruise ferry that heads all the way up the Norwegian coast from Bergen (temperatures in the sixties) to the far-northern town of Kirkenes (temperatures in the fifties, and midnight sun to boot.) Bunk rates for the entire trip start at $1,499 for the seven-day trip up, but you'll probably want to work with a travel agent like ScanAm World Tours (www.scanamtours.com) if you want to schedule stopovers on the way. Towns served on the trip include scenic Trondheim, party-town Tromsø and Hammerfest, where you can glom on to various Arctic escapades.
In the southern hemisphere it isn't summer, it's winter. The trick then is finding places with pleasant, mild winters that feel the way you want your cool summer to feel.
The South Island of New Zealand is cooler than the North Island, with average July temperatures in Christchurch, NZ in the forties -- now, that's bracing. But even up in supposedly subtropical Auckland, July temperatures are generally in the fifties. That makes New Zealand a prime destination for summer -- I mean winter -- hikes, scenic drives and garden strolls in a country that's so beautiful, it sustained a billion-dollar movie trilogy largely on the strength of its scenic overlooks.
New Zealand is gorgeous, but the flight times and jetlag from North America are truly awful. How about getting chilly in Chile and Argentina instead? July temperatures in Santiago, Chile hover in the fifties, with Buenos Aires getting up to the low 70s. Things are even cooler down in Tierra del Fuego. For the best cool Chilean experiences, take to the water: sail through the Andes or along the fjords of southern Chile. Flights to Chile and Argentina "only" take twelve hours or so, and there's no jetlag.
Heading up to the mountains is a traditional way for human beings to cool off during summer. Finding consistently cool towns, rather than just places that are warm and sunny, can be a little tough.
With July highs rarely topping 66 degrees and temperatures generally in the low 60s, the world-class Alpine Swiss resort of Zermatt fits the bill. Zermatt is a fashionable little town at the base of the Matterhorn; think of it as the European Vail or Aspen and you won't be far off. We've dug out some cheap hotels (think $100/night) in our guide to Zermatt, to help with the costs. You can ski even in summer: eight ski lifts take you up to eternally snowy areas on top of mountains and glaciers, and there's a year-round snowboard park. Getting out of and around Zermatt is just as fun as hanging out there, as it's the terminus of the scenic Glacier Express train and the nearby mountains are covered in steeply-inclined cogwheel railways and cable cars. Zermatt is about four hours by train from either Geneva or Milan, the nearest major airports.
The mildest summers in the United States belong not to Seattle or Minneapolis, but to San Francisco, which may have the weirdest climate in the world -- and I'm not talking about the people who live there. For one thing, San Francisco's hottest month is October; in July, you're more likely to see temperatures in the middle sixties. For another, the city is a unique collection of microclimates. It could be cold and foggy down by the beach, but pleasantly sunny and ten degrees warmer a mile away; the city's sharp hills tend to wreak havoc on weather patterns, creating little bowls, bubbles and eddies. Depending on your mood, you can wander down to the sunny Mission or mull over the murk along the Golden Gate. Now that's a cool trip for summer.