TIME Switzerland

This Country Has the World’s Happiest People

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Dale Reubin—Getty Images/Cultura RF View of mountains and lakeside village, Switzerland

Life expectancy, social connections, personal freedom and the economy all play a role in happiness

The happiest people in the world live in Switzerland, a new study found.

The third World Happiness Report, released by the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Solutions Network on Thursday, ranked 158 countries based on Gallup surveys from 2012-15 and analyzed the key factors contributing to happiness levels.

Switzerland, Iceland, Denmark, Norway and Canada were the top five happiest countries, while the West African nation of Togo was the least happy.

The report aims to provide policymakers around the world with new metrics that place a higher emphasis on subjective well-being. While income appeared to play a significant role in boosting happiness—the GDP per capita is 25 times higher in the 10 happiest countries than in the 10 least happy—it was far from the only factor. Life expectancy, social connections, personal freedom, generosity and corruption levels also helped explain the happiness scores, according to the report.

The U.S., for example, ranked 15th in the world, one below Mexico and three below Costa Rica, where per capita GDP is roughly a fifth of that in the U.S.

“This report gives evidence on how to achieve societal well-being,” Jeffrey Sachs, the director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, said in a statement. “It’s not by money alone, but also by fairness, honesty, trust, and good health.”

But sharp economic changes in a country can play a role in people’s happiness, the report found. Greece, where the global recession triggered prolonged economic turmoil, saw its happiness levels fall the most since 2005-07, compared to 125 other countries where data was available.

Still, the report warned policymakers against overemphasizing income levels.

“When countries pursue GDP in a lopsided manner, forgetting about social and environmental objectives, the results can be adverse for human well-being,” the report said. “Many countries in recent years have achieved economic growth at the cost of the sharply rising inequalities of income and grave damage to the natural environment.”

TIME robotics

A Drug-Buying Robot Has Been Freed From Police Custody

!Mediengrupppe Bitnik Items purchased on the darknet by the Random Darknet Shopper

The bot, programmed to buy illegal goods online, was part of an art exhibition

A robot programmed to buy drugs from illegal online markets has been freed by Swiss police. The shopping bot, called the “Random Darknet Shopper,” was created last fall by a Swiss art group called !Mediengruppe Bitnik to purchase illicit goods online using a weekly allowance of $100 worth of Bitcoin. The various items the bot bought at random, including counterfeit sneakers and ecstasy, would be delivered to the art group’s gallery for an exhibition.

Swiss police captured the robot back in January and confiscated its purchases. However, last week, the art group announced that the police had returned Random Darknet Shopper as well as all of the goods it bought, except for the ecstasy. A Swiss police official told CNBC that the makers of the robot wouldn’t be charged for programming the robot to buy illegal items.

“This is a great day for the bot, for us and for freedom of art!” the art group wrote in a blog post.

[CNBC]

TIME Iran

Differences Persist on Deadline Day for Iran Nuke Talks

Kerry has been meeting with his Iranian counterpart since Thursday in an intense effort to reach a political understanding

(LAUSANNE, Switzerland) — Diplomats scrambled Tuesday to reach consensus on the outline of an Iran nuclear deal just hours ahead of a self-imposed deadline to produce an agreement.

Facing a midnight local time (6 p.m. EDT) target to conclude a framework accord, substantial differences persisted with officials predicting a long day of talks that may or may not result in success. The top diplomats of four of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany met alone and then with Iran’s foreign minister to try to bridge the remaining gaps. They hope to hammer out an understanding that would serve as the basis for a final accord to be reached by the end of June.

It was not immediately clear what missing the deadline would mean for the nearly two years of negotiations that have been twice extended since an interim agreement was reached in November 2013. Most countries involved have said they are not interested in another extension, although they have also said that the interim agreement will remain in place until July 1, suggesting talks could continue.

“Long day ahead,” the spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department said in a tweet announcing the early Tuesday morning start of the foreign ministers’ meeting with Iranian officials.

Late Monday, Secretary of State John Kerry told a CNN reporter that “everyone knows the meaning of tomorrow,” adding that “there are still some tricky issues.”

Kerry has been meeting with his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif in the Swiss town of Lausanne since Thursday in an intense effort to reach a political understanding on terms that would curb Iran’s nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions relief.

Kerry and others at the table said the sides have made some progress, with Iran considering demands for further cuts to its uranium enrichment program but pushing back on how long it must limit technology it could use to make atomic arms. In addition to sticking points on research and development, differences remain on the timing and scope of sanctions removal, the officials said.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Monday that Iran’s expectations from the talks are “very ambitious” and not yet acceptable to his country or the other five negotiating: the U.S., Britain, China, France and Russia. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov left the talks on Monday and planned to return only if the prospects for a deal looked good.

Iran’s deputy foreign minister, Abbas Araghchi, told Iranian state television on Monday that the talks were not likely to reach any conclusion until “tomorrow or the day after tomorrow.”

The Obama administration says any deal will stretch the time Iran needs to make a nuclear weapon from the present two to three months to at least a year. But critics object that it would keep Tehran’s nuclear technology intact.

Officials in Lausanne said the sides were advancing on limits to aspects of Iran’s program to enrich uranium, which can be used to make the core of a nuclear warhead.

Tehran has said it is willing to address concerns about its stockpiles of enriched uranium, although it has denied that will involve shipping it out of the country, as some Western officials have said. One official said on Monday that Iran might deal with the issue by diluting its stocks to a level that would not be weapons grade.

Uranium enrichment has been the chief concern in over more than a decade of international attempts to cap Iran’s nuclear programs. But Western officials say the main obstacles to a deal are no longer enrichment-related but instead the type and length of restrictions on Tehran’s research and development of advanced centrifuges and the pace of sanctions-lifting.

Over the past weeks, Iran has moved from demanding that it be allowed to keep nearly 10,000 centrifuges enriching uranium, to agreeing to 6,000. The officials said Tehran now may be ready to accept even fewer.

Tehran says it wants to enrich only for energy, science, industry and medicine. But many countries fear Iran could use the technology to make weapons-grade uranium.

TIME Environment

The First Solar-Powered Round-the-World Flight Has Begun

Solar Impulse 2, a solar-powered airplane, takes flight as it begins its historic round-the-world journey from Al Bateen Airport in Abu Dhabi on March 9, 2015.
Jean Revillard—Getty Images Solar Impulse 2, a solar-powered airplane, takes flight as it begins its historic round-the-world journey from Al Bateen Airport in Abu Dhabi on March 9, 2015.

The two pilots aim to circumnavigate the globe without using any conventional fuel

The world’s first round-the-world trip on a solar-powered plane got under way Monday with the initial leg from Abu Dhabi to the Omani capital, Muscat.

Swiss pilots Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg will pursue a record-shattering five-month journey, spanning 21,750 miles across several continents and two oceans, while using zero conventional fuel.

The Solar Impulse-2’s lightweight construction — weighing a mere 4,600 lb. — combined with its 236-ft. wingspan lined with 17,000 solar cells, makes it the first solar-powered aircraft capable of flying during both day and night.

“I am confident we have a very special airplane, and it will have to be to get us across the big oceans,” Borschberg told the BBC.

The pilots have undergone rigorous preparation drills, and will forgo all sleep longer than 20 minutes while airborne, practicing yoga and self-hypnosis to cope with their airborne ordeal. (Some stints will involve flying continuously for five days.) Rest stops will be spent advocating for their clean-technology campaign.

“I had this dream 16 years ago of flying around the world without fuel, just on solar power,” said Piccard. “Now we’re about to do it.”

[BBC]

TIME politics

Switzerland Takes a Side for Neutrality

World War I Swiss Volunteers
Branger—Roger Viollet/Getty Images Swiss WWI volunteers in Paris, August 1914

Feb. 13, 1920: The League of Nations recognizes Switzerland’s perpetual neutrality

The last time the Swiss fought a military battle was 500 years ago, against the French. (The Swiss lost.) Two hundred years ago, Switzerland was acknowledged as a neutral state in the Treaty of Paris. But it wasn’t until this day, Feb. 13, in 1920, that the League of Nations formally recognized its neutrality.

Since then, despite the layman’s conflation of “neutrality” with “pacifism,” the Swiss have maintained that status fiercely, and occasionally with force. It took particular toughness to be a tiny neutral country in the midst of a world war, as TIME pointed out in 1942, when Germany occupied France, making Switzerland “an isolated little democratic anomaly deep inside totalitarian Europe.”

Like a Chihuahua defending its territory against a pit bull, Switzerland only grew more ferocious in the face of an outsized menace. The Swiss newspaper Volksrecht barked, “It is of the greatest importance that we leave no doubt in anybody’s mind that not even the most hopeless situation will make us capitulate voluntarily, and before we can be commanded we have got to be beaten.”

But beating them would have been a daunting task even for the Nazis, according to TIME. “Man for man, Switzerland probably has the second best army in Europe today,” it concluded. “Its general staff, under sagacious, diminutive, popular General Henri Guisan … has built in the Alps a kernel of defense which an army thrice the size of the Swiss Army (600,000 men) might need valuable months to crack. The Swiss Army can be mobilized in half an hour.”

Just as neutrality did not mean nonviolence, it also didn’t mean indifference, as Switzerland proved in 1956, when it spoke out against Soviet oppression in Hungary. The neutral state gave safe haven to 10,000 Hungarian refugees, and leveraged what power it had to penalize the Russians — by not letting them ski. Per TIME, the Swiss Ski Association formally notified the Soviet Winter Sports Federation that Russian athletes were not welcome at Swiss ski competitions.

Granting asylum to political refugees has long been a Swiss hallmark, and one of the ways Switzerland influences global politics despite its neutrality. It welcomed Russian jeweler Peter Carl Fabergé and German author Thomas Mann, along with 300,000 others during the Nazi era alone.

Its reputation as a safe haven for the persecuted (save its dismal record with Jewish refugees during World War II) is so well known that at this time last year, an Ethiopian pilot hijacked his own Rome-bound flight and landed instead in Geneva, where he requested asylum to escape persecution in his home country. While he faces up to 20 years in prison for the hijacking, the Swiss have refused Ethiopian demands for his extradition. Experts say he’ll likely stay in Switzerland after serving his sentence because, hijacker or no, the Swiss won’t let him return to a country that abuses human rights.

Read TIME’s 1942 take on Switzerland, here in the archives: Alone, Little & Tough

TIME Davos

Down and Out in Davos

Why the world’s powerful are worried about 2015

It’s a perennial question: What is the World Economic Forum (WEF) actually good for? The annual confab of the world’s rich and powerful in Davos, Switzerland, has evolved significantly in the past few decades, from a gathering of hardcore economists and financiers to a broader forum for the discussion of ideas ranging from the role of women in the workplace to the future of the Internet. In my opinion, it’s still the best place on earth to get a sense of what global decisionmakers will be thinking about in the year ahead. I made my way around the Magic Mountain listening to bankers, executives, policymakers and world leaders, and here’s what I found.

Tech Brings Bad With Good

Digital Disrupters and Web Pioneers–Google executive Chairman Eric Schmidt, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg among them–were out in force as always, extolling the virtues of concepts like the “Internet of things,” which could create entirely new markets. But average people don’t necessarily share their enthusiasm for, and abiding faith in, tech. The Edelman Trust Barometer report, a 27-country survey measuring confidence in the public and private sectors that was released during the conference, found that the majority of the world’s consumers think technological change is moving too fast for them. By a margin of 2 to 1, people don’t believe that governments or businesses are thinking enough about the broad societal impact of developments like social media, digital security, genetically modified foods and fracking. Technology for technology’s sake, most people feel, is not a good thing.

That, in part, may be because the gains made possible by technology over the past decade or so have been unevenly shared. A WEF white paper prepared by the Swiss bank UBS found that sectors boosted by new technologies, such as finance and manufacturing, “have delivered a large share of U.S. economic growth without adding significant numbers of new jobs.” Smarter software and the advent of such innovations as 3-D printing are making some people very wealthy. But technological advances have done comparatively little to replace the middle-class jobs lost over the past couple of decades.

How to explain the divide? Technologists like MIT’s Andrew McAfee, who made waves at Davos last year with a book he co-wrote, Race Against the Machine, would argue that the scope of the digital revolution is so massive that it will destroy more jobs before it starts creating them and that the broader growth-enhancing effects of technology will simply take longer to be felt. As the UBS paper notes, it took around 50 years for the benefits of electricity to completely filter through the economy. Still, for a civilization that reflexively looks to technology to deliver us from seemingly unsolvable predicaments, this is a worrisome trend.

Global Growth May Be in Peril

We need that broader tech boom to goose productivity. Globally, productivity grew at a good clip over the past half-century, rising 1.7% a year. But as countries become more developed, productivity growth slows. One of the most sobering presentations, given by the consulting giant McKinsey, made the point that when you combine slower productivity with a dramatic decrease in the global birth rate, you get economic growth that could be much lower over the next 50 years than it has been in the past 50.

Economic growth is basically a function of the number of workers and their productivity. The former is falling sharply as countries get richer and women have fewer children, and the latter is more or less stagnant. “It’s as if we’ve been flying a plane on two engines, and one of them is about to go out,” says James Manyika, head of the McKinsey Global Institute. If current trends continue, McKinsey projects that global growth will slow to about 2.1% a year, even as more people than ever have expectations of a middle-class life. Not a great formula for social stability.

Women and Children First

People can keep praying that technology will produce more middle-class jobs, but there is one proven solution for boosting economic growth: putting more women to work. The picture of gender parity from Davos is never great; this year, the meeting had a record 17% female participation, up from 9% in the early 2000s. One WEF study found that at the current rate of change, it would take women 81 more years to reach economic equality with men.

Ironically, this seems to have created a cottage industry in gender-parity consulting. Employees of both sexes from firms like Mercer and Ernst & Young were at Davos hawking strategies about how to promote women. My advice: think less about leaning in and more about how to help families create support structures that allow more women to work. Warren Buffett once suggested to me that the U.S. government should offer subsidized child care, allowing caregivers (mostly women) to earn a better wage while freeing women who are higher up the educational food chain to take bigger jobs. It remains one of the best policy proposals I’ve ever heard.

Plenty of Band-Aids, Not Many Cures

Of course, that would require action from politicians, something that everyone agrees is in short supply. The divide between the fortunes of global markets (which have remained surprisingly buoyant) and national economies (which are sluggish in many parts of the world) was a big topic yet again. In the middle of the WEF meeting, the European Central Bank (ECB) launched its version of quantitative easing, a $1.3 trillion bond-buying program of the type that the U.S. Federal Reserve–which bought some $4 trillion in assets over the past few years–has only just reined in. It is an effort to help Europe avert another recession, and markets responded instantly, with European stocks rising, bond yields falling and the euro weakening, which should help exports.

While many at Davos were grateful for the uptick in their portfolios, some high-profile financiers fretted that the ECB’s move comes with a downside that will thwart a lasting solution to the European debt crisis. As hedge funder Paul Singer put it to me, “The QE program takes the pressure off European leaders to take the fiscal, tax, regulatory, trade, education and other steps necessary to generate real sustainable growth. [ECB president] Mario Draghi is an enabler, because the money printing enables the Presidents and Prime Ministers to avoid making real structural reforms.”

Polarized politics on both sides of the Atlantic has made it hard for governments to make the sorts of moves that create real growth. (The recent Greek elections won’t change much there.) So central bankers have kept the easy money flowing to give countries more time. But the emerging-market crises of the 1980s and ’90s teach us that printing money isn’t a substitute for fixing structural problems. If you do one without the other, the market will punish you viciously later on.

And all that easy money has exacerbated the growth of inequality globally, since most of it has gone to pumping up stocks, which are mainly held by the top 25% of the population. Wages remain stagnant and middle-class jobs elusive. That divide, which reflects the one between Davos and everywhere else, is what we’ll be grappling with in the year ahead.


This appears in the February 09, 2015 issue of TIME.
TIME Davos

This Is Why There Aren’t More Women at Davos

General Motors CEO Mary Barra attends the Automotive World Congress on Jan. 14, 2015 in Detroit.
Paul Warner—Getty Images General Motors CEO Mary Barra attends the Automotive World Congress on Jan. 14, 2015 in Detroit.

This year only 17% of Davos participants are women. That number doesn’t reflect how bad gender diversity in global leadership really is

As the world’s most formidable leaders prepare to gather at the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting, the event’s glaring lack of gender diversity has once again been brought to the public’s attention. Of the 2,500 participants, only 17% of Davos’ participants will be women.

Learn more about what to expect in Davos from Fortune’s video team:

That number may seem low—but it’s up from last year’s 15%.

Despite the criticism, Davos gender breakdown is merely a reflection of a global reality. CEOs like Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer and General Motors Mary Barra get a lot of press, but they’re outliers. The vast majority of the world’s largest companies are led by men: In Fortune‘s Global 500, only 3.4% of companies have female chief executives.

It’s slightly—only slightly—better in politics. Women make up 6% of all heads of state and 8% of all heads of government.

And, of course, women are famously underrepresented in the boardroom. Only 11% of board seats at the world’s largest and best-known companies are occupied by women.

But targeting Davos misses the point. Yes, the fact that the organization (which bills itself as “committed to improving the state of the world through public-private cooperation”) doesn’t go above and beyond to engage more women is an issue. But it’s not the crux of the problem.

Consider this: Last year, the World Economic Forum did make a concerted effort to recruit more women to its annual meeting. It created a gender quota system, requiring large corporations to bring one woman for every four men who attend Davos. The quota won’t do much, though, if women aren’t crowding companies’ corner offices. As Barri Rafferty, CEO of Ketchum North America, pointed out in an interview with Fortune’s Caroline Fairchild, “If your company is going to send five people, they are going to look at their C-Suite people, which likely has fewer women.”

So really, who’s to blame for the lack of women at Davos: The World Economic Forum or the corporations themselves?

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com.

MONEY Economy

Swiss Currency Has Shot Up 15% So Far Today. Here’s Why That Matters

Fabrice Coffrini—AFP/Getty Images A Swiss coin is seen beneath a euro banknote on Januay 15, 2015 in Lausanne. In a shock announcement on January 15, Switzerland's central bank said it was ending a three-year bid to artificially hold down the value of the Swiss franc against the euro, in a move that immediately sent the safe haven currency soaring.

Chaos in the currency market is a sign of deep problems for Europe—and the whole global economy.

The global economy got a lot more interesting today, and maybe a little more scary, when the Swiss National Bank ended its commitment to a fixed exchange rate between the Swiss Franc and the euro.

Currency markets went into a frenzy. The Swiss franc immediately rose 30% in value against the euro, mirrored by a spike in its U.S. dollar value. Some of those gains have pulled back, with the currency up about 15% at midday. That’s still a huge move.

Okay, so it’s been a big day for currency traders—and anyone planning on a ski trip to the Alps. But what’s this mean for me?

The wildness in the market underscores the big economic story of the moment: Europe’s slide toward a recession. In a globally connected economy, weak demand in Europe could weigh on the recovery in the U.S.

So what exactly happened?

Swiss francs rose because the Swiss central bank removed an artificial cap on the price of an asset people really, really want right now. The import of the story is less about the sudden price change today than about why people want to trade their euros for francs in the first place.

Switzerland isn’t a part of the eurozone, the group of countries that share the euro as a currency. Swiss assets denominated in Swiss francs have long been considered a safe haven—a parking spot for investors around the globe when they are feeling jittery.

The eurozone has given people a lot be jittery about. In the wake of the Greek debt crisis at the beginning of the decade, investors jumped into francs, strengthening the currency against others. The problem with that for the Swiss is that it makes the goods produced by Swiss companies more expensive to export. So the Swiss National Bank (that’s like their Federal Reserve) capped the value of a franc at 1.20 per euro.

It also decided to start charging negative interest rates, meaning investors in effect have to pay a fee to park their money in a Swiss bank. That’s another way of fighting currency overvaluation. Today, at the same time as it cut the currency peg, the Swiss bank lowered the short-term interest rate from -0.25% to -0.75%. That is, they raised the penalty for stashing money there. Even so, the rally in francs shows there remains a lot of demand for doing just that.

Why did the Swiss cut the exchange rate peg?

The surprise move comes as Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank, is considering new measures to stimulate the eurozone economy. Many investors expect the ECB will take a page from the U.S. Federal Reserve and start buying long-term debt to push down long-term interest rates, a strategy known as quantitative easing.

A euro QE is broadly expected to bring down the value of the euro compared to the U.S. dollar. The Swiss, it seems, didn’t want to tie the value of its own currency so closely to the policy makers at the ECB.

“Recently, divergences between the monetary policies of the major currency areas have increased significantly – a trend that is likely to become even more pronounced,” the Swiss central bank said in a statement. “The euro has depreciated considerably against the US dollar and this, in turn, has caused the Swiss franc to weaken against the US dollar. In these circumstances, the SNB concluded that enforcing and maintaining the minimum exchange rate for the Swiss franc against the euro is no longer justified.”

Pity Swiss watchmakers, though. Their timepieces just became more expensive for foreigners to buy.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: January 13

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. The U.S. could improve its counterinsurgency strategy by gathering better public opinion data from people in conflict zones.

By Andrew Shaver and Yang-Yang Zhou in the Washington Post

2. The drought-stricken western U.S. can learn from Israel’s water management software which pores over tons of data to detect or prevent leaks.

By Amanda Little in Bloomberg Businessweek

3. Beyond “Teach for Mexico:” To upgrade Latin America’s outdated public education systems, leaders must fight institutional inequality.

By Whitney Eulich and Ruxandra Guidi in the Christian Science Monitor

4. Investment recommendations for retirees are often based on savings levels achieved by only a small fraction of families. Here’s better advice.

By Luke Delorme in the Daily Economy

5. Lessons from the Swiss: We should start making people pay for the trash they throw away.

By Sabine Oishi in the Baltimore Sun

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Travel

Europe’s 13 Best Winter Getaways

Pamporovo, Bulgaria
chicretreats.com Villa Gella, Pamporovo, Bulgaria

High design and haute cuisine meet crackling fires and snow-covered vistas in these European winter destinations

Europeans have dreamt up many definitions of cozy. Denmark has hygge, a concept that evokes “coziness when relaxing with good friends.” Germany, Austria, and Switzerland have gemütlich, which translates to “comfortably homey.” And Bulgaria has its уют, which means “snug.”

In other words, when the temperature drops, there’s a special appeal to hightailing it to Europe, where the art form of coziness has been perfected over the course of a few thousand winters. From the Ardennes to the Alps, woodsy retreats with crackling fireplaces, steamy thermal baths with pine-scented steam rooms, and wood-paneled inns where bubbling pots of fondue and shots of schnapps have long warmed locals and propelled many travelers to cross an ocean for a taste.

Still, the concept of a European winter getaway is changing. Seaside towns and off-season resort areas are seeing an uptick of visitors who come for digital detoxes and crowd-free retreats that can cost a quarter as much as a ski weekend. Sagres, in Portugal, for instance, is experiencing an increase in visitors, namely golfers seeking a bit of cool January sun and surfers coming for the winter swells. Croatia’s Istrian coast, meanwhile, attracts flocks of Zagreb creative types thanks to the significant off-season savings at its seaside and design-forward hotels.

Find out why there’s no winter like a European winter—especially in these towns.

Åre, Sweden

With its snow-covered peaks, café-lined town square, and red-hot après-ski scene, this mountain resort in northern Sweden is the Aspen of Scandinavia. There are more than 100 powdery ski runs, or you can navigate the slopes by snowmobile or dogsled: Explore Åre and Camp Åre are two top outfitters that can arrange tours. After dark, a lively crowd congregates over pints of Swedish Brekeriet beer at Hotel Fjällgården, where DJs keep the place thumping late into the night. For a quiet evening, curl up with a mug of glogg in one of the candlelit nooks at Thyras Salong, in the Tott Hotel. A five-minute walk away, chef Markus Aujalays runs Fjällpuben, a cozy restaurant with a farmhouse feel that serves dishes like tender elk carpaccio with currants and pickled beets. You’ll find several sophisticated hotels in town, but for a true northern adventure, consider spending a night at Igloo Åre, where the beds are made of packed snow covered in plush sleeping bags and reindeer skins, and private guides lead early morning snowshoe hikes. If the thought of ice blocks leaves you cold, there’s the new wood- and-glass Copperhill Mountain Lodge by American architect Peter Bohlin, a high-design ski-in, ski-out chalet with huge stone fireplaces, furnishings by the likes of Tom Dixon and Patricia Urquiola, and spa “tee-pees” that pay homage to the region’s indigenous Sami tribe. Book a Samezen massage, which uses warm stones and plant extracts, then take in the mountain views from a hot-spring-fed pool. —Ingrid K. Williams

Vals, Switzerland

You don’t come to this tiny village in the Swiss Alps to ski. Instead of perfectly groomed pistes, you’ll find a wonderland for design buffs. Built from sparkling gray blocks of Vals quartzite, Pritzker Prize winner Peter Zumthor’s austerely beautiful Therme Vals houses a warren of steamy hammams and flower-strewn pools. Last fall, the on-site hotel was rebranded as the 7132 Hotel, with furniture by Fritz Hansen and Eero Saarinen, a restaurant that serves dishes like Öra salmon with beets and spinach, and new rooftop suites designed by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma. If your taste tends toward fewer hard surfaces and right angles, the four-room Brücke 49 embodies the distinctive Danish ethos of hygge, or coziness, but with some Midcentury-inspired flair: Finn Juhl chairs, 1960s Le Klint lamps, Vola showers, and William Morris wallpaper. Do as the locals do and earn your fondue with a 45-minute hike from the hotel along farm roads to Restaurant Ganni, an 18th-century timber mountain lodge. After a pot of silky cheese spiked with ginger, porcini, or traditional kirsch, throw back avieille prune (cask-aged plum brandy) digestif to fortify you for the walk back down. —Adam H. Graham

Snæfellsnes Peninsula, Iceland

Jutting west into the North Atlantic Ocean, the Snæfellsnes peninsula is Iceland at its most stunning: moss-blanketed lava fields, misty fjords surrounded by craggy cliffs, and a towering volcano crowned with a glacier that dates back to the Ice Age. Do it as a road trip, starting with a night at the fire-engine-red Hotel Egilsen, in the tiny fishing town of Stykkisholmur. The inn’s 10 cozy rooms have a New England vibe, decorated as they are in light blues and greens, and original sketches of local landmarks by Icelandic artist Tolli line the walls. Across the street, Narfeyrarstofa, with its doilies and lace curtains, may look like someone’s grandmother’s house, but the restaurant serves the best lamb stew in town. It’s about an 80-mile drive around the tip of the peninsula—past waterfalls and golden beaches—to Hotel Búðir, the region’s game-changing property. The 17th-century trading post turned 28-room lodge is a destination in itself, with views of the Snæfell glacier or bay from every window, sitting areas with deep leather sofas and scores of old National Geographics to flip through, and a lobby bar with one of the country’s largest whiskey collections. If you’re looking to knock the northern lights off your bucket list, you’re in luck: an overnight concierge will wake you up for the show. —Brooke Porter Katz

The Cotswolds, Cheltenham

Once a popular spa getaway for well-heeled Londoners, Cheltenham fell out of favor with the rise of its trendier neighbors Daylesford and Chipping Norton. But with the opening of No. 38 The Park, the historic town in the northern Cotswolds is back in the spotlight. The brainchild of Sam and Georgie Pearman, the Regency building has 13 bedrooms, elegantly done with reclaimed-wood tables, freestanding Victorian bathtubs, and David Hockney prints. For dinner, make your way to sister property No. 131, where locals gather in a buzzy, low-lit dining room for regionally sourced dishes. Beyond the hotel, there’s plenty to explore, including the housewares and antiques shops in the neighborhoods of Montpelier and Suffolk. Don’t miss Guild at 51, full of handmade textiles and silverwork. Or tour the recently renovated Wilson, an art space showcasing both British Arts and Crafts and emerging artists. For lunch, Purslane serves a standout Cornish pollack with wood-roasted celeriac and chanterelles; come nighttime, it’s all about Daffodil, an Art Deco–style restaurant and bar known for its martinis and live jazz. —Sarah Miller

Courchevel, France

Bernard Arnault, the CEO of LVMH, is not known for taking foolish risks. So when he decided to give the hotel business a try with the ultra-luxe Cheval Blanc Courchevel, he set his sights on Courchevel’s most glamorous zip code, Le Jardin Alpin. Its north-facing slopes are among the best, its network of ski lifts the most efficient, and its habitués the most monied in all of Europe. With Arnault’s imprimatur and designer Sybille de Margerie’s bright, futuristic interiors, the property was a big- enough deal to lure chef Yannick Alléno from Paris’s Michelin three- starred Le Meurice to open Le 1947, where traditional French dishes get a modern spin. Just up the mountain,L’Apogée Courchevel bears the dual stamp of Parisian designers India Mahdavi and Joseph Dirand. The 55 timbered rooms and suites are surprisingly casual, decorated in a burgundy, green, and gingham palette, while the two chalets have log fires, perfect for curling up beside after a long day on the mountain. Courchevel’s equally polished town center is lined with high-end boutiques, including Isabel Marant and Ski Dior, and the bakery Maison Braissand is an essential stop for its buttery pain au chocolat. —Alexandra Marshall

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