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RESORTS : 'A Winter Vacation Is a Special Joy'

October 20, 1985|CASKIE STINNETT | Stinnett is travel editor of Signature Magazine and writes for other national publications

Too often, when a place comes under the scrutiny of a travel writer, it is described in only the noblest of terms, with the writer overlooking the fact that human tastes vary wildly and that factors influencing travel decisions often lie below the conscious thinking of the traveler. In my opinion, the proper quest of the traveler is not to find the place that everybody likes but to find the place that he or she will like. That depends, of course, upon the kind of heart and mind the individual possesses, and nothing else matters--not much, anyway.

A winter vacation is a special joy, and my own private collection of favorite winter playgrounds began many years ago; although the list lives a threatened existence, it has been fairly constant for a number of years, primarily because I know what I like and--even more important--because I know when I've found it.

Let me say, forthwith, that I like St. Moritz very much. I consider it in almost every sense a delight, but I acknowledge that it is not flawless. Far from it. In winter, St. Moritz is impeccably fashionable. It is almost too elegant; indeed, it is self-consciously chic. Those criticisms are valid. But it also is luxurious, it possesses a grandness that lifts the spirit and it is exciting . And isn't excitement one of the most powerful attractions that can grip the imagination of the traveler?

Before going to St. Moritz, my images of it in winter were vague but tantalizing. When I finally emerged from a taxi in front of Badrutt's Palace Hotel and gazed upon the fabled playground, I instantly felt the wonders of the place. I have been drawn to many strange corners of the world, quite often irrationally, but this was not one of them.

I found out quickly that St. Moritz was not a place only for the over-privileged. The rich, the titled, the famous are there, but it is not their realm exclusively. There are countless others, such as I, who go there because it is one of the loveliest of all Swiss villages, because it possesses four or five hotels that I can describe only as superb, because it is exciting to join--or witness--the pageant of skiers trooping out to the slopes of the Upper Engadines and because the apres -ski life of the Palace Hotel or the Suvretta or the Kulm will surely live up to one's collection of vivid preconceptions.

I have too much sense to put myself on a tiny steel sled and go down the Cresta run, a breakneck toboggan course that is considered one of the most hazardous in the world, but I like to see others do it. And I like to skate on the half-dozen or so rinks that lie around the village, and I like to see the skiers hurtling like bullets down the Corviglia pistes , and I like to see what celebrities have won the most prestigious seats in the Palace Lobby at cocktail time.

Together, all of these delights create a splendid vacation. I have no ambition to visit the Corviglia Club--unquestionably the most sacredly private and exclusive club in the world--and I don't really care whether St. Moritz is on the way down, as some say, or holding its own, as others con- tend. I am disinterested in the politics of international society. But there is something exhilarating in the air of St. Moritz, something richly colored and delicately woven, and I find it greatly appealing.

Zihuatanejo, on the other hand, is a totally different story, and it may be difficult to understand how I could like both St. Moritz and Zihuatanejo, because they occupy different geographical and social extremes.

I came across Zihuatanejo accidentally. I had gone to another resort on the Pacific coast of Mexico--the Mexicans are adept at creating resorts out of virgin coastline--and one day I drove a Jeep aimlessly across the mountain and entered a small, beat-up fishing village on a protected cove about seven miles from the new resort.

This was more to my taste. The streets were dusty; the cafes were small and inexpensive; the beaches were lined with small, palm-thatched seafood restaurants, and a languor prevailed that defied haste. I explored Zihuatanejo gingerly; I have been let down by places many times and often not so gently, but the more I saw of Zihuatanejo, the more I liked it. I don't know that I uncovered aspects of this village hidden to other visitors, but its friendliness, its utter lack of pretense, even its torpor appealed to me.

I found that I could sit in a shaded street cafe over a glass of Mexican beer all afternoon if I wished and not get a scowl from the owner. Or I could wander along the food stalls and buy papaya, mango and coconut for pennies. Or I could sit on the seawall and watch any one of a half-dozen soccer games going on simultaneously on the beach.

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