The Winter Olympics are practically synonymous with the Alps—and this year they return to the classic range for the tenth time. No other place so seamlessly merges rugged high-altitude life with Old World glamour and panache. Here's a look at past glory and present-day fun, from the gastronomic to the gonzo.
Olympic Locale: Chamonix, France, 1924
Why Go Now?: Alpinist crossroads of the world—the hottest Euro destination for the piton-and-pylon set. Be sure to bring an ice ax.
Highlight: The off-piste Vallé;e Blanche and the Aiguille du Midi tram ride, rising some 9,000 vertical feet to a rocky spire by Mont Blanc.
Hotspot: Chambre Neuf. It's aprè;s-ski on steroids, pumped up by rock and roll and Swedish hotties.
Olympic Locale: St. Moritz, France, 1928 & 1948
Why Go Now?: British gentility and glitzy shopping. Essential gear: polo mallets, Van Cleef jewelry, and politesse.
Highlight: The Cresta Run, the world-famous sledding site. Hop on a skeleton toboggan and zoom 50 miles an hour down nearly 4,000 feet.
Hotspot: The casino in the Kempinski Grand Hotel des Bains. Win at baccarat and maybe you can afford the pricey drinks later at Badrutt's Palace.
Olympic Locale: Garmisch-partenkirchen, Germany, 1936
Why Go Now?: Oktoberfest in the mountains. Be ready for one-liter glasses of Paulaner brew and boisterous beer-hall singing.
Highlight: The Kandahar downhill run, possibly the most dangerous on the World Cup circuit. Be like Bode and ski it nonstop from top to bottom.
Hotspot: The Gasthof Fraundorfer. Go for post-slopes suds, stay for a Bavarian meat-and-potatoes dinner, and finish with a rowdy sing-along.
Olympic Locale: Cortina D'Ampezzo, Italy, 1956
Why Go Now?: Easy skiing and extreme eating against the Dolomites' backdrop of rust-red cliffs and spiky 7,000-to-8,000-foot peaks.
Highlight: Classic rock scrambling on 5,000-foot-plus vertical limestone faces, including some small climbs that are doable in winter.
Hotspot: The Rifugio Averau, an on-mountain chalet. Have a three-hour lunch of pasta and sausage, then try skiing back to town.
Olympic Locale: Innsbruck, Austria, 1964 & 1976
Why Go Now?: What's not to love about a cosmopolitan 16th-century Tyrol city flanked by 25 villages and 76 ski lifts within a 168-mile radius?
Highlight: Year-round skiing above 10,000 feet on the nearby 2.7-square-mile Stubai Glacier, plus backcountry hut-to-hut trips in winter.
Hotspot: The Hofgarten Café;, especially on a spring day when you can sit outside and people-watch over a locally brewed Zepfer beer.
Olympic Locale: Grenoble, France, 1968
Why Go Now?: The hills are alive beyond industrial Grenoble. Drive an hour to Les Deux Alpes, then cruise the front side or ski the back face to La Grave.
Highlight: The bike ride up 21 switchbacks to the nearby ski resort of L'Alpe d'Huez. Tour de France racers will tackle the infamous climb on July 18.
Hotspot: Mike's Bar, in Les Deux Alpes, a hard partyer's hangout. Bring your skis or snowboard—they can be waxed while you drink.
Olympic Locale: Albertville/Val D'Isere, France, 1992
Why Go Now?: Big-mountain skiing on 25,000 acres. The action, on and off the slopes, is at the side-by-side resorts of Val d'Isere and Tignes.
Highlight: Off-piste challenges like L'Aguille Pers, at Val d'Isere, or the Face Nord de la Grand Motte at Tignes. Hire a guide and go where tourists dare not.
Hotspot: Dick's Tea Bar, in Val d'Isere. A favorite of Italian bon vivant Alberto Tomba during the Olympics, it keeps cranking until 4 a.m.