Tony travel, near and far

Times Staff Writers

January, for regular folks, is often marked by post-holiday temperance. But for the well-off and the well-known, it's the high season -- yet another opportunity to escape the travails of their expensive lives with some R&R.; Right now, in fact, there is some serious healing taking place in the azure coves of the West Indies and the warm and woodsy lodges of Aspen.

For restaurateur Peter Morton, winter means a Caribbean tour with friends on his yacht. Holidays for Merv Griffin are usually spent at his ranch in La Quinta, though later this month, the media mogul heads to New York -- via his Challenger jet -- to live it up while he promotes his new book, "Merv: Making the Good Life Last" (Simon & Schuster).

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin and his wife, Lois, are veteran travelers. They spent November scuba diving in Guam, and this month they're hitting the world's top ski locales. First it's Lake Tahoe, and then Ski Kitzbuhel in the Austrian Alps.

"I went to the North Pole," Aldrin said, listing his most memorable winter vacations. "I went to see the Titanic in the North Atlantic. Now I'm still looking for a trip to the South Pole."

For those more interested in warmer climes, Cuba remains an especially popular destination. Experienced visitors say January is the time to visit the island.

"It's past the hurricane season, after the holidays, and you want to get there before it gets too hot," said Marlene Billington, organizer of a Los Angeles Music Center trip to Cuba.

About 65 patrons will take off Jan. 23 for Havana. During their 11-day stay, they'll get a behind-the-scenes tour of the Gran Teatro Nacional de La Habana, explore its arts centers, meet its artists, enjoy a baroque music concert in a colonial cathedral and take a special two-night trip to Trinidad, a cobblestoned, 200-year-old city.

Also on the agenda: a visit to La Finca Vigia, the former residence of Ernest Hemingway, and a gala performance of the National Ballet of Cuba, directed by prima ballerina Alicia Alonso.

"The trip was so popular that it sold out in four days, and we've organized another for February," Billington said.

While the well-orchestrated tour is fun for some, former model Cheryl Tiegs is taking her Cuba vacation into her own hands. She plans a by-the-seat-of-her-pants winter road trip throughout the island nation.

"I'm not just going to go to Havana," she said. "I'm going to drive down the coast to Santo Domingo." As for accommodations, she said, "I'll find places along the way."

Not everyone with the means chooses to leave town. While their children venture to Maui, St. Bart's, Cabo San Lucas and Vail, billionaire Marvin Davis and his superbly connected wife, Barbara, have opted for a quiet winter this year.

"Marvin and I are going to have a vacation here in our house," she said. "We're going to run a movie every night and have a few friends over.... There's really no place that you can go that's any better than right here."

Actress Jo Champa and her husband, Hollywood movie research guru Joseph Farrell, usually spend Christmas in New York and New Year's in Rome. But this year they chose to stay home in Bel-Air.

"We just want to ... do things in the city that we haven't been able to do, like go to Chinatown for dim sum, visit a museum," said Champa. "We don't take advantage of things in this city."

For years, celebrity attorney Howard Weitzman and his wife, Margaret, visited the fashionable getaways of Sun Valley, Aspen and Hawaii. But now they stay home. "Los Angeles is the best place to be" in the winter, said Margaret, "because everybody leaves."

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