Where's the most perfect climate?

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Want to spend April in Paris? Fine, but take an umbrella -- and a warm jacket. August in San Francisco? "The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco," Mark Twain is rumored to have said of that city's notoriously chilly summertime weather.

Climate change is big news these days, but what about the climate that never changes, that is always delicious year-round? Is there such a thing as the best climate in the world?

That question, recently posed by the Post-Gazette to travel and weather experts, met with some serious head-scratching. Geoff Cornish, a meteorologist with Penn State University's Department of Meteorology, said there have been no formal studies of "best" versus "worst" climate. And while "great climate" might conjure up images of weather in the mid-70s, plenty of sunshine and enough rainfall to sustain flora and fauna, for other travelers, a great climate might also mean 15 inches of new snow to ski on.

"Personally, climate is a very subjective thing," said Mr. Cornish. "Whether a climate is best or worst all depends on what you like. A lot of people would say Southern California has the best climate, because of all the sunshine and low humidity, but I'd be bored out there. Being a meteorologist, I thrive on severe weather or bad weather. That's a great climate to me."

Joe Brancatelli, who runs JoeSentMe.com, a Web site for business travelers, would choose Rome or Hawaii, although "you can't do better than San Diego for year-round comfort."

"My response to that question is immediately personal," he added. "My family and I love Hawaii and Rome for cultural and emotional reasons, plus the climate in both places is pretty good, but not perfect. In Rome in January and February, it can range from 35 to 70 degrees, but that's part of the fun. There's nothing like the first warm day in Rome, when the restaurateurs put the tables out and all the Romans come to sit outside."

Nonetheless, an Internet search using the words "best climate in the world" yielded five places vying for that title -- for marketing purposes, if nothing else. Good-weather junkies, take your pick:

Atlixco, Mexico

Located in the shadow of Popocatepetl , one of the world's most dangerous volcanoes, and 2 1/2 miles north of Mexico City, this charming little town boasts the best climate in the world, with semitropical gardens, Colonial architecture and friendly people. At 6,000 feet in elevation, Atlixco is "renowned for its benign climate, which varies by only a few degrees Celsius year-round," according to Wikipedia, meaning the low- to mid-80s Fahrenheit.

From a tourism standpoint, it's not well-developed -- a local cafe "has a rooftop area where you can have a cold drink and watch the squirrels racing up and down the tree trunks" -- but there are colorful marketplaces and festivals, so who cares if you can't go jet-skiing?

The Canary Islands

Considered Europe's Hawaii, this volcanic archipelago off the Atlantic Coast of Morocco supports temperatures ranging year-round from 64 to 77 degrees with micro climates ranging from subtropical to snow-capped mountains, and summer heat softened by the trade winds. "Indeed," brags the Web site for the city of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, www.grancanaria.com/patronato_turismo/337.0.html, the international scientific community recognizes this as one of the cities with the best climate in the world ... according to "a thorough study conducted by the University of Siracusa" and "the U.S. newspaper, USA Today."

Nonetheless, there is pretty widespread consensus that the Canary Islands have a great climate, even if parts of them are overrun by tourists and retirees.

"It doesn't have tremendous extremes," noted Ken Reeves, a meteorologist with Accuweather.Com, who has visited there. "There's some rain coming off Africa, but tropical weather systems don't affect it much. It can be arid, in fact, but they grow grapes, which are very sweet, and the waters are warm enough to swim in year-round."

Costa Rica

"The Healthiest Climate in the World According to NASA Research." So says one Web site for this relatively modernized Central American country. Alas, Alberto Sanchez, a planner with the Costa Rica Tourist Board, was unable to provide further details about the NASA research, but Accuweather's Mr. Reeves cautions visitors to pick their spots carefully. The climate is soft and mild in the mountains, but hot and sultry in the lowlands. On the country's west coast, it's drier, but be careful near the Caribbean, where, he says, "you may end up having humidity issues."

Actually, the higher elevations in most of Central America's countries may have an equally good climate, but are not -- yet -- as economically developed, which may be why they don't advertise their weather. Penn State's Mr. Cornish remembers a trip to Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras. It was "surprisingly" pleasant, he said, with pine forests and temperatures in the high 70s to lower 80s year-round, mostly because of its high elevation. "But there was lots of poverty there, too." Honduras may not be ready for tourism prime time yet, but it's getting there.

Faulconbridge, Australia

Located in the Blue Mountain range just 90 minutes outside Sydney, the little town, at 1,463 feet above sea level, boasts mild temperatures, evenly distributed rainfall and mild humidity, according to www.infobluemountains.net.au.

"We claim to be recognized by the World Meteorological Organization as having the world's most equitable climate." So says the Web site's author, the late David Martin, who also noted he had "no authoritative confirmation" to support his claim. Calls to media representatives at the World Meteorological Organization in Geneva, Switzerland, were not returned.

"However, former Member of Parliament, Mr. Alasdair Webster, told the author that he attended a conference in the USA, where a WMO scientist was speaking. The scientist was asked where the world's best climate is. He replied, in effect, 'You won't have heard of it, but there's a village called Faulconbridge, in the Blue Mountains in Western Sydney, Australia.' Later, he was surprised when Webster introduced himself as a local resident."

Tim Tranter, who runs Tread Lightly Eco Tours (www.treadlightly.com.au) in the Blue Mountains, describes the weather as cool to mild, with snow at higher elevations a few times a year, cool, temperate rainforest at higher elevations and milder weather in villages like Faulconbridge. "Definitely good human compatible," he wrote in an e-mail, which started out with a very Crocodile-Dundee-esque "G'day."

Redwood City, Calif.

"Climate Best by Government Test." That's the city's slogan, thanks to a contest by the city fathers, who, in 1925, awarded Wilbur H. Doxsee $10 for his entry, which originally read "By Government Test, Our Climate is Best" and was later shortened. Has a certain ring to it, no?

OK, so maybe Redwood City isn't on your top 10 list of vacation destinations, but according to the city's public library Web site, www.rcpl.info/services/climatebesthistory.html, it really, really does have a great climate. A joint research project by the United States and German governments prior to World War I found "Redwood City to be at the center of one of the world's three best climates. (The other two? The Canary Islands and the Mediterranean Coast of North Africa.) These findings were printed by local newspapers and read by a happy public delighted to discover their climate to be the best by government test."

Molly Spore-Alhadef, a reference librarian, says Redwood City is still wonderful today. Protected from the Pacific Ocean by a mountain range, it's not plagued with fog to the same extent as San Francisco 30 miles to the north, with pleasant humidity levels, endless sunshine during the summer, but enough rain to make for great gardening in the fall and winter. "But don't tell anyone, we don't want the secret to get out."

Enough. With all this cheery talk about great climates, another question inevitably arises: Where is the worst climate in the world? While no Web sites could be found, there are plenty of possibilities, from Antarctica to Newfoundland to the top of Mount Washington in New Hampshire.

Nonetheless, Mr. Cornish of Penn State believes he has the top candidate: Lima, Peru.

"It's overcast all year-round, but it hardly ever rains, so nothing ever grows there. The sea is cold and forbidding. The Andes mountains surround it, but they're sand or dirt-colored because of the lack of vegetation. And it's in a bowl, so the air quality is really poor."

Redwood City, here we come!

Kent Gilbert, Associated Press
Tourists lie on the beach at Manuel Antonio National Park in Costa Rica's Pacific coast. The Central American nation's climate is among the world's most pleasant.
Click photo for larger image.

Mackenzie Carpenter can be reached at mcarpenter@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1949.


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