Sure, it’s cold, and snowy, and icy. It’s winter in New England, and some folks are reveling in it. Yep: the skiers, the snowboarders, the crazy ice climbers, and ice shanty dwellers. But we’ve learned you don’t have to enjoy any of those activities to appreciate the frozen season. When the digits continue to drop like a stock market correction, head to one of these destinations that offer cozy accommodations, fine food, and wonderful winter scenery. And revel in it.
This oh-so-picturesque fishing village on Fisher Island Sound and Little Narragansett Bay, is a gem. We like it for its beauty: harbor views, parks, a village beach, and historic sea captains’ homes lining Main Street and now housing specialty shops, antique stores, galleries, restaurants and cafes. We also like it for its sense of community. Real people live and work here, walk their dogs, hang out on the corners chatting with their neighbors — affluent, yes, but understated. Stonington, with the last remaining fishing and lobstering fleets in the state, has been gentrified but it hasn’t lost its soul. And you can feel the friendly vibe best in winter when the crowds have left and the white-hot summer energy has died down.
We’d come just to stay at the lovely Inn at Stonington (www.innatstonington.com; winter rates from $195-$290), a lush romantic oasis overlooking the harbor and smack dab in the center of the historic borough. Rooms are individually decorated with traditional, classic décor, luxurious linens and modern amenities; some are seaside, most have gas fireplaces and jetted or soaking tubs; all are cushy. The sitting room, with its fireplace and water views, is a great spot to hang out. Added touches include an oversize, elegant continental breakfast served each morning and an evening complimentary wine and cheese reception.
Yes, you’ll have to make yourself leave those comfy digs. During winter, locals head to the farmers’ market, held Saturday at the Velvet Mill (www.thevelvetmill.com), a bustling restored complex filled with quirky businesses, vintage shops, coffee cafes, and casual restaurants.
Also, consider a DIY historic walking tour of the village (you can pick up a map at the front desk of the inn). The 1-mile-or-so loop goes past several historic points of interest, including the Town Dock, Old Lighthouse Museum, and the Holy Ghost Society building, which serves as the center for Stonington’s Portuguese community. You can browse shops and galleries, as you make your way along the route.
Warm and inviting Water Street Café (www.waterstcafe.com) is a local favorite, serving a large menu of fresh seafood, stews, and steaks. Try the imaginative duck and scallops, hanger steak or the deep-flavored Portuguese stew. There’s a lot of love happening in the kitchen at longstanding and casual Noah’s (www.noahsfinefood.com). It’s the go-to spot for breakfast, serving fabulous, fluffy blueberry pancakes, and the hearty baked eggs with linguica. Locals tell us that lunch and dinner here are equally tasty. Dog Watch Café (www.dogwatchcafe.com) has a fun setting at the Dodson’s Boatyard and fresh, creative fare, such as the codwich sandwich, bouillabaisse, and Stonington scallops.
On your way out, consider visiting a couple of nearby wineries, like Stonington Vineyards (www.stoningtonvineyards.com) and Jonathan Edwards Winery (www.jedwardswinery.com); both offer wine tastings and tours year-round.
There’s something raw and wild, frightening and beautiful about winter at sea. If you’re lucky, there’s blustery weather: steel gray skies and swirling dark clouds obliterating the horizon, as wild waves crash to shore. If you’re even luckier, you’re sitting in your room at Blue on Plum Island looking out at the unsettled scene. You could bundle up and walk out on your seaside deck to feel the spray and hear the fury. Or, just cuddle up in front of the fireplace and watch the show. Blue, a boutique property in the Lark Hotels collection (www.blueinn.com, winter rates starting at $219), is one of a select group of on-the-beach, New England seaside hotels that remain open throughout the winter. Thirteen rooms, suites, and cottages, spread out across several small buildings, have a contemporary beachy vibe, blue and white hues, and modern amenities; most have fireplaces, private decks or terraces, and in-your-face ocean views.
You could just stay put, catching up on your reading and relaxing, but you’d miss out on some gorgeous winter scenery. Just down the street is the Mass Audubon Joppa Flats Education Center (www.massaudubon.org), set on the Merrimack River overlooking the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, with sweeping salt marsh and water views.
Next, drive downtown, about 10 minutes away, to browse one-of-a-kind shops, like Smitten with fashionable women’s clothing and accessories (www.sosmitten.net), Soak & Shoreline, with a lineup of handcrafted bath and beauty products and unique gifts (www.facebook.com/SOAKshoreline), and the award-winning Dragon’s Nest, jam-packed with high-quality toys and games (www.dragonsnesttoys.com).
The historic center is filled with fine restaurants; try Ceia Kitchen + Bar for winter-warming dishes such as duck cassoulet and braised rabbit paccheri pasta (www.ceiakitchenbar.com); Loretta for updated American classics like brick grilled chicken and Cajun blackened scallops (www.lorettarestaurant.com); and Brine, a sleek, industrial-chic spot serving uber-fresh, raw and cooked seafood (www.brineoyster.com). End the evening with craft cocktails (or warm cocoa) and live music at Andiamo (www.andiamo-restaurant.com), before heading back to your cozy, seaside room.
The local Chamber of Commerce has dubbed Bethel “Maine’s most beautiful mountain village.” We’re sure there are towns out there that would beg to differ, but we have no argument with the tagline. It is beautiful, with a cluster of historic homes and a snug, walkable village, surrounded by dense forests and mountain peaks. It’s especially cozy in winter, when log fires warm inns and restaurants, and a horse-drawn carriage carries folks across snowy fields.
The sleepy, unpretentious town grabbed attention when it was recently named the number one ski town in America by TripAdvisor. Sunday River ski resort is the big draw, located a few miles away, with 135 trails and glades spread across eight interconnected peaks (www.sundayriver.com). Also nearby is Carter’s XC Ski Center; not to be missed if you like peace, quiet, and beautiful scenery (www.cartersxcski.com). There are 55 kilometers of trails running through pristine woods, backdropped by snow-capped mountains.
The most popular place to stay is the Bethel Inn Resort (www.bethelinn.com; winter rates including breakfast for two starting at $155, weekends from $175 ), a sprawling, mustard-colored complex commanding center attention in the historic district. The inn, built in 1913, includes rooms and suites in the main building, with old-world aesthetics, a small health club, heated outdoor pool, and a championship golf course that turns into snowy, rolling fields, with 30 kilometers of cross-country ski trails and eight miles of snowshoeing and fat-biking trails. Get into the winter spirit on a horse-drawn sleigh ride (offered Saturday and holidays), followed by a hot sauna at the health club. Then walk across the street for drinks at 22 Broad Street (www.22broadstreet.com), housed in the historic 1848 Gideon Hastings House with original tin ceilings, maple flooring, red tablecloths, and a warm, log-burning fireplace. We’d highly recommend their classic martini made with award-winning, locally-distilled Twenty 2 vodka. For dinner, try Brian’s (www.briansbethel.com), a lively bistro serving creatively prepared, deeply-flavored dishes, such as the duck confit wontons, hand-ground meat loaf, and a crave-worthy, soul-warming Bolognese.
Before leaving town, don’t miss the recently-opened Maine Mineral & Gem Museum, with a world-class collection of some 40,000 dazzling gems and minerals and 6,000 meteorites (www.mainemineralmuseum.org).
Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at email@example.com.