That ski trip or sun-splashed getaway may be off the wish list this year, but there are plenty of close-to-home escapes that offer a dash (Dasher?) of holiday cheer. Colored lights, caroling, cookies, and Christmas trees — all are featured attractions at New England inns this year, but presented with a creative, COVID-era twist. Nix the Amazon boxes, and do your shopping at local retail stores during your visit. Small businesses can use the boost, and it’s more fun in person than sitting in front of a laptop.
We know that not everyone celebrates Christmas, and if that includes you, note that some of these cozy destinations offer snowshoe trails and other Santa-free elements. But if twinkling lights and swaths of greenery are not your cup of eggnog, plan your visit for January. Either way, let’s end our annus horribilis on a festive note. (Please check current COVID-19 restrictions before visiting another state.)
Hawthorn Inn, Camden, Maine
“I love the holidays and Christmas light displays!” says innkeeper Lisa Weiss. That’s why the circa1890s Hawthorn Inn, on the National Register of Historic Places, is running a holiday package focused on Gardens Aglow, rated Maine’s best light show. Running through December, this spectacular light show — offered as a driving tour instead of a walking tour this year — takes place at Coastal Maine Botanical Garden in Boothbay, an hour’s drive from the B&B. The inn offered its first Gardens Aglow package in 2016, Weiss says, but this year, it’s especially welcome. “The year 2020 has been so rough. People need a reason to smile and something to enjoy,” she says. “It made perfect sense to have a festive package to brighten people’s spirits while they remain safely in their cars.”
Stay one or more nights (Thursday through Sunday) at one of the Hawthorn Inn’s six guest rooms between now and Dec. 30 and enjoy perks including tickets for one carload of people to the Gardens Aglow driving tour on the day and time you designate; a thermos of coffee or hot cocoa, Christmas cookies, and snacks for your tour; a map showing the homes that are participating in a home lighting contest near Gardens Aglow; and free gift wrapping service for items purchased during your stay. The cost of the package is $30 plus the room price. Some rooms have jetted tubs and gas fireplaces; all have semi-private access. Contactless check-in and checkout are available on request. Room rates begin at $119. (Bought separately, Gardens Aglow tickets cost $40 per carload.) 9 High St., Camden, Maine. 207-236-8842, www.camdenhawthorn.com
Trapp Family Lodge, Stowe, Vt.
It doesn’t get more scenic than Stowe, especially in winter. Set amid 2,600 acres in the Green Mountains, the Trapp Family Lodge offers seasonal fun aplenty, like moonlight snowshoe tours to the von Trapp Bierhall (or Kaffehaus bakery, depending on your tastes), private sleigh rides, a campfire with S’mores, and a maple sugaring tour (the last two are covered in the Lodge’s $35 per night resort fee.) These activities aren’t holiday-specific, they’re offered all winter depending on snow conditions (and this area tends to get an abundance of it), but it always feels festive here — and this is as close to Austria as any of us are likely to come this winter!
They do offer a Christmas-y option among their package deals: The Christmas Tree Traditions package. Book this one, and you’ll visit Paine’s Christmas Tree Farm to either choose or chop your own tree to bring home. This package includes a voucher for a 6- to 8-foot Christmas tree, breakfast daily and a sweet treat (coffee, tea or hot chocolate and pastry) from the Kaffeehaus.
It’s not all about indulgence here. Guests have access to 35 miles of groomed cross-country ski trails or 62 miles of backcountry trails. They can ski or snowshoe to their private cabin in the woods to warm up with some soup or hot chocolate. In addition to the rustic, 96-room Austrian-style main lodge, the property offers rental villas and 100 private guesthouses, a comfortable option during COVID times. Rooms from $195. 700 Trapp Hill Road, Stowe, Vt. 800-826-7000, www.trappfamily.com
Snowvillage Inn, Eaton Center, N.H.
With the Presidential Range as a backdrop, the Snowvillage Inn promises “a classic New England Christmas gathering experience.” They’re piling on the holiday decorations, good cheer — and lots of baked goods — during their Holiday Spirit Weekends.
Set on the lower slopes of Foss Mountain, the inn was built in 1916 as a country house for author Frank Simonds. Guest lodgings — some with fireplaces — are set within the main inn (five rooms), the Chimney House (four rooms), and the Carriage House, a renovated barn (eight rooms). Fresh chocolate chip cookies await guests in their rooms, and each day begins with homemade muffins. Guests who book the holiday weekend package will head to nearby Sunshine Daydream Farm & Gardens on Saturday morning to create holiday wreaths with natural materials. Proximity to North Conway means great shopping — options include Zeb’s General Store, the Penguin Gallery, and the League of NH Craftsmen North Conway Fine Craft Gallery.
At checkout, guests receive a tin of the inn’s favorite holiday cookies with recipes for each. But the holiday festivities aren’t over. Before heading home, stop at Chamberlain Tree Farm to choose and cut down your holiday tree. (It’s a holiday card photo op!) The folks at the farm will help you load and secure your tree. There’s no way you’ll feel Grinch-y after all this.
This package includes two-night accommodations for two people; wreath-making; holiday cookies with recipes; pick your own tree; one three-course dinner for two at the on-site Max’s Restaurant and Pub, access to the inn’s private hiking and snowshoe trails, and breakfast daily. Two-night package available Dec. 4-5 and 11-12; from $629. 136 Stewart Road, Eaton Center, N.H. 603-447-2818, www.snowvillageinn.com
1802 House, Kennebunkport, Maine
In normal years, Kennebunkport goes all out with its Christmas Prelude Event. For 2020, they’re offering some elements virtually, but hosting an array of fun, live festivities from Dec. 3 to 13 with a theme, “It’s a Nutty Christmas” (indeed). These include a hat parade, a Christmas Market, drive-through visits with Santa, and 60 colorful 4- and 6-foot nutcrackers, created by Maine artists and displayed outdoors around town.
For guests who want to enjoy this cracking good display, the 1802 House bed & breakfast is offering a “Christmas on the Porch” tie-in on the Saturday nights of Prelude (Dec. 5 and 12). The six-guest-room inn will serve holiday classics — roasted chestnuts, mulled wine, and mince pies — on the porch, with braziers and a fire pit to keep celebrants toasty. Those treats sound hearty enough to keep you warm, yes? Here’s ho-ho-hoping! Rates include three-course breakfast; from $379 per night (two-night minimum stay required). 15 Locke St., Kennebunkport, Maine. 207-967-5632, www.1802house.com
Wentworth by the Sea Hotel & Spa, New Castle, N.H.
In summer, the scent of sea air greets visitors to this 161-room oceanfront property. During the holiday season, the aroma of pine and gingerbread smells like “holiday.” Here, a giant gingerbread house; there, a tree for people to hang their written wishes on — it doesn’t get more Hallmark Christmas Movie than that!
That lavish holiday decor will likely put you in the Christmas spirit, but if that doesn’t do the trick, plan your visit for Dec. 1, when the resort is illuminated in a bazillion holiday lights. This year, due to the pandemic, the Annual Illumination is open to hotel guests only. All month, carolers will sing seasonal favorites outside, distanced from everyone, including each other. Plus, Santa and the elves will be on hand to collect wish lists from the kiddos, and will accept donations for Toys for Tots during this season of giving. Santa will also make guest appearances at a special Winter Wonderland Breakfast at the inn on Dec. 6, 13, and 20. Rates from $249. 588 Wentworth Road, New Castle, N.H. 603-422-7322, www.wentworth.com
Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org