Sure, travel remains restricted, but there’s good news, too: You don’t have to go far to achieve a vacation state-of-mind. A slew of studies confirms that taking time away from the quotidian of your life can have both physical and psychological health benefits. For those living in cities and busy suburbs, even a day or two out of town to someplace quaint and quiet can have a massive impact on stress levels. Also, a quick get-out-of-Dodge escape can add a little fun and adventure to your life. Here are three nearby destinations that offer winter beauty and recreation, and a brief relief from the day-to-day.
In 1843, Branson Alcott, father of Louisa May Alcott, and English Transcendentalist Charles Lane chose a 90-acre parcel in Harvard to set up their Utopian community. They planned to live an off-the-grid agrarian life. The Utopian commune was short lived, but this is still a great place to sample the simple life.
Located about 30 miles west of Boston, this sleepy town, founded in 1732, is surrounded by curvy country roads, meandering stone walls, rolling farmlands and orchards. The centerpiece, as in the past, is the pretty town Green, flanked with Colonial and Federal-style homes, a classic New England general store, and a white steepled church.
It’s all about the outdoors here, with more than 2,000 acres of conservation land and 50 miles of trails (www.harvard-trails.com and harvardconservationtrust.org/trails). Also, the 330-acre Bare Hill Pond is a great place for winter skating (bring your shovels to clear a spot), cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing (dependent on conditions, of course). Parking at the beach is for residents only but people often park at the school, a short walk away.
There’s more opportunity for outdoor fun at Fruitlands Museum, the former site of Alcott’s and Lane’s Utopian experiment (www.thetrustees.org/place/fruitlands-museum, Sat.-Sun. 11 a.m.-4 p.m., advance passes are required and must be reserved online). Bring your gear — sleds, snowshoes, and cross-country skis — to use on the hills and trails of the 210-acre property. Snowshoe rentals are available ($15 for a two-hour rental), along with private fire pits (best to reserve pits in advance).
This North Shore seaside town is shiny and bright in summer, often swarmed with beach-going vacationers and day-trippers. Come winter, it slows and unsquashes, allowing you to leisurely take in its charms.
The town, sliced by the Ipswich River, is a historic gem, filled with early Colonial, Georgian, and Federal homes, including 59 houses built between 1620 and 1720, the greatest concentration of First Period buildings in the country. Start with a self-guided walking tour offered by Historic Ipswich (a PDF map with descriptions is found here). The full tour rambles some four miles, covering most of the town’s significant sites, but you can bail out at several spots along the way. The tour begins at the Riverwalk Mural. The large 2,700-square-foot artwork by commissioned artist Alan Pearsall is painted on the side of an old mill building and details the history of Ipswich from its settling in 1633 to present. Other highlights along the tour include the Heard House, built in 1795 by wealthy shipper John Heard, and the Whipple House, considered one of the finest examples of First Period American architecture.
The South Green is a pleasant place to stop, dating back to 1686 when cattle gathered here to be driven to distant pastures. Also, visit the Old South Cemetery situated on the southwestern corner of the Green, in use from 1756 until 1939. A short walk away is the Old North Burying Ground, one of the oldest in America, established in 1634 when the town was first settled.
Head out of town to visit Crane Beach and the Crane Estate grounds (www.thetrustees.org/place/castle-hill-on-the-crane-estate, daily 9 a.m.-4 p.m., parking passes may be reserved online). Walk the picturesque trails, looking for wintering snowy owls resting in the dunes and salt marsh grasses.
A mere half-hour drive will put you in this upscale, country-like setting, with fine homes, cultural arts, and preserved conservation land. It’s rich in Colonial history, too; it was here that Paul Revere was captured by the British on his way to Concord. The site is now part of Minute Man National Historical Park, a lovely, hushed place to visit in winter (www.nps.gov/mima). Walk the trails and look for wintering birds in the trees; there are more than 100 species found in the park. The Visitor Centers and restrooms are closed, but the grounds are open dawn to dusk.
The town is well-known for its abundance of parks and preserved lands, skirting ponds and streams, and meandering through fields and forests. The Lincoln Land Conservation Trust and Rural Land Foundation (www.lincolnconservation.org/explore-our-properties/trails) helps preserve more than 80 miles of public trails.
The highly touted deCordova Museum and Sculpture Gardens sits on 30 acres of lawns, forests, and fields along the shore of Flint’s Pond (www.thetrustees.org/decordova, Wed.-Fri., 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Sat.-Sun. 10 a.m.-5 p.m., advance passes are required and must be reserved online). The best time to visit is after a significant winter storm, when the rolling hills are covered in snowy meringue and woodlands are snow dappled and frosty. But winter — snow or no snow — is great for viewing the 60 or so sculptures, which decorate the grounds, and stand out more prominently in the stark, leafless landscape. There are self-guided walking tours and kids love the downloadable scavenger hunt.
You might also want to check out the Gropius House, the family home of renowned architect Walter Gropius, founder of the Bauhaus school of design (www.historicnewengland.org/property/gropius-house, Sat.-Sun., advance tour tickets required, $25 adults).
Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org