There’s a stark, austere beauty to New England beaches in the winter. The raucous summer crowds are gone, the boats are dry docked, and the surf is wild. While many seaside resorts shut down for the season, these coastal properties wouldn’t think of closing their doors on Old Man Winter.
Samoset Resort, Rockland, Maine
The last time we visited this inn in mid-coast Maine, on a cold January night, the place was hopping. All 178 rooms were booked, the lounge was packed, and the restaurant wasn’t taking any more reservations. It was during the hotel’s Ice Bar celebration, and crowds of people mingled outside, standing next to elaborate ice carvings, drinking and eating at outdoor tables. Mainers know how to embrace winter, and so does the Samoset.
The sprawling oceanfront resort sits on 230 acres overlooking Penobscot Bay. The lobby pays tribute to the region with massive, old timbers from a Portland granary and an impressive wood block floor. Upstairs, rooms are decorated with traditional furnishings and soft, neutral palettes; all have private balconies or terraces and most have water views. For a splurge, book a suite with your own private deck and outdoor hot tub.
When you’re hungry, head downstairs to the buzzy Enoteca lounge, with high tops, communal tables, soft sofas, and an open kitchen, where you can listen to live music and watch line chefs prepare dishes like lobster and shrimp scampi, pappardelle with braised short rib, and handcrafted brick oven pizzas. The adjacent La Bella Vita restaurant, with marble, wood, and copper touches and white linen tabletops, serves an expanded menu with favorites like shellfish stew, veal piccata, and tenderloin crusted with gorgonzola and wild mushroom pesto.
Work off your calories with a twirl on the ice skating rink or cross country ski or snowshoe around the golf course; there’s an outdoor bonfire and s’more kits, too, and a small spa. 220 Warrenton St., Rockport, Maine, 800-341-1650, www.samosetresort.com, rates start at $129.
Wentworth by the Sea, New Castle, N.H.
“It sure looks different in winter,” our traveling companion said as we gazed out at the ice-banked harbor fronting this historic hotel. In summer, the resort marina is clogged with luxury yachts, and the harbor out to the open sea is a thoroughfare of boats. On this frigid winter’s day, the scene was serene and still, with the occasional flash of a seabird moving across the muted, gray seascape. Peaceful.
If you’re looking for a de-stressing, chase-the-winter-blues-away escape, this place delivers. The grand Gilded Age hotel has 161 updated rooms and suites, most with water views. It’s tempting to crawl under soft linens and watch the swirl of the Atlantic Ocean from your bed, but you’d miss the highlights of staying here. First: You’ll want to hang out in the full-service spa, with a fitness center, relaxation room, indoor pool, and seven treatment rooms. Warm your weary, cold bones in the steam room or sauna before a bliss-inducing body wrap or massage. Next: have a drink in the trendy and bustling SALT lounge. For dinner, choose between the Chef’s Bar with an open kitchen, serving locally-sourced small plates, like crispy wood oven-roasted flatbreads and charcuterie and cheese boards, or the beautiful dining room, complete with an original domed ceiling, painted with a cherubs and clouds mural. Here, award-winning chef Ken Lingle crafts dishes like torched salmon served on a Himalayan salt block, grilled Korean short ribs, and olive wood smoked swordfish. Now, head upstairs and crawl under those lush linens. 588 Wentworth Road, New Castle, N.H., 866-384-0709, www.wentworth.com, rates start at $189.
Castle Hill Inn, Newport, R.I.
Here’s your perfect itinerary: Check into one of the 33 rooms at this luxurious oceanfront inn, perched on a private peninsula, with sweeping ocean views. You’ll have a choice of rooms in the 19th-century mansion, most with hardwood floors, gas fireplaces, and marble baths; a bright and airy beach cottage; or one of the more private harbor houses. Bundle up and take a brisk walk along the private beach (chances are you’ll have it to yourself), or hike out to the lighthouse, where you’ll have views of Narragansett Bay, minus the summer boaters. Warm up near one of the fireplaces in the main mansion before enjoying afternoon tea. After tea, head to The Retreat, a suite of oceanfront rooms in the main mansion that have been converted into spa treatment areas. Try a lavender-infused saltwater soak followed by a warm oil massage. Take time for a nap. Later in the evening, have dinner in the elegant, low-lit main dining room. You’ll have a choice of a la carte, three-, four- and six-course prix fixe menus, with dishes like the rabbit and bacon ballotine, brown butter roasted halibut with tempura artichokes, smoked Guinea hen with mustard green pesto, and tagliatelle with oxtail marmalade. If you’re lucky, there will be a bright moon shining on the Bay to remind you of what’s special about the New England coast, especially in winter. 590 Ocean Drive, Newport, R.I., 888-466-1355, www.castlehillinn.com, rates start at $349.
Saybrook Point Inn & Spa, Old Saybrook, Conn.
Midway between Boston and New York City, this opulent seaside compound is a popular oasis for urban escapees looking to be indulged and pampered. There are rooms in the main house, suites and guest houses, most with water views. The Three Stories guesthouse, a newly renovated Italianate mansion, is a favorite, with eight, individually-decorated rooms, each with private balconies, elegant woodwork, and lush furnishings. Take a walk to the lighthouse and marina before a visit to the health club with steam room, sauna, and indoor pool. Sanno, the full-service spa, offers a slew of spoiling treatments. When you’re ready to eat, grab a table at the inn’s Fresh Salt restaurant, a contemporary space with a casual, convivial vibe. The menu gives a nod to its seaside location, with a heavy emphasis on local seafood, like lobster wontons, cioppino, and roast cod with littleneck clams, and a raw bar featuring local oysters. End the evening with a signature cocktail like the Winter Wonderland made with vodka, white chocolate liquor, and egg nog before nestling into your comfy bed. Two Bridge St., Old Saybrook, Conn., 800-243-0212, www.saybrook.com, rates start at $199.Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at email@example.com.