Shorter days, long, dark nights, and plummeting temperatures — it's definitely time for a getaway. But there's no need to hop a plane to cure your oncoming cabin fever. Bust out of the city and celebrate the wintery season with one of these quick escapes, just a few hours away.
Sip and savor
Winter is a magical time in Portsmouth, N.H, with twinkling lights illuminating the cobblestone streets and roaring fireplaces warming the city's finest restaurants. And this quaint port city has some serious culinary cache, home to more than 70 restaurants, led by some James Beard nominated chefs. Start the weekend at Black Trumpet's ultra-cozy, upstairs wine bar (603-431-0887, www.blacktrumpetbistro.com), with exposed brick and peek-a-boo harbor views. Then walk to Louie's (603-294-0989, www.louiesbistro.com) to dine on refined Italian dishes like squid with charred escarole and veal braciole with creamy polenta. End the evening listening to live music at Spring Hill Tavern, housed in a 19th-century building along historic Merchant Row (603-431-5222, www.dolphinstriker.com). The next day, have breakfast at Colby's, an always jam-packed eatery worth the wait (603-436-3033, www.facebook.com/Colbys-Breakfast-Lunch-121804041210665). Spend the day browsing one-of-a-kind shops, checking out the exhibits at Discover Portsmouth, and visiting the African Burying Ground. Grab a cup of chowder for lunch at River House (603-431-2600, www.riverhouse53bow.com), and plan your next meal. A stop at award-winning Chef Matt Louis' Franklin Oyster House is a must (603-373-8500, www.franklinoysterhouse.com). For dinner: Jumpin' Jays has the freshest fish in town (603-766-3474,www.jumpinjays.com), or reserve a table next to the fireplace at The Library restaurant (603-431-5202, www.libraryrestaurant.com), known for its grilled, top quality steaks. Time your visit for the annual Winter Wine Festival at the Wentworth-by-the-Sea grand hotel in nearby New Castle (603-373-6566,www.winterwinefestival.com), featuring seven weeks of wine and culinary activities, including wine pairing seminars, four course dinners, vintage wine tastings, celebrity chef appearances, and jazz-infused brunches.
Cross country ski through the forests and mountains of Vermont by day, then settle in next to a roaring fire in a comfy country inn. You have it all on the Catamount Trail, the country's longest backcountry ski trail. The 300-mile-long network, divided into 31 sections, connects some of the best cross country ski centers in the Northeast, using wilderness routes, groomed ski trails, snowmobile trails and old logging roads. Inn to Inn (802-247-3300, www.inntoinn.com) offers two self-guided excursions. The most popular tour, suitable for skiers of all ability levels, mixes and matches five inns and five Nordic centers, and also allows you to choose how many days/nights to book. Check into your first inn, enjoy dinner and cozy accommodations. The next day, after a hearty breakfast at the inn, you'll head to a nearby Nordic center, with trail lunches and ski passes in hand. You're on your own to ski as little or as much as you want, before driving to the next inn.
The "Wild Cat" inn-to-inn trip, for more experienced skiers, takes you into the ungroomed, wilderness along the Catamount Trail and in the Moosalamoo National Recreation Area. At the beginning of the day, you'll drop your car and luggage off at one of the inns, shuttle to the trail head, and ski back to the inn, through pristine forests, with winter wonderland views. Each day of the three-day tour gets tougher (the third day is a 12-mile trek requiring climbing skins), but no worries, dinner and soft beds await. "Often times, folks will enjoy the first two days and then make a decision that discretion is the better part of valor, and take a day pass to a touring center instead," says Seth Hopkins, a vacation planner with Inn to Inn.
Embrace the chill
The folks in the Great North Woods of Maine know how to make the most of hard water season. They dress in their warmest layers and step outdoors to play. That's exactly what you should do. Head to the Moosehead Lake region, where you'll find acres of dense forests, soaring mountains and the state's largest lake. The lakeside Moosehead Hills Cabins are cozy and well-stocked, and a great base for exploration (207-695-2514, www.mooseheadhills.com). All have full kitchens and living areas with a fireplace or woodstove. From here, take a guided snowmobiling trip into the backcountry or make the full-day loop around Moosehead Lake, stopping for lunch at the historic Pittston Farm. Don snowshoes to follow moose tracks through the woods, past icy brooks and frozen waterfalls. The friendly cabin owners are happy to set up a guided dog sledding trip for you, too, run by Lone Wolf Guiding Services. You'll get a kennel tour, assist in setting up the dog team, and ride in the basket as the guide mushes the sled. Or, after a quick lesson, you can opt to mush your own sled.
But to really embrace the local vibe, you'll want to go ice fishing! Yes, do it; everyone here knows that the largest fish are caught during winter. A licensed guide will take you to his heated shanty, serve you a hot bowl of chili, and show you how to land a salmon or trout. Have your guide clean your catch, then enjoy a fish fry in the cozy cabin environs, with the fireplace roaring.
Sometimes just a change of scenery — and a little pampering — can make a New England winter seem not so bad. May we suggest a quick jaunt to Ogunquit, Maine? In summer, this town is bustling mad, crammed full of tourists. Come winter, the pace blissfully slows, and the visitors thin, but most of the shops and restaurants stay open. Splurge on a suite at the Meadowmere Resort (207-646-9661, www.meadowmereresort.com), with a fireplace and jetted tub. Warm those winter-weary bones at the resort's bubbling Roman fountain, or in the sauna and steam rooms. Then, toast to the season with a hand-crafted cocktail in the pub, before dinner at a local restaurant. The next day, you can browse shops, walk the beach, or stroll the oceanside Marginal Way boardwalk. If you're feeling sluggish, hit the health and fitness club. Or, forget about exercise for a day, and book a spa treatment, and then cozy-up in your suite.
The resort makes it even easier for you with its winter packages. The romance and dining packages include dinner at one of three local restaurants (your choice). The spa package includes two treatments per person. The craft beer package includes a four-course beer pairing dinner at the popular Cornerstone restaurant, and the culinary package includes a behind-the-scenes dinner at top-ranked Bintliff's restaurant, a half-hour massage, and a 10 percent discount on a Stonewall Kitchen Cooking School course.
It's all good. And mud season is just around the corner!
Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.