If you haven't planned a midwinter getaway, those cold, dreary days can feel as though they stretch to infinity. So send winter (and yourself) packing to somewhere warm and sunny, or intimate and outdoorsy — without putting your savings on permanent vacation. Here, we offer 20 escapes — to mountain peaks, secluded beaches, and buzzing city streets — that promise not to break the bank.
Can't make it to France this year?Then head north to indulge in the shopping, great restaurants, and rich culture of Montreal. Unwind at the Château Versailles, a downtown Victorian hotel, then pop over to Rue Notre-Dame, where you'll find the best country French antiques this side of the Atlantic. Browse Rue Mayor if you fancy a fur, Crescent Street for local fashions, and Les Cours Mont-Royal for European couturiers. With the U.S. dollar so strong, you'll get more Balenciaga for your buck. The city's network of underground passages—and the Jacuzzis in some rooms at the château—will protect your feet from frostbite.
Château Versailles, 1659 Rue Sherbrooke Ouest; 514/933-3611, fax 514/933-6867; suites from $138. High 27 degrees; low 13.
Cleanse the mind and body at the Himalayan Institute, one of the world's leading centers for holistic healing. Set in the wooded Pocono Mountains, it offers a variety of seminars and retreats. The schedule changes weekly, but you can always go for a weekend of meditation, where you'll limber up at a morning hatha yoga class, attend a seminar on Ayurvedic herbs or longevity, and then pass the rest of your day hiking, cross-country skiing, or meditating. This is no luxury New Age resort: accommodations are basic—twin beds, no TV, shared baths—and meals are vegetarian. But those who crave simplicity will find it here.
Himalayan Institute, 800/822-4547 or 570/253-5551, fax 570/253-9078; www.himalayaninstitute.org; meditation retreat $260 for two people for two nights, including yoga and all meals. High 37 degrees; low 23.
CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA
This graceful waterfront city has more to offer than just history—namely, its growing culinary scene. Plant yourself in the historic Elliott House Inn, an 1861 Greek Revival B&B in the heart of downtown. Wander along cobbled alleys, walk on the beach, or kayak through the lowland swamps to build up an appetite. Then take a table at one of the city's celebrated eateries, such as Louis's for nouvelle Southern offerings, or the renowned Peninsula Grill for its new version of a down-home classic: a spoonful of caviar on fried green tomatoes.
Elliott House Inn, 78 Queen St.; 800/729-1855 or 843/723-1855, fax 843/722-1567; www.elliotthouseinn.com; doubles from $135, including breakfast. High 61 degrees; low 39.
LAISSEZ LES BONS TEMPS ROULER
A trip to New Orleans, with its fusion of French, Cajun, Creole, and jazz culture, feels like entering a whole new world of languorous debauchery. Whether you're jazzing it up in the Faubourg Marigny, dining on jambalaya in the French Quarter, or strolling past plantation houses in the Garden District, it's easy to see why the city's motto is Let the good times roll. For a sliver of quiet in this party town, drop into the Hotel Provincial, an elegantly restored 19th-century hotel with a peaceful courtyard and two swimming pools in the middle of the French Quarter.
Hotel Provincial, 1024 Chartres St.; 800/535-7922 or 504/581-4995, fax 504/581-1018; www.hotelprovincial.com; doubles from $139. High 65 degrees; low 45.
DRIVE THROUGH HISTORY
NATCHEZ TRACE PARKWAY
The two-lane parkway—a 450-mile run between Natchez, Mississippi, and Nashville—is easily one of the most beautiful drives in the country. Start in Tupelo and wind your way south, meandering past lush woodlands and green pastures, and through American history. Stop at Confederate graves and Native American villages, and then spend a night in Jackson at the Fairview Inn, a Colonial Revival mansion. From there, it's a short trip past historic trading posts and inviting hiking trails to the quiet town of Natchez. Check in at the palatial Monmouth Plantation, a Greek Revival inn on 26 oak-shaded acres; then explore the antebellum houses and antiques shops, and the shores of the mighty Mississippi.
Fairview Inn, 734 Fairview St., Jackson, Miss.; 888/948-1908 or 601/948-3429, fax 601/948-1203; www.fairviewinn.com; doubles from $115, including breakfast.
Monmouth Plantation, 36 Melrose Ave., Natchez, Miss.; 800/828-4531 or 601/442-5852, fax 601/446-7762; www.monmouthplantation.com; doubles from $150, including breakfast. High 53 degrees; low 35.
EXCELSIOR SPRINGS, MISSOURI
For decades, the Elms Resort has been a hideaway for the likes of Al Capone, FDR, and Harry Truman (who stayed here the night he won the 1948 presidential election). Presumably, all of them visited this 16-acre woodland resort to relax and soak in the healing waters of Excelsior Springs. Today the 152-room limestone castle retains much of its old-world feel, but with a modern fitness bent. There are a variety of indoor and outdoor sports options, as well as the requisite spa treatments. At night the resort returns to its vintage ways, with dinner dances, classic movies, and cigars in the clubby library lounge.
Elms Resort, 401 Regent St.; 800/843-3567 or 816/630-5500, fax 816/630-5380; www.elmsresort.com; doubles from $305, including breakfast, dinner, cocktails, and valet service. High 42 degrees; low 26.
TEXAS BY THE SEA
Amid the concrete tangle of Texas's Gulf Coast, the quiet Mediterranean villas of the Ocean House in Corpus Christi are an oasis. Set directly on the bay, the Ocean House puts you minutes from downtown. But the real lure is the warm gulf water. Visit the Padre Island National Seashore—a 20-minute drive away—and dip your toes into waters off the pristine beaches, hike the sand dunes, go shelling, or watch the egrets at Bird Island Basin. For dinner, book a table at one of the area's many seafood restaurants. Or if you prefer to catch your own, ask the Ocean House to arrange a deep-sea fishing trip for red snapper, which they'll grill up Cajun style upon request.
Ocean House, 3275 Ocean Dr.; 361/882-9500, fax 361/887-0785; www.oceansuites.com; suites from $155 a night, including breakfast. High 69 degrees; low 49.