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.
GET ALONG, LI'L DOGIES
For a taste of the Old West, ditch the car, don the spurs, and giddy up in Bandera, Texas (45 miles from San Antonio). At the Flying L Dude Ranch you'll wake up with the birds, then venture out for a two-hour trail ride. As your horse trots through the mesquite-covered Texas hill country, look for white-tailed deer, antelope, and armadillos. Spend midday soothing your backside in the heated swimming pool, playing on the 18-hole golf course, or antiquing in town. Take an afternoon ride through Hill Country State Park, then head back to the ranch in time for a barbecue and an evening of cowboy poetry recitals and hayrides.
Flying L Dude Ranch, 800/444-3833 or 830/460-3001, fax 830/796-8455; www.flyingl.com; doubles from $80 a night per person, including breakfast, dinner, and one ride. High 64 degrees; low 42.
WINTER PARK, COLORADO
Long the best-kept secret of the time-pressed slope addict, Winter Park has some of the finest runs in the Rockies. With 134 trails and 22 lifts, the resort offers both well-groomed trails for those who like it mellow, and a lion's share of extreme slopes for the daredevil skier. The Gasthaus Eichler, an Alpine-style chalet in the center of town, is a five-minute drive from the lifts. If the personalized service and warm feather beds don't rejuvenate you après-ski, the hearty German meals certainly will. Gasthaus Eichler, 78786 U.S. Hwy. 40; 800/729-5813 or 970/726-5133, fax 970/726-5175; www.winterparkresort.com; three-night package for two $360, including breakfast and dinner. High 35 degrees; low 9.
In the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, New Mexico's capital is home to a patchwork of cultures—Native American, Hispanic, artists'-colony, and New Age—all woven together into a unique vibe. The 120-room, pueblo-style Hotel Santa Fe is in the historic Guadalupe District. It's a short walk from there to the Plaza, where you can buy Native American art and handcrafted jewelry; the galleries on Canyon Road; and a wealth of museums. For a taste of living history, venture to one of the nearby pueblos, or Indian villages. The Hotel Santa Fe, which is owned by Native Americans, organizes guided tours of Picuris, Taos, Santa Clara, and San Juan.
Hotel Santa Fe, 1501 Paseo de Peralta; 800/825-9876 or 505/982-1200, fax 505/983-0785; www.hotelsantafe.com; doubles from $549, including flowers, breakfast in bed, and massages. High 48 degrees; low 24.
SAN FELIPE, MEXICO
Down on the Baja Peninsula, some 250 miles south of Los Angeles, San Felipe is where the desert meets the sea. Despite a recent surge in popularity, the traditional feel and lazy atmosphere of this sleepy fishing village haven't been erased. Set yourself up at the San Felipe Marina Resort, right on the beaches of the Sea of Cortés. Take a nap, grab a beer, munch on a fish taco, and watch how fast time passes when you're doing nothing. Should you become bored, there's plenty to divert you: a set of tennis, a shopping spree for crafts and ceramics in town, or an off-road drive through Baja's stunning desertscapes. San Felipe Marina Resort, Km 4.5, Carretera San Felipe; 800/291-5397 or 52-6/577-1455, fax 52-6/577-1566; www.sanfelipe.com.mx/sfemarina; suites from $110. High 72 degrees; low 65.
SURE, WHY NOT?
MANUEL ANTONIO, COSTA RICA
Even the name of this eco-friendly resort, Si Como No—in English, "Sure, why not?"—suggests its laid-back ambience. Eat breakfast on the balcony of your room high above the Pacific, then lounge at the jungle-terraced pool, swim in the calm ocean, or raft down the rapids of the Savegre River. Wildlife enthusiasts can take a hike through the canopied rain forest of Manuel Antonio National Park, just two miles away.
Si Como No, 011-506/777-0777, fax 011-506/777-1093; www.sicomono.com; doubles from $160, including breakfast. High 87 degrees; low 76.
DESERT HOT SPRINGS, CALIFORNIA
Two Bunch Palms, a secluded mineral hot springs resort in the Mojave Desert, is officially a spa, but the water-immersed massages and clay and mud baths almost seem like an afterthought. It's the solitude of the tree-lined grounds, the individual mineral pools, and the miles of hiking trails that draw guests back, many of them looking to escape the crowds of L.A. It's easy to linger a few days here, never leaving the grounds. You certainly won't need to go far for food: the diverse California cuisine (from salads to seared ahi to rack of lamb) in the Casino dining room should keep you happily sated.
Two Bunch Palms, 67-425 Two Bunch Palms Trail; 800/472-4334 or 760/329-8791, fax 760/329-1317; www.twobunchpalms.com; doubles from $175. High 70 degrees; low 42.
East of the Cascade Mountains, Washington's soggy skies turn blue and shine on some of the best wineries on the West Coast. Within the Walla Walla, Tri Cities, and Yakima regions, you'll find hundreds of vineyards—try a robust Cabernet at L'Ecole No. 41 in Lowden, or sip a vintage Sangiovese at Tefft Cellars in Outlook. Then spend the night at the 11-room Birchfield Manor Country Inn, a 1910 brick mansion renowned for its regional cooking—and its wine cellar.
Birchfield Manor Country Inn, 2018 Birchfield Rd.; 800/375-3420 or 509/452-1960, fax 509/452-2334; www.birchfieldmanor.com; doubles from $99, including breakfast. For winery information, log on to www.winepressnw.com. High 42 degrees; low 31.
FLORIDA'S OTHER SIDE
Flung out to sea, far from the snowbirds and South Beach partyers, you'll find Sanibel Island. Its quiet beaches, miles of bike paths and boatable waterways, and extensive wildlife (more than half the island is a sanctuary) make this barrier island a great escape. For a rustic weekend, book a bungalow at the secluded, retro-hip Beachview Cottages. Swim or hunt for shells on the beach, play tennis or golf nearby, or join up with the cottage regulars at the Tiki Hut sunset parties. Spend your evenings browsing through the galleries on Periwinkle Way and feasting on fresh fish.
Beachview Cottages, 3325 W. Gulf Dr.; 800/860-0532 or 941/472-1202, fax 941/472-4720; www.beachviewcottages.com; cottages from $149. High 72 degrees; low 52.*
TRANQUILO (THAT'S SPANISH FOR ´CALM')
Escape to the mountain retreat of Rio Caliente Spa, an hour from Guadalajara in the pine-forested hills of central Mexico. Undo the damage of daily stress by soaking in mineral hot springs, hiking through volcanic mountains, and practicing tai chi until your limbs are as pliable as rubber. If you're feeling less athletic, you can instead awaken your inner artist or mystic at one of the many seminars on everything from photography to tarot card reading. For more earthly pleasures, the spa treatments have prices so low you'll feel obliged to indulge: mud wraps are $15; hour-long swedish massages are $42.
Rio Caliente Spa, 800/200-2927 or 650/615-9543, fax 650/615-0601; www.riocaliente.com; packages from $92 a person per night, including double room, three vegetarian meals, fitness classes, and mineral baths. High 75 degrees; low 65.
CUDDLE UP, IT'S COLD
Get cozy in the rugged beauty of the Canadian Rockies. Spend the days skiing, skating, sleigh riding, snowshoeing, soaking in the hot springs of Banff — or just snuggling by the fire in the lobby of the Buffalo Mountain Lodge on Tunnel Mountain. For some breathtaking views, head to Lake Louise (45 minutes away) and have a hot toddy in the lobby of the 110-year-old Chateau Lake Louise. Continue up the Icefields Parkway for a view of Peyto Lake, its baby-blue waters surrounded by snowy forests and towering Rocky Mountain peaks. Fed by a mammoth glacier, it's one of the most scenic lakes on the planet. The town of Banff has plenty of enticements: interesting museums and intimate restaurants from which to watch the snow fall.
Buffalo Mountain Lodge, Tunnel Mountain Rd.; 800/661-1367 or 403/760-4481, fax 403/609-6158; www.crmr.com; doubles from $175, including breakfast. High 37 degrees; low 21.
Only a puddle-jump from San Juan, sleepy Culebra Island is just the opposite of Puerto Rico's capital — no sprawling, monolithic hotels or throngs of tourists, just inlet after inlet fringed by empty beaches and miles of rain forest. Tamarindo Estates lies on 60 lush acres beside a private bay. Laze at the beach or pool, take a walk through the island's nature preserve, or snorkel in nearby Amberjack Hole. Evenings, dine alfresco in the colonial town of Dewey as you watch the fishermen bringing in the day's catch.
Tamarindo Estates, 787/742-3343, fax 787/742-3342; www.tamarindoestates.com; one-bedroom cottages for two from $175, including rental car. Weather: high 84 degrees; low 72.
GOLF AND GAMBLE
Seventeen miles from the Vegas strip, and nary a showgirl in sight. With an 18-hole golf course designed by Jack Nicklaus, a top-notch spa, a freshwater lake at its edge, and miles of desert mountains surrounding it, the Hyatt Regency Lake Las Vegas is a rare Vegas destination: you might actually come home rested. After a morning of scoring birdies on the green, test your luck at the blackjack table in the hotel casino. Then enjoy a hot-rock massage in the spa, a trip to Hoover Dam, or a helicopter tour over the Grand Canyon. If after all this you're still itching for glitz, the strip is but a short drive away.
Hyatt Regency Lake Las Vegas, 101 Montelago Blvd.; 800/554-9288 or 702/567-1234, fax 702/567-6067; www.lakelasvegas.hyatt.com; doubles from $145. High 57 degrees; low 34.
THE UNCROWDED CAPE
After summer's end, the vacationers who take over Cape Cod return to their city dwellings, and the coastal hamlets resume their distinctive New England flavor. To get a taste, use Ashley Manor, an 18th-century Federal-style B&B in Barnstable, as your home base. Bundle up to walk the deserted beaches of the Cape Cod National Seashore, or ferry over to Martha's Vineyard for the day. On your return, warm up with a bowl of chowder at Captain Parker's Pub in West Yarmouth. Ashley Manor, Old King's Hwy.; 888/535-2246 or 508/362-8044, fax 508/362-9927; www.ashleymanor.net; deluxe suites with whirlpool and fireplace from $160 for two, including breakfast. High 41 degrees; low 29.