Whether you crave warm sunshine or a snowy sabbatical, we’ve got five easy, breezy long weekend escapes
You thought you could make it until spring. The good feelings at Christmas and New Year gave you the illusion that hanging around home would not be `just bearable, but really fun. Then the parties petered out and the revelers stopped dropping by. Suddenly, January arrived with a cold, hard thump. Now you feel you must get away or you’re going to run amok down the New York State Thruway. Here, we outline five fun and easy long winter weekend getaways — two that heat you up, and three that are the epitome of cool. All you have to do is pack your bags.
A note on travel: The much-heralded growth of Newburgh’s Stewart International Airport has made it easier for Valleyites to escape to Florida for a long weekend. Low-cost carriers JetBlue and AirTran both debuted at the airport about a year ago and immediately began offering frequent service to several Sunshine State cities. AirTran now flies to Tampa four times a day, including one nonstop that leaves around noontime. Last November, both airlines started flying directly to West Palm Beach. JetBlue flies to WPB once a day, while AirTran makes the trip twice a day (one flight is nonstop).
The three-hour-and-20-minute flight from Stewart to West Palm Beach gives you barely enough time to shed your sweater, but shed it you must: The average high temperature in January is a balmy 75 degrees, and by March it’s up close to 80. Situated 70 miles north of Miami on the Atlantic Ocean, this city of almost 100,000 people traditionally has been regarded as the stepchild of Palm Beach (that winter playground of American aristocracy most famous for its over-the-top opulence). Standard Oil founder Henry Morrison Flagler first bought land on the island of Palm Beach in 1870 and set about turning it into an exclusive resort; West Palm Beach was established as the nearby home for workers and servants from the island.
But things are different today. After a period of decline in the ’70s and ’80s, WPB has bounced back and is now the funky, eclectic counterpart to still-super-wealthy Palm Beach. The city bursts with fun entertainment options as well as a surprising dose of high culture. Case in point: The Norton Museum of Art, housed in a one-of-a-kind pink building, is the largest museum in Florida. It recently underwent a $30 million renovation and expansion to better house its large permanent collection of European, American, and Chinese art, which includes works by Brancusi, Gaugain, Monet, and Hopper. (The museum also offers special three days/two night accommodations packages at half a dozen luxury hotels, including the world-famous Breakers in Palm Beach.) Another WPB cultural oasis is the stunningly modern Kravis Center for the Performing Arts. Situated on the highest point in Palm Beach County, the center offers a nonstop parade of events throughout the year, including rock concerts and performances by the Palm Beach Opera (which is in season through March).
Shopping is a favorite pastime in the Palm Beach region. City Place is an upscale al fresco mall area with lovely Mediterranean architecture. It’s crammed with restaurants and fashionable chain stores — but is perhaps best suited for people-watching. The real heart of the city is Clematis Street — in fact, it’s the “hottest street in Florida,” according to Donald Trump. (The Donald’s presence is everywhere here.) Wander down the one-mile lane and check out bustling restaurants, hip boutiques, nightclubs, antiques shops, and historic landmarks.
After these excursions, hunger probably will be setting in, so take advantage of West Palm’s wide variety of restaurants. The sexy and appealing Bimini Twist, where tiki torches light your way inside, specializes in seafood (don’t miss the calamari fries). Also recommended is the Okeechobee Steak House, an old-world eatery that serves up a dash of nostalgia with top-of-the-line meats. The Steak House also has a cool (as in hip) bar to meet equally cool (as in hip) people, and the place is particularly safe. How do we know this? It’s a popular hangout for the Palm Beach SWAT team.
Naturally, you should take a quick spin across the causeway to Palm Beach proper, if only to see how the other half lives. Here, you’ll find beautiful beaches (although only one public beach) , or you can pop into some of the expensive shops. But it’s the houses that are the real draw for tourists. Gaze at the incredible beachfront manses, most of which are built in the Spanish style (you can drive past them on North Lake Way and fantasize). Or, if you’re rich, get on the phone with a broker and ask how much. Discuss it all during your trip back to Stewart on Sunday morning.
Tampa is ideal for a long weekend retreat from the sometimes harsh Hudson Valley winter. The fun starts as soon as you land: After the three-hour ride from Stewart, you touch down at Tampa International Airport, which continually racks up awards as one of the world’s best airports for passenger satisfaction (according to folks like Condé Nast Traveler and the Air Transport Research Society).
Tampa is a part of the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater metropolitan area, a four-county region of 2.7 million residents. A huge business mecca, the downtown area is packed with upscale chain hotels like the Hyatt Regency, the Marriott, and the Sheraton. While leisure travelers seeking accommodations near the beach often take the 15- to 20-mile drive over the causeway to Clearwater, bargain hunters take note: Downtown hotels may offer substantial savings.
Wherever you opt to drop your bags, you won’t be far away from a slew of interesting activities. You can easily spend the entire day at Busch Gardens, with its six roller coasters, including the 70 mile-per-hour SheiKra, the tallest dive coaster in the state. Busch Gardens is also home to one of the country’s best large zoos, which has unparalleled access to the animals. Take the self-guided walking tour and check out hippos, lions, hyenas, and meerkats. On the Serengeti Safari, you can feed a giraffe or antelope, and get the whole history of the Serengeti from your personal guide.
When you’re ready for something a little more refined, hit the streets for a stroll through Ybor City, one of only two National Historic Landmark Districts in Florida. Tampa’s Latin Quarter was once the center of a booming cigar industry, and in some shops you can still see cigars being rolled by hand. But now, this historic area has morphed into a colorful entertainment district with more than 60 restaurants, bars, and clubs. You can get your hands on grub from all over the world, but Spanish and Cuban cuisines still rule. Stop by the Columbia Restaurant, Tampa’s oldest, to see their Spanish tiles and the nightly flamenco show.
The annual Florida State Fair is held in Tampa every winter. This year’s fair (Feb. 7-18) includes a star-studded Las Vegas-style revue and the Elvis Extravaganza Impersonator Contest National Finals. And don’t miss the beaches. The Gulf Coast waters are warmer and calmer than their Atlantic counterparts, and the beaches are famous for their stunning white sand. One standout: Caladesi State Park, a truly beautiful public beach that’s just a 20-minute ferry ride away.
Even without the lure of winter sports and beautiful, rugged terrain, Saranac Lake would be a great place to while away a long winter weekend. Located seven miles west of Lake Placid in the Adirondack Park, this cozy village of close to 5,000 people just screams “All-American hometown.” And we’re not the only ones who think so. One book named it the best small town in New York State in 1995, and in 2006 the National Trust for Historic Preservation chose it as one of the “Dozen Distinctive Destinations” in the U.S. No wonder. Originally a logging community, in the late 1800s Saranac Lake became well-known as a retreat for tuberculosis patients (must be all that fresh mountain air). Today, it is a charming mix of lovingly restored architecture, cute shops, and eateries all nestled within a beautiful mountain and lake landscape.
Of course, you will have to bundle up to get your dose of charm. The average temperature in January is a frigid 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit and the average snowfall is just shy of 40 inches. That’s why so many people show up for the outdoor sports. Cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, ice fishing and snowmobiling are very popular in town, while top-notch downhill skiing is also available nearby at Lake Placid’s Whiteface Mountain. While in Lake Placid, we suggest you take a bobsled ride at the Olympic Sports Complex at Mt. Van Hoevenburg. There aren’t many places where you can try out this exhilarating sport, so spend the $65 (and don’t worry, they only allow you to go halfway down from the top). You can also “go it alone” in a semi-enclosed, modified luge sled that whips you through 16 breathtaking curves on the track.
Saranac Lake is perhaps most famous for their Winter Carnival, the oldest seasonal festival in the eastern U.S. First held in 1897, this old-fashioned fun fest was originally just two days long. Now, the entire town — and many curious tourists — come together to celebrate for a full 10 days. The focal point of the carnival has always been a huge ice castle, composed of 700-pound blocks of ice cut from the nearby lake and assembled by a team of eager volunteers. The castle is slightly different each year, but often has twisting passageways and an ice slide for the kids (and kids at heart). “Hooray For Hollywood” is the theme of this year’s carnival (Feb. 1-10), so expect glamour, crowds, klieg and colored lights; the parade on Feb. 9 includes the highly anticipated announcement of this year’s Carnival King and Queen. Some of the festival’s most amusing events are the eccentric contests, such as the Ladies Frying Pan Toss (during which female contestants chuck their old kitchen pans with reckless abandon to a chorus of hoots and hollers from their fans). The woodsmen competition (that’s tree chopping), cut-throat curling competitions, the Winter Palace Fun Run, a chocolate festival, and fireworks are also part of the fun. (Check www.saranaclakewintercarnival.com for a full schedule of events.)
And where to stay? There are dozens of accommodations ranging from motels to cozy B&Bs to the lap of luxury. Hotel Saranac, right in town, first opened in 1927 and still recalls the style and glamour of that earlier time. Rooms are a reasonable $60 and up. But if you are ready for a splurge — a real splurge — try the Point Resort on Upper Saranac Lake. It’s about a 25-minute drive from town, but a world away. Situated on a 10-acre peninsula jutting into the lake, it was built in the early 1930s as the home of one of John D. Rockefeller’s nephews. Today, it is a Mobil five-star resort that offers 11 exclusive guest rooms in four different buildings. All-inclusive room rates for two people start at $1,350 a night.
The century-old inn that bears Washington Irving’s name is located on the outskirts of the historic village of Hunter in Greene County. Built circa 1890, this charming Victorian inn on scenic Route 23A is approximately two miles from Hunter Mountain Ski Bowl in the Catskill State Park.
Beyond the large wooden doors of the inn, one can shed the centuries like a woolly winter coat. Guests can harken back to a gentler, less harried era when people-watching was a popular pastime and front porches were the place to be.
But don’t be fooled by this heirloom inn’s old-fashioned charm: it has many modern amenities. Each of the 15 rooms is decorated in a distinctive color scheme, with authentic period furniture and antiques, for a splendid 19th-century look; each comes fully-equipped with private bath; choice of queen, twin, double, or two twin beds; telephone, color TV and VCR; hair dryer and iron. Some rooms even contain air-conditioning, whirlpool bath and canopy bed. Porch view or mountain view? Either can be arranged. In addition, the inn’s restaurant and common rooms are filled with antiques that have been lovingly restored by the owners.
Situated on eight acres, the inn also features an on-premises outdoor pool, cocktail lounge and spacious dining room, where breakfast is served “hot off the griddle” and superb dinners for large groups can be arranged by reservation. Inspired by Irving’s own afternoon teas at Sunnyside with family and friends, the inn’s Weekend Afternoon Tea (Sat.-Sun. 2-5 p.m.) is one of the hostelry’s most delightful customs. “I started the teas a few years ago, partly because I thought it would be nice, but also I have these antique dishes I brought with me (from Serbia) to serve pastries on. The favorite tea is Cranberry Autumn, which will warm you up and put you in a good mood on those cold winter afternoons,” says owner Stefania Jozic.
And what is there to do in the winter? “Ice climbing and snowboarding are very popular winter sports here,” Jozic says. “They are both available nearby at Hunter Mountain, Elk Park, and Catskill Falls. I haven’t tried ice climbing myself. It’s essentially the activity of ascending inclined ice formations, from frozen waterfalls to cliffs and rocks covered with refrozen ice. It’s fun but very challenging.”
And about the inn’s moniker. It was more than a stroke of luck for the Jozic family that the aging hotel they purchased in 1986 was already named after a founding father of American literature. The Jozics were already familiar with Irving’s work and reputation, having learned about him in their native Yugoslavia. But when Stefania and her late husband, Mirko, actually purchased the building, a bond between Stefania and the American author was immediately forged. Stefania even went so far as to contact noted historian Justine Hommel to find out if the inn had ever been Irving’s actual home. “She told me no,” Jozic explained. “But she added that Irving was famous, especially in the Catskills, and it was once popular to give a building or a business in the mountains such an honored name.”
Jozic offers a variety of specials this winter. In January and February, if you stay three days and four nights, the fourth night is free. March Madness offers discounts up to 20 percent off, depending on the length of your stay. For more information, visit www.washingtonirving.com or call 518-589-5560.
Call it the power of the “z” word (as in z-o-n-i-n-g). Apart from Dutch elm disease and a bit of art gallery blight, that must be the reason why the landscape in the northwest corner of Connecticut remains fundamentally unchanged, which is to say pure and lovely (especially in wintertime). Salisbury — a former iron mining town and the largest community in the region — and neighboring Lakeville are transformed into picturesque winter wonderlands at this time of year. Bundle up in a wool sweater and wander down the main streets of these twin towns. Visit one of Lakeville’s four prestigious art galleries, browse the antiques merchants sprinkled along Route 7, and see what folks mean when they refer to the area as “Little Chelsea.”
The industrious people of Salisbury first built a ski jump in the 1920s, and the town has been a winter sports center ever since. The 83rd annual ski jumping competition (Feb. 8-10) is sure to attract its usual crowd this year. The event is sanctioned by the United States Ski Association and features world-class jumpers — as well as lots of down-home fun for onlookers. On Friday evening, participate in a chili cookoff before deciding whether you want to try out your own jumping skills for a cash prize. On Saturday, the Salisbury Invitational Championship Jump is followed by an ice carving competition. Don’t miss 25 or 30 ski jumpers demonstrating their skills. The day culminates in the Snow Ball, a dance at the charming 19th-century White Hart Inn. You can listen to the band, dance, and not leap over anything other than a barstool or your partner. On Sunday, there’s no drop-off in the fun. After the U.S. Eastern National Championship competition, local merchants display their wares in the town square. There should be wine tasting in the wine store, too (only for the watchers, not for the jumpers), and plenty of local crafts to buy. If you’re still craving winter sports, skating is available on an Olympic-size rink at Salisbury School, while both downhill and cross-country skiing is only about 10 minutes away at Mohawk Mountain in Cornwall.
After a full day of bounding through snow, carving ice, and dancing, retreat to the elegant Wake Robin Inn for a night or two of good old rest and relaxation. This Lakeville landmark, which opened its doors as the Taconic School for Girls in 1899, began offering its warm hospitality in 1914, and quickly become the destination of choice for travelers seeking refined lodging in the Connecticut Berkshires. After changing ownership in 2002, the inn underwent extensive upgrades. So unwind in one of Wake Robin’s 38 renovated rooms or suites — all furnished with private baths — and share the feeling of cozy comfort experienced by illustrious former guests including Greta Garbo, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., and Bette Davis. Rates for this winter (from January to the beginning of April) start at $149.
Winter Wonderland: The Eastern National Ski Jumping Championships are held in Salisbury every February. Left: The Wake Robin Inn offers a cozy escape
Hunter’s Washington Irving Inn is an ideal spot to cozy up to a fire and enjoy afternoon tea after a day spent playing in the snow. Ice climbing (above) has become a popular local sport
Scenes from Saranac Lake: The Ice Castle (bottom) and parade (above left) are cherished traditions at the annual Winter Carnival
West Palm Beach (top two photos) offers a variety of daytime and nighttime pleasures. Below: Three major cruise lines now dock in Tampa, which has an average high temperature of 71.4 degrees in February — perfect for a game of golf
The legendary Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach, a AAA Five Diamond Award-winner, has invested $250 million since 1990 on revitalization and expansion