By Bob Curley
Try these nearby winter adventures for close-to-home fun
Craving a warm and sunny beach right about now? You’re not alone: as delightful as Newport can be most of the year, the place many of us want to be in the dead of winter is Not Here. But when flying away to a tropical island just isn’t in the cards, it’s still possible to pull off a midwinter getaway that doesn’t involve the risk of driving through a snow storm. For a “staycation” on (or just off) Aquidneck Island, here are five destinations close to home to consider:
If you love the outdoors, South County has four-season charms. Rhode Island’s only ski area, Exeter’s Yawgoo Valley, is ideal for a half-day (or night) of carving turns on your skis or snowboard, nearby Arcadia Management Area has miles of cross-country ski trails, and the Sand Trail at East Beach in Charlestown is open to four-wheel-drive vehicles for the entire off-season.
Westerly’s United Theatre shows movies and hosts live events, while the nearby Knickerbocker Music Center has been bringing bands to its intimate stage since1933. Plus, a Westerly getaway affords the opportunity to stay at one of the best hotels in the country, Watch Hill’s Ocean House, where winter deals include free breakfasts and a fourth night free when you book three. Embrace the season at the Ocean House’s Gondola Village, where you can enjoy breakfast, lunch, afternoon crepes and hot chocolate or dinner in a cozy ski gondola.
A destination unto itself, The Preserve Sporting Club & Residences combines unique and varied lodging options with a remarkable array of activities, notably including private Maker’s Mark bourbon paired dinners served in a “Hobbit House” that would warm the heart (and fill the belly) of Bilbo Baggins. Winter all-inclusive packages at The Preserve start at $1,600 per night and include stays in the resort’s Hilltop Lodge suites, tiny houses, condos and other accommodations, plus three meals daily and one daily activity per person, such as spa treatments, horseback rides, clay shooting classes or time on the longest indoor shooting range in the United States.
Broadway plays Annie, Come From Away, and Hadestown are all on the winter schedule at the Providence Performing Arts Center, and a visit to Rhode Island’s “Creative Capital” also can include a tour of the RISD Art Museum, a bumper-boat battle at the downtown Providence Rink, or seeing the animals chilling out at the Roger Williams Park Zoo, which is open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Thursday-Monday through March 31. A Providence staycation also is a great opportunity to check out the vibrant new Aloft Providence Downtown hotel, located steps from the city’s river-spanning pedestrian bridge; enjoy the views from the hotel’s rooftop bar and restaurant by booking the hotel’s “Live Loud Local” deal, which includes a $100 dining credit with Wednesday-Sunday stays.
The Block Island Ferry continues to run every day all winter from Point Judith, providing a gateway to some true offshore (and off-season) serenity. The 1661 Inn and The Inn at Spring House are among a handful of Block Island hotels that stay open all winter, and both include breakfast with your stay. A weekend getaway can include simple pleasures, such as checking out a vacation book from the Island Free Library and planting yourself in front of a fireplace for a good read – or taking a brisk hike to the Southeast Lighthouse or North Lighthouse while keeping your eyes for a treasured glass float hidden along Block Island’s Greenway Trails. Cap the day with dinner at the Barn At Spring House restaurant or chowder and Irish fare at McAloon’s Restaurant & Bar.
Essex, Conn., is a quintessential New England river village, and nothing channels the Colonial vibe like a stay at the historic Griswold Inn, which has been hosting guests since the first Independence Day. The Cherry Pie Band rocks the Tap Room most Thursday nights, and the hotel’s Winter Adventure Package (available February 10-March 18) combines a stay and continental breakfast with a cruise in search of overwintering bald eagles and admission to the Connecticut River Museum.
Last but not least: Newport
The City-by-the-Sea doesn’t lose its charms when the summer crowds depart. Winter in Newport is a great time to finally visit those mansions everyone has been talking about, minus all the tourists. The Breakers and Marble House stay open for tours throughout the season. Consider getting a three-in-one Newport Sporting Ticket, which includes the new Sailing Museum, which is closed in January but opens from Thursday-Sunday in February and March. Check out the world-class Audrain Automobile Museum, which is showing its latest exhibit, “Early Landmarks in Automotive Engineering,” through March 5; and the historic International Tennis Hall of Fame. The Sporting Ticket gives you access to all three museums for the price of two for just $39.
The Newport Harbor Island Resort (formerly Gurney’s) is continuing the winter tradition of ice skating on the shore of Narragansett Bay, accompanied by hot chocolate and seasonal cocktails (reserve in advance to drink and dine in one of the cozy nearby igloos). Check out a newcomer like Hammetts Hotel, which offers 20 percent off regular room prices with its “Rhode Island Insider Rate,” or combine a winter stroll on the Cliff Walk with a stay at the elegant Chanler, which trims 15 percent from its off-season rates when you book three or four nights. And for a cozy stay at a bed-and-breakfast (ideal for snowy mornings), consider the Hilltop Inn, which offers a winter rate lottery – random nights and rooms will be $99 throughout the winter.