December 31 can be hectic, erratic and a downright hassle. Escape to these pastoral enclaves to start 2016 with a breath of fresh air.
NEW HOPE, PA
Vibe: Woodsy, relaxed, laid back outdoors
Attractions: Trekking/hiking trails
The 622-square-mile Bucks County, less than a two-hour drive from New York City, is a grand landscape of lush forests, rolling hills and farms carved through by the Delaware River. New Hope is the crown jewel, a woodsy riverside community with the trappings of a New England town yet with the modern restaurants, cafes and shops similar to those found in a larger metropolitan downtown.
The cozy Golden Plough Inn, a 67-room B&B-style hotel puts holiday guests at the apex of Peddler’s Village, a walkable family-friendly plaza of shops and restaurants. Set on the second floor overlooking the shops, suites are outfitted with soft colors and historic touches like candelabras and canopy curtains that match the floral wallpaper. California-King beds and down blankets, in-room gas lit fireplaces and a jetted whirlpool large enough for two are spot-on amenities for arrival on a cold winter’s night and were much appreciated by this guest.
Start your New Year’s weekend right: visit the Holiday Light Show at Shady Brook Farms. This annual show features three million lights of iconic scenes: the Statue of Liberty, castles and swans, perfect for a drive-through on a cold night. Grab a cup of hot cocoa and s’mores in the Farm Market.
Wintertime in Bucks County is an ideal season to explore over 475 miles of hiking and snowshoeing trails and outdoor activities (and jumpstart that New Year’s resolution to exercise more). Visit Ringing Rocks Park, which features 128 acres of trails and the county’s largest waterfall. First-timers and experienced hikers can enjoy the diversity of trails at 5,000-acre Nockamixon State Park. Or, opt to hike from Ralph Stover State Park to Tohickon Valley Park on a winding trail connecting the two to experience the best views in Bucks County. Enjoy Tohickon Creek and the surrounding forest from atop High Rocks, a 200-foot sheer rock formation near the trail.
In the mood for something more relaxing? The Bucks County Wine Trail has nine wineries that are minutes apart, many of which host New Year tastings. At Sand Castle Winery’s 72-acre estate, venture 30-feet deep to an underground wine cellar and witness the production followed by a tasting (I recommend the fruity, yet dry Chardonnay 2002).
Dine out with a New Year’s Eve celebration. The Raven in New Hope offers a four-course dinner followed by a dance party; breakfast will be served buffet-style starting at 1am. The Brick Tavern Inn is offering a special menu and Lou Pompilio on guitar. The four-course prix-fixe menu at Caleb’s American Kitchen offers a delicious, gluten-free experience (we loved the grilled tofu and flourless chocolate cake.) Blend dining and entertainment at a Murder Mystery Dinner at Fisher’s Tudor House trying to figure out who dunnit over a delicious meal followed by a Mardi Gras Celebration. Or keep it simple with smooth jazz at The Logan Inn, Bucks County’s oldest continuously-operated inn featuring party favors and a champagne toast at midnight.
Vibe: Adrenaline pumping winter sports
Attractions: Skiing/boarding, ice fishing and sailing
Diversions: Spa retreat
New Hampshire doesn’t immediately conjure thoughts of waterfront retreats, but Meredith is a quintessential New England town and centerpiece of the state’s legendary Lakes Region. It’s a scenic five and a half hours away. Entering into the White Mountains, it sits along the shores of the 72-square-mile Lake Winnipesaukee (with 274 islands!), which is bordered by a constellation of smaller sparkling lakes—a perfect backdrop for a wintry getaway.
Directly on the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee, the luxe Adirondack-style Mill Falls at the Lake complex features four inns: Bay Point and Church Landing, set right on the water; and Mill Falls and Chase House. Lakefront balconies, fireplaces and down bedding adorn the 57 suites, all featuring access to the beach, seven onsite restaurants, indoor and outdoor pools, a fitness center and onsite Cascade Spa and Salon. Unique onsite activities include bonfires at the Church Landing Fire Pit, horse-drawn wagon rides around the Village on Saturday nights and ice-skating on the Bay’s rink.
For the snowiest days, pick from skating, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, sledding and cross-country skiing. The hardier, more adventurous should probably opt for ice fishing and ice sailing.
There’s a lot to explore here. Ski and snowboard by day or night at Gunstock Mountain Resort, offering 45 trails on a 1,400-foot vertical drop, along with cross country trails. The resort features panoramic views of the area’s grand lakes and the White Mountains. The Loon Center and Markus Wildlife Sanctuary offers snowshoeing and winter hiking on its 200-acre spread, featuring over 5,000 feet of shoreline on Lake Winnipesaukee.
On the big night, take in local dining followed by the New Year’s Eve Fireworks over Meredith Bay at 10:30 pm. Or go for the whole package and attend an epic, black-tie-optional celebration at Church landing. It begins with champagne and strawberries and Paul Dykstra on piano and is followed by a formal gala in the Winnipesaukee Ballroom, which includes dinner, dancing to Brandy (a six-piece band performing a wide variety of favorites from many eras) and a champagne toast. The horse-drawn wagon ride around the village is truly unique.
Enjoy your New Year’s Day brunch at Lakehouse Grille in New England style: lobster corn chowder served with warm cornbread, Bloody Mary gazpacho and lobster mac & cheese, featuring Maine lobster. Post-meal, festivities at the Winnipesaukee Playhouse offer a much-needed dose of culture and respite with Sleeping Beauty, an old English holiday classic.
LAKE PLACID, NY
Vibe: World-class winter resort
Attractions: Dramatic views and activities (bobsledding!)
Diversions: Restaurants and nightlife
Photogenic Adirondack-retreat, Lake Placid, a 5-hour getaway from NYC, reflects both the pristine Adirondack Mountains and its Olympic roots. The town hosted the global event in 1932 and 1980 and maintains gargantuan ski jumps, four operational ice rinks at the Olympic Center and Museum and the country’s only Olympic bobsled track (open for riding), all sandwiched between the glorious High Peaks timber range and lakes. A burgeoning food and beverage scene, world-class outdoor sports and snowmobiling trails, and the dramatic skyline viewed from the Sky Deck or Olympic Gondola offer an unparalleled New Year’s escape.
Treat yourself to the luxe lodge life: Lake Placid Lodge, the 30,000-square-foot hotel featuring 27 rooms built in 20th century opulence. Upon arrival, guests are greeted with a champagne toast. My room, the Tamarac, located off the main lobby, was stocked with homemade granola, veggies and hummus, a bottle of Justin Cabernet Sauvignon and a towering stack of cinnamon and sugar donuts in a raspberry jam.
Features included a wood-burning stone fireplace, private balcony with chaise lounges, a bathroom with a deep soaking tub and rainfall shower (ideal after a long day on the trail) and a four-poster king bed, handmade of tree bark and branches. Rebuilt in 2005 after its circa-1946 structure burned down, the Lake Placid lodge feels new and immense with 18 fireplaces for guests to ignite and lined with New England oil paintings. Rows of Adirondack chairs sit along a manicured lakefront, making the most of its straight-on view of Whiteface Mountain and the crystal clear Lake Placid.
Lace-up the skates for a good cause at the Skate into New Year party from 10:30pm until 12:30am, which takes place on the Olympic Speed Skating Oval. Hot beverages and snacks are provided and all proceeds go to the Lake Placid Food Pantry. The First Night Saranac Lake New Year’s Eve celebration features 18 acts across 10 venues from 6pm to midnight. On tap is a comedy performed by the Adirondack Shakespeare Company, Mohawk storyteller Kay Olan and harpist Martha Gallagher. The Royal Noise, an instrumental funk act, includes Saranac Lake native Michael LaBombard on the saxophone and keys. Or rock out at local venue Delta Blue for the Delta Roots’ New Year’s Eve show, a trio playing funk to country to reggae to rock and just about everything in between. The ball drops at midnight above River Street, followed by a fireworks display over Lake Flower.
New Year’s Day is a time of reflection. Nature seekers would do well to try the 12-mile hike to Avalanche Lake, a pristine mile-long lake situated at the bottom of Avalanche Pass to the west and Mt. Colden to the east. On my visit the trail was muddy and the wind was howling, but the remains of the avalanche—trees, rocks and natural debris—was dramatic and haunting. Yet the sun shone and the clouds parted, revealing a sunny day. A soak in the deep bathtub and a glass of red wine back at the Lodge was the perfect evening remedy.