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Spend a Winter Day in New England

Spend a Winter Day in New England
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7:30 A.M.
Sunrise from Cadillac Mountain reveals a coastline carved with a crooked knife. From that famous vantage on Mount Desert Island, the coast of Maine comes out of the dark.

It’s a complicated affair of peninsulas and coves, a jigsaw of rock and water, a play of motion and stasis. At dawn, the familiar names of famous places don’t much matter–Bar Harbor, Frenchman Bay, the Porcupine Islands, the Cranberry Isles. You need pay attention only to the forms of this landscape emerging from night, a natural reciprocity of land and water shaped by climate and honed by weather, attended by the casual genius of sea level expressing itself as a restless edge of tide.
–Christopher Camuto, Time and Tide in Acadia: Seasons on Mount Desert Island
(W. W. Norton & Company; $24.95)

8 A.M.
It’s said that in summer you can walk across Marblehead Harbor on the bows of the vessels that crowd this busy, historic port town. The winter, of course, brings a different scene, one that turns the harbor into a sheet of glass: a reflective quiet disturbed only by the fishing and lobster boats of the hardworking folks who still make their living on the ocean. The best way to absorb the light and thoughtful stillness that the morning hour gently requires is with a group of stalwart “Headers” at The Driftwood–a petite dockside restaurant–as you fill your belly with fluffy pancakes and perfect sunny-side-up eggs. There’s always less guilt eating extra home fries or bacon in the winter, when deep-fried love just might keep us a touch warmer.
–Annie B. Copps

The Driftwood Restaurant, Marblehead, MA; 781-631-1145

8:30 A.M.
There are Eastern mountains with higher peaks, steeper trails, far more impressive numbers of them than Wildcat Mountain‘s 47. But from the summit, no ski area gives such a sense of the Northern wild. Polecat, the most scenic Alpine trail in the country, cuts down Wildcat’s flank. It’s a green-dot trail–beginners all the way–and all that distance, for more than two miles, you look west into Mount Washington’s Tuckerman Ravine. Legendary north-country skiers cut the trails on Wildcat, and they knew what they were doing. No trail in New England is more loved by those who know it than Polecat. –Mel Allen

Wildcat Mountain, Pinkham Notch, NH.603-466-3326;

10 A.M.

Very seldom while snowshoeing do you come across a bronze Eve emerging from a snowdrift, a pile of powder resting on the apple in her still hand. Rarer still do you find a museum as dedicated to the interaction of nature and art as the DeCordova. Its sprawling sculpture park is a wonder throughout the year, but it takes on a new life in winter, when the museum invites snowshoers (either on guided tours or alone) to trek through its hills and to appreciate its collection to the sound of softly crunching snow. –Justin Shatwell
DeCordova Sculpture Park and Museum, Lincoln, MA. 781-259-8355;

11 A.M.

The highest concentration of eagles in the Northeast winter on the shores of the southern Connecticut River. Here, they find plenty of fish in open tidal waters. On this morning the sky is just a bit overcast, so viewing isn’t obscured by a sunny glare, and it’s early enough in the season that the eagles haven’t begun to head north again. Hope is in the air.

Aboard the RiverQuest, our guide, Andrew Griswold, director of the Connecticut Audubon Society’s EcoTravel program, offers one-and-a-half-hour boat trips from early February through the end of March. We head north from Essex along the winding Connecticut River. Towns skirt the shore on both sides: Deep River and Brockway, Chester and Hadlyme. The river is narrow here, the coast dotted with trees and golden marsh grass. Griswold points out nests, eagles perched in trees, a pair with their white heads glistening, some young ones, too. We get so close to the birds that he stops speaking into the microphone. He whispers so as not to disturb a second-year eagle, which he identifies by its white belly and ragged wings. We lose count of our sightings after a good dozen.
The turnaround point is Gillette Castle in East Haddam. This imposing building was once home to American actor William Gillette, famous for his stage performance of Sherlock Holmes. The giant stone structure sits on a bluff well above the river. For most of the trip, we’ve turned our eyes upward. Now, jarred from nature’s reassurance back to civilization in an instant, we crane our necks to take in this monument to a human being. As if on cue, Griswold points high, well above the castle. Young eagles soar. –Polly Bannister

Connecticut Audubon Society EcoTravel, Essex, CT. 860-767-0660;

12:30 P.M.

There are more than 60 kilometers of groomed Nordic trails and snowshoe routes at Trapp Family Lodge, the Stowe, Vermont, resort opened in 1950 by those same Von Trapps whose story inspired the Broadway musical and movie The Sound of Music. But no stretch is more inviting than the flat 5K run that cuts along Sugar Road. Not just because of the sweeping views of the Green Mountains, the canopy of pines, birches, and big maples under which you ski, or the sleigh bells chiming nearby as a team of Clydesdales pulls a crew readying sap buckets for an expected maple run in late February.
No, the real beauty here is the trail’s finishing point: Slayton Pasture Cabin. On a beautiful blue-sky day, the cabin’s front deck, overlooking the woods, is tempting, but the coziness of a crackling fire may keep you inside.
Slayton is at its core a one-man team, with Mike Gora, who lives in the cabin’s loft, your cook, your greeter, your server, and on top of all that, your local nature guide. It’s a tidy operation, with a menu featuring a changing assortment of homemade soups (such as Moroccan couscous with sweet potato), made-to-order sandwiches, and hot drinks. When it’s time, a decadent Austrian Linzer torte or one of those chocolaty magic bars–guilt-free after a long cross-country ski–offers the perfect finishing touch.
Ski, eat, relax, and ski again. At Slayton it’s about the journey and the destination–for most of us, anyway. In the log book, a 10-year-old named Tyler writes: “I did it for the brownies.” –Heather Atwell
Slayton Pasture Cabin, Trapp Family Lodge, Stowe, VT. 800-826-7000;

1 P.M.

Sprawling at the bottom of Beacon Hill, Boston’s Charles Street is my all-time favorite mix of Dickens-meets-M.F.A. sensibilities–where history-laden, crimson-brick sidewalks roll past some of the most meticulously kept and artfully stocked shops in all of this diverse and exciting city.
I prefer to start smack in the middle: at Cafe Vanille, which doles out the richest almond croissants this side of Paris. Thus fueled, it’s across the street to Rugg Road Paper Company to pick up handmade letterpress thank-you cards, and then to neighboring Black Ink to find a few fun-and-funky gifts (frog-shaped piggy banks top the list) for my two toddlers.
Their baubles ought not to rival mine, however, so I head way up the street, swinging by The Ruby Door to try on intricate and lustrous semiprecious gemstone necklaces. (I’m imagining that I can actually afford to pony up and walk out with one.) Then it’s off again to the high numbers and Judith Dowling Asian Art, where I admire a dizzying slew of Eastern antiques. The perfect foil, no doubt, sits over at Koo de Kir (on the corner of Chestnut Street): a cool-but-unpretentious spot stocked with sleek, contemporary home furnishings and accessories that work seamlessly with all manner of classic pieces.
The shopping gods pull me into Crush Boutique for women’s cocktail frocks and designer denim, and then up to Moxie for pretty-but-comfy shoes. They’ll take me all the way down the street to Scampo at The Liberty Hotel for one of chef Lydia Shire’s crispy pizzas and tempura cod cheeks in a room that’s high-energy, legendary, and unbelievably cozy. Very much like the neighborhood it calls home. –Alexandra Hall

Cafe Vanille, 617-523-9200;
Rugg Road Paper Company, 617-742-0002;
Black Ink, 617-723-3883;

The Ruby Door, 617-720-2001;

Judith Dowling Asian Art, 617-523-5211;
Koo de Kir, 617-723-8111;
Crush Boutique, 617-720-0010;
Moxie, 617-557-9991;
Scampo, 617-536-2100;

2:30 P.M.
The pleasures of Providence’s Benefit Street–its upscale mix of chic shops and trendy restaurants–is well known. For a different kind of variety–this one under one climate-controlled roof, no less–there’s the museum at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). Here, curators have done their best to concentrate all of time and space into one convenient location. Stroll down a hall of 19th-century European masters and you’ll dead-end in a room of medieval Christian art. Take a left and you’re surrounded by early Greek artifacts; then up a flight of stairs and you’re immersed in the Far East.
Some have criticized this variety–where modern art sits disturbingly close to Victorian silver settings–as jumbled, but it demonstrates a lesson the school teaches its students: Art is an unfolding process, and the inspiration for the next leap in fashion or design may come from anywhere. At the very least, it might inspire in you a need for an Asian print dress or a Grecian-style urn for the living room and motivate you to brave the cold in search of just one more boutique. –J.S.
RISD Museum of Art, Providence, RI. 401-454-6500;

Please Note: This information was accurate at the time of publication. When planning a trip, please confirm details by directly contacting any company or establishment you intend to visit.

Updated Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009

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One Response to Spend a Winter Day in New England

  1. Debra LaConte January 4, 2011 at 3:18 pm #

    I ran right to the Driftwood for breakfast after reading this article last January. I was soooo disappointed. The food was ordinary,Wonderbread straight out of the package…. no view of the water, and the bathroom was up in an attic with food supplies, and cobwebs, that you had to pass by. I really can’t figure out how this made the top breakfast place for a winter’s day. It was freezing in there, esp. the bathroom !
    The next time you need a good place for breakfast with “homemade bread” and fresh fruit in all seasons….go to Somerville, MA to The Neighborhood Restaurant. I can name 50 others too that are far better than the Driftwood.

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