I’ve made my list and checked it twice of my favorite places we have celebrated memorable winter holidays. And in the spirit of the season, I will share them with you:
Celebrate with the DuPonts in Wilmington DE and the Brandywine
One of my most memorable Christmases was spent in Wilmington, Delaware, nearby Newcastle and the whole Brandywine Region – so many marvelous holiday attractions – the DuPont Mansion all decorated, Longworth Gardens (open even on Christmas Day) famous for its holiday decorations and enchanting Dancing Fountains. Staying at the historic Hotel DuPont, makes it all the more special.
Begin your visit at Hagley Museum & Library where E.I. du Pont settled in 1802 and began harnessing the power of the mighty Brandywine River to produce high quality gunpowder, thus laying the foundation for the DuPont Company. Eleutherian Mills, the ancestral home of five generations of the du Pont family, is decorated with dried flowers, fruits, ribbons and fresh greenery and open for guided tours through Jan. 6. This year’s Holidays at Hagley celebration showcases 19th century pastimes and pursuits and is open daily from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm. Twilight Tours are offered on December 9, 16, 23 and 30 at 5, 5:30 and 6 pm (advance reservations are necessary for the Twilight Tours; call 302-658-2400 X 261).
Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library, the former home of Henry Francis du Pont and his world-class collection of American decorative arts, is decorated for Yuletide through January 4. This year’s celebration explores how Henry Francis and his family celebrated the holidays and takes an interesting peek at wedding customs including the evolution of the wedding cake, wedding gifts and honeymoon customs. Timed tickets for Yuletide tours can be obtained at www.winterthur.org or call 800-448-3883. Open admission to the Costumes of Downton Abbey Exhibition is an added plus. Be sure to allow enough time to browse in Winterthur’s fabulous gift shop located across from the mansion and take advantage of Delaware’s tax-free shopping.
Beautiful throughout the year, Nemours Mansion & Garden is spectacular during the holiday season. Built at the beginning of the 20th century in the style of a grand Louis XVI chateau and filled with incredible antiques, artwork, sculpture and tapestries, the lush Yuletide decorations add a magical dimension to A. I. du Pont’s 70-room mansion. Nemours offers guided holiday tours from November 8 through December 31. Reservations are a must; call 302-651-6913.
Christmas blooms at Longwood Gardens, Pierre Samuel du Pont’s horticultural extravaganza, from November 27 through January 11. Thousands of poinsettias, towering Christmas trees and fragrant flowers transform the Conservatory and its four acres of gardens under glass. Outside, more than 500,000 decorative LED lights glitter in the trees and delight visitors. Timed tickets for entry are available at www.LongwooodGardens.org or (610) 388-1000 but the length of garden visits is not restricted.
Also, Christmas in Odessa, a tiny residenetial community 30 minutes south of Wilmington (population 300), is where five distinguished properties operated by the Historic Odessa Foundation provide a picture of 18th- and 19th-century lifestyles and architecture. Through January 4, a whimsical note is added; the Historic Houses of Odessa are decorated for the holidays with a storybook theme and this year’s choice is The Classic Fairytale: Little Snow White. http://christmasinodessa.com/ www.historicodessa.org
Another incredibly picturesque (and fascinating) pre-Revolutionary town is New Castle, located a few minutes south of Wilmington (www.newcastlehistory.org).
Many area hotels offer special packages: see www.VisitWilmingtonDE.com or call Greater Wilmington Convention & Visitors Bureau at 800-489-6664.
Immerse in the Gilded Age in Newport, RI
Newport, Rhode Island – such a charming place any time of the year, but especially at Christmas. There is so much to do throughout the city – ice skating on the harbor rink, boat rides to see seals, walking along the Cliff Walk, but the essence are visiting the Gilded Age mansions.
Christmas at the Newport Mansions, taking place through January 4, dazzles with the glitter of gold and sparkle of silver at three magnificent mansions decked out in Yuletide finery. Music, tours, and spectacular decorations highlight the celebration of Christmas at the Newport Mansions.
The Breakers, The Elms and Marble House–three National Historic Landmarks and icons of the Gilded Age in America–are filled with thousands of poinsettias, fresh flowers, evergreens and wreaths. A total of 24 decorated Christmas trees reflecting individual room decor anchor many of the magnificent
spaces. Dining tables set with period silver and china complete the elegant setting. And windows of each mansion are lit with individual white candles, in keeping with the colonial tradition.
Local pastry chefs create gingerbread replicas of many of the Newport Mansions, on display in the kitchen of The Breakers.
New this year is a working garden scale model of the Vanderbilt family’s New York Central Railroad, which will be on display in the second floor loggia of The Breakers.
All three houses will be decorated and open daily for tours through Sunday, January 4, 2015. The Breakers opens daily at 9 a.m., The Elms and Marble House open at 10 a.m. The last tour admission at all three houses is at 4 p.m., and the houses & grounds close at 5 p.m. (closed Christmas Day).
A Winter Passport ticket providing daytime admission to all 3 houses is $28 for adults, $9 for children 6-17. Children under 6 are admitted free. Regular Newport Mansions daytime tour tickets remain valid through the Christmas season as well. Visit newportmansions.org.
During Holiday Evenings at the Newport Mansions enjoy live holiday music and light refreshments as you stroll through softly lit rooms, taking in the ambience of a Gilded Age holiday:
Holiday Evenings at The Breakers, Saturdays, December 6, 13 & 27, 6 to 8 pm
Holiday Evening Duet: The Elms & Marble House, Saturday, December 20, 2014, 6 to 9 pm
Advance purchase price tickets for Holiday Evenings are available online until midnight on the previous day. On the day of the event, if tickets are still available, they may be purchased at the Preservation Society’s office at 424 Bellevue Avenue until 5 p.m., or at The Breakers. Call 401-847-1000 to inquire about availability of tickets on performance dates.
Christmas at the Newport Mansions is a big part of the 44th annual Christmas in Newport, a month-long celebration with activities including Polar Express train rides, historic home tours, concerts, craft fairs and culinary events. A full calendar is at ChristmasinNewport.org.
Also, nearby Bristol captures the magic of the holiday season at the annual Bristol Christmas Festival, Christmas at Blithewold, Christmas at Linden Place Mansion, and more.
Come to Christmas at Blithewold, through January 4, and enjoy the elaborate decorations. Make a reservation for afternoon teas, the Santa sing-alongs, the joyous musical performances, and the creative workshops for both children and adults. Don’t miss the marshmallow-roasting-christmas-carol-singing-strolling-through-the-twinkling-garden-paths event called Sparkle, Friday nights in the Enclosed Garden and Greenhouse. Blithewold Mansion, Gardens & Arboretum, 101 Ferry Road, Bristol, RI 02809, 401-253-2707, www.blithewold.org.
A grand choice for accommodations is The Hotel Viking, nestled in the Historic Hill district on famed Bellevue Avenue. Once the summering destination of America’s wealthiest, the Hotel was opened in 1926 to accommodate their haute monde guests. With the most recent multi-million dollar renovation finished in 2007 this hotel is the perfect choice for a historic stay in the heart of Upscale Historic Newport Rhode Island. It is a Historic Hotels of America member (historichotels.org).
Another is the Vanderbilt Grace Hotel, a 33-room boutique hotel that originally built in 1909 by Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, a scion of the wealthy Vanderbilt family. It is one of the few private homes of the era to operate for guests as luxury hotel in Rhode Island (www.gracehotels.com/vanderbilt).
For a complete line-up of holiday and winter events, travel packages and last minute deals, visit Discover Newport, 800-326-6030, DiscoverNewport.org.
Manchester, Vermont Hosts Holiday Merriment
Manchester, Vermont, a delightful New England village,hosts six weeks of holiday merriment, across the Manchester and the Mountains Region (a whole village of outlet shops, too!). (See: visitmanchestervt.com/six-weeks-holiday-celebrations-across-manchester-mountains)
Backroad Discovery offers “Merriment” Tours daily through January 1: Discover the cheer, nostalgia & beauty of the Vermont backroads during the holiday season. Visit; the oldest marble quarry in the U.S., quintessential VT villages, Vermont’s finest artisans’ boutique, a Norma Rockwell exhibit, an antique covered bridge, sweeping mountain valley vistas and more. You’ll have the opportunity to purchase local VT products, maple syrup, cheeses, etc. Learn the fascinating history, fun facts and other places to visit and things to do in the area. Travel in 10 – passenger tour vehicle with local guide.( $35 pp, Weekends; 10 am – Noon & 1 – 3 pm; Weekdays; 1 – 3 pm; call 802-362-4997).
Hildene Decks the Halls for 1912 Christmas. December 5 – January 1. Cross the threshold and it’s Christmas Eve 1912 with festive décor, carols on Aeolian pipe organ, musicians on many weekend days. www.hildene.org/calendar.html or call 802.362.1788.
One of our favorite places to stay is the historic Equinox, where Mary Todd Lincoln would spend summers (it has since between winterized and turned into a four-season luxury resort with every imaginable amenity including spa, indoor pool, Orvis fly fishing school, a falconry school, Range Rover driving school) .It is walking distance from fabulous outlet shopping and historic sites such as Todd Lincoln’s home, Hildene, which hosts holiday tours and cross-country skiing. Equinox is also near to wonderful downhill skiing and riding at Stratton Mountain and Bromley Mountain (www.equinoxresort.com, 800-362-4747).
Vintage Christmas in Portsmouth, NH
Now in its tenth year, Vintage Christmas in Portsmouth is all about celebrating the winter, the warmth, the light, and our collective memories of holidays past. Presented by cultural anchors Strawbery Banke Museum and The Music Hall in the historic working seaport of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, this month-long city-wide event features the Candlelight Stroll that Strawbery Banke Museum has offered for 35 years, and the live holiday shows, opera broadcasts and films in The Music Hall’s landmark 1878 Historic Theater and the intimate Music Hall Loft on Congress Street. Cuddle up with a free trolley ride through red-bricked Market Square in this elegant and delightful holiday downtown, stroll through the snowflakes to the many eclectic shops, step back in time through living history at the festively decorated Strawbery Banke Museum, sample Portsmouth’s famous culinary specialties, or enjoy a first-class show at The Music Hall. Back by popular demand, the free Vintage Christmas trolley, courtesy of the City of Portsmouth, shuttles patrons around the historic seaport each Saturday and Sunday afternoon and evening for the first three weekends in December.
The centerpiece of the celebration is Strawbery Banke, a 10-acre outdoor living history museum and its 40 historic buildings that recreate December through 350 years in the same, actual waterfront Portsmouth neighborhood of Puddle Dock. It is quite literally a miracle that it has survived. Visit www.strawberybanke.org.
Complete the experience with a stay at Wentworth by the Sea – an AAA Four-Diamond resort and member of Member Historic Hotels of America delightfully set on an island just across from historic Portsmouth, NH. Ask just about anyone who grew up in New Hampshire and they wax nostalgic about spending holidays at this grand resort hotel that has graced the shore since 1888. Among its amenities: an 8,500 sq. ft. spa, magnificent indoor pool, Wentworth Dining Room with original handpainted ceiling mural. Check the website (www.wentworth.com) for special packages including Romance, Golf, Dining, and Spa, and holiday programs like Historic Thanksgiving Celebration with Dinner at Wentworth By the Sea & Historic House Tours at Strawbery Banke and Wentworth’s “Winter Wonderland Brunch”. Wentworth By the Sea, 588 Wentworth Road, New Castle NH 03854, 603-422-7322, 888-252-6888, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.wentworth.com.
Quintessential New England: Woodstock, Vermont
Woodstock is the quintessential New England, oozing charm and the centerpiece is the Woodstock Inn, an AAA Four Diamond resort, decked out in holiday finery and activities galore (new Tubbs Snowshoe Adventure Center, crosscountry skiing, luxurious spa and indoor recreation center with tennis, visits to the fascinating Billings Farm & Museum, downhill skiing at Suicide Six, with Killington just 25 minutes away and Okemo 40 minutes away. Founded by the Rockfeller, the Woodstock Inn & Resort is owned and operated by The Woodstock Foundation, Inc. Proceeds from Resort operations support The Woodstock Foundation and Billings Farm & Museum education and conservation programs. Find vacation packages and specials at www.woodstockinn.com.
Grand, Glorious & Historic Hotels
You can’t go wrong in choosing an Historic Hotels of America member hotel or resort for personality, character, connection to place, authenticity and overall aura that makes for a unique experience. Here are just a few of our favorites for the holidays:
Mohonk Mountain House, located 90 miles north of New York City in the Catskills,- is the very definition of a getaway-from-it-all retreat. From festive décor and favorite traditions to cozy wood-burning fires and a wealth of outdoor recreation, the historic Mohonk Mountain House exemplifies a quintessential holiday getaway.
The atmosphere at Mohonk is exceptional any time of the year, but is absolutely breathtaking for the holidays: spectacular hand-made swags, Victorian decorations, and beautifully decorated Christmas trees on display throughout the House. Upon arrival, guests are welcomed by a 60-foot Austrian Pine sparkling with 1,500 LED lights. Families who want to create a festive atmosphere in-room can inquire about holiday decorations, including an ornamented ‘eco-tree’ and stockings hung above their fireplace, filled with goodies. Cozy wood-burning fireplaces can also be found in 124 out of 259 guest rooms –more than any resort in the nation!
The spirit of the season fills Mohonk Mountain House, National Historic Landmark resort, throughout December with many cherished traditions, including the family Yule Log Hunt, a Trim-A-Tree Party, the nightly lighting of the Menorah, holiday craft-making and caroling. Workshops on wreath making, cookie decorating, seasonal tablescapes and more are also offered.
Outdoor recreation options abound, including cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and snow tubing (weather permitting), along with ice-skating at the resort’s stunning open-air Pavilion.
Mohonk also offers an award-winning, eco-friendly Spa (it was named the Number One Resort Spa in the United States by CondéNast Traveler). Spa amenities include an outdoor heated mineral pool, an indoor heated swimming pool with underwater sound system, a yoga/motion studio, comprehensive fitness center and solarium.
In honor of its 145th Anniversary, the Victorian castle resort is offering a midweek December Delight package which includes meals, numerous resort activities and all the holiday trimmings at an starting at $186.90 per person, per night (available Sunday through Thursday, through Dec. 23). For reservations, call 855.274.4020 or visit Mohonk.com.
Other Historic Hotels of America favorites:
Cranwell Resort & Spa, in the Berkshires – like being on a grand estate – equipped with every luxurious amenity – world class spa, indoor pool, cross-country skiing, and about half-hour up the road, downhilling at Jiminy Peak (www.cranwell.com).
Omni Mount Washington at Bretton Woods, New Hampshire: A grand masterpiece of Spanish Renaissance architecture, conceived by industrialist Joseph Stickney, this National Historic Landmark opened in 1902 and has been attracting generations of families ever since. It’s located literally across the street from Bretton Woods, a marvelous ski resort, and also offers a spa and cross-country skiing. It’s also close by to the outlet shopping town of North Conway, NH (www.omnihotels.com/hotels/bretton-woods-mount-washington)
The Sagamore, Bolton Landing: Situated in the unspoiled Adirondack Mountains on its own island on Lake George, the Sagamore opened in 1883 and was a social center for the wealthy visiting Lake George. It’s a magical place. Nearby, go sledding or cross-country skiing on The Sagamore’s golf course, or hop its shuttle bus to ski or ride at Gore Mountain, less than one hour away.
We have scores of favorite Historic Hotels – there are 260 members in just about every state and territory (The Hotel Hershey, in Hershey, Pennsylvania; Jekyll Island Club Hotel, Jekyll Island, Georgia; Colony Hotel & Cabana Club, Delray Beach, Florida; The Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort & Golf Club, St. Petersburg, Florida; The Chattanooga Choo Choo, Chattanooga, Tennessee; The Hermitage Hotel and the Union Station Hotel in Nashville, Tennessee among them). You can’t go wrong for atmosphere, service, amenities and the sheer experience – each one has its own personality, character, and special connection with the people and place. For more information, visit HistoricHotels.org.
An entirely different experience was our stay at the Pinegrove dude ranch, an old-fashioned all-inclusive Catskills Mountains family resort with horses and cowboy theme, with a “Toy Story” vibe. So festive, warm, friendly, and utterly delightful. Parents will slip back into their own childhoods while making new childhood memories for their own kids. There are activities galore, indoor pool, even laser tag, plus nightly shows and entertainment, three meals daily plus snacks and the holiday atmosphere is so special. For Christmas week, they are offering first child free per room. Check the site for specials on February Recess, and other school vacations. Pinegrove Ranch, 30 Cherrytown Road, Kerhonkson N.Y. 12446, Ulster County, Reservations: 800-346-4626, email email@example.com, www.pinegroveranch.com.
Gaylord Hotels’ Christmas Festival Features ICE!
Gaylord Hotels go whole hog for Christmas – creating enthralling holiday environments with over-the-top decorations, shows and activities, and most unique, their indoor ice palace of storytelling.
More than 160 artisans are brought each year from Harbin, China—home of the Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival—to create Gaylord Hotels’ signature ICE! attraction—a frigid winter wonderland of brilliantly colored ice panoramas, on view through early January at all four of Gaylord Hotels’ destination resorts.
“Each of our four locations offers more than 2 million pounds of ice sculptures and 20-foot-tall ice slides,” said Warren Lyng, director of special events for Gaylord Hotels. “We’re excited to introduce new ICE! themes for 2014 and to offer a brand new interactive area called The Frostbite Factory where visitors can watch artisans carve ice sculptures right before their eyes.”
ICE! features a frozen retelling of the holiday favorite, Frosty the Snowman™, at both at Gaylord Texan’s Lone Star Christmas near Dallas in Grapevine, Texas, and Gaylord National’s Christmas on the Potomac in National Harbor, Maryland, near Washington, D.C.
Visitors at Gaylord Opryland’s A Country Christmas in the lively Music City of Nashville, Tennessee, will see Ma in her kerchief, Pa in his cap and Saint Nick with his eight reindeer in scenes from the classic holiday poem ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.
ICE! at Christmas at Gaylord Palms in Kissimmee, Florida will bring scenes from The Nutcracker to life, accompanied by the original Tchaikovsky score, in a magical adventure with Clara and her Nutcracker Prince.
ICE! is kept at 9 degrees Fahrenheit with 10-inch-thick walls. A series of inter-connected rooms features breathtaking, 3-D sculpted ice pieces, including two-story-tall ice slides and memorable holiday scenes. Each ICE! display concludes with a Nativity carved from crystal clear ice and an audio telling of the story.
A wide variety of ICE! upgraded experiences are available, ranging from VIP behind-the-scenes tours to wedding proposal packages and more. Visitors ages 21 and up can “chill out” at On The Blocks, the exclusive bar at ICE! at select properties. This new upgrade option includes signature drink samples poured through an ice luge into a souvenir glass.
ICE! is certainly a unique feature of staying at Gaylord Hotels’ four destination resorts ranging 1,300 to 2,882 guest rooms, but this is only one part of the resorts’ over-the-top Christmas holiday festivities (and that’s no exaggeration). Opryland Nashville, for example, has scores of special concerts and activities.
And what decorations! The hotels collectively display 6 million Christmas lights, nearly 30,000 poinsettias and 8 million pounds of colorful ice sculptures at its signature ICE! attraction.
All four resorts feature soaring, multi-acre atriums with breathtaking indoor gardens and waterfalls accented with towering Christmas trees, oversized wreaths and ornaments and dazzling details around every bend. Each is a destination unto itself with diverse restaurants, spas, pools, recreation, shopping, exciting entertainment and more—all under one roof.
Christmas packages are now on sale at www.ChristmasAtGaylordHotels.com for stays at Gaylord Opryland in the lively Music City of Nashville, Tennessee (www.ChristmasAtGaylordOpryland.com); Gaylord Texan deep in the heart of Grapevine, Texas (www.ChristmasAtGaylordTexan.com); Gaylord Palms in the family vacation oasis of Kissimmee, Florida (ww.ChristmasAtGaylordPalms.com); and Gaylord National on the banks of the Potomac near Washington, D.C., where we spent an enchanted Christmas (www.ChristmasOnThePotomac.com) .
For more information, visit www.GaylordHotels.com.
Other ideas: multi-generational holiday cruise; ski holidays; and of course, the major themeparks.
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