Winter getaways closer to home


By Victor Block

Winter’s here and the outlook for the weather is cold — and colder. It would be great to head for a Caribbean island but maybe the available time, and your travel budget, suggest other destinations.

Places closer to home can combine a welcome respite from frigid Massachusetts temperatures with the warmth of the sun’s rays and traditional southern hospitality.

In Savannah, Georgia, the sun heats the temperature into the pleasant 50s on most days. That’s perfect for strolling through what has been described as one of the loveliest cities in the world.

The historic district includes more than 1,000 restored mansions and row houses. Cobblestone streets, canopied by oak trees draped in Spanish moss, provide a lush backdrop for sightseeing by foot or horse-drawn carriage or just soaking up the warming sun.

An equally inviting setting beckons from the Golden Isles along Georgia’s coastline. Soft sand beaches are just one of its attractions. Outstanding golf, tennis, biking and fishing are among many other diversions.

Jekyll Island and the exclusive Jekyll Island Club served as a winter playground for wealthy folks during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Most buildings from the club still stand, and the original club house now houses the Jekyll Island Club Hotel.

It’s surrounded by 33 mansion-size “cottages” built by families with names like Rockefeller, Gould and Morgan. Today, some of them offer additional lodgings, while others house museums, art galleries and shops.

Another cure for the winter blahs can be a trip to view the gardens of Charleston, South Carolina. Cypress Gardens is enchanting and mysterious — a network of eerie dark lagoons surrounded by brooding ancient cypress trees. The blaze of color provided by plantings along the banks is intensified by reflections in the dark water.

A more formal flower extravaganza greets visitors to Middleton Gardens, America’s oldest landscaped floral display. Carefully manicured exotic shrubs and flowers are set among terraced lawns and reflecting pools. Color explodes around visitors from masses of azalea bushes, wisteria vines and flowering peach and dogwood trees.

The choice of where to warm up in Florida can be daunting because there are so many inviting alternatives. One destination that combines much of what the Sunshine State has to offer is Sarasota.

Those seeking more than a sun, sand and sea vacation will find a selection of outstanding beaches. That includes Siesta Key, which has been recognized by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute for having the finest, whitest sand in the world.

But that only scratches the surface of attractions in the area, whose residents take pride in the area’s self-proclaimed role as “Florida’s Cultural Coast.” One reason for that claim is the elegant mansion built in 1926 for John Ringling, whose cultural legacy matched his fame as a circus magnate. The four-story, 32-room Italian-style residence awes visitors with its lavish architectural touches, elaborate decorations and rich furnishings. An adjacent museum houses a world-class art collection with works by the likes of Rubens and Rembrandt.

While New Orleans offers many diversions, it isn’t for everyone. A more laid-back warming experience can be found in Cajun Louisiana, centered in 22 of the state’s 64 parishes.

The Cajuns trace their roots back to French-speaking Canadians who, after being ousted from their homeland in the mid-18th century, settled in Louisiana. Clinging proudly to their traditions and ways of life, they continue to speak French and savor spicy, palate-numbing cuisine.

The Acadian Village at Lafayette is a realistic recreation of a 19th century settlement. The town of Martinsville is home to a museum that displays artifacts of early settlers.

Also on the must-see list is the hundreds of bayous that crisscross the area. They served as highways for early settlers. And their sluggish waters still provide some of the fish, crawfish and rice that form the basis of much Cajun cooking.

For those seeking to travel further from the east, South Padre Island, perched on the Gulf Coast of Texas, is a favorite wintering destination. The casual, laid-back atmosphere provides an enticing setting. One example of the fun-loving environment is a “proclamation” that banishes the wearing of neckties. It calls for first-time offenders to receive a written warning and a T-shirt, and for scofflaws caught a second time to pay a fine equal to the price of a silk tie.

Active vacationers find a long list of choices. Boat trips range from eco-tours and close-up encounters with dolphin to wildlife tours and sunset cruises. Fishermen may try to catch their dinner in bay and gulf waters. The island also is a birders’ paradise, with more than 300 species that add sound and color to the setting.

If you go …

For more information about these winter getaway destinations: or 877-728-2662; or 877-453-5955; or 800-774-0006; or 800-348-7250; or 800-346-1958; or call 800-657-2373.