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6 romantic winter getaways in Northern New England

Couple enjoys wine and snack in front of a fireplace as a dog watches on the side. Photo by Rasulov Sergey/stock.adobe.com

Love is in the wintry air across the snowy countryside and in charming towns throughout Northern New England. Why not warm up February with a romantic escape for two? You’ll find plenty to do, whether you prefer embracing the great outdoors or embracing by the fire. Many lodging businesses offer special packages, so it can be a real sweetheart deal, too. Be sure to book your accommodations in advance, check your destination’s current COVID-19 protocols, and call ahead to confirm that restaurants and other businesses are open.

1. One-stop shop in Burlington, Vermont

 In Burlington, Vermont, the Church Street Marketplace offers myriad shopping options. | Photo by SeanPavonePhoto/stock.adobe.com

In Burlington, Vermont, the Church Street Marketplace offers myriad shopping options. | Photo by SeanPavonePhoto/stock.adobe.com

Set beside Lake Champlain, with panoramas across the water to the Adirondacks, the lively college town of Burlington heats up in winter. Join the bustle of University of Vermont students and other locals shopping and dining beneath twinkling lights at pedestrians-only Church Street Marketplace. It’s a great place to find a special keepsake or share a romantic dinner. Don’t pass up sweets for the sweetheart at Lake Champlain Chocolates. For some nostalgic fun, look for The Archives, a bar-arcade mash-up where you can battle aliens and zombies in one of many classic video games or challenge your partner on an Addams Family pinball machine. If you’re a Phish fan, you’ll want to visit Nectar’s, the restaurant and bar where the band got its start. Love craft beer? Lots of tasting rooms and brewpubs can slake your thirst. There’s plenty of outdoor fun here, too, including snowmobile tours, skating, Nordic skiing, dogsled rides, and excellent skiing. Several of Burlington’s inns and hotels have in-room whirlpool tubs and gas fireplaces, as well as special packages with such perks as chocolates, bubbly, and couples massages.

2. Pucker up in Jackson, New Hampshire

You’ll know you’re in Jackson, New Hampshire, when you see the Honeymoon Bridge. | Photo by Larry Myhre

You’ll know you’re in Jackson, New Hampshire, when you see the Honeymoon Bridge. | Photo by Larry Myhre

Tucked at the base of Mount Washington on the edge of the White Mountains National Forest, Jackson wins the prize for best start to a romantic getaway. The road into town leads through a picturesque 1876 covered bridge known as the Honeymoon Bridge, and it’s said to be good luck to kiss your sweetie beneath its roof. Once you’ve arrived in this storybook village, be sure to visit the quirky RavenWood Curio Shoppe, Flossie’s General Store and Gift Emporium, and the White Mountain Puzzles shop. Why not pick out a challenging jigsaw to complete beside your in-room fireplace? Local inns offer whirlpool tubs and candlelight dining, too, plus romance packages. Just outside town, snow-blanketed meadows and mountains beckon with exceptional opportunities for alpine skiing, Nordic skiing, and skating. For a special memory, take an oh-so-romantic ride in a private, horse-drawn sleigh complete with champagne.

3. Enjoy seafood in Portland, Maine 

When people think of Portland, they think of the waterfront and the Old Port, where restaurants serve the freshest seafood. | Photo by Visit Portland

When people think of Portland, they think of the waterfront and the Old Port, where restaurants serve the freshest seafood. | Photo by Visit Portland

In Portland’s Old Port area, narrow, gas-lit streets—perfect for walking hand-in-hand in the snow—lead to delightful shops, galleries, and a multitude of acclaimed restaurants. Menus feature ultra-fresh seafood, including lobster, scallops, and oysters. Get to know the area on your own, on a foodie or history tour, or aboard a horse-drawn carriage. Wishing for warmer clothes? Visit the Sock Shack for a tootsie-toasting array of fun choices or make a bucket-list visit to L.L. Bean’s flagship store in nearby Freeport. Suitably attired, you’re ready for cross-country skiing in the city’s parks and preserves, sledding on local hills, or skating at the Rink at Thompson’s Point. The frozen stuff also takes center stage at ice bars that pop up every winter. Be sure to visit some of Portland’s many craft breweries, too, or celebrate your love at a rooftop bar whose windows provide romantic views of the city and harbor far below.

4. Learn about gems in Bethel, Maine

Even if you don’t stay there, Maine’s Bethel Inn offers plenty of things to do. | Photo by Nick Cote

Even if you don’t stay there, Maine’s Bethel Inn offers plenty of things to do. | Photo by Nick Cote

The two-century-old town of Bethel, near Maine’s southwestern border, is a Currier and Ives print come to life. Bundle up for a horse-drawn sleigh ride, enjoy a cup of chowder in a snug pub, and browse inviting shops. Be sure to check out the Maine Mineral and Gem Museum, featuring one of the world’s most impressive meteorite collections. For a perfect memento, look for jewelry made of locally mined red, blue, watermelon, and green tourmaline in the museum store or at a local jeweler. The rambling, yellow-clapboard Bethel Inn Resort has graced the heart of town since 1913. Try fat-tire biking, skating, or cross-country skiing on its grounds. Then enjoy a little spa time or take a plunge in the heated outdoor pool. For cozy cuddling, book one of the inns rooms with a fireplace. Alpine skiers and boarders love the proximity to acclaimed Sunday River Resort, with 135 trails—from cruisers to heart-pounders—spread across eight peaks. On the way, stop at the landmark bright-orange trailer to share an order of Smokin’ Good BBQ.

5. Hike the history of Portsmouth, New Hampshire

Ice skating at the Strawbery Banke Museum in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, evokes an earlier time. | Photo by Phil Cohen

Ice skating at the Strawbery Banke Museum in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, evokes an earlier time. | Photo by Phil Cohen

The compact seaport city of Portsmouth overflows with dozens of welcoming, locally owned shops and galleries, casual and date-night restaurants, pubs, and craft breweries. It all centers on Market Square, a red-brick plaza graced by a quintessentially New England white-steepled church. To get to know Portsmouth’s four-century backstory, take a walk on a self-guided history tour. Just beyond the heart of town, you’ll find ocean-side snowshoeing trails (look for migrating snowy owls this time of year) and a sandy beach with panoramas reaching to the fabled Isles of Shoals. Though the historic village at Strawbery Banke Museum is closed in winter, you can enjoy views of its evocative antique buildings as you do a little ice dancing (or just keep each other upright) at Labrie Family Skate on Puddle Dock Pond. Top off your getaway with a stay at one of the area’s fine inns. Many offer four-poster or canopy beds, fireplaces, and whirlpool tubs.

6. Improve your snow driving in Manchester, Vermont

Improve your winter-driving skills at the Land Rover Experience School in Manchester, Vermont. | Photo by Land Rover Experience Vermont

Improve your winter-driving skills at the Land Rover Experience School in Manchester, Vermont. | Photo by Land Rover Experience Vermont

It doesn’t get much more romantic that snowshoeing by moonlight or riding in a one-horse sleigh with a stop to toast marshmallows and sip cider by the fire. That is, unless you prefer something to get your heart racing, such as learning off-road snow driving with the Land Rover Experience Center. Manchester also offers cross-country skiing and indoor skating, plus alpine skiing a short drive away. This sweet town bustles with designer outlets, galleries, and other shops, as well as excellent restaurants—just imagine sharing a candlelit dinner in a historic tavern. Robert Todd Lincoln (Abraham’s son) loved Manchester so much he built his mansion, Hildene, here. The estate’s trails welcome visitors to snowshoe or cross-country ski, and the grand house is open for tours. Several other gracious mansions have been converted to upscale inns and bed-and-breakfasts, while the Equinox Resort exudes luxury. Stop at Northshire Bookstore for a book of love poetry to read beside your in-room fireplace.

Mimi Bigelow Steadman writes about New England regularly for AAA’s publications.

AAA Travel Alert: Many travel destinations have implemented COVID-19–related restrictions. Before making travel plans, check to see if hotels, attractions, cruise lines, tour operators, restaurants, and local authorities have issued health and safety-related restrictions or entry requirements. The local tourism board is a good resource for updated information.

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