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6 cozy winter getaways

Brrr ... winter is almost here, and that means frosty festivals, snowy scenery and snug B&B's.
Tourismus Salzburg GmbH
/ Source: Independent Traveler

Brrrrr ... snow is falling, lakes are crusting over with ice, and you've dug your heavy coat out from the back of your closet. Winter is here, and we're ready to embrace it! You don't have to strap on skis or head for the tropics to enjoy traveling this winter -- we've rounded up six fabulous destinations where you can find frosty festivals, snowy scenery, cozy B&B's, low-season crowds and other pleasures of the season. So pack your bags with your favorite scarf and mittens, and let it snow!

Salzburg, Austria
Whether it's "The Golden Flute" or "The hills are alive," a visit to this musical city will leave you humming a happy tune. Summer may be prime festival season in the birthplace of Mozart, but Salzburg becomes a winter fantasy land at this time of year, with its ancient stone buildings and towering mountain peaks wreathed in snow. Come early in the season and browse Salzburg's traditional Christmas market (mid-November through December 24), full of handmade crafts and seasonal treats like mulled wine and hot roasted chestnuts.

Outside of the holiday festivities, winter in Salzburg brings smaller crowds around the city's major sights, which include the towering Fortress Hohensalzburg, the breathtaking Dom (cathedral) and the historic house where Mozart was born. If you're more into musicals than Mozart, take a "Sound of Music" bus tour to see various locations from the famous Julie Andrews film, including the fountain that was the setting for the song "Do-Re-Mi." Complete your cozy getaway with a stay at the historic (and reasonably priced) Hotel Weiss Taube -- or splurge on digs at the ultra-luxe Hotel Sacher.

Spring Lake, N.J.
There's something quietly magical about a beach town during the off-season, when the umbrellas and boogie boards have been stowed away for another year and the only folks left in town are the locals. Enjoy the off-season serenity at Spring Lake, New Jersey's most elegant beach resort, where you'll find beautifully maintained historic homes and two miles of wide, clean beaches. Bundle up and join the locals for a brisk seaside walk or jog along the state's longest non-commercial boardwalk, or stroll along the picturesque lake for which the town is named. When you're ready to come in from the cold, head for the shops along Third Avenue, the town's commercial district, where you can buy everything from Irish keepsakes to handmade chocolates. On the same street, don't miss lunch or dinner at the Island Palm Grill, offering Latin and American dishes like seafood paella and plantain-crusted mahi-mahi.

The 19th-century village of Allaire is within driving distance, as is Allenwood General Store, where you can nosh on pork roll sandwiches and browse its collection of 1930's magazines, retro license plates and antique knickknacks. (Motto: "This is no museum. This junk is for sale.") At the end of the day, retreat to one of Spring Lake's 11 historic inns; we love the Beacon House for mouth-watering breakfasts, the Ocean House for historic charm, and Sea Crest by the Sea for understated luxury.

Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minn.
Calling all true winter lovers! If you're willing to brave a few sub-zero temperatures, you'll be well rewarded in Minnesota's Twin Cities. Stately St. Paul and ultra-modern Minneapolis, located about 20 minutes apart on opposite sides of the Mississippi River, each celebrate winter with their own seasonal festivities. Colorful parades fill the evenings throughout the holiday season during Minneapolis' Holidazzle, while the venerable St. Paul Winter Carnival, a tradition since 1886, brings residents of both cities together in late January and early February for ice carving and snow sculpting competitions, public ice skating, parades and more.

Can't make it for a festival? These friendly, cosmopolitan cities draw visitors with indoor (read: heated) sights like the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, the Science Museum of Minnesota in St. Paul, and the most visited attraction in the state: the gigantic Mall of America, about 20 minutes south of both cities. (Break out your credit card -- there's no sales tax on clothes!) Best of all? You may not even need to step outside to get around, as both cities have networks of climate-controlled skyways connecting dozens of downtown buildings. For accommodations, try the romantic Nicollet Island Inn in Minneapolis, or the floating Covington Inn -- a towboat permanently docked on the Mississippi River overlooking St. Paul.

Charleston, S.C.
If you'd rather take your winter in milder doses, Charleston's temperate climate should do the trick. Even if the mercury rarely falls below freezing, this gracious Southern city embraces winter each year with a six-week Holiday Festival of Lights in November and December. Drive along a three-mile path amidst millions of twinkling lights in the James Island County Park; then ditch the wheels to visit Santa's Village, toast marshmallows, check out sand sculptures and gingerbread houses, and ride the carousel at Winter Wonderland.

Even after the holiday festivities are over, winter travelers can enjoy the off-season in the always lovely cobblestone streets of Charleston, with fewer crowds in the city's museums, estate homes and forts. You can also enjoy reduced rates at dozens of Charleston's historic inns and B&B's. Our favorites are the Governor's House Inn, boasting an elegant crescent staircase and opulent guest rooms, and the friendly King George IV Inn, which offers comfy, reasonably priced rooms with fireplaces.

Montreal, Canada
If you're seeking a winter wonderland with a European feel, look no further than the French-Canadian city of Montreal. Its yearly Fete des Neiges (Snow Festival) is a three-week celebration of all things fun and frosty, featuring ice sculpting competitions, snow-covered tube slides for kids, a 1.5-kilometer ice skating path, dog sledding rides and tobogganing down the Plaine des Jeux.

But even if you can't make it to Montreal during the festival (held from late January to mid-February), there are plenty of chilly pleasures to be found here -- like hiking or cross-country skiing through the crunchy snow in Mount Royal park, or strolling through an Old Town that looks even more magical with its gray stone buildings blanketed in white. When you're ready to come in from the cold, head for the Underground City, an enormous network of boutiques and other shops connected to the city's major downtown metro stations and hotels. Spend your nights at the gorgeous Hotel Nelligan, a boutique property in the Old Town, or Le Petit Prince, a downtown B&B where the rooms are funky-elegant and the breakfast is divine.

Denver, Colo.
Winter in Denver has obvious appeal to snow bunnies, but even non-skiers will find plenty to keep them busy in the Mile High City. The snow-covered Rocky Mountains provide a magnificent natural backdrop to the city's urban attractions, including the Denver Art Museum (with its excellent collection of Native American works) and the revitalized lower downtown area known as LoDo -- where the shopping and bar-hopping are fabulous all year round.

To enjoy the unforgettable winter scenery, head out of town and take a drive along the Peak to Peak Highway, which runs from Central City to Estes Park and offers stunning views of the Continental Divide along nearly its entire length. Not far outside of Denver is the laid-back college town of Boulder; read more about it in College Towns 101. At night, curl up in front of your fireplace at the cozy Gregory Inn, or go upscale at the stylish Hotel Monaco.

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