Even for adults there is something magical about the never-ending supply of chocolate at the Hotel Hershey in Hershey, Pennsylvania.
In winter, the hotel, designed to resemble European castles Milton and Catherine Hershey admired during their travels, sweetens the pot even more. Holiday family packages feature everything from caroling and a two-mile light display to special events featuring the reincarnation of Charles Dickens and characters dressed as Hershey Kisses.
Some guests will find their sweet dreams in the three-story spa, where a long list of treatments can be had amid stained-glass windows and pecan paneling.
Hotel Hershey, 800-HERSHEY; www.hersheypa.com. Deluxe accommodations are $185 an adult per night ($110 in the less-formal Hershey Lodge). Packages are available, including a spa special that starts at $204 a night and includes accommodations and several treatments. Travel time from Washington: 2H hours.
ANOTHER HAVEN FOR SPA-LOVERS IS NEMACOLIN WOODlands Resort & Spa in Farmington, Pennsylvania. The spa is perhaps the best, and most beautiful, on the East Coast.
The resort is top-notch. There are 36 holes of golf, a 140-acre sporting clays facility, an equestrian center, skiing for downhill and cross-country enthusiasts, and an art collection to admire.
Need a last-minute gift? At Nemacolin's Auto Toy Store--a collection of vintage cars and motorcycles, many with celebrity histories--there is a Mercedes Gullwing for $350,000.
The Asian-themed spa offers more than 60 treatments. Don't think you can spend that much time or money in the spa? Schedule appointments à la carte. Rooms in the townhouses are the most reasonable, from $215.
For the outdoorsman, consider an Orvis Fishing Trip with four hours of instruction, license, and equipment rental, for $175.
Nemacolin Woodlands Resort & Spa, 800-422-2736; www.nwlr.com. Travel time from Washington: 3 hours.
BRANDYWINE VALLEY IS A PRETTY DESTINAtion any time of year, and during the holidays the area's du Pont chateaus have special programs and decor.
Through January 4 at Winterthur--home to 89,000 masterpieces of American decorative art--the table settings, Christmas trees, and other holiday displays are recreated from paintings, sketches, and other images.
Other estates open for tours are the Hagley Museum, which contains memorabilia from five generations of du Ponts; Nemours, a French-style chateau; and Longwood Gardens, with its glorious gardens and greenhouses.
Brandywine Valley Inn in Wilmington, Delaware, is an elegant and reasonably priced base for visiting the estates. The Museum Package, $230 a couple for two nights, includes a deluxe guestroom plus tickets to Longwood, Winterthur, and Hagley. The Winterthur Connoisseur Package includes a choice of a Winterthur-decor suite ($291) or room ($228), a two-day pass to Winterthur, and a one-hour escorted tour.
Brandywine Valley Inn, 800-537-7772; www.brandywineinn.com. For more information about the area, see www.hsd.org/DBV or call 800-228-9933. Travel time from Washington: 2 hours.
AT CHESTNUT COVE B&B, SITUATED ON A creek in Virginia's Northern Neck, you can curl up in a window seat with a good book. If your gift recipient likes to do more, treat him or her to the inn's two-day stained-glass school.
At the inn, guests awaken to the aroma of freshly ground coffee, homemade muffins, and a hot breakfast. The contemporary single-story house, in Farnham, has two guest rooms decorated with whimsy by hosts Barney and Bob Harris, who are stained-glass artists.
The class is limited to four participants. Everyone--beginners are welcome--brings home a framed piece, ready to hang.
Chestnut Cove B&B, 804-394-3142; www.zekiahglass.com. Rates: $174 or $194 a room for two nights, including breakfast and lunch. Classes cost $175 a person for 16 hours of instruction, with lunch, plus $10 to $50 for supplies. For information on the area, contact Northern Neck Tourism Council, 800-393-6180; www.northernneck.org. Travel time from Washington: 2H hours.
HOT MINERAL SPRINGS HAVE ATTRACTED travelers since the 1600s to the Homestead, one of the country's grandest resorts. But, like other four-season resorts, it has developed a long list of other activities.
One of the newest offerings is a culinary school featuring instruction by chefs such as Galileo's Roberto Donna. Through March, the weekend sessions range from $296 to $394 a person a night, based on double occupancy, and include accommodations, breakfast and dinner, and a chef's coat and hat to wear at home.
The Homestead's new snowmaking system is also debuting this season. Choose from nine downhill runs, a half-pipe for snowboarding, and a tubing park. A winter package starts at $129 a person a night, based on double occupancy (up to two children stay free in the same room). The rate includes breakfast--don't miss the warm doughnuts--and dinner. Most activities are à la carte.
If you don't care about skiing, take advantage of low prices through March, when the weather is often mild enough for golf.
Money saved during low season can be spent at the spa. The $149 Highlands Honeysuckle Experience, one of many choices, begins with a honeysuckle soak followed by a full-body exfoliation, a honeysuckle oil application, and a warm body wrap of muslins that have been steeped in honeysuckle.
The Homestead, 800-838-1766; www.thehomestead.com. Travel time from Washington: 4 hours.
LANSDOWNE RESORT, NEAR LEESBURG, eight miles from Dulles International Airport, is Washington's closest resort. Amenities include a challenging golf course, a health club and spa, indoor and outdoor pools, lighted tennis courts, and four restaurants.
Overdue for quality time with a good friend? The Girlfriends Shopping Package is tempting for a holiday gift-buying marathon or to perk up one's own wardrobe. Through January, for $119 a person a night ($179 single), guests receive a bag filled with treats from Leesburg Corner Premium Outlets (www.premiumoutlets.com/leesburg), breakfast, and a $55 pedicure that'll soothe your soles after a long day of hunting and gathering.
Throughout the year, Lansdowne schedules three-hour cooking classes. For $55 to $75 a class, participants learn to prepare romantic dinners, hors d'oeuvres, holiday cookies, or soups that you devour as the class progresses. Call or check the Web site for current themes, including a Guest Chef Weekend in July with Todd Gray of Equinox.
If you like to plan ahead, consider a gift certificate to next September's annual Churchill Dinner, celebrating the life of Sir Winston Churchill. The $150-a-person black-tie dinner is a cigar lover's dream, pairing cigars with food and wines. Hardball's Chris Matthews enjoyed himself at the 2003 dinner, which featured Churchill biographer James C. Humes.
Lansdowne Resort, 877-509-8400; www.lansdowneresort.com. Rates start at $119. Travel time from DC: 30 minutes.
THE ONLY CROSS-COUNTRY SKI RESORT IN Maryland, Savage River Lodge is a classic mountain retreat on 45 forested acres just west of Frostburg.
The rustic-yet-polished lodge is surrounded by 15 miles of cross-country ski trails. A Nordic Center offers ski and snowshoe rentals, private and group lessons, and guided ski and snowshoe tours.
The lodge also features a restaurant, bar, library, and sitting areas on either side of the massive stone fireplace. Guests stay in two-story log cabins a short walk from the lodge. Roll out from under a down comforter to find homemade muffins and juice in a basket by the door. Four-legged friends are welcome, too. Don't ski or cook? Stay in your cabin and ring for a massage.
Savage River Lodge, 301-689-3200; www.savageriverlodge.com. Rates: $190 a cabin a night, double occupancy. Travel time from Washington: 2H hours.
GOLF AND TENNIS ARE POPULAR AT THE four-season Wintergreen Resort in Virginia, but Skiing magazine called this mountaintop retreat "home to the best ski area in the South." In addition to skiing and snowboarding, Wintergreen has two snow-tubing parks.
Wintergreen Adaptive Skiing is a nonprofit whose mission is to teach the joys of alpine skiing to individuals with a disability. Volunteer instructors typically work one-on-one with a child or adult with a disability, using sit-down ski equipment.
Although there is a lodge, most visitors stay in condominiums and homes, many with views of the Blue Ridge and all with kitchens. Rentals range from studio apartments to seven-bedroom homes and come with access to all of the resort's facilities, including a spa and fitness center, outdoor tennis courts, and hiking trails.
Wintergreen Resort, 800-266-2444; www.wintergreenresort.com. Rates through March 23 range from $133 a night for a two-person studio to $747 for a seven-bedroom house. The greatest savings occur from March 9 through 23, when that seven-bedroom is $524 a night. Travel time from Washington: 3H hours.
A PRIME EXAMPLE OF ITALIANATE ARCHItecture, the 48-room Keswick Hall is set amid lush formal and informal gardens in the hills outside Charlottesville, Virginia.
Complete with an Arnold Palmer golf course, three pools, five tennis courts, a renowned restaurant, and a complement of trained butlers, Keswick has been ranked by Condé Nast Traveler as one of its World's Best Places to Stay.
Special meals and other celebrations will be featured from Thanksgiving through New Year's Day. Fires will roar in the nine drawing rooms, and activities will include holiday stories read by the fire, tastings of fine wines, snooker games, and spa treatments.
On Christmas morning, Father Christmas will appear. A black-tie-optional New Year's Eve dinner will start with tapas from Spain and take diners through the seafood, veal, and lamb dishes of Italy, France, Asia, and Australia. A four-piece band will serenade with swing, salsa, and classic rock.
Keswick Hall, 800-274-5391; www.keswick.com. Christmas packages start at $375 a room for one night, including lunch or dinner for two and afternoon tea. New Year's Eve packages start at $620 a room for one night, with New Year's Eve dinner, afternoon tea, and New Year's Day brunch for two. Additional nights start $195. Travel time from Washington: 2 hours.
REOPENED IN SEPTEMBER AFTER EXTENSIVE renovation, the Madison Hotel at 15th and M streets is pure Washingtonian--locally owned and operated. The restaurant features a mural of downtown DC, circa 1800. President and Mrs. Kennedy glamorized the hotel's 1963 opening.
The decor is classic, and the beds are clouds of dreamy duvets and linens. If you like, call the concierge and ask to have a butler draw your bath. Choose from a menu that includes Dead Sea mineral salts, scented candles, or rose petals. Bathside snacks include Champagne, brandy, and petit fours.
In the gift shop, souvenirs created by the Tiny Jewel Box for the hotel include handmade beveled glass boxes with copper beading, decoupaged with late-18th-century prints. A nine-inch version with images of the White House and President and Dolley Madison is $350.
Madison Hotel, 202-862-1600; www.themadisondc.com. One night's accommodation with the bath butler starts at $209.
THE GREENBRIER IS AN AWARD-WINNING REsort that was born in the Allegheny Mountains of West Virginia 225 years ago. This travel-magazine favorite has every activity known to man, woman, and child, including three golf courses, a golf academy, a classy spa--even hot-air ballooning.
One of the least-expensive pleasures here is a $65 gift assortment of handmade chocolates--although you can enjoy the chocolate shop's aroma for free.
Higher up the food chain are cooking courses with Anne Willan, a Bon Appétit Cooking Teacher of the Year who founded Ecole de Cuisine la Varenne in Paris in 1975. Students learn easy recipes grounded in French techniques during demonstrations and optional hands-on sessions.
La Varenne at the Greenbrier is a five-day program scheduled four times during March and April. The $2,903 per-person price ($5,392 double occupancy) includes accommodations, all meals, unlimited golf and tennis, a one-hour spa treatment, and a welcoming reception. A three-day program is also available, with different instructors, throughout the year, starting at $1,456.
The Greenbrier, 800-624-6070; www.greenbrier.com. Rooms start at $228 a person a night and include breakfast and dinner. Travel time from Washington: 4H hours. *
WINTER WEATHER IS MILD IN ST. MICHAELS, Maryland--it rarely snows. With proper attire, long walks, bicycling, historic tours, and browsing the chain-free shops are enjoyable; dedicated hackers hit the town's links.
The 80-room Inn at Perry Cabin is a luxurious base. Guest rooms are filled with antiques and beautiful fabrics. Camp by a fire--in your room or in one of the public rooms--for a game of chess or backgammon or just to read with a brandy.
For Christmas and New Year's, prices start at $355 (double occupancy) and include one night's accommodation and a holiday dinner. Christmas dinner will feature butternut-squash soup with chestnuts; Chesapeake oysters poached in Champagne; oysters wrapped in smoked salmon with crème fraîche and caviar; roast goose with caramelized apples, baby Brussels sprouts, and apple-smoked bacon; and linzer streusel tart with gingerbread ice cream.
Inn at Perry Cabin, 800-722-2949; www.perrycabin.com. Talbot County Visitors Bureau is at 410-822-6681, www.tourtalbot.com. Travel time from Washington: 2 hours.
WINTER IN COLONIAL WILLIAMSBURG OFfers two opposite experiences. While its renowned holiday decorations attract crowds, after the holidays it is quiet. Interpreters at the museums and historic buildings have plenty of time for questions and conversations.
Williamsburg Inn is an exquisite home base. A two-night Holiday Decorations package includes a walking tour, lunch in a tavern, and admission to the Colonial attractions. Add a day of unlimited golf for $99 a player. Available from December 12 through January 4, this package starts at $263 a person a night.
If you want to avoid the holiday crush, book the Golden Horseshoe 40th Anniversary Golf Package. The Golden Horseshoe has two well-regarded courses just a chip and a putt from the inn. The Gold Course is ranked by Golf Digest as one of Robert Trent Jones Sr.'s six "Must Play Masterpieces." The package includes accommodations, two days of unlimited golf (one day on the Gold Course and one on the Green, with cart), a 40th-anniversary shirt, and a sleeve of balls. Rates start at $159 a person a night at Woodlands Hotel & Suites and go up to $194 for a stay in a Colonial house and $314 for the Williamsburg Inn.
Colonial Williamsburg, 800-HISTORY; www.colonialwilliamsburg.com. Travel time from Washington: 2H hours.