5 destinations in the Midwest for a romantic winter getaway

Leave the dingy snow mounds behind and embrace a romantic winter getaway in the Midwest. If holiday travel proved anything, it’s that flying can be costly, infuriating and leave you asking “why?”, especially when you can drive to a cabin in the countryside or an upscale igloo in a postcard setting. Lift the tedium of another winter weekend at home and surrender to the season at these appealing destinations that offer seductive activities indoors and out.

Galena, Illinois

You’ll be saying, “It’s a wonderful life,” visiting Galena in winter — Photo courtesy of Galena Country Tourism

Make the drive to Galena to take in rolling hills and bluffs offering a European ambience in Illinois. Couples who like to nose around indie shops will be in heaven strolling the 19th-century downtown with more than 100 stores. Then down a shot of just-distilled whiskey, vodka or gin at Blaum Bros. Distilling Co., to ease the pain of the new receipts swelling your wallet.

Oenophiles should head to Galena Cellars Tasting Room for sips and seasonal bites or Galena Tap House for local craft brews and a surprising menu of appetizers and entrees. Saunter over to the Scent Workshop to learn the fundamentals of perfuming and make candles, massage oil, custom cologne or perfume. Main Street eateries perfect for canoodling include the charming French/German Fritz and Frites and Fried Green Tomatoes for pasta, steaks and seafood (the building once housed a store owned by the family of Ulysses S. Grant).

Outdoor adventure abounds, from snowshoeing at Casper Bluff with scenic views of the Mississippi, to skiing and snowboarding at Chestnut Mountain Resort. The variety of romantic lodging in Galena is dizzying: there are historic guest houses, log cabins, Main Street B&B’s and others tucked into the countryside.

Couples can experience the Breathe and Detox room togetherCouples can experience the Breathe and Detox room together — Photo courtesy of Eagle Ridge Resort & Spa

Eagle Ridge Resort & Spa has it all – rental homes, villas and rooms throughout 6,800 acres of The Galena Territory – plus an on-site Stonedrift Spa offering dry and wet body treatments; wellness experiences including reiki, sound healing and forest bathing; guided yoga and stretch classes; Breathe and Detox rooms; and state-of-the-art steam rooms.

The annual Winter Carnival is a colorful respite from Midwestern winter doldrumsThe annual Winter Carnival is a colorful respite from Midwestern winter doldrums — Photo courtesy of Eagle Ridge Resort & Spa

Eagle Ridge’s Nordic Center stocks equipment rentals for snowshoeing, ice skating, sledding and even ice fishing – and there’s a complimentary shuttle to Chestnut Mountain. Count on weekend events throughout the season, including the annual Winter Carnival (Feb. 17-20, 2023) with a roster of joyful activities including Fire and Ice hot air balloon shows, ice carving and horseback riding.

Saugatuck, Michigan

You'll have downtown to yourselves when you visit Saugatuck in winterYou’ll have downtown to yourselves when you visit Saugatuck in winter — Photo courtesy of Jill Devries Photography

Winter is a fantastic time to snuggle up in Saugatuck, “the art coast of Michigan.” Winter reservations at a romantic Mediterranean wine bar like Taverna Rossa are easy, and you have your pick of winsome accommodations. The Belvedere Inn, the Wickwood Inn and the Judson Heath Colonial Inn all come in at a solid 10 on the romance meter.

Cozy up by the fireplace in a suite at the Old Pike Cottages (with a “stay any two nights and get the third free” deal). Hotel Saugatuck, an 18-room luxury boutique hotel with views of Lake Kalamazoo, caters to couples in this cool artsy town. Count on king-size beds, hydrotherapy tubs, in-room breakfast and dessert, and fireplaces.

Crane's Pie Pantry, Restaurant & Winery is the epitome of small-town charmCrane’s Pie Pantry, Restaurant & Winery is the epitome of small-town charm — Photo courtesy of Harold Rail

Grab breakfast at Pennyroyal Café & Provisions (its menu is loaded with ingredients from local vendors), then spend time perusing the efforts of the many working artists that call Saugatuck home. Don’t miss a visit to Crane’s Pie Pantry, Restaurant & Winery in nearby Fennville for homemade foods, hard cider and fruit wine, as well as Crane’s famous Michigan fruit pies, crisps, strudels, cider donuts and breads.

Get a sip of the region’s agricultural bounty at local cideries and wineries, too: Virtue Cider offers a fun winter wassail event on Feb. 18 to bless the trees for an abundant apple harvest this year, and a wine tasting at Modales Winery is always relaxed and friendly.

Cross-country ski on the hushed trails of Saugatuck Dunes State Park.Cross-country ski on the hushed trails of Saugatuck Dunes State Park. — Photo courtesy of Craig Watson

Take a romantic dash through the snow in a horse-drawn open sleigh. Arrange for a private sleigh ride through the woods at Wild West Ranch, or try Rise and Ride Ranch for a horse-drawn carriage ride. Rent snowshoes from Landsharks and walk to admire the Saugatuck Harbor Natural Area, or hike or cross-country ski at the trails of Saugatuck Dunes State Park. Finish the day with a soothing couples massage at Bella Vita Spa.

Wausau, Wisconsin

The quiet serenity at Owl Ridge Cabin is an elixir for romanceThe quiet serenity at Owl Ridge Cabin is an elixir for romance — Photo courtesy of Tom Krueger

Book a luxe cabin in the woods in Wausau, Wisconsin: Owl Ridge Cabin, sporting a Frank Lloyd Wright-meets-Northwoods design, features a full kitchen, in-floor radiant heat and panoramic floor-to-ceiling windows, so you can watch snow fall while the fireplace roars and you’re soaking in the freestanding tub. It’s one cabin on a 10-acre wooded plot of land with towering deciduous trees – for just you and your partner. Package add-ons include a four-course meal prepared just for you and an on-site couples’ massage.

With its open-concept floor plan and contemporary design, it's a luxurious hideawayWith its open-concept floor plan and contemporary design, it’s a luxurious hideaway — Photo courtesy of Tom Krueger

Also consider the boutique Stewart Inn, a 1906 Prairie School-style mansion designed by George W. Maher, a contemporary of Frank Lloyd Wright. Enjoy a gourmet multi-course breakfast featuring ingredients from local Wisconsin purveyors. Ask about the inn’s romance packages, too.

Just a 10-minute drive from the cabin is Wausau, where you can browse indie boutiques in the downtown district; visit the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum and the Wausau Museum of Contemporary Art; or tip back a few at Timekeeper Distillery and Bull Falls Brewing Company.

Outdoor enthusiasts can torch some calories cross-country skiing or snowshoeing at Nine Mile County Forest Recreation Area. There’s downhill skiing and snowboarding at Granite Peak Ski Resort boasting the tallest vertical drop in Wisconsin. Bring ice skates and hit the rink at Marathon Park or hike a segment of Ice Age National Scenic Trail.

Dine at an authentic Wisconsin supper club: The Pinewood Supper Club on the shores of Half Moon Lake or The Palms Supper Club (since 1936 with the famous Roller’s Round Bar) are good bets.

Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin

When you crave a consummate bliss-out getaway, Wisconsin Dells would not generally come to mind – but it should. Sundara Inn & Spa doesn’t have the shelf space to park all of its “best” awards, and the two of you will, no doubt, be adding to its legions of enthusiasts after you experience this nucleus of peace and serenity. Sundara is an adults-only, electronics-free (in the common areas) respite from the overstimulation of 21st-century life.

The suites are woodland retreats with private hot soaksThe suites are woodland retreats with private hot soaks — Photo courtesy of SundaraSpa.com

Expect a sublime sleep experience, chef-prepared cuisine, complimentary yoga, fitness and meditation classes, salt therapy treatment room, hiking trails, heated indoor/outdoor pools with waterfalls, and suites tucked into the woods. Their secluded suites include a private spa balcony with your own personal hot soak and fireplace.

Looking for some cabin fervor? The Dells area has a long list of cozy cabins and cottages amid the woods or lakeside.

Consider visiting any of the five wineries open in the winter; peruse the entertainment schedules at Crystal Grand Music Theatre, Showboat Saloon or Ho-Chunk Gaming; or explore the outdoors via a winter hike, fat-tire bike or cross-country and downhill skiing. Amorous dining experiences are ensured at local supper clubs like Del-Bar and Field’s at the Wilderness.

French Lick, Indiana

French Lick Resort consists of two AAA Four-Diamond nationally historic hotelsFrench Lick Resort consists of two AAA Four-Diamond nationally historic hotels — Photo courtesy of Ian McSpadden Photography

If you’re keen on a resort destination, how about one that’s snuggled into Indiana’s Hoosier National Forest? And you can’t get a cheekier name for a romantic getaway than French Lick. French Lick Resort consists of two AAA Four-Diamond nationally historic hotels, French Lick Springs Hotel and West Baden Springs Hotel, as well as the Valley Tower. There’s a lot going on here, including two top-notch spas, 24/7 gaming at French Lick Casino and more than a dozen restaurants.

French Lick Springs Hotel’s storied past, from the creation of tomato juice in 1917 to mysterious Pluto Water (which serves as a centerpiece of the 2022 suspense film “So Cold the River”), is fascinating. The film is based on author and Indiana native Michael Koryta’s 2010 New York Times bestseller (it might be fun to read it before arriving) and was filmed entirely at West Baden Springs Hotel and the surrounding area. Be sure to get some “So Cold the Vodka,” the blue spirit offered by a local distillery, Cardinal Spirits, found exclusively in southern Indiana.

Venture outside of the resort for a day of skiing, tubing and snowboarding at Paoli Peaks, or take a historic French Lick Scenic Railway train ride through the Hoosier National Forest. Discover small-town eateries for regional dishes, like hand-breaded pork tenderloin sandwiches, or homemade pies to take back home and enjoy another taste of your winter getaway.

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