Published Sept./Oct. 2005

Left: Oaxaca, Mexico, is know for warm weather year-round and wonderful markets. Theresa Russell photo

Make plans now for a winter vacation where you can dangle your feet in the gulf or warm your toes next to a fire at a Midwest inn or hotel.
by Theresa Russell

With autumn comes cooler temperatures, a welcomed change from a Midwest summer’s heat and humidity. While enjoying sweater weather and biting into crisp apples, remember that Old Man Winter is around the corner.

When cold weather hits, you may want to warm up in front of an inn’s fireplace or find a tropical getaway and seek respite from sleet, snow and northern winds. Now is the time to start making your winter travel plans.

Warm and exotic

Deep in the south of Texas, McAllen has quickly earned its reputation as a premier birding destination. In fact, the nine World Birding Center facilities throughout the Rio Grande Valley attract thousands of migrating birds and birdwatchers. The center in McAllen is scheduled to open in October. Feathered finds aren’t the only draw here, as many butterflies migrate through this area.

Located on city park property where deer, antelope and javelina once roamed, the Casa de Palmas Hotel (101 N. Main St.) reflects typical Spanish style architecture with red roofing tiles and a stucco exterior. Palms border the whitewashed walls and large expanses highlight the entry into the hotel. The Casa de Palmas is an oasis in the heart of the valley and a destination for many snowbirds.

The Caribbean is a favorite destination for sun worshippers, and the United States Virgin Islands offer them comfort and security. St. Croix is the largest of the three islands and has many places for warming up.

Right on the harbor in Christiansted, the Hotel Caravelle is convenient to beaches, excursions and restaurants. Built in a simple colonial style, the hotel attracts many Danish visitors, as well as Americans. Friendly people and easy access to the island’s amenities make it easy for guests to leave the rooftop pool area and see some of the sights.

Traveling to the Dark Continent is a bit of a misnomer. The sun shines brightly in Africa, and it is possible to not only forget the cold, but also to forget the realities of your world when you stay at the Sanbona Wildlife Reserve in the Western Cape area of South Africa.

The exquisite rooms at the Khanni Lodge have an outdoor shower and a fantastic view of the reserve. Every night, the staff opens a star book to the page for viewing the heavens. If you are lucky, you may see wildlife from your room. Don’t miss taking a game drive in the park where you can spot the amazing specimens that live on this reserve. An elephant family may nuzzle up to the jeep. An antelope hops in front of your path.

Most spectacular are the family of rare white lions, which are in a separate, large enclosure. This is the only spot in Africa where the white lion is in its natural setting.

Colorful and historic Oaxaca in Mexico enjoys warm weather year-round. Set in a valley surrounded by mountains, the state is known for colorful carved animals, pottery, excellent markets and its food.

In Oaxaca City, the Hotel Hacienda Los Laureles welcomes guests to their secluded, luxurious getaway in the hills outside the city. A temezcal (steam bath) and pool complement the expansive courtyard. The cozy rooms and warm hospitality of the owners combine to make an unforgettable experience.

Those who enjoy being in the middle of the action will appreciate the Casa Oaxaca, a fine hostelry with six large rooms also arranged around a courtyard. The library provides a relaxing spot for reading or checking e-mail. The small pool is perfect for a dip.

The restaurant, featuring the creations of Chef Alejandro Ruìz, should not be missed. The chef uses many local ingredients and bases his recipes on those that he learned when he cooked at his mother’s side.

Oaxaca boasts the Rufino Tamayo Museum with a fine collection of pre-Columbian artifacts. The Day of the Dead in November and Noche de Rabanos (Night of the Radishes) in December are perfect times to experience the festivities of the region. Held Dec. 23, Noche de Rabanos features huge exhibits of figures–in scenes of the birth of Jesus or those expressing the culture of Oaxacans–that are carved from radishes.

Nearby retreats

No need to despair if faraway lands aren’t in your future. Several options abound in the Kansas and Missouri area.

In Kansas City, Kan., the Chateau Avalon (701 Village West Parkway) offers an interesting concept of themed rooms, including South Pacific, rainforest, Caribbean and safari themes.

Overbrook, Kan., is the setting for Fieldstone Bed-and-Breakfast (7049 East 149th), a large working farm that grows apples, pears and other edibles. Owners Ken and Nancy Krause also welcome guests into their French style inn to warm up in the Jacuzzi or simply sit in front of the fireplace in the master suite, the library and the living rooms. They are perfect places to curl up with a book and a glass of wine.

On Sept. 5, the inn plans to host Fieldstone Celebration, an event reminiscent of country living during the early 1900s. For more information, contact Fieldstone B&B.

The inn contains fixtures from old hotels and is decorated in the style of fancy European hostelries. The owners’ warm welcome and hospitality will make you want to stay for the duration of the winter.

A real Western cowboy theme on a huge ranch is at another bed-and-breakfast in Lawrence, Kan. Jack and Mary Cronemeyer own the Circle S Ranch and Country Inn (3325 Circle S Lane), which has herds of stock and plenty of wildlife roaming the grounds.

The ample rooms all have a Western flair in the décor but all are quite different. The grand Claret room is known as the honeymoon suite because of it king-sized bed, fireplace and two-person Jacuzzi.

Of course, there is a large gathering area downstairs in front of the massive fireplace. Jack built this place himself. The outside resembles a barn, but the inside exudes a feeling of warmth and rustic elegance. Saddle up and head out to this toasty place to enjoy a soak in the hot tub in the silo.

Adults are not the only ones who need to get a break from the chill in the air. Families looking for a summery experience should check into the Great Wolf Lodge in Kansas City, Kan. The lodge includes many styles and arrangements to suit the needs of any family or couple. Some of the rooms have fireplaces and whirlpool baths.

However, the real draw here is the enclosed water park. And what could make you forget the cool weather faster than a water park? Restaurants, a game room, bedtime storyteller and the lounge on the premises keep the entire family occupied.

No matter whether you are looking for the sun or a fire to warm you in a place near or far away, you have plenty of options to warm up and survive the chilly days of the season.

Theresa Russell is a contributor from Round Lake, N.Y.

Above: Owner Mary Cronemeyer relaxes from daily duties at the Circle S Ranch and Country Inn. Deborah Reinhardt photo

Before You Go
For more information on a getaway to the Caribbean, Africa or Mexico, see your AAA Travel agent. Other helpful numbers for our destinations include:

• McAllen Chamber of Commerce, 1-877-622-5536, www.mcallen.org;

• Chateau Avalon, (913) 596-6000;

• Fieldstone Bed-and-Breakfast, (785) 665-7643;

• Circle S Ranch and Country Inn, (785) 843-4124, 1-800-625-2839;

• Great Wolf Lodge, (913) 299-7001.

Stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, reservations, TripTiks and TourBook guides. View a list of offices.

Order free information through the Reader Service Card online. Click on Reader Resources.

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