Cold comfort: a trio of Pennsylvania inns

Cozy retreats in the Poconos will warm hearts of winter wanderers

Cover Story

February 06, 2003|By Bill Sulon | Bill Sulon,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow as he emerged from his groundhog hole Sunday. That means there's still plenty of winter weather ahead, and there's still plenty of time to escape to a cozy romantic retreat - in Phil's home state, no less.

We've found three such places for you, all in the Pocono Mountains - 200 miles north of Baltimore (and 220 miles east of Punxsutawney, Pa.).

If you think the Pocono region is the land of heart-shaped bathtubs in tacky resorts, you're in for a surprise. The area has undergone many transformations since 1820, when Philadelphia's Quakers first discovered it and turned it into a vacation paradise. Since then it has catered to high-class Victorians, hunters, skiers and honeymooners.

To be sure, the Poconos - nestled in a four-county region in northeastern Pennsylvania - boasts its share of strip malls, traffic jams and cheesy attractions. But grab a map, get off the main highways, ignore the ever-present billboards, and you will find there are several great places in which to escape life's - and winter's - harsh realities.

You'll see that you won't have to look far to find that the Poconos' original and perhaps best virtues - gently rolling vistas, Thoreau-evoking natural settings and a slower pace - still exist.

To see for yourself, and to get away from it all in tasteful, casual style, consider the following resorts. A note of caution: Presidents' weekend, Feb. 14-17, is popular for getaways to the Poconos. If that weekend is booked, you should have no trouble making reservations for other weekends this winter. Prices are for weekends; weekday rates are less expensive.

Skytop Lodge

Built in 1926 three miles north of Canadensis, Skytop is one of the crown jewels of the Poconos. Not surprisingly, the cost of staying there is consistent with the lofty title.

Skytop's main building, an elegant Dutch Colonial stone manor hotel, overlooks a 75-acre lake and is surrounded by 5,500 acres of wood, glacial bogs, hemlock gorges, beaver marshes and cascading waterfalls. You can use the 30 miles of hiking trails to look for wildlife; deer are commonplace throughout the Poconos.

For the more adventurous, cross-country skiing (on up to six miles of wilderness trails), ice-skating and snowshoeing are available. The resort also has a private downhill ski slope, with four trails and a vertical drop of 295 feet. You can bring your own ski gear or rent it on site.

Skytop employs a naturalist and an environmental teacher who occasionally lead guests on hiking tours, during which they will explain the region's history and point out plants and wildlife you might miss on your own.

Too cold to go outside? Skytop has an indoor pool, a health club and a spa, where, at extra cost, you can pamper yourself with a massage, facial, body wrap, pedicure and manicure. A typical visit to the spa will cost about $100. Be sure to call in advance to reserve a time slot.

The 125 guest rooms and suites feature English country-style decor, and some include fireplaces, porches and balconies.

The cost for a two-night stay starts at $970 a couple and includes all meals, including five-course dinners at either of the lodge's two dining rooms.

You get your choice of going to the Windsor dining room, where traditional American cuisine is served, or the Lakeview dining room, which offers French cuisine. Jackets are required at both dining rooms.

For reservations or more information, call 800-617-2389 or go to Skytop Lodge's Web site at www.skytop.com.

Pocono Manor

Located in the heart of the Poconos near interstates 80 and 380, Pocono Manor is the place to go if you want easy access to Camelback Ski Area, a couple of popular local brewpubs and the Crossings Factory Stores, a 96-store shopping complex.

But there is more than enough at the 3,500-acre resort to persuade you to stay put, including sleigh rides, horseback riding, ice-skating, cross-country skiing, snowmobile rides, sledding, snow tubing, spa treatments and massages. All but sledding cost extra.

Built in 1902, the 257-room inn is listed on the National Register of Historic Places - a designation the resort sought and received nearly a decade ago when it tried - and failed - to prevent a flour mill from opening nearby.

Don't worry; the mill and its truck traffic are miles away, and don't intrude on the Pocono Manor experience. Instead, Pocono Manor, referred to by some as the "Grand Lady of the Mountains" because of its prominence and location, offers spectacular views of the eastern and western Pocono region.

The main lobby features fieldstone fireplaces, antique grandfather clocks and paintings that help create an old-world ambiance. Individual rooms include mahogany furniture and patterned rugs.

If outdoor activities aren't your thing, check out Pocono Manor's indoor swimming pool, Nautilus Fitness Center, and video and game room.

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