New England's Santaland

By Andrea Sachs
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 9, 2006

Q. I'd like to spend Christmas in Vermont or New Hampshire at an inn with such traditional holiday activities as sleigh rides. I plan to go by train and not rent a car. Can you recommend any places?

Doris Cooney, Catonsville, Md.

A. Both states are lovely during the holidays, but unless you have a team of reindeer, it might be tough to access many of the inns and activities. "There are quite a few places that offer sleigh rides. The 'no car' piece really does limit it significantly," Jason Aldous, a spokesman of the Vermont Department of Tourism & Marketing, said by e-mail. "Vermont, quite frankly, is not a place where one can easily string together a lot of mass transportation."

Amtrak's Vermonter goes directly from the D.C. area to such Green Mountain State towns as Waterbury, Montpelier and Brattleboro. Travel to New Hampshire is more involved: You must switch trains in Boston or New York, and the train only goes to a handful of southern towns. Among the options:

* The Trapp Family Lodge (800-826-7000, ) brings a slice of Austria to Stowe, Vt., about 15 minutes by cab from the Waterbury station. Winter activities include skiing, snowshoeing and sleigh rides.

* Mountain Top Inn & Resort (800-445-2100, ), in Chittenden, Vt., has such wintry diversions as dog-sleds and horse-drawn sleigh rides. The inn can arrange for a taxi pickup at the Rutland station, 15 minutes away.

* Activities at the Cortina Inn and Resort include ice skating and snowmobiling. The property's Christmas package features five nights' lodging, a sleigh ride and fruit cake. Depending on the time of your arrival, the Killington, Vt., inn can arrange a pickup at the Rutland station (15 minutes away) or will give you the number of a taxi service. Info: 800-451-6108, .

* In Woodstock, a 15- to 20-minute taxi ride from the White River Junction depot, pair a visit to the 1871 Billings Farm and Museum (802-457-2355, ) with a stay at one of dozens of properties. For example, take a sleigh ride or make ornaments at the farm, then kick back at the Woodstock Inn and Resort (800-448-7900, ). For other Woodstock overnight options: Woodstock Area Chamber of Commerce, 888-496-6378,

* In Exeter, N.H., the Around the Corner B&B (603-778-0058 http:// ), the Inn at the Bandstand (877-239-3837, ) and the Inn and Conference Center at Exeter (800-782-8444, ) are within walking distance of the train station. Sleigh rides are outside of town, though, accessible only by car. Info: Exeter Area Chamber of Commerce, 603-772-2411, .

We'd like to go to the Okavango Delta in Africa in late December/early January. Any ideas?

Laura Burns, Annapolis

For safari-goers in Botswana, Okavango Delta's got game -- lions, elephants, cheetahs, etc. "The Delta is known for three things: scenic beauty; remote, unspoiled wilderness; and a good concentration of wildlife," says Pierre Faber, who owns Classic Africa (888-227-8311, ), a Connecticut tour operator. However, wildlife sightings vary. April to October is dry season, when the star animals congregate at permanent watering holes, allowing for easier sightings. Late November through March is rainier and greener, and many creatures disperse to large puddles across the Delta. In addition, the grasses are taller and denser, so visibility is lower. During this time, rates are also about 40 percent lower than peak season (mid-June through October).

"There will be more driving between sightings," says Faber. "You won't see high-profile species every 10 minutes." Birders, though, will be in heaven, as migratory species return to their summer grounds to breed.

If you have limited time, Faber recommends dividing your time between two safari camps, to experience a larger swath of terrain. If you have more time, he says to pair Okavango with the Chobe safari area, known for its elephant population. Safaris are usually twice a day, in the early morning and late afternoon, and the majority of accommodations are cushy. Most places do not take direct reservations, so you will have to work with a travel specialist to create an itinerary. Classic Africa, for example, offers a seven-night safari that includes the Okavango Delta and Chobe area for $4,150 per person double. For info on Botswana: Botswana Tourism, .


Dave Collins of Cleveland offered another way to see Santa Barbara's wine country (June 25) -- on a Cloud Climbers Jeep Tours (805-965-6654, ). "My wife and I took one of their Jeep wine tours in Santa Barbara/Santa Ynez Valley last year and loved it. They actually have a 'Sideways' tour. We took the regular tour with stops at four or five wineries, including two in the movie."

Send queries by e-mail (travelqa@wash or U.S. mail (Travel Q&A, Washington Post Travel Section, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071). Please include name and home town.

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