Three Midwest Places That Wear Winter Well

Braving snow-covered sidewalks and below-zero temps on my morning commute accentuates the less glamorous side of winter. But in the right setting, snow and ice can bring out the best in some of the Midwest's best gathering spots. Below are three of my favorite winter respites in the region.

Seven Saints - Champaign, Illinois

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As a proud University of Illinois alum, I can vouch that most of the time students don't venture too far away from campus. That said, Seven Saints is a Champaign restaurant well worth the trip -- and I spent a good deal of Sunday afternoons warming up with a cup of soup and sandwich at this cozy eatery on the outskirts of downtown. Seven Saints is especially welcoming for whiskey enthusiasts, with a wide selection ranging from Canadian and Irish whiskeys to bourbon and scotch. 

Boyne Mountain - Boyne Falls, Michigan

The Midwest's ski slopes may pale in comparison to the West and Northeast -- but the buzzing atmosphere at Michigan's Boyne Mountain more than makes up for it. The Mountain Grand Lodge & Spa is a hub for outdoor enthusiasts, with downhill and cross country skiing, tubing, snow shoeing, horseback riding and ice skating, just to name a few. Plus, the lodge is a cozy gathering spot with bars and restaurants to gather and indulge your apres-ski appetite. 

Copperstone Inn - Rockton, Illinois

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Just a few miles from my childhood home lies a new, world-class bed and breakfast catering to those looking for a quiet, rustic chic retreat. The Copperstone Inn in Rockton, Illinois, is the perfect respite to seek solitude by a cozy fire as the snow piles up outside. Plus, a jacuzzi and full-service spa adds an upscale touch to a romantic weekend getaway. 

Vail: A City Girl's Guide to the Mountains

I visited Vail last year smack dab in the middle of dead season. I planned a last-minute getaway with a girlfriend, right after the summer rush cleared out and still before the snow would fly in November. So, what do two city girls do in a virtually empty tourist mecca for three cool, but not yet cold, late-October nights? Plenty, as it turns out.

Vail circa 1960's. Source:  CN Traveler

Vail circa 1960's. Source: CN Traveler

We spent the bulk of our trip eating, shopping, cocktailing, repeat. Best of all, we had the pleasure of getting to know the fine folks who call Vail home. As two girls who enjoy a mountain view, but not exactly a mountain retreat (spa over slopes any day, my friends), fall in Vail is the perfect time for no wait at the best restaurants, mingling with boutique shop owners and navigating the (easier) hiking trails, albeit quite muddy.

So here are my picks of what to see and do in Vail, whether you're there for a winter wonderland or the middle of mud season. 

Vail for the Thirty Something:

Considering we aren't exactly nature enthusiasts, I was very proud we actually made it on a mountain hike. Vail looks beautiful even in that awkward late-fall, pre-winter stretch, so I can't wait to check it out with snow on the ground next time.

Considering we aren't exactly nature enthusiasts, I was very proud we actually made it on a mountain hike. Vail looks beautiful even in that awkward late-fall, pre-winter stretch, so I can't wait to check it out with snow on the ground next time.

We stayed at a timeshare resort right next to the  Betty Ford Alpine Gardens  and less than a five minute walk into the heart of town. It was perfect for what we needed, but if you're really looking for luxury spring for the  Arrabelle at Vail Square  -- so beautiful with an authentic ski lodge feel. 

We stayed at a timeshare resort right next to the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens and less than a five minute walk into the heart of town. It was perfect for what we needed, but if you're really looking for luxury spring for the Arrabelle at Vail Square -- so beautiful with an authentic ski lodge feel. 

We started every morning off with a stop at  Yeti's Grind , located right in the heart of the village. It's got quite the reputation amongst the locals we met, and for good reason. I stuck with plain old brewed coffee every day, but they have an extensive menu of specialty brews, including rotating features. 

We started every morning off with a stop at Yeti's Grind, located right in the heart of the village. It's got quite the reputation amongst the locals we met, and for good reason. I stuck with plain old brewed coffee every day, but they have an extensive menu of specialty brews, including rotating features. 

Navigating the hills on  Berrypicker . 

Navigating the hills on Berrypicker

The view from the top... or maybe almost halfway there.

The view from the top... or maybe almost halfway there.

For lunch, check out  Sweet Basil , located in the heart of Vail Village. It's consistently recognized as one of the best restaurants in Vail, and I can taste why. Try the Winter Squash Soup & the Duck Liver Bruschetta.

For lunch, check out Sweet Basil, located in the heart of Vail Village. It's consistently recognized as one of the best restaurants in Vail, and I can taste why. Try the Winter Squash Soup & the Duck Liver Bruschetta.

Babbling brooks, covered bridges, mountain air. Vail exudes a luxurious relaxation -- the perfect blend of rustic and chic. 

Babbling brooks, covered bridges, mountain air. Vail exudes a luxurious relaxation -- the perfect blend of rustic and chic. 

Just a short walk away, Lionshead Village feels one part more causal than Vail Village, another part equally upscale. We found tons of cute shops, but I'll give a nod to the Vail side of the mountain for better food and drink.

Just a short walk away, Lionshead Village feels one part more causal than Vail Village, another part equally upscale. We found tons of cute shops, but I'll give a nod to the Vail side of the mountain for better food and drink.

Mountain Standard  was easily the stand-out dinner of our trip. It's one of the best designed restaurants in Vail Village, and everything from the meat to produce to cocktail ingredients is sourced locally. Talking about cocktails, their  drink program  is outstanding -- for something sweet, go with the Otoño Pina. For smoky, try the Smoke and Mirrors. 

Mountain Standard was easily the stand-out dinner of our trip. It's one of the best designed restaurants in Vail Village, and everything from the meat to produce to cocktail ingredients is sourced locally. Talking about cocktails, their drink program is outstanding -- for something sweet, go with the Otoño Pina. For smoky, try the Smoke and Mirrors. 

No wonder we loved The George so much. For an apres ski evening reminiscent of your college years, start the night off at  The Shakedown  for some lively live music, followed by a nightcap at The George. Apparently it's a favorite of the  Chicago Blackhawks  -- which explains Kane's signed jersey in the lounge!

No wonder we loved The George so much. For an apres ski evening reminiscent of your college years, start the night off at The Shakedown for some lively live music, followed by a nightcap at The George. Apparently it's a favorite of the Chicago Blackhawks -- which explains Kane's signed jersey in the lounge!