Last Updated on October 1, 2015 by Jody Halsted
Winter can be quite bleak in the Chicago area, especially when January and February hit. A few years ago, we stumbled on a little winter escape near our Chicago home that provides us with that much needed boost to help us through winter.
Each February, we like to spend couple of days in Michigan's Harbor Country. Whether there is snow on the ground or it is super-cold, we have found the area to be truly alive during our February visits! This energy and the change of scenery bolster our spirits during winter!
Hotels in Michigan's Harbor Country
The base of our winter exploration is the quaint town of New Buffalo, perched near beautiful Lake Michigan. New Buffalo hosts two sister hotels that are ideal nesting spots for families–The Harbor Grand and the Marina Grand. We have stayed at both and each has its own amenities. Since they are sister hotels, you sometimes even have the opportunity to enjoy both!
The Harbor Grand is nestled right on the town's harbor and is in close walking distance to the town and the beach. The rooms are spacious and clean, there is a lovely pool for a little dip, families can borrow movies and games and you can have a meal at the hotel's restaurant. Our favorite special touch at The Harbor Grand is a breakfast that is delivered to the room in an adorable basket and is included in your stay!
A bonus during a winter stay—you can make s'mores on the patio or just grab a blanket and sit by a charming bonfire. We usually hunker down early in the evening in the hotel to enjoy some family time including playing games, watching movies and, of course, making s'mores!
The Marina Grand is just up the road from The Harbor Grand. If you stay in one of the suites at the Marina Grand, you will be impressed! When we stayed at the Marina Grand, we had a large suite including a kitchen, spacious living room, bedroom and two bathrooms. These suites are ideal for families staying for awhile. The Marina Grand also has a restaurant, a quick stop coffee shop, a large pool and more. My daughter's favorite part of the Marina Grand was being able to sit near a fireplace in our room. My husband and I loved the spaciousness because you never seem to have enough room when travelling with children.
Enjoying the winter spirit in Harbor Country
During February, Harbor Country celebrates the Chocolate Classic. The Chocolate Classic brings chocolate inspiration to local attractions, restaurants and retailers. In the past, we have enjoyed delightful samples at retailers and even received complimentary chocolate at our hotel. Other events have included sleigh rides, games and specials on chocolate items or even chocolate colored items. A sweet time for a visit!
While in the area, we make a trip from New Buffalo to St. Joseph. We prefer to amble along Red Arrow Highway to enjoy some rustic landscape and explore the unique towns along the way. You will discover all sorts of curiosities along the route including one of our favorites–Seasons Harvest! Seasons Harvest is a lovely epicurean shop with sauces, salsas and more! Nature also does not disappoint along the route and we often can see Lake Michigan peeking through the trees. In the winter, the lake can be pretty neat to look at depending upon how much of it is frozen!
One weekend in February, the town of St. Joseph finds itself graced by gorgeous ice creations during the Magical Ice Fest. The ice festival boasts various ice sculpting contests, live ice sculpting, hula dancing at the carousel and more fun! We are always impressed by all of the incredible ice sculptures. We have seen some truly magical ice wonders including a space shuttle, a phoenix, an eagle, a stallion, the Nautilus and more. While taking in the winter wonderment, we love to duck in and out of the charming small town shops. My daughter especially loves to visit The South Bend Chocolate Company. Since our sweet teeth often prevail, we indulge her. Plus, hot chocolate is very much welcome when you have been outside on a winter day! In addition to hot chocolate and chocolate confections, The South Bend Chocolate Company also has decadent cakes. So hard to resist a slice! No matter how cold the day, however, we have found that the sculptures are so amazing that the weather does not stop us from exploring! My daughter is always delighted as she is discovering the frozen creations–which enhances the experience for my husband and myself.
Another must-stop during our winter adventure is Grandpa's Cider Mill in Coloma. At Grandpa's, you can grab a seat at a bar and sample over twenty different flavors of cider! Also, you can view a cider press and sample a number of gourmet treats. We usually leave with a couple of bottles of cider and a few baked goodies. Since Grandpa's Cider Mill sells cider in smaller bottles, we like to bring an array of flavors home!
Literally down the road from Grandpa's Cider Mill is The Chocolate Garden, home of delightful handmade truffles. The Chocolate Garden is a gem that has been profiled on various television programs. When it comes to chocolate, who can say no? The Chocolate Garden has one of the largest selection of truffles I have ever seen, so a visit is quite a treat! It is also a great place to pick up a little something for friends back at home.
Relaxed and Rejuvenated
There are so many unique experiences in this corner of Michigan that we really do forget about home during a visit. The region has so much character with hidden treasures all over that each visit is unique. We visit several times each year but find that we have more fun during the winter. I think it is much more peaceful than during the warmer months. Since we can't go to the beach, we end up having more time to explore the individual towns. I can't wait to uncover something new this winter!