Winter weekend in STURBRIDGE VILLAGE

Weekends away always seem a pleasant change. And for an increasing number of people -- such as two-career couples who have trouble coordinating longer vacations -- weekends may represent the only time when they can get away together.

This winter, cozy rejuvenating weekends are headquartered at the Publick House in Sturbridge, Mass., once again. After 27 years, Yankee Winter Weekends have become a classic. They are held in the white beauty of the fourth (some would say the first) of the distinctive New England seasons, beginning Jan. 2 to 4, and continuing Through March.

Upon arrival Friday evening at the Publick House, which dates from 1771, guests are greeted by the Yankee Doodle Boys who have spent eight years welcoming Winter Weekenders in period costume and with period songs. From a warming cup of clam chowder -- some of the best I've ever tasted -- the party progresses from one charming open fire-warmed room to another, and from appetizers such as roasted chestnuts, clams, codfish cakes, and hot mulled cider to a beautifully displayed buffet dinner.

Saturday morning the dark-beamed Publick House Taproom glows, from candles at each table and a fire dancing in the huge fireplace. Hearthside hospitality is as genuine as the helpings of my Farmhand's Special breakfast are generous. With hot cider, red flannel hash with poached eggs, fried corn meal must with maple syrup, warm pumpkin muffins, and hot deep dish apple pie and cheddar cheese, it's a meal to linger over -- and then to walk off, at Old Sturbridge Village, co- host for Yankee Winter Weekends.

Sturbridge Village re-creates the life of a small New England rural community as it was in the half century between 1790 and 1840. At any given time, nearly 100 authentically dressed interpreters of New England life circa 1830 are going about the daily life -- according to the season -- of farmers, housewives, and businessmen at the 200-acre Village, the largest institution of its kind in the Northeast. During winter, the "natives" of Old Sturbridge, freed for a few months from some of the farming chores, have more time to do what visitors do, socialize.

On the way to luncheon at the Tavern, I notice a woman in a long red wool cape and cap trimmed with lace crunching across snowy Old Sturbridge Common on her way to the Parsonage. That vision, and the scent of wood fires, take me, gently, to another time. Indoors, it's more traditional Yankee food, including chicken pie, baked beans, both corn and cranberry bread, and Indian pudding.

Later, there's a leisurely exploration of the blacksmith shop -- one of the clearer memories from my first visit -- the tinsmith, broom maker, cooper, and Knight's general store. When ready to rest, it's an easy matter to hop a sleigh ride back to the Tavern.

Saturday night a game dinner is served that even uninitiated palates will appreciate: wild boar pate, pheasant consomme, and roast venison. The evening program features period performers, the world's only historical magician, or a musician with songs from 1830. The price for the two-night, five-meal Yankee Winter Weekend is $124.95 and includes admission to Old Sturbridge Village and evening entertainment. For more information contact the Publick House, Main Street, Sturbridge, Mass., 01566, (617) 347-3313.

Weekend retreats to a different century can be found elsewhere in the country. Shakertown of Pleasant Hill in Kentucky offers special winter weekends in January and February. The village was established in 1805 by the Shakers, a celibate religious sect that enjoyed a century of prosperity there. In 27 restored original buildings, most with original Shaker furniture which, like the crafts, are known for their creative design, interpreters share the simple life of the Shakers. All overnight lodging is in original buildings, in rooms furnished with reproduction Shaker pieces; meals feature Shaker recipes.

The two night, five meal package costs $76 plus tax per adult. Village admission, special programs, children's activities, and Shaker music entertainment are included. Contact Shakertown at Pleasant Hill, R.R. 4, Harrodsburg, Kentucky, 40330, (606) 734-5411.

Colonial Williamsburg, the well-known restored 18th-century Virginia town, is a reminder of the nation's time of birth. There are 500 buildings with costumed interpreters. The Tavern Plan is one of several available year- round. Two nights' lodging in an authentic colonial accommodation in the historic area, a hearty brunch, a candlelight dinner, and a Colonial Williamsburg ticket are included for a per person double occupancy price of $71 ($101 from March 1, 1981 ). Write to the Hotel and Restaurant Division, Colonial Williamsburg, Post Office Drawer C, Williamsburg, Virginia 23185.

Another weekend possibility is Michigan's Greenfield Village, an indoor-outdoor museum complex of 85 historic structures that is an actual record of America's dramatic change from a home crafts to an industrial nation over a span of three centuries. Here, also, is the Henry Ford Museum with its revelation of America's inventive genius. Across the road from the Village is Dearborn Inn, with the charm of an earlier America. Year- round weekend packages include two nights, three meals, Village and Museum admission for approximately $80 a person. For further information contact Dearborn Inn, Dearborn, Michigan 48123, (313) 271-2700.

Guests will find that these step-back-to-another-century experiences do seem to extend a weekend.

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