The holidays are a festive time. A fun time. A time to dine and shop and worship and be with family and friends and . . . often a time of much too much.

What about quiet moments? And peace? A dose of serenity, a sanctuary from all the well-meaning madness? A place where you are guaranteed not to run into Santa Claus. You probably know a few getaways of your own but you're not sharing, lest the serene places get crowded very quickly.

So, we'll share. Here are a few of the places Cincy adores for all those reasons.

Gentle Pleasures

Lunch at the Taft "” Tucked away in a quiet little corner of downtown, the Taft Museum of Art is the epitome of genteel. Amid the low-keyed graciousness, score a quiet table after strolling the feathered Christmas tree and antique ornament exhibits. The sandwiches and soups are tasty and, if you're feeling Continental, opt for a crepe. Reservations recommended.

www.taftmuseum.org/

Just A Taste

StoneBrook Winery "” About two-thirds of the way there, you'll be convinced you're lost. But keep going. StoneBrook is a treat. One of the handful of wineries that dot Northern Kentucky, StoneBrook offer scheduled wine tastings from 4-9 p.m. Fridays and 1-6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Fridays can get pretty crowded, so go early on a weekend afternoon and it might just be you and the generous soul pouring the wine. Nothing fancy, just memorable.

www.stonebrookwinery.com.

Oh, So Deco

Tour the Netherland Plaza "” Built in 1931, Cincinnati's Netherland Plaza Hotel is a magnificent example of French Art Deco interior design. Lavish and lovely, it's like the places Fred and Ginger dance through in those memorable 1930s films. They welcome visitors to stroll around and offer guide pamphlets at the front desk. Stop in the Orchids at Palm Court for a coffee or cocoa. The desserts are impossible to resist, you've been warned.

Daytime Delight

Pyramid Hill Sculpture Park & Museum "” More than 250 acres of rolling countryside have been converted into a home for monumental outdoor sculptures. Walk, drive, jog. It doesn't make any difference how you take it all in. In cooler weather, you may be the only one at this unexpectedly inspiring idyll. Do avoid the evenings this time of year because the fabulous holiday display will draw a crowd.

Pyramid Hill Sculpture Park & Museum, 1763 Hamilton-Cleves Road (State Route 128), Hamilton. (513) 868-8336 or www.pyramidhill.org.

Ply the Waters

Anderson Ferry "” Yes, that tiny little ferry that holds more cars than you thought possible and has, in some form or fashion, tirelessly made its way across the mighty Ohio since 1817. Make it a mini-road trip, driving west on Route 8 out of Covington into the countryside. Ferry to Ohio and head west on U.S. 50 to Sayler Park. Take a leisurely drive along the small side streets and enjoy the lovely homes. If your timing is right, enjoy fresh-baked goodies at Bizy Bees Bakery, 6601 Gracely Drive in Sayler Park.

Restful River

Walk Riverside Drive "” The street isn't very long. Maybe a quarter mile. But strolling along Covington's Riverside Drive is stepping back into the 19th Century. The little stretch of roadway is directly across from Smale Park and the Banks. If you drive across the Suspension Bridge from Ohio, head left. Bring a cup of coffee, plop down on one of the many benches and just watch the river go by. If you want to explore a little, those first few blocks away from the river are among the area's most scenic.

All in the Timing

Europa Bistro & Café "” If you want to be marvelously alone, skip the dinner or brunch, which we're told are busy, busy, busy. Visit in the middle of the afternoon, head straight for the back room. Unlike many fine restaurants, which lock their doors between lunch and dinner, Europa serves all afternoon Tuesday-Saturday. Pasta Caprese, Lobster Ravioli or coffee with a pastry so light you won't care how many calories you've just ingested.

Just For the View

Devou Park Overlook "” Like most parks, Devou is pretty deserted after Labor Day even with its fabulous view. If it's chilly, hop out of the car with a blanket and cuddle close. Even on the umpteenth visit, there is always something new to see. If it's not too cold, walk a trail or take the little one to the playground.

Gentle Pleasures

Procter & Gamble Discovery Forest at the Cincinnati Zoo "” Missing summer? Or just that wonderful lush smell of spring. The Zoo's Discovery Forest is there for you all year long. Mornings can be crazy with school groups but in the afternoon, a hush sets in. It's pretty darned glorious. Look at the greenery, by all means. And find the two-toed sloth who lives there. But mostly, enjoy being where others aren't. Close your eyes and listen to ... nothing. Bliss. An alternative is the Krohn Conservatory in Eden Park. Again pick your time wisely to avoid holiday crowds.

Read On

Iris Book Café "” If you weren't looking for it, you might wander right past. And that, of course, is one of the things that makes it such a wonderful place to escape. If you can read auras, the one surrounding the Iris would be green and maybe little yellow "” soothing and joyful. The food is light and tasty, the teas "” from Essencha Tea House "” wonderfully flavorful. Mostly, there are good books and a pleasant atmosphere. Find a place to sit in the back; walk past the counter and down the hall "” it's another world back there.

Iris Book Café, 1331 Main St., Over the Rhine. (513) 381-2665 or
www.irisbookcafe.com.