New Hampshire is a state of many monikers — Granite State, Mother of Rivers, White Mountain State, Switzerland of America. For travel planning purposes, the lesser known nickname of the two-by-four state seems to be most apt. That’s because one can traverse New Hampshire’s width in about two hours and its length in about four, providing an irresistible opportunity to explore several distinct regions on a long and leisurely weekend, taking in magnificent scenery every mile of the way.
Begin in the shadow of Monadnock, the gently sloped mountain that gives this picture-postcard corner of New Hampshire its name. The region comprises dozens of communities depicting scenes of classic New England: covered bridges, ponds and meandering rivers, church-steepled villages, mansions shielded behind leafy maple and oak trees.
The area has some fun Hollywood connections. Bette Davis, who dominated the silver screen marquee during Hollywood’s Golden Era of the 1930s through 1950s, made her stage debut in 1925 at what is now the Peterborough Playhouse, an active and intimate theatre tucked into an 18th century barn. Robin Williams’ 1995 action-adventure, “Jumanji,” was filmed in Keene, a charmer of a village that stood in for the movie’s fictional Brantford, NH. Painted on a brick building at the corner of West and Main Streets is the sign, “Parrish Shoes,” recalling the family business in the movie.
There are several Monadnock region delights not to be missed. Ava Marie Handmade Chocolates, founded by self-taught chocolatier Susan Mazzone, has a variety of 30 or so made-fresh-daily, come-hither chocolates in the candy cases at any given time, including house faves Mint Oreo Explosion and Peanut Butter Meltaways.
At the New England Sweetwater Farm and Distillery, proprietor and distiller Robert Spruill uses all local ingredients, including apples and potatoes, so that his handcrafted, small-batch spirits — including rum, gin, vodka and moonshine — “taste like the region.” And he makes them in a circa 1850s building with furnishings made from salvaged materials so visitors can feel its history.
“We want to be connected to the past, in a place that says, ‘we age stuff,’” said Spruill, who learned very young that when “Grampy was in the basement,” it meant he was making moonshine. In fact, Spruill uses that old family recipe in Sweetwater’s Monadnock Moonshine.
Get a good night’s sleep at the oldest inn in New Hampshire, the comfortable and lovingly decorated Hancock Inn. Innkeepers Marcia and Jarvis Coffin are hospitality itself; each of the inn’s rooms is a calming retreat with period-appropriate furnishings, buttery-soft sheets, spa robes and Wi-Fi. Book the Rufus Porter room to see original wall murals painted nearly 200 years ago by this famous self-taught American painter. Just don’t leave without a breakfast of Jarvis’ tasty Tomato Stacker and a side of crispy-thin johnnycakes soaked in pure maple syrup.
Travel north to the Lakes Region, another region with Hollywood connections. Back in 1981, the Katharine Hepburn/Henry Fonda Oscar winner, “On Golden Pond,” was filmed at Squam Lake, tall honors for an area boasting 250-plus lakes and ponds. Golden, yes, but not the largest. That would be Lake Winnipesaukee.
One of the premier attractions along Winni’s 180 miles of shoreline is the Mill Falls Marketplace in Meredith, a former Industrial Revolution-era linen mill that has been transformed into a village resort with shopping and dining, country inns and gardens and a 40-foot waterfall.
Browse the colorful kids’ section with its stuffies and games at the Innisfree Bookshop. Wander Lee’s Candy Kitchen with its cases, shelves and glass jars filled with sweets. Pop into the Great Northern Trading Company with its array of rustic home décor items.
Tour Hermit Woods Winery and sample the fruit wines. The twist? These wines are bone dry, made using classic European and California wine making methods and aged in oak barrels — what owner Bob Manley extols as the “winemaker’s spice cabinet.”
Head into the heart of the Lakes Region for an ice cream break at Kellerhaus Chocolates in Laconia. New Hampshire’s oldest candy shop is a warren of rooms packed with gifts and goodies, everything from homemade chocolates and ice cream sundaes to Christmas ornaments, toys, cuckoo clocks, made-in-New England treasures, seasonal items and more. Visitors can happily lose a couple hours roaming from one alluring display to another.
Settle down for the night at the Lake Opechee Inn and Spa, a boutique hotel set along the shore of peaceful Lake Opechee. The inn’s 34 guestrooms each have their own individual style; all have a comfy sitting area with a fireplace and views of the surrounding mountains and lake.
Go classic steakhouse for dinner with reservations at the award-winning O Steaks & Seafood, a cheery hub with dim lighting and an unhurried ambiance connected to the inn. Chef and owner Scott Ouellette puts a twist on traditional favorites, with signature dishes like Lobster Mac & Cheese and Kobe Beef and Shiitake Mushroom Meatloaf. Be forewarned: portions are sizable.
Further north, in New Hampshire’s White Mountains region, the grand hotel experience pairs well with the majesty of peaks and pinnacles soaring upward 4,000 feet and higher. Sitting in scenic splendor in the heart of the White Mountains is the AAA Four Diamonds Mountain View Grand Resort & Spa. A member of Historic Hotels of America, this luxury 141-room behemoth, founded in 1865, remains a gracious and welcoming haven with a storybook setting.
There are activities for every season, from adult axe throwing and maple sugaring presentations in the spring to golf and mountain biking in the summer and fall to dog sledding and snowmobiling in the winter. The resort has a movie theatre and a game room and offers afternoon wine tastings, evening piano music in the lobby and an artfully crafted gastronomy experience amidst 6,000 wines in the hotel’s 1865 Wine Cellar.
Every season offers families a full roster of activities — scavenger hunts, board games, bingo, campfires and s’mores, history tours and more — and for many families, spending their vacation together at this grand hotel is a tradition that goes back generations.
The resort is surrounded by attractions as well, including Cog Railway, the world’s first mountain-climbing cog railway, which opens end of April; Santa Village amusement park, reopening end of May for the season; the Weathervane Theatre, offering summer shows including “Hairspray the Broadway Musical” and “Seussical” for 2017; and Cannon Mountain, a popular ski spot that can be seen from Mountain View Grand.
More information about these regions and their accommodations, attractions, shopping and dining may be found at www.visitnh.gov.
(Author and travel and lifestyle writer Kathy Witt feels you should never get to the end of your bucket list; there’s just too much to see and do in the world. Contact her at KathyWitt24@gmail.com, @KathyWitt.)