One rather pithy New England village saying has it that “there’s not much to see here, but what you hear, makes up for it.” I used to wonder what that meant. I've always considered the U.S. northeast to be a feast for all senses — sight and taste in particular. Last time I crossed into Vermont, though — at Rouses Point — I learned one possible interpretation for the saying. It was a balmy spring day and we drove lazily along a back road awash in apple blossoms. I stopped and asked a man where one might find real cider, not the apple juice fare they dispense at roadside stands.
“Can’t,” he said, “’cept in my house.” And he asked us to come on in. “Gotta git the little hard apples,” he explained as we drank. “Wormy ones is best: adds body to the brew.” New Englanders, even when they’re (hopefully) putting you on, can be a most amicable and convivial group.
The best way to see New England, we’ve found, if you enjoy good food and hearty hospitality amid comfortable surroundings, is to base yourself at an historic old inn. The people who run the inns are naturally friendly and once your innkeeper has decided that you appreciate his distinguished hospitality you’ll often get inspired suggestions for back road touring, or introductions that will open the doors to pre-
revolutionary cottages or sunrises at sea on a lobster boat. You might even be on the receiving end of a highly treasured recipe from an elderly lady with floury hands.
The quickest and in the long run the best way to get into the soul of New England is along the 2,000-mile Heritage Trail which runs through Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island, linking more than 1,000 of New England’s major tourist attractions. Vermont is a traveler’s dream. Except for the shiny-new places the ski slopes have encouraged, summer resorts here still reflect the early state law requiring innkeepers to be ready to serve hot food and drink and to provide a bed for travelers 24 hours a day — even if that meant the family slept in the barn. But in those days inns may have been few since an early circuit riding pastor frequently notes in his journal “nothing to drink but brook water.”
The opposite is true today at The Lodge at Smuggler’s Notch in Stowe, one of many good places to stop for gourmet dining. You could try their beef Wellington (a filet mignon covered with pâté de foie gras and wrapped in flaky pastry), their crêpes suzettes, or their lavish dessert cart loaded with everything from flaky Napoleons to a fluffy chocolate mousse,
not to mention fresh fruits and cheeses. Their Swedish apple tart deserves special mention. Full and content, you can either drive south from Stowe through the Mad River gorge or take the easier route via Highway 7 to Lake Champlain resort areas, some of which are near Larrabees Point from where Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain boys rowed across the lake at night to seize Fort Ticonderoga at dawn. Today you can make the trip by ferry.
Manchester, in the southern part of the state, is famous for its resorts and L’Auberge restaurant, and is within driving distance of the covered bridges at Bennington or the tasty samples offered by the Maple Museum. If you’re out to avoid high pressure city life, then you’ve come to the right place. There’s a remarkable old store at Danby whose spicy grocery smells recreate the earlier companionable gatherings around the back stove. Fast turnover isn’t a concern here. The locals say, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, that when something sells quickly enough to disturb checkers’ games or even companionable silences, the storekeeper decides, “We won’t carry that no more: it sells too fast.”
You might run across a church supper which weNe usually enjoyed at harvest time, although some are held in the spring. You can enquire locally, for their huge helpings of chicken or ham, fresh vegetables, freshly baked cakes and pies are well worth a short detour.
Massachusetts’ Berkshire Hills abound with charming wild flower-lined roads which can lead you to the homes of Oliver Wendell Holmes and Herman Melville, or the Hancock Shaker Village’s music and dance festivals. Coastal Connecticut is rich in the early history of the area and Old Mystic, a reconstructed whaling harbor, is an interesting stop. Here squareand schooner-rigged whalers and clipper ships are moored at a cobblestoned 1800s quay facing authentic shipping offices and outfitting shops of the days of sail. You might like to detour a few miles into Rhode Island to gape at the opulent Gay Nineties vacation mansions of the “Newport 400,” especially the Vanderbilts’ 70-room summer cottage, the Breakers.
We’re always happy to visit Boston, a city as rich in presentday amusements as historical delights. It’s a great city to eat in — anything from haddock chowder to a New England boiled dinner, anywhere from the luxury of Locke-Ober to the family style Durgin Park. The last time we were there we were lucky enough to extract Joseph’s recipe for their famous Indian Pudding.
Boston bristles with the relics of its romantic history, from the Common where stocks, whipping posts and gallows once stood to the Old South meetinghouse where the Revolution was nurtured. You can drive along the route of Paul Revere’s ride through Medford to Lexington Green where a few men with squirrel guns challenged the might of an empire. As a newly arrived Italian waiter once said to us in a heavy Neapolitan accent, “There’s a bit of Paul Revere in everyone.”
Heading north from Boston you’ll pass through whaling and cod-fishing harbors and into the huge tides and icy seas around Eastport and Lubec, Maine, which is lobster country. It’s a crime in New England to do anything to fresh lobster other than just steam them, and you’ll find lots of good lobster “boils” in the area. So let out your belt and prepare for some exquisite eating.
As you move north the island-speckled seascapes grow more beautiful and the forests of coastal evergreens more dense. Winslow Homer painted in Prout’s Neck and if you know his painting the scene will look familiar. Wiscasset Harbor, with its grounded schooners, is perhaps the single most sketched spot on the Maine coast and Daniel Webster ran the newspaper in the town of Wiscasset. If you get to Mount Desert Island and Acadian National Park, be sure to go for a nature walk with the rangers through the great ragged cliffs, caves and inlets. It’s fantastic.
There’s not a shore resort in New England that doesn’t
have a weekly clambake in summer; one of the quite special ones is run every Friday at the Marshall House in York, Maine. You can usually get clam or fish chowder, but steaming clam juice is really the thing (try some in your bloody mary). Steamed clams, lobsters baked on hot rocks under a thick layer of seaweed and fresh corn roasted in foil in charcoal embers make an exceptional clambake that should be eaten mostly with one’s fingers sitting on big rocks looking out to sea. Fresh raspberry pie and steaming mugs of coffee top it off. And if, as you surely will, you mention to the innkeeper that this morning was a bit brisk for August, he’ll undoubtedly reply, “Well, summer was here last Wednesday.”
The trail west leads into the picturesque mountains of New Hampshire where well over 70 chairlifts and mountain tramways operate as sightseeing attractions in summer. You can drive to the top of Mount Washington or take the cog railway up for a charming conducted wild flower walk. New Hampshire’s scenic mountain roads are famous for their glacier carved mountain notches which are narrow gorges with weird rock formations. The best known of these, Franconia Notch, is famed for the cliffside stone face known as the Old Man of the Mountain. In August it’s ablaze with rhododendron. One of the nicest resorts in the area is the Homestead Inn at Sugar Hill, a rural crossroads near Franconia Notch. It dates back to the 1700s and some of the present furniture belonged to the original owners. We’ve stayed there many times, and we’ve always enjoyed it immensely.
Somewhere along this 2,000-mile circuit, you’ll find your special old inn, just as we have. It will probably have a picket fence and a giant leafy tree or two with a garden that stretches in back down a hillside with a view out to sea. It may be darkening as you arrive and the flicker of firelight will promise warmth in the low beamed lobby scattered with commodious Windsor chairs. As you share a brandy with your host at the honor bar you’ll learn of antiques and auctions, of back roads and riverside rambles. And you’ll learn about the people and history of New England, the land of Walden Pond and the Gloucester whalers, of Sandwich glass and outpost stockades — the simple yet refined land that made a nation.
Where to stay
A selection of other New England Inns you’ll enjoy includes: CONNECTICUT: The Griswold Inn at Essex, where prices range from $10 (single) to $18 (double), and the Old Riverton Inn at Riverton ($7.50 per person, including breakfast) operate mainly as restaurants but have a few rooms for guests.
MASSACHUSETTS: The Colonial Inn at Concord, built In 1 716, offers 40 air-conditioned rooms ranging from $12.50-$19 single and $15.50-$24 double. Deerfield Inn is part of the old Deerfield Village restoration and single room without bath costs $8, with $12. Double room without bath Is $12. With bath $22-$24. The Whale Inn at Goshen was recently renovated though the furnishings are original. Single rooms are $8 a night, doubles $12. Jared Coffin House on Nantucket Island is a restored shipowner’s home, with meals served on the original Coffin china by waiters and waitresses in early Victorian uniforms. Single rooms run $8$10 during winter, doubles are $24. Early May to October the same room can cost $18-$40. The Publiek House at Sturbridge, established in 1771, offers no single rooms in summer; you can get a single for $16 in the off-season. A double costs $22-$26. NEW HAMPSHIRE: The Wolfeboro Inn at Wolfeboro on Lake Winnipesaukee was built in 1812. Prices range from approximately $13 (single) to $19 (double). Fitzwilliam Inn at Fitzwilliam may be an 18th-century inn but it's got a pool and sauna for 20th-century guests ($12-$18 a night).
VERMONT: Newfane Inn at Newfane, well known since 1787, charges $14-$18. The Equinox House at Manchester dates back to 1853. Its prices may seem steep, but $35 for a single and $52 for a double includes breakfast and supper. Kedron Valley Inn at Woodstock caters to horseback riders for $6.25 (single without bath) to $25 (double, with). Dorset Inn In Dorset goes back to 1796. You can stay here for as little as $18 a day, or a weekly rate of $203, for two, including meals.
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