‘Why New Hampshire?’ was the question everyone asked me when I told them our plans. “For so many reasons”, I replied, not least because New Hampshire is a relatively compact state, with a great network of roads, that can take you to all their beautiful scenic places with ease.
Known somewhat austerely as The Granite State and with a thought-provoking motto ‘Live Free – or Die’, New Hampshire came across as a friendly and welcoming holiday destination with lots to offer.
We all know about New England in the fall, the wonderful colours as the leaves turn, but this spectacle also brings with it lots of tourists and we prefer to travel at a quieter time. We embarked on our trip in late August, the American schools had gone back, the leaves were still green and the attractions were quiet without queues or crowds.
Flying into Boston makes for an easy start and within an hour or so you are in the heart of New Hampshire. Despite being one of the smallest states it offers a great diversity of natural beauty and plenty of history.
First stop was Hanover, an immaculate and very beautiful University town that sits beside the Connecticut River. It is a wealthy town where life centres around the College Green in front of the Baker Tower of Dartmouth College. Very central to the town is the recently renovated Hanover Inn, The place to stay in Hanover and bustling with visiting intellectuals and wealthy families of the college undergraduates. If you have read Bill Bryson’s book ‘A Walk in the Woods’ you will recognise Hanover as being on the Appalachian Trail and where Bill lived for a while.
We carried on down the western flank of the state, along open roads under wide blue skies, and came across a string of quintessential New England towns – New London, Peterborough, Keane and finally Bedford. You soon find that so many place names match our own and also that names are duplicated across the New England region, which can cause confusion. These pretty but sleepy towns are all worth a look and usually you will find a selection of interesting independent shops and a local restaurant or diner, serving home cooked food for a lazy lunch.
Nearby attractions included the wonderful St Gauden’s Gardens. We spent a restful morning admiring the work of the celebrated sculptor, Augustus Saint. Gaudens, and visiting his family home ‘Aspet’. The US National Park Service runs the house and gardens and they hold seasonal exhibitions and events.
For an insight into the days when America was ruled by Britain, a visit to Fort No. 4 in Charlestown is fascinating. It was the northernmost British settlement along the Connecticut River and today the buildings have been restored and it is now a living history museum. It was interesting to talk to the volunteers, dressed in period costumes and demonstrating local crafts such as weaving, spinning and a blacksmith toiling away in the forge. Times were hard for these early pioneers and the fort often housed the British military to help protect the families from Indian raids.
To appreciate the other side of early American history a ‘must see’ is the Mt. Kearsarge Indian Museum, just outside the town of Warner, where you can learn about Native American culture and gain an insight into the customs and lifestyle of the different tribes that sadly were driven from their lands by the early settlers.
The Cathedral of the Pines is definitely worth a short detour; it is an open-air garden of Remembrance in the Mt Monadnock region and a very moving and spiritual place. Completely non-denominational, it honours the people of America who died serving their country, as well as being a lasting memorial for the son of the landowners, Sibyl and Douglas Sloane III, who lost their son Sandy in WW2.
Working our way onto the city of Manchester we called into the Currier Museum of Art and spent an enjoyable afternoon admiring the exhibits and in particular the iconic Zimmerman House. Designed in 1950 by the acclaimed architect Frank Lloyd Wright, the home is a lasting legacy of 50s lifestyle. Set within a quiet neighbourhood, the house can only be visited as part of a tour run by the Currier Museum, so you need to pre-book tickets. It is a fascinating journey back in time and well worth visiting.
Food and drink featured strongly on this road trip – mainly because New Hampshire is home to some amazing microbreweries, and despite the harsh winter climate, a few great wineries are springing up.
We enjoyed lunch and wine tasting at the very successful La Belle Winery in Amherst. This attractive purpose built winery includes a Bistro, art gallery, culinary shopping opportunities and of course, plenty of tastings.
Any beer lover would enjoy a visit to the award-winning Stark Brewery in Manchester. Alongside the brewery is Milly’s Tavern where you can enjoy tasty pub food as well as a great choice of fresh beers.
New Hampshire has a wide range of accommodation to suit all budgets and we sampled a good cross-section. Our accommodation for this part of our trip ranged from quaint historical roadside Inns such as the New London Inn, which has a great restaurant, and the Jack Daniels Inn in Peterborough, through to the spanking new and very Grand Hotel at the Bedford Village Inn.
Our tour continues in Part 2 with our adventures around Lakes, Mountains and Coast.
For more information on New Hampshire our travel partner, American Sky offers a selection of New England Fly Drive Holidays.
New Hampshire – a road trip to remember: Part 2