Living free in New Hampshire: A road (and ski) trip to remember
A direct flight to Connecticut sees our visitor embark on a spectacular winter road trip
Fancy a road trip and ski holiday combined? That's the beauty of a New Hampshire adventure - you not only get to ski in White Mountain National Forest, but can enjoy lots of activity on the way to the slopes, too.
Landing into Hartford, Connecticut, my son and I picked up a rental car and did exactly that. Headed for Loon Mountain to ski and snowboard, we took the scenic route onto the Kancamagus Byway. The wide, two-lane road is punctuated with picturesque wooden clapboard houses, bars and bistros - all the prettier when covered in a blanket of snow - and we made several stops to inhale breath- taking views of the Appalachian Trail.
'Live Free or Die' is the motto on every New Hampshire licence plate - a declaration originally made about the American Revolution by General John Stark. I was inclined to just 'Live and Drive Carefully' - but, even so, was pulled over by a state trooper when just 5mph over the limit. I was sent on my way after a full Homeland Security check. "You keep warm, ma'am."
Arriving at Loon, just outside Lincoln, the first thing you notice is the spread- eagled car park. We are so used to being in Alpine resorts in Europe with few or no cars - but Loon (loonmtn.com) is a purpose-built resort clearly popular with skiers from surrounding states. The snow is granular in this area, rather than the powdery kind in Colorado - which supposedly makes it faster for skiing and snowboarding. My son, having spent the previous four months as a chalet host in Morzine, France, was beyond enthusiastic to get his board up there. He's a bust-a-gut skier, and soon got stuck into the mile-long snow parks with jumps and half-pipes.
My own favourite aspect of skiing, on the other hand, is the landscape - the pine trees buried in white shimmering snow, the silence of nature and the blue skies. I prefer scenic, meandering slopes, which Loon has in spades - and our guide led us to a broad plateaux with majestic views of Mount Washington. It's good for all levels, in other words: very family-orientated, with a nice après-ski at the Summit Café and the base of the mountain, where you'll also find many mid-rise hotels - so you can literally ski in and out to dinner.
The beauty of our road trip was being able to dip in and out of a ski resort without the package-holiday arrangements. From Lincoln, we headed through North Conway and Jackson to try out Nordic skiing and snow-shoeing at the Great Glen Trails and the sun-dappled woods of Mount Washington. After getting the scenic coach tour up, you can ski or snow-shoe down an eight-mile trail based on an old carriage road built from 1853-61. It's the oldest manmade attraction in the USA.
Mount Washington sits in the Presidential Range, and is a sub-arctic tundra region within the 2,300-mile Appalachian trail. Had we been there at the end of March, we might have seen the bears come out of hibernation. On a road trip, Peterborough in the Monadnock region is another good place to stop and stroll (try the lovely Twelve Pine for lunch in an old railway station; twelvepine.com). The best chocolatier, Ava Marie (avamarie chocolates.com), is a must for coffee, ice-cream, and bittersweet chocolate. It's got museums and galleries aplenty too.
Heading south, the most beautiful place to stay is the Bedford Village Inn or the Grand Bedford, for sheer hipster luxury (both bedfordvillageinn.com). Grab some lunch at the Stark Brewing Company (starkbrewingcompany.com) and treat yourself to dinner at Hanover Street Chophouse (hanoverstreetchophouse.com) where you can indulge in oysters and filet mignon. You'll need it after all that skiing!
I wanted to stay in historic inns rather than motels or big resorts, and there are plenty to choose from. On the first night the temperature was minus 10, but the great welcome from innkeeper Chelley Tighe and cosy suite at the 18th-century Fitzwilliam Inn (above; fitzwilliaminn.com) kept the spirits up.
In Lincoln, we stayed in the Bear's Den at The Woodstock Inn (woodstockinnnh.com) - after a day on the snow, this was ideal, like a timber mountain chalet. It also has a microbrewery and busy restaurant full of après-skiers. I was recommended the Hypnotic Martini to chill out.
After all that living, skiing and careful driving, it worked!
How to do it
Deirdre flew with Aer Lingus (aerlingus.com), which operates a direct service from Dublin to Hartford, Connecticut. Her car hire was with Hertz (hertz.com), Thanks to US pre-clearance at Dublin Airport, there is minimal delay getting on your way.
Deirdre recommends paying extra for SatNav. "There isn't anything to worry about driving on the opposite side - just remember 'passenger to the path'," she says. Leaving Bradley Airport, take Interstate 91 north to Massachusetts and New Hampshire.
WHERE TO STAY
On Mount Washington, The Wentworth Inn (thewentworthinn.com) is run by Cork woman Ellie Koeppel. It's got huge suites with with your own private hot tub. For something completely different, try the Mohegan Sun (mohegansun.com), a casino resort on a Connecticut Indian reservation.
For more info, see visitnh.gov.