For years, we’ve been making an annual summer pilgrimage to visit relatives who live on the coast of New Hampshire. And for years, seduced by lazy days on the water, we put off making an obvious side trip, one that would take us inland to the historic small towns of Vermont and New Hampshire. Finally, this year, we did it.
Our August trip began in Portsmouth, NH, where we rented a car and drove west and north through Vermont, then east to New Hampshire’s White Mountains. Here’re some highlights from that tour:
Grafton and Environs
Grafton (graftonvermont.org) is one of Vermont’s most beautiful small towns. A popular stagecoach stopover in the 1800s, it has a long history of hospitality. Residents here have restored many of the original buildings and preserved its authentic New England ambience.
The high-end Grafton Inn (graftoninnvermont.com), which dates to 1801, is the place to stay. It offers impeccable service and is filled with antiques and historic memorabilia. The inn has an elegant fine-dining restaurant and, next door, a large welcoming barn-turned-pub (formerly a carriage house) where guests enjoy casual fare and craft beer. On weekends, it’s also the place to hear live music. On Wednesdays, the music moves to the courtyard for an al fresco barbecue that draws both guests and locals.
Travelers who are eager to get out and enjoy Vermont’s fresh air will appreciate that the hotel provides access to the Grafton Trails and Outdoor Center just down the street. Hiking, kayaking, swimming, tennis and paddle boarding are just a few activities to enjoy.
Grafton is a great base from which to explore other towns in Vermont and New Hampshire. In one afternoon, for example, you can take a tour of Vermont’s famous covered wooden bridges (the Inn will give you a map). Most impressive is the the 449-ft. Cornish-Windsor Bridge. Built in 1866, it’s the longest covered bridge in the United States. Or, driving south, check out the famous Grafton Village Cheese (graftonvillagecheese.com) and other attractions in Brattleboro, Vermont (brattleboro.com). Then cross the New Hampshire border to visit the shops and restaurants in Walpole, recognized as one of the most charming small towns in the state.
An hour north of Grafton is Woodstock, Vermont (woodstockvt.com), one of the state’s most beautiful towns. Here you can stroll the village’s expansive green, walk across the town’s three covered bridges and look into Woodstock’s popular shops and restaurants. On the to Woodstock, check out the late 18th-19thcentury stone architecture of the tiny village of Chester (chestervt.gov), which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Just east of Woodstock is Quechee, Vermont, where you can hike in the Quechee Gorge , Vermont’s “Little Grand Canyon” or shop for pottery and hand-blown glass at the showroom of Irish-American glass-artist Simon Pearce.
From here, continue an hour and a half north to idyllic Sugar Hill, New Hampshire, located in the gorgeous White Mountains. Nearby is the Franconia Ridge Loop Trail which National Geographic has named one the world’s top 10 best hiking trails.You’ll find many hiking, cycling and skiing opportunities. Enjoy fine dining at the Sugar Hill Inn (sugarhillinn.com) or more casual fare on the outdoor terrace at the Cold Mountain Café in nearby Whitefield, New Hampshire. In Whitefield, also check out the Weathervane Theater (wvtheatreplayersnh.org), which stages top quality plays, including new productions of Broadway musicals and dramas.
In Sugar Hill, stay at either the historic Sugar Hill Inn (sugarhillinn.com) or the more casual Inn at Sunset Hill (innatsunsethill.com), which dates to 1880, Every room here offers lovely views of the mountains. Although the inns offer breakfast, they have competition down the road from Polly’s Pancake Parlor (pollyspancakeparlor.com), a 75-year-old family-run restaurant that offers one of the best breakfasts in New England. Its worth the wait to be seated.
If you can’t manage all this on your first trip, there are plenty of reasons to return—like a visit to scenic Shelburne, Vermont (shelburnevt.org). Shelburne, located on the shores of Lake Champlain. The Shelburne museum (shelburnemuseum.org) showcases a world-renowned collection of art and Americana that spans four centuries.
So much to see, so little time!