Framed in Foliage

Follow a meandering route through postcard-pretty villages around Mount Monadnock.

Begin in Keene, following Route 101 east to Marlborough. Pass the intersection with Route 124 a few yards to browse among the second-hand books at Homestead Books, where you'll find an especially good selection of books about New Hampshire and New England, many of them out of print. It is one of several in the region that participate in the Round the Mountain Book Sale the first weekend in November. Return to the intersection and follow Route 124 past some of the region's finest views of Monadnock and into Jaffrey Center. At the center of this group of distinguished old buildings is Melville Academy, now a museum with a knock-out collection of Hannah Davis hatboxes (open by appointment in October). Turn right and continue into Jaffrey. Sunflowers Café is on the right, a good stop for delicious soups, sandwiches and salads at lunch or a slice of cake anytime.

Take Route 137 from Jaffrey, over the hills to and across Route 101 at Bond's Corner, to Hancock, another idyllic village. Fiddleheads Café is opposite the Hancock Inn on Main Street, two more lunch options. Leave Hancock on Route 123. Watch for the right turn on Willard Pond Road to visit the dePierrefeu - Willard Pond Wildlife Sanctuary. Kayakers love this rock-bound pond for its clear waters, blue heron and loons. Route 123 joins Route 9 briefly to the right, then turns off again to the left, into Stoddard.

Along with views from the shoulder of Pitcher Mountain, watch for the beautiful Highland cattle that munch in the meadows. Route 123 wanders past ponds until it reaches Route 10, which it again joins for a mile or so to the right before exiting left along the pond in Marlow. In east Alstead it overlooks Warren Pond, another good place to kayak, with a put-in along this northern shore. The winding road follows the river past an old mill before reaching Alstead. For a beautiful vista across the Connecticut Valley, make a short detour south on Route 12-A to Alstead Center, turning right at the hilltop for a few yards for the best view. This community is one of the state's loveliest, its stately homes well-spaced along an open ridge lined with maple trees.

Return to Route 123 and follow it through the village and on through Drewsville, where the Prentiss Bridge is the state's smallest covered bridge. Turn right on Route 12 and watch for Walpole Creamery on the left, where they turn cream from local herds into world-class ice cream. Bear left into Walpole, making a short detour right to see the pretty town common with its bandstand before bearing left up the hill past the golf course. Keep to the right and climb over Watkins Hill before dropping into Christian Hollow.

Between views of the Connecticut Valley are rolling meadows, tree-lined ridges and working farms, some of the loveliest country landscapes in western New Hampshire.

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