Christmas Getaway to Bethlehem
For a pre-Christmas getaway, how can we resist a town named Bethlehem?
The silence of winter woods is so profound and our king-sized bed with cozy coverlet and deep down pillows so comfortable that we almost overslept. That would have been a shame, as breakfast at Bear Mountain Lodge was superb. It began with mugs of coffee and tea, and plates of fresh-cut melon in a light syrup made with fresh lime juice and zest and grated ginger root. Our taste buds thus awakened, we were then served generous wedges of caramelized-onion and provolone quiche accompanied by crisp sweet bacon that had been basted with brown sugar and Dijon mustard before baking.
After admiring the view of the snow-covered mountains from the huge windows that form one wall of the guests’ common area, we hurried into town to get our Christmas cards mailed before the Bethlehem Post Office closed at 11. Mailing holiday cards with a Bethlehem postmark is so popular that people mail bundles of them to the postmaster to be sent from here. In the post office lobby we found hand stamps so we could postmark them ourselves.
Main Street shop windows were filled with ideas for gifts, so we continued in this Christmas spirit and browsed through most of them. In Local Works Marketplace and the adjacent Gallery at The WREN shops we admired works by more than 200 local artists, an outstanding collection highlighted by eye-catching pottery in several styles, bright knitted clothing, handspun yarns, olive oil soaps, wooden ware and jewelry created from multiple mediums. The annual members show had just opened in the gallery, including paintings, photography and fine art prints. Of course we couldn’t pass 3 of Cups next door without stopping to see what was “new” in this quirky antique shop.
Although we were planning to eat dinner there in the evening, Cold Mountain Café was temptingly close and we remembered how good their sandwiches were, so we decided to have lunch there too. We found a table and ordered black bean cake with goat cheese and almonds on a bed of baby spinach dressed with ginger, and a baguette sandwich of capicola, ham, provolone, sweet red peppers, red onion and greens drizzled with garlic-infused olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
We got to talking with a couple at the next table who told us that the Heritage Society Museum was open that afternoon, so after lunch we visited their photographs and displays on the old White Mountain hotels that once lined Bethlehem’s Main Street.
Then we took advantage of the package we’d booked at Bear Mountain Lodge, and went to Finnegan’s Fine Firs to choose and cut our Christmas tree. We laughed at the little signs along the route to the tree plantation and warmed up after the walk with cups of hot cider while we picked out our handmade balsam wreath, also included in the package.
As we’d arrived too late on Friday evening to savor our surroundings at Bear Mountain Lodge, we returned to our large room and toasted our toes by our fireplace as the double whirlpool tub filled. Rustic décor can so easily be overplayed to the point of precious, but this one was done with a deft hand, blending natural wood, peeled log, birch, leather and homespun-chic into a room that was both stylish and back-woodsy. It was amply sized and inviting enough to tempt us to hibernate here (our room was named Bear’s Den, after all) instead of joining fellow guests in the spacious greatroom to watch the sky turn pink over Mount Washington.
Fortunately, we did finally decide to be more sociable, and arrived as hosts Michael and Carol were telling the others that this evening was Bethlehem’s annual Tree Lighting, when Rte. 302 is closed through town and locals gather for carols, a bonfire and fireworks while kids decorate gingerbread people. The entire program is free, sponsored by local donors.
Dinner at Cold Mountain Café
The warm, intimate atmosphere at Cold Mountain Café only gets cozier at night, and we were lucky to score a window table where we could continue to enjoy the activity outside. Our cheerful server described the details of dishes with dexterity, and with her encouragement I resisted the lamb (which I know to be excellent) and chose “Mexican Lasagna” of corn tortillas, sweet potatoes layered with baby spinach. Tim wavered over the bouillabaisse — a bountiful bowlful of which we’d seen delivered to the next table — but selected roast pork in a cider reduction glaze served with rosemary-roasted red potatoes. We like the café’s soft music and cheery buzz, making dinner table conversation easy. Back “home” we’re more sociable than we’d been earlier, joining guests for hot chocolate and gingerbread in front of the fireplace as we admired the huge logs that enclose the inn’s two-story greatroom.
After breakfast of poached eggs on potato pancakes with Asiago cheese sauce, we wrapped in parkas and headed for The Rocks Estate, where we’d reserved a dogsled ride with Muddy Paw Sled Dog Kennel. Dogsledding is always fun, especially through The Rocks’ beautifully managed maple groves and across fields with mountain views. We like Muddy Paws’ policy of encouraging hands-on interaction with dogs as we helped harness our team. Throughout December, along with choose-your-own Christmas trees, The Rocks has a marketplace of crafts and local products at the estate.
Before heading back south, we stopped for a late lunch at upbeat Maia Papaya in the center of town, ordering bowls of broccoli-cheddar soup and sandwiches of grilled sharp cheddar on multigrain bread. And as they’d just made their famous Maple Shoo-fly Pie, we felt it was only right …