Laid-back Keene has much to offer for a romantic Valentine's Day weekend.
A frosting of fresh snow covered the world, with more falling as we ate our sumptuous breakfast at Colony House B&B. The beautifully restored 1819 brick home, only a block from Central Square, is on the National Historic Register and part of the wealthy Colony family's architectural legacy in Keene.
We had called ahead to tour another Colony home, so after breakfast we pulled on snow boots and walked past another fine Colony mansion, now the Keene Public Library, to Horatio Colony House Museum. Home of a well-traveled collector, the 1806 Federal house holds more than 3,000 original family pieces – 18th- and 19th-century furniture, antique Oriental rugs, Japanese prints, European paintings, china and crystal. In addition to the fully furnished rooms – and stories of his collecting trips – we enjoyed his collections of doorstops, walking sticks and ink wells.
After a stop to admire exquisitely handcrafted gold and gemstone baubles at Anthony Toepfer Jewelers, we indulged our own collecting instincts across Central Square at New England Art Exchange. Here we found paintings and fine prints by Whistler, Toulouse-Lautrec and Goya, along with lesser-known American, European and Asian artists.
Just around the corner on Washington Street we lunched on herbed haddock chowder with fresh Anadama bread at Kristin's Bistro & Bakery. We liked its warm atmosphere and the fact that most ingredients are grown or produced locally.
We devoted the afternoon to unhurried browsing, relishing the experience of locally owned downtown shops. At Your Kitchen Store, we found a cooking demonstration in progress amidst eye-boggling displays of cuisinerie. Beautiful pottery, woodenware and locally handmade works greeted us at Hannah Grimes Marketplace, and we left with warm wool hats and Stonewall Farm's cheddar cheese. Farther down Main Street we spent nearly an hour admiring the beautiful things at In the Company of Flowers. Much more than a florist, it is filled with such surprises as vintage silk kimonos, luscious scarves and clothing, Asian pottery and tasteful décor items displayed on antique furniture.
The owner carefully wrapped the roses my valentine bought me, to protect them from the still-falling snow, and we crossed the street for a pick-me-up espresso at Brewbakers Café. Two more stops, at Ye Goodie Shoppe (he buys me roses, I buy him chocolate) and Pocket Full of Rye for Valentine cards, before we head back to Colony House to drop off packages on our way to another Colony legacy, the brick mill buildings that are now Colony Mill Marketplace. We browsed in Antiques at Colony Mill before losing ourselves in the inviting shelves of Toadstool Bookshop.
The snow had stopped and clouds broke in time to enjoy a winter sunset through the west-facing windows of our Charlotte Whitcomb Room, its own warm colors accented by the sun and a cozy blaze in the tile fireplace.
Dinner at Nicola's Trattoria
Our leisurely late dinner was by Chef Nicola Bencivenga at his chic restaurant overlooking Railroad Square. We browsed the menu over glasses of Prosecco from Conegliano before delicate polenta with fontina cheese, sauced in mushrooms. The braised-meat-of-the-day was lamb shanks. I rarely order dishes that I cook myself, but know that Nicola's are superb. So was the vitello saltimbocca, and we accompanied them by an Amarone from Valpolicella. In honor of Valentine's Day, we finished with dark Belgian chocolate mousse.
It was a gloriously bright blue-bird morning, and as we walked down West Street, strains of organ music drew us into the beautiful 1864 stone St. James Church. Inside we admired the stained glass windows, choral music and the astonishing collection of hand-worked needlepoint kneelers.
After lunch of hand-built deli sandwiches at Works Bakery Café on Main Street, we returned to Colony House to change quickly into ski clothes, so we could stop on the way home for a few runs on fresh powder at Granite Gorge.