Early Fall Trip to Franconia, NH
The foliage has begun to turn and we head north to the White Mountains for an early September preview, in the lovely lull between summer and leaf-peepers.
The view from the top of the Aerial Tramway at Franconia Notch State Park.
Photo by Stillman Rogers
Even before we reached Franconia Notch, we saw patches of red and orange on the hills beside I-93, a tantalizing glimpse of the colors ahead. We stopped for dinner at Lovetts Inn, where chef-owner Janet welcomed us, suggesting that we begin with her baked Brie with mixed nuts and apple, and a green salad with toasted walnuts and Gorgonzola. From a menu of tempting entrees, we chose shrimp served over linguini with tomato, baby spinach, lemon and white wine, and a spicy chicken stir-fry with mushrooms and peppers in a Thai sauce, served with jasmine rice. The weekend was starting nicely.
Birds and sunlight woke us at Horse & Hound Inn, a lovingly restored inn in a former ski lodge. We liked our room’s cheery yellow walls, the smart clean lines of custom-built furniture and striped bed covering, and appreciated the Pendleton blankets on a cool September night. The room had a wing chair and good reading lamps beside the queen-sized bed. Little details accented the comfortable mix of nostalgia and chic – white towels with discreet jacquard borders of deer, window shades with vintage crocheted ring pulls.
The morning sun invited breakfasting on the garden-surrounded terrace. A plate of fresh-cut fruit accompanied our granola, prelude to delicious omelets seasoned with fresh herbs from the garden beside us. Clearly in love with his mountain surroundings, co-owner Ken offered advice on trails to hike and mountains to climb. We opted for a bit of both, and although you could hardly call Artist’s Bluff a mountain, it has better views than many we’ve climbed. The long sweep across Echo Lake and down Franconia Notch accounts for its name: in the heyday of grand hotels, resident artists from Profile House brought guests here for painting lessons. We were glad we’d remembered sketchbooks. Echo Lake looked so inviting below that we rented kayaks at the State Park beach after our hike and paddled around its shore to admire the changing foliage.
With blackboard menu, worn couches and local artists’ work decorating the walls, Wendle’s Delicatessen & Café seems caught in a ‘70s coffee house time warp. Even my “Robert Frost” sandwich was a retro moment: alfalfa sprouts topped chicken, bacon and cheddar on wheat bread. Their take on a Reuben was good, too, made with turkey and sliced tomatoes.
We continued up Main Street for a look at New Hampshire’s only remaining blast furnace, a 200-year-old iron smelter built of dry stone that stands across Gale River from a little park and interpretive center. We read about the smelting process from illustrated panels, then headed to the Franconia Heritage Museum to learn more. This 1878 farmhouse and its attached barn and sheds are filled with household furnishings, farm equipment, tools and displays about the iron furnace, local inns and the Old Man of the Mountain. While in the village, we stopped at Abbie Greenleaf Library, a Gothic revival/Richardson Romanesque building with mosaic floors and stained glass, listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Guest room at Horse and Hound Inn
photo by stillman rogers
Dinner at Horse & Hound
We strolled out to inspect the new raised-bed kitchen garden and were pleased to see it was already producing vegetables, which we anticipated seeing on tonight’s menu. And we did immediately, in our appetizer — bruschetta of fresh tomato, red onion, red peppers and fresh herbs on tender toasted baguette slices. Chef David Currier has a fine hand with meats: the Magret duck served over Basmati pilaf was delicately pink and juicy. My lamb ribs were rare, just as requested, and intensely flavorful, in fact, some of the best lamb I’ve ever tasted – and I often order lamb. Hints of mustard and rosemary teased my tastebuds, but allowed the meat to shine through. Desserts sounded delicious, but instead we finished our bottle of Argentinian Malbec as Jo Stafford sang Moonlight in Vermont, and other ‘50s tunes drifted in the background to remind us of the inn’s origins.
After dinner we moved to the library, watched a friendly Scrabble game in progress and chatted with other guests. One was still euphoric over a sailplane trip that afternoon with Franconia Soaring Association, assuring us that claims of some of the Northeast’s best thermal soaring were not exaggerated. Ken told us a bit more about the Horse & Hound’s history and showed us old drink menus and photos from its ski lodge days.
A look at the Aerial Tramway at Cannon Mountain
Photo by stillman rogers
After a late breakfast we drove to The Frost Cottage, where poet Robert Frost lived and wrote from 1915 until 1920, and summers for nearly two decades longer. After visiting the little house, which is not “done up fancy” as a museum, and enjoying the view of the White Mountains from the porch, we walked the half-mile nature trail, signposted with poems he wrote here.
We couldn’t leave without checking the progress of fall colors from the top of Cannon Mountain, so we boarded the Aerial Tramway. After dangling 100 feet above the red-and gold-brushed forest, we stopped at the snack bar for soft pretzels to snack on as we walked along the Rim Trail. The view is straight down into Franconia Notch, where the parkway looks like a narrow ribbon with ant-sized cars on it. At the top we climbed the tower for a 360-degree panorama that reaches to Canada.
Back at the base, we paid respects to the Old Man’s memory at the Old Man of the Mountain Museum and walked down to Profile Lake, headwaters of the Pemigewasset River. By the time we reached North Woodstock the pretzels had worn off, so we stopped at Woodstock Inn Station & Brewery for a lunch of hearty sandwiches.