Walpole Epitomizes NH's Monadnock Region
This wonderful, historic town epitomizes the Monadnock Region
Walpole could be the poster child for the Monadnock Region, with its tidy cluster of white clapboard and brick residences and its stately public buildings. There’s even a bandstand on the well-mowed green and concerts on summer evenings. But this town overlooking the Connecticut River north of Keene is a lot more than a pretty face.
With café tables spilling out onto the long front porch they share with the post office and a grocery store, L.A. Burdick Handmade Chocolates and The Restaurant at Burdick’s combine to put Walpole firmly on New Hampshire’s foodie map. Either one is worth traveling for; together, they are irresistible. The chocolate shop serves rich, thick European-style hot cocoa along with coffees and pastries (featuring chocolate, of course) and sells a full range of chocolates, which are made right behind the shop. The restaurant features French bistro favorites (for lunch, try the Lyonnaise salad or their plate of house-made terrines and pâtés).
Across Main Street in an imposing Empire-style building is Mazziott Bake Shop, and beyond that are The Village Blooms flower shop and Walpole Artisans Cooperative, a small store filled with well-chosen art works, from beautifully designed silver jewelry to inlaid wood bowls and brilliantly colored fused-glass panels. In the other direction on Main Street is Cynthia-Reeves, an art gallery representing internationally recognized artists.
Crowning the hill opposite, the Greek Revival-style Academy houses the collections of the Walpole Historical Society, including those related to Louisa May Alcott, who summered in Walpole. The building was likely designed by Aaron Prentiss Howland, who was, according to the National Register, “the probable designer and builder of many of the architecturally-harmonious structures of the town.”
Dating even earlier — to 1752 — is the former homestead of one of Walpole’s founders, Col. Benjamin Bellows. The mansion, often remodeled, enlarged and modernized in the intervening centuries, is now the Bellows Walpole Inn, a luxury boutique hotel. The Inn Pub features a small-plate dining menu with out-of-the-ordinary specialties (braised rabbit salad, raspberry duck and scallops in ginger lime butter) along with more traditional crab cakes and lamb chops.
Walpole is not entirely devoted to fine art, fine dining and chocolate — agricultural traditions run strong here too. One of the most active agricultural communities in the state, Walpole has dairy farms, orchards, market gardens, working maple groves, a winery and a farm-stay B&B. A drive along Route 12 uncovers a movable feast. September is a good time to sample it at its fullest.
A metal sculpture of an apple tree marks the steep driveway of Alyson’s Orchard, and as you climb past the rows of laden apple trees, the view across the Connecticut Valley to Vermont gets better and better. Pick or buy apples and other seasonal fruits here, and stock up on cider or fruit wines. Below, on River Road, Boggy Meadow Farm has an honor-system dairy shop where you can sample and buy buttery Swiss, delicate maple-smoked Swiss, aged Tomme, pepper-spiked jack and other cheeses. Along with the cheese from their own milking herd, Boggy Meadow sells “Switchel” Cider Vodka, based on a traditional drink served to farmhands at haying time. This 21st-century version — made with boiled apple cider, ginger, a touch of vinegar and grain spirits — has quite the kick.
Stay on River Road to find Homestead Farms, a family market farm with a big field of pumpkins. In September, they offer both summer vegetables — tomatoes, squash, cucumbers and greens — and autumn decorations, including Indian corn, gourds, mums and cornstalks. At the northern end of the village on Route 12 is Pete’s Stand Vegetables, known for sweet, tender corn fresh from the field. Just north of Pete’s is Walpole Creamery, a frequent Best of New Hampshire winner for ice cream made from Walpole cream and locally harvested fruits and maple. In September, pumpkin ice cream should be on the menu.
On the east side of Route 12, the land rises in a series of hills, each level revealing more extensive views. Farms, many of them active, dot these hills, and one of them is now a farm-stay B&B. Guests at The Inn at Valley Farms, a 105-acre organic farm set on a hillside, can collect eggs from the hen house, visit the pastured pigs and cashmere goats, and learn about sustainable farming at their interpretive center. Antiques-furnished guest rooms overlook the large perennial gardens.
Even higher in the hills is Walpole Mountain View Winery, where the first vines were planted in 2004. In September, the vineyard is busy harvesting and crushing grapes, but there’s always someone available to serve tasting flights and appropriate accompaniments in the glass-enclosed tasting room. With views reaching across the valley into Vermont’s Green Mountains, it’s New England’s most scenic vineyard.
Almost at the line where Walpole meets neighboring Alstead, Distant Hill Gardens is a hidden natural paradise that’s a local secret. An environmental and horticultural learning center dedicated to the belief that humans can have a positive effect on nature, the gardens that began as a hobby for Michael and Kathy Nerrie now stretch to 58 acres of tree farm, working sugar bush, native plants and ornamental gardens. A ¾-mile nature trail is open to the public daily, and the gardens are open the first Saturday and Sunday of the month from May through October, or by appointment.