Three hour vacations
Sure, gas prices are slowly creeping down, but let’s face it – it’s still expensive to gas up these days. Because of this, some families who might normally choose to drive to Myrtle Beach, SC or Orlando, FL for their summer vacations are instead choosing to stay closer to home. On the following pages, we feature three beautiful towns in nearby New England that are great for families or couples wishing for a little more than a “staycation” – and none of them will break the bank.
Sise Inn, Portsmouth, NH
By Ciara McCann
Tucked along the Atlantic Ocean and the Piscataqua River, Portsmouth, NH was settled in 1623 by European fishmongers and shipbuilders. The call of the sea is still ever-present in today’s Portsmouth with rocky shores, ocean views, revolutionary garrisons, hip surf shops, tug boat tours, harbor cruises and seaside trails.
Portsmouth is that rare village where history and present day come together beautifully and effortlessly in cobblestone streets, historic attractions, wireless parks, farmers markets, trendy restaurants and locally owned boutiques. There is something for everyone in Portsmouth – the jewel of the Seacoast sparkles in every season.
There’s nothing better than walking outside in the morning and smelling the crisp, salty ocean air. While not something we have the luxury of in the Capital Region, I found this and so much more on a recent weekend trip to Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
A little over three hours northeast of Albany, Portsmouth is described by many residents as a “mini Boston.” The streets are filled with Cape- and Colonial-style buildings and homes from the 18th century, yet there are modern touches as well. According to Portsmouth’s tourism website, the city was settled in 1623 and claims to be the nation’s third-oldest. Its geographic location, historic past and cultural strength regularly land it on “best places to live” lists. It has also been named one of the top 100 walking cities and one of America’s prettiest towns.
After spending the weekend exploring the city, it’s not hard to see why. My fiancé, Kurt, and I arrived mid-morning on a Saturday, eager to check into the Sise Inn, and begin our exploration of the city. The Inn is a hybrid of a hotel and a bed and breakfast. I had done some research on it beforehand, checking out the beautiful pictures online, but they were nothing compared to seeing it in person.
A sprawling, blue 19th century Queen Anne home that seems to go on forever, The Sise was originally built by Captain John E. Sise in 1881. It remained a private residence until developed into an Inn in 1985. This development included the addition of a rear wing that matches the interior design and detail of the original so well you have no idea when you have moved from one section to the other.
We were lucky enough to be brought on a tour of the property by the innkeeper, Diane, who has been there for 10 years. Our tour included most of the guest rooms and the separate carriage house lodgings. Each of the 34 rooms, while unique in their décor and layout, all convey a sense of charm and character that I’ve never experienced in an Inn before.
It’s hard to say what I liked the most about The Sise. It could be the magnificent woodwork that runs throughout the property or the antique fixtures and furniture that fill each nook and cranny. Maybe it’s the top-notch service, with a front desk that is staffed 24-hours a day and a complimentary breakfast buffet each morning. I suppose if I had to pick just one attribute that would keep me coming back, it would have to be its location.
While it is true that everything in Portsmouth is within walking distance – you can walk from one end of the town to the other in just 15 minutes – it really seemed like we were in the heart of everything at The Sise, yet it still felt quiet and peaceful.
Our first adventure found us on a hunt for a delicious lunch. Upon Diane’s recommendation, we headed to Geno’s Chowder and Sandwich Shop, which is located right on the water between New Hampshire and Maine. We sat on an outside deck and watched the fishermen float by on their boats, enjoying the ocean breeze. I ordered the clam chowder, while Kurt ordered one of their popular lobster rolls. He has been to the coast before and indulged in his fair share of seafood dishes, but he said this was the freshest and tastiest lobster meal he has ever had.
After lunch, it was on to learn more about the history of the town at the Strawbery Banke Museum. Portsmouth was actually known as “Strawbery Banke” until 1653, given the name by early British settlers because of the strawberry bushes that lined the Piscataqua River. The museum is set up like a miniature village, giving visitors the chance to experience and imagine how people lived and worked centuries ago through its restored houses, featured exhibits and interactive programs.
Once we entered the gates to Strawbery Banke, it felt as if we were transported back in time. There were people dressed in colonial attire, houses that were completely restored to their original furnishings and gardens and greenhouses full of period-appropriate plants and flowers. A wonderful place for the history buff, kids will also be entertained in their Discovery Center, where they can experience traditional games, crafts, chores and even try on clothing children wore in the 1700s.
Never being one to pass up an opportunity to do some outlet shopping, I convinced my fiancé to take the short drive (about eight minutes) to the Kittery Outlets in Maine after our walk through history. In exchange, I agreed to tour the Redhook Brewery in Portsmouth with him before our drive home on Sunday. While not a beer drinker myself, it was a fascinating and fun tour with a charismatic guide who walked us through the entire process, which ended with free samples and a souvenir tasting glass.
After working up an appetite shopping, it was time to head to dinner. We made the short walk from the Inn to Radici, an authentic Italian restaurant that, while unassuming from the outside, was warm and inviting on the inside. There are so many dining options in Portsmouth that it was difficult to choose just one place, but Radici’s menu offered smaller entrée portions, which I was drawn to. I chose the eggplant parmesan and Kurt had the seafood fra diavolo. Both dishes were the perfect portion size and very tasty.
During my research on things to do in Portsmouth, I discovered The Music Hall, a Victorian theater dating back to 1878 that, in addition to hosting plays and live performances, also shows movies. We made our way there after dinner and caught the 7pm showing of a recent film with a crowd of around 30 people. Even cooler than watching a modern-day film in an historic theater was the bar/lounge area in the lobby. Completely renovated with large columns, velvet couches and mood lighting, we wished we could come back when the bar was open to mingle with other theater patrons.
If you are worried that Portsmouth doesn’t seem to have much of a nightlife, you will be pleasantly surprised at all there is to do after dark. There are a few bars and pubs hidden along side streets, restaurants open late, and we even came across a live band playing popular cover songs at one spot. Looking for a more low-key evening after the movie, we stumbled upon Breaking New Grounds, a coffee and pastry shop, that was packed! Both in the mood for something sweet, we perused the cases of pies and cakes, ordered our selections to-go and brought them back to our room to enjoy.
The weather was just as beautiful the following morning, allowing us to continue seeing what Portsmouth has to offer, which is vast for such a small town. We browsed a used bookstore, had lunch at Me & Ollie’s Café (which was recently voted best inexpensive lunch on the seacoast), and wandered from shop to shop. We kept remarking on what a wonderful getaway it was and how we didn’t want to leave.
After only just scratching the surface of all the history and attractions found in Portsmouth, we are already planning our return trip. Visit with your significant other, family or friends and see for yourself – just don’t forget your walking shoes!
For more information on the Sise Inn visit www.siseinn.com. For more information about Portsmouth, NH, visit www.portsmouthchamber.org
Top dozen things to do in the seacoast
1. Go to the beach! There are 5 sandy, family-friendly, public ocean beaches
- Hampton Beach (www.hamptonbeach.com) and its boardwalk, plus events all summer like fireworks, sand sculpting contests and the annual Seafood Festival in September.
- Wallis Sands Park in Rye – a classic family-friendly sandy beach plus boat launch, prime birding paths, salt marsh and the Seacoast Science Center (www.seacoastsciencecenter.org)at Odiorne State Park (www.nhstateparks.com)
- Great Island Common in New Castle is a small, sheltered beach in a park, with views of Portsmouth and Whaleback Lighthouse, just up the scenic coastal route of 1B past the restored Victorian seaside resort, Wentworth by the Sea Hotel
2. Enjoy a harbor cruise or whale watch aboard the Isles of Shoals Steamship Co., Portsmouth Harbor Cruises, Tug Alley Too and more!
3. Stroll Strawbery Banke Museum. 400 years of history, special events including An American Celebration! Old-Fashioned Fourth of July, and December’s Candlelight Stroll as part of “Vintage Christmas in Portsmouth”.
4. Arts, Culture, History – Music Hall…..Tour one of 7 National Historic Landmarks including homes to John Paul Jones, Governor Langdon, Declaration signer William Whipple, and the prototype of the fastest WWII submarine. Learn how New Hampshire helped Teddy Roosevelt win a Nobel Peace Prize (www.portsmouthpeacetreaty.com).
5. Sports & activities – Kayak rentals and tours, learn to surf, bicycle tours and routes, play golf and tennis, and 18 miles of beaches.
6. Family Activities – Spot a blue lobster at Seacoast Science Center. Explore the interactive and hands-on Children’s Museum of New Hampshire. Enjoy the Wizard of Oz outdoor theater presentation at Prescott Park.
7. Pick a Festival – From Chowder Fests to Chili Fests to Fishtivals to the Seafood Festival in Hampton Beach. You can not go hungry on the Seacoast.
8. Picnic in Prescott Park – Open-air family theater, music and dance performances all summer (www.prescottpark.org).
9. Shop! NH is a tax-free shopping mecca! Unique shops and boutiques in downtown Portsmouth, malls in nearby Newington and outlets in Kittery, Maine www.shopportsmouth.com. Cruise Antique Alley with 500 dealers dotted along Route 4 www.nhantiquealley.com
10. Celebrate a festival in Exeter along the banks of the Squampscott River – Spring Alewife Festival in June, American Independence Museum festival in July, Harvest Festival in October.
11. Wine and dine – Portsmouth has one of the highest concentrations of restaurants per-capita in the nation, plus the bi-annual Restaurant Week Portsmouth & the Seacoast in March and November. The Seacoast also has Smuttynose and Redhook Breweries, with tours, and local wineries. Grab your seat early on the decks overlooking the Piscataqa River on a warm summer’s day!
12. STAY AN EXTRA DAY! There is always more to do on the Seacoast, so stay another day or come back again soon.
For more information visit www.GoPortsmouthNH.com.
Woodstock Inn & Resort, Woodstock, VT
By Vikki Moran
Woodstock was chartered by New Hampshire Royal Governor Benning Wentworth in 1761. It was named the Shire Town of Windsor County in 1786 and quickly became a prosperous manufacturing and commercial center.
The town has been home to George Perkins Marsh, environmentalist; Frederick Billings, railroad empire-builder; Senator Jacob Collamer, advisor to President Lincoln; and Laurance and Mary French Rockefeller, conservationists and philanthropists. It is the birthplace of Hiram Powers, noted sculptor of “Greek Slave”. From 1826 to 1856, it hosted one of only six medical colleges in New England, the Vermont Medical College.
Woodstock was the terminus of the Woodstock Railway, 1877-1933, which connected the town to the Central Vermont Railroad in White River Junction. Travelers coming to Woodstock via the railway established the town’s reputation as a tourist destination, still prevalent today.
Called “the prettiest small town in America” by a national publication, Woodstock is famous for the architecture of its houses and churches. It is the site of the first ski-tow in the United States in 1934, home to the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park and remains the only town in America with five church bells cast by Paul Revere & Co.
It is hard to resist a vacation in a quintessential Vermont town at an Inn that encompasses both New England charm and resort-like amenities. For many years, The Woodstock Inn and Resort in Woodstock, Vermont has hosted generations of families who wish to enjoy what the Inn and town of Woodstock has to offer. With breathtaking views everywhere you look, and activities like hiking, biking and hot air ballooning, this could be the most wholesome summer vacation you experience.
The Woodstock Inn is certainly not your cozy “little” New England Inn. Rather, it is a sprawling and grand place with 142-rooms, yet offers the quaintness and charm of a smaller establishment. Upon entering the Inn, you are greeted by a massive fireplace that is usually surrounded with people gathered on all sides enjoying drinks and conversation. I doubt anything in life says ‘welcome and relax’ like an open fireplace.
The main part of the Inn is truly a maze of long hallways dotted with cozy sitting areas. My favorite was outside of the dining room and the gift shop. Appointed with wicker furniture and great deep cushions, this is the perfect place to enjoy the fantastic light streaming in through the massive windows overlooking the street. Catching up on your favorite reading here could be a vacation in itself.
The Inn’s restaurant, The Red Rooster, is located outside the lobby on the first floor, and is a bit more modern than one would expect. With a square marble decorative pool in the center of the room and comfy booths, it’s easy to settle in for a great meal. I was impressed with how reasonable both the drink and food prices were for such a popular resort. Long Trails on draft (a local favorite and neighboring brewery within close range to the resort) sells for only $4. The wine list, while not extensive, is again more than reasonable. Like many Vermont restaurants, they are a part of the Vermont Fresh Network and listed on their menu are all the local purveyors from the cheeses to the meats.
Entrees are wide-ranging and can include anything from Black Truffle Risotto to a Grilled Cornish Hen served with a green bean casserole. One particularly good appetizer is a house-made Pate served with Huckleberry Compote, cornichons and whole grain mustard with Rosemary Toast. Worth noting is that Yankee Magazine voted The Red Rooster “best new restaurant”.
What Inn, especially a New England one, would be complete without a Tavern? Their tavern is large and has a wonderfully cozy feel to it. The menu offers favorites such as five cheese mac & cheese and seafood stew and very reasonable drink prices. And each weekend throughout the summer you can enjoy entertainment.
The Spa opened officially in September 2010 and is located in the main building (unlike the sports center and indoor pool which is about 1.5 miles away with shuttle service provided.) The Spa has a reception area that mirrors the modern look of the Red Rooster, but the sleekness is appropriate for this state-of-the-art spa. It was designed to be both elegant and functional, while keeping with the New England ambiance. Light spills dramatically through the windows in the main areas and each treatment room is private and beautifully appointed. One such touch are the bronzed botanical door hangers used as monikers for the treatment rooms.
The co-ed sanctuary adorned with Simon Pearce glass has a fantastic hot tub outside in a private spa courtyard, which is also co-ed. The Sauna is also located in the courtyard.
The spa treatments vary by season and incorporate the foods, flavorings and spirit of the Vermont season, i.e. Vanilla Maple in the spring and Pumpkin Spice in the fall. If I pressed myself for a favorite room, it would have to be the doubles accommodation room that can be used for couple massages. Woods adorn this room exquisitely and the center piece is a wooden Japanese soaking tub.
Forgive me if I have painted a picture of an adult vacation spot. Families galore enjoy this resort and take part in many activities and amenities designed for adults and kids alike. I spoke to a few people staying here who have such fond memories of their vacations as children that they have traveled back from all over the country to marry at the Inn, certainly ensuring many more years of new families making the Woodstock Inn & Resort a treasure to be enjoyed for years to come.
For more information visit www.woodstockinn.com or call 888.481.8802.
Points of interest
Billings Farm and Museum
5302 River Road, Woodstock
Explore one of the finest operating dairy farms in America and a museum of Vermont’s rural past – your gateway to Vermont’s rural heritage. Get to know the Jerseys, sheep, horses, oxen, and chickens through interactive programs and activities. Explore the barns and calf nursery and watch the afternoon milking of the herd. Experience a first-hand sampling of actual farm work, animals and agricultural processes. The authentically restored 1890 Farm House, the center of the farm and forestry operation a century ago – features the farm manager’s office, family living quarters – and creamery, where butter was produced for market. Interactive programs in the farmhouse interpret 19th century agricultural improvement, butter production and domestic life. Engaging exhibits housed in 19th century barns depict the annual cycle of rural life and work, as well as the cultural values of Vermont farm families a century ago.
The Marsh Billings Rockefeller National Historical Park
54 Elm Street, Woodstock
Vermont’s first National Park interprets the history of conservation and the evolving nature of land stewardship with tours of the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller mansion and the surrounding 550 acre forest. 20 miles of carriage roads (no driving) and trails for hiking. Guided tours of mansion & gardens.
President Calvin Coolidge State Historic Site
Route 100A, Plymouth Notch
The birthplace of the 30th President of the United States; born on July 4. Homes remain as they were at the beginning of the century. Fine perennial gardens. National Historic Landmark Plymouth cheese Factory located here, open and making cheese regularly for the public to view.
Simon Pearce, Quechee
1760 Quechee Main Street, Quechee
Simon Pearce designs and manufactures original products in glass and pottery. Come and watch traditional glassblowers and potters at work and shop the store which features the best of their work. Complete the occasion by enjoying fine Irish American cuisine served on original Simon Pearce designs.
The Mill, Route 4, Bridgewater
Charles Shackleton is a famous furniture maker and Miranda Thomas is a world-renowned potter who has done work for the United Nations and the White House. Studio is located in a woolen mill.
There are some wonderful and interesting shops and galleries in the Village including FH Gillingham and Sons (www.gillinghams.com), celebrating their 125 year in business this year.
For more information on the area visit www.woodstockvt.com
The Bee and Thistle Inn & Spa, Old Lyme, CT
By Danielle Pitanello
Many ship captains built grand houses in Old Lyme, which is on the Long Island Sound at the mouth of the Connecticut River. The community hosted one of the nation’s first art colonies, from 1899 to 1937 and today, the town remains committed to supporting the arts and preserving its quiet charm. The Bee and Thistle Inn follows this tradition by featuring artwork from local galleries, as well as individual pieces from area artists.
There are plenty of ways to spend a relaxing vacation, but one way is to just “let go” and step back in time. If that is what you had in mind this summer, The Bee and Thistle Inn & Spa just happens to be a solution to that vacation plan.
The Inn is set on more than five acres of beautifully landscaped property in Old Lyme, Connecticut, bordering the Lieutenant River. There are nine guest rooms that will take you back to an era that many of us have never known…simple refinement. Each room, as well as the entire property, reflects the gentle and elegant nature of its innkeepers, Linnea and David.
The Inn dates back to 1756 and was, like so many others Inns, a private residence to a local judge. The house originally sat a few miles away in Saybrook, but was moved to its current location at the turn of the century by another family. The sunken garden, porches and back portion of the house were then added. It wasn’t until 1930s that the home was turned in a business. It was owned by Henrietta Greenleaf Lindsay, a widow, who followed the advice of her actress friend, Elsie Ferguson, and opened it as an Inn to the public. The name, Bee and Thistle, is the Ferguson clan emblem in Scotland. Fast forward to today and you still find lovely accommodations (all with private baths), spa services offering unique treatments that reflect the area, and superb dining.
The Inn’s restaurant, The Chestnut Grille, is so much more than the average gourmet restaurant. It is the gathering place of locals for cocktails and light food after a long day’s work, as well as a gastronomical retreat for those visiting from far and wide. You may even be as lucky as my husband and I were and hear a song from the multi-talented Linnea. Strolling around the porch dining room with her house singer and guitarist, she joins in and truly charms everyone there. I was blown away to be in that setting with that food enjoying her warmth and good nature.
Days after our visit, she and David vacationed with their friend, world-acclaimed French Chef Jacques Pepin. These are folks that enjoy, appreciate and serve great food and their obvious love of the culinary arts must have fostered such a comfortable relationship with Pepin.
After a long day of hiking, golfing, kayaking or sailing on the river, or shopping at the many antique and specialty stores in town, head to the Inn’s nicely-appointed spa room to unwind. Services such as the Bee Yummy facial or a relaxation massage are provided by therapists from a local spa and are a wonderful splurge in one of the Inn’s Spa rooms It’s great to wander back to your room in your robe to enjoy a nap!
Just a short distance from the Inn are local museums, including The Florence Griswold Museum, right next door. It is billed as the home of American Impressionism and is certainly worth a visit. However, Old Lyme and the neighboring towns of Essex and Old Saybrook hold much to offer with galleries galore, great places to eat and more beautiful vistas then any set of eyes can take in. In the summer months, you can enjoy the Midsummer Festival and many outdoor concerts.
Just a short drive away is the town of Mystic, home to the Mystic Aquarium, a great place to take the kids. And of course, for those more daring, there is Foxwoods Casino in Masantucket or Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville.
For more information on the Bee and Thistle Inn and Spa visit www.beeandthistleinn.com.
The Lyme Art Association was built and opened in 1921 by Lyme Art Colony artists. It features exhibits of traditional fine art by area artists. 860.434.7802; www.lymeartassociation.org.
The Lyme Academy for Fine Arts is one of the few accredited fine arts schools in the country. The gallery features shows by the faculty, students and alumni. 860.434.5232; www.lymeacademy.edu
The Cooley Gallery has been in Old Lyme for over 25 years and offers American paintings from the late 19th & early 20th century with select works of contemporary realism. 860.434.8807; www.cooleygallery.com
The Diane Birdsall Gallery is one of Old Lyme’s newest galleries, located right on Lyme Street. 860.434.3209; www.dianebirdsallgallery.com
The Kate (Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center) is a non-profit performing arts organization located in an historic theatre/town hall on Main Street in Old Saybrook. It includes a 250-seat theatre and a small museum honoring Katharine Hepburn, Old Saybrook’s most celebrated resident.www.katharinehepburntheater.org.
• L. Pederson & Company 860.434.0841
• Treasures 860.434.9338
• The Chocolate Shell, a charming candy shop 860.434.9727
• E.F. Watermelon, a unique jewelry store 860.434.1600
• The Bowerbird, which has a large selection of toys, cards and gifts for the home 860.434.3562
• Turning Page, an eclectic book store 860.434.0380
• Old Lyme Ice Cream Shoppe & Cafe for a gourmet ice cream or coffee. 860.434.6942
Rocky Neck State Park is about 10 minutes away in Niantic off I-95N on Long Island Sound.
Hammonassett State Park is about a 20-minute drive south on I-95 in Madison. Both offer beaches, camping, picnic areas and fishing.
Devils Hopyard State Park has wonderful hiking and mountain bike trails and is about 25- minutes north in East Haddam.
Fox Hopyard, both a private and public golf course, is located a short drive away from the Bee and Thistle.www.golfthefox.com/hopyard.