Mt Washington Hotel, New Hampshire's Grand Dame
New Hampshire's Mt Washington Hotel is a step back in time
By Kent E St. John
Her beauty hasn't faded; she is prettier than ever. For over 100 years visitors to the White Mountains have stayed in a place that matches the magnificence of the surrounding Presidential Mountain Range.
Today, the Mount Washington Hotel offers elegance, pleasure and the opportunity for many outdoor adventures. The hotel is even a symbol of what local residents can do to recapture their heritage.
In 1991 the hotel was purchased at auction by the MWH Preservation Limited Partnership for $3.12 million. The partnership, spearheaded by Wayne Presby and Joel Bedor, has since consolidated the 27-hole golf course and Bretton Woods Ski Area under one umbrella. The group is made up of members of four local families and today provides employment to many local residents. Better yet, the hotel has options for all budgets and travel desires.
Everyone has a special place that requires yearly (sometimes more) returns. In honor of Wayne Presby we nicknamed the Grand Dame, "Wayne's World." A world we've been privileged to become a part of.
"Look at me, gentlemen... for I am the poor fool who built all this"
Those were the words of New Hampshire resident Joseph Stickney in 1902 upon completion of the Mount Washington Hotel. Thank god for fools! Traveling up the mile long driveway toward the hotel is a captivating experience that doesn't diminish no matter how many times you take it.
The 200-room pearl white Spanish Renaissance structure has the majestic Mount Washington for its focal companion. From a distance the distinctive red roof gives it an Alpine feel. The main hotel has over 900 ft. of verandah that captures the heart of the Presidential Range.
Upon entry you will step back 100 years! Huge stone fireplaces and a grand lobby will mark a period in time not found in many places today. It takes you back to the days when a vacation meant enjoying your companions, nature and place.
Staying with the Chauffeurs
Okay, it sounds like big bucks. Well never fear, the hotel offers special packages and great accommodations for those that want the lux without the bucks! The Mt. Washington offers several options to cover all budgets.
On our last visit, in March, we stayed in the main hotel. It's an experience like being on a big old fashioned ocean liner. The halls are so long and the rooms are each named for a dignitary who stayed there during the 1940s when the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank were created in the hotel's Gold Room.
I personally like to stay in the Bretton Arms Country Inn. It's on the hotel grounds and each of the 34 rooms is filled with Victorian charm. It is also where the chauffeurs stayed while the big bank bosses cozied up at the main hotel. The small restaurant on the ground floor offers meals that any bon vivant would love. A wonderful lower budget option is the Bretton Woods Motor Inn with views of the Grande Dame.
If going with a group or bigger family, a great alternative is to rent a Townhouse mountainside. They are large, comfortable and offer fireplaces, decks and full home facilities. Better yet is the ability to use all quarters of the massive property.
All events and activities are covered under any choice of accommodation, and shuttle service is provided. All that surrounds you is national forest, mountains and visual beauty.
The Bugle Plays
The Bugle, a daily newsletter, lists each day's events. Options vary season to season and often include special interest themes. One of my all time favorites is the pyrotechnics class offered over the 4th of July. The chance to see a world class show being set up is amazing. Even better is watching them go off. The Mt. Washington display rivals any big city.
The resort also offers many special event weekends such as Murder Mystery and Gourmet Dining. The best event may just be relaxing and doing nothing at all. The veranda is a great place to amid the mountains and the trout-filled stream that passes the hotel. Getting lost on the many trails is also a peaceful selection. If in the mood, do it on the back of a horse.
The hotel is now open year round, and is fully geared up for winter activities. Downhill skiing at the Bretton Woods Area can be mixed with sleigh rides, ice-skating, snow tubing or enjoying the huge stone fireplace in the lobby.
No matter how you spend the day, nights end in The Cave. The Cave is the one of the hotel's lounges and has a great history. It was built into the basement during prohibition times and retains a "let the good times roll" ambience.
Summer provides a chance to play tennis, relax by the pool, or hike the White Mountains. (The outdoor pool is heated so we watched kids and adults frolicking in the winter chill on our visit.)
Thank God for Another Fool
Even before Joseph Stickney gained fame as the fool that built the Mt. Washington Hotel, another man conquered an impossible dream. A meatpacking tycoon presented the idea of a train up to the summit of Mt. Washington.
Members of the New Hampshire Legislature laughed at Sylvester Marsh. It was said that he "might as well build a railway to the moon". Today you can ride to the moon and to one of the wildest places on earth.
Here are some fun facts about the top of Mt. Washington and the Cog;
°The average snowfall is 177 inches.
°The highest wind velocity ever recorded worldwide was at the summit of Mt. Washington (231 miles per hour)
°Each trip to the summit on the Cog Railway uses one ton of coal and 1,000 gallons of water.
°At Jacob's Ladder the grade measures 37.4%. That means that there is a 14-foot height difference between passengers in the front and back of the coach.
°The Cog was the first mountain climbing railway in the world and is the only one still in operation that runs entirely on coal fired steam.
One Big Playground
The White Mountain region is dominated by the 780,000-acre White Mountain National Forest, complete with 48 mountains topping 4000 feet and 49 scenic villages. While hiking is fabulous the region is also easily explored by car. There are only 2 National Scenic Byways in Northern New England and both are in the heart of the "Whites".
The best known is the Kancamagus Highway (also the only Federally Scenic Byway in NE) that runs 34 miles from Lincoln to Conway. Over ninety percent of the "Kanc" runs through the National Forest. The mountains, streams and scenery are unspoiled.
The other National Scenic Byway includes the "Kanc" but includes more. The White Mountain Trail, a 100- mile loop. Wooded roadsides with covered bridges and small villages make for a very pleasant ride. You can catch the trail on route 302 just as you exit the Mount Washington Hotel.
Here is a list of hidden gems.
°Bath- Covered bridges and the oldest general store in the country.
°Littleton- Picturesque main street with unique shops and fine restaurants. Two especially choice places to eat are The Depot and the Italian Oasis. The Depot's owner Rick Tillton has a global reputation. Wayne Morello of the Oasis is a fountain of local knowledge and top notch beer brewer.
°The Basin- One of the first scenic stops along the Franconia Notch Parkway. The whirlpool -like waterfalls is believed to have been formed 15,000 years ago. This was also once a great spot to see the Old Man in the Mountains: c. 30,000 b.c - May 2, 2003; you'll have to imagine this now because New Hampshire's best known icon met his demise when the rocks fell and the image disappeared from the ledge.
°Moose Watch- American Moose, reaching 6 ft. and 1200 pounds are best spotted on route 302 between Twin Mountain and Crawford Notch. The same 302 that passes the Mount Washington. Check http://www.gomoose.com/ for moose watching tips and hear the moose roar.
°Crawford Notch- This area has the highest waterfalls, outlook ledges and trailside features. Hiking trails aplenty!
°Jackson- A covered bridge and white steepled church make Jackson a stand out. Jackson has a lively arts scene. Nordic ski trails are best in the East.
°North Conway and Conway- Shopping is king here. Outlets are mixed with unique boutiques. The area is also one of New England's best gatherings of fine restaurants. Weekend and leaf-peeking season can create horrific traffic so plan accordingly.
Back in Time, Back in Space
Northern New Hampshire is a special place that will satisfy and comfort. It is not a late night, club crawl kinda place. Mountains, scenery and outdoor activity are in abundance. Like the Mount Washington Hotel, echoes of a simpler yet dignified mood prevails. You cannot help but to fall into step with what's important and what's not.
In the end you will find out that you will want to come back and recharge.
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Kent St. John was GoNOMAD’s Senior Travel Editor since the website was founded in 2000. During that time he circled the globe many times, visiting more than 80 countries. Sadly, he passed away on Thanksgiving Day in 2012. He had an appreciation of subtleties, always finding a way to capture the nuances and essences of a destination, whether he was whale-watching in Nova Scotia, riding the rails in Australia, bungee jumping in China or worshipping the sun on a beach in Brazil.