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New Hampshire's Mount Washington Valley region is built on small business. Beyond outdoor tourism like skiing, mountain climbing, and whitewater rafting, more than 25 locally run inns and 70 restaurants, along with an array of local specialty food purveyors and farms, fuel a robust hospitality and culinary scene. This synergy is celebrated with longstanding festivals and special events. Two annual biggies held at the end of February are the Chilly Chili Cook-Off and the Mount Washington Valley Chocolate Festival, each respectively in their 13th and 27th years bringing together lifetime locals and curious tourists.
Forty professional chefs put their best chili recipes to the test at the Chilly Chili Cook-Off competing for award categories like best beef, vegetarian, classic, and chicken chili, along with cornbreads and themed displays. Not only does a panel of professional culinary evaluators choose the winners based on aroma, consistency, and taste, but a People’s Choice Trophy is also awarded based on attendees' individual votes. Bumping up the exclusivity factor a notch, a limited number of VIP package tickets offer early admission, gift bags, and special entry to the awards ceremony.
Dubbed the "Sweetest Day on the Trails", the Mt Washington Valley Chocolate Festival partners with Mt Washington Valley Ski Touring and Snowshoe Foundation to make chocolate indulgence totally guilt-free. Weather permitting, chocoholics cross country ski or snowshoe along the Mt. Washington Valley network of trails at designated inns and businesses like Local Grocer & Cafe, Riverside Inn B&B and the Whitaker Meeting House to sample different renditions of decadence like rich organic truffles, creamy fondue sauces, and double mocha brownies. And just because this is a chocolate festival doesn't mean that some stops won't also include live music and perhaps some beer sampling as well.
You have many unique lodging choices when visiting the Mt. Washington Valley like Stonehurst Manor, a classic five-star retreat overlooking the White Mountains with all the amenities of North Conway right down the hill, or the themed rooms of Adventure Suites ranging from Motor Cycle Madness to a Deserted Island suite complete with hammocks and beach bar.
But when you're looking to head off the beaten path for a decidedly more rural escape, Snow Village Inn in Eaton has been welcoming guests since 1948. First built as a summer home on the lower slopes of Foss Mountain in 1916 by Pulitzer Prize -winning author Frank Simonds, the main inn now features five queen and king suites above the downstairs restaurant and bar with commanding views of the Presidential Range.
Two additional on site properties, Chimney House, with four fireplace-equipped guest rooms and the carriage house, a renovated old barn with eight well appointed rooms connected to a common area and library on the second floor, offer quieter retreats with a more cottage-like ambiance.
Onsite Max’s Restaurant & Pub serves hearty breakfasts each morning to all guests with a rotating selection of homemade baked goods and hot entrées like frittatas or stuffed French toast accompanied by bottomless cups of locally roasted Wicked Joe Coffee. It is at this first meal of the day that you get a taste of Chef Peter Willis' penchant for fresh ingredients and artful preparation that figure even more prominently at dinner. No stranger to the Mt. Washington Valley, with stints at the 1785 Inn, Darby Field Inn, and at one point his own restaurant Coyote Rose, Willis draws from his Asian, South American as well as Southwestern and Santa Fe culinary inspirations to create dishes like eggplant ravioli with a roast red pepper sauce, curry spiced walnuts, and goat cheese or a satisfying rack of local lamb with olives and mint chimichurri.
Photos: Steve Mirsky. Coverage resulting from a sponsored visit.