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by Alexandra Díaz
Today another initial milestone in the USA‘s presidential primary season shines the spotlight on one of this country’s smallest and oldest states – and one that’s a little off the beaten track for overseas visitors, but rich in nature (and fall foliage), history, and awesome options for adventure and sport (especially skiing and snowboarding). Just north of Massachusetts (its southern border is less than 90 minutes from Iberia gateway Boston), the Granite State – a nickname that refers to its extensive quarries – isn’t one of big cities but of small towns (though its southern half has become gradually more urbanised in recent years); rolling, sometimes mountainous countryside; and even a stretch of coastline. Its people, meanwhile, are a hardy, interesting mix of self-sufficient and communitarian-minded. So here are some top New Hampshire highlights:
In the southeast of the state, developing from a 1722 settlement around Amoskeag Falls on the Merrimack River, New Hampshire’s capital is also its most biggest city, with a population of nearly 113,000 and a high liveability ranking among U.S. cities, and the red-brick textile mills which once powered Manchester’s economy for most of its history are now home to, among other things, restaurants and museums – most notably the Millyard Museum, which covers the region’s earliest history up through the era of the textile mill (of which by the way you can see a scale model built in three million Lego bricks at nearby See Science Center).
The local art museum, the Currier, offers an excellent collection including U.S. artists such as Winslow Homer, Edward Hopper, Georgia O’ Keeffe, John Singer Sargent, and Andrew Wyeth, in addition to European stars like Matisse, Monet, and Picasso. A big bonus here is a tour of the nearby Zimmerman House, the only one in New England designed by Frank Lloyd Wright that’s open to the public.
Another cool local draw is the Amoskeag Fishways, a 54-step ladder on the river which you can watch salmon, shad, and herring jump up in their annual migration from May to mid-June; there’s a visitor centre with an underwater viewing window along with displays about the river’s wildlife.
Yes, NH has a sea coast; it may be just 21 kilometres (13 miles) long, but it’s mighty pretty – and anyway, as one wag has put it, “that’s 13 miles more than most other states”. Less than an hour from Manchester, this quaint, these days fairly posh seaport of around 22,000 and its immediate vicinity offers dozens of historical sites open to visitors and dating back to the late 1600s (including Fort Constitution, several picturesque lighthouses, Discover Portsmouth, the American Independence Museum, and the living-history Strawbery Banke Museum). Meanwhile, on Market Square and elsewhere in the historic downtown you’ll be spoilt for choice of trendy eateries, galleries, bars, and music venues.
In case you care to toss a bit of warm-weather fun in the sun into your visit, just 20 minutes down the coast from Portsmouth, this family beach resort dates back to the 1890s, though these days it sports more of a typical 21st-century honky-tonk beach-town vibe, rooted in a kilometres-long strand and boardwalk with fairly calm surf suitable for little ones and the site of a big sand-sculpting competition each June. Still, the 111-year-old Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom is still a big local landmark. Open from April through November, it features various eateries, mini golf, shops, arcade games, waterslide, and a performance venue that has hosted many of the 20th and 21st centuries’ big pop names, from Duke Ellington to Panic! At the Disco. There’s also a pair of spots for learning about the seas, both open during the summer season: the Blue Ocean Discovery Center and Explore the Ocean World.
The eastern half of New Hampshire is dotted with dozens of lovely lakes – Newfound, Squam, Wentworth, and Winnisquam, for example (with another notable one, Lake Sunapee, in the southwest). But the largest and best known is Lake Winnipesaukee, 34 kilometres (21 miles) long and 1.6 to 14.5 km (1 -9 mi.) wide, and speckled with 264 islands. Though a year-round draw, in summer it’s one of New England’s top holiday meccas, lined with charming historic villages like Meredith, Weirs Beach, and Wolfeboro, packed with beaches, attractions, nature reserves, and a slew of accommodations and eateries. It’s a water sports and boating paradise, and from late May through late October visitors can also take a scenic cruise tour on the 80-year-old M/S Mount Washington. Another favourite spot overlooking the lake is the early-20th-century mountaintop mansion and estate Castle in the Clouds.
A pair of other most notable spots in the Lakes Region include the Canterbury Shaker Village, a bit over an hour south of Winnipesaukee. One of more than 20 religious communes which thrived in the northeastern U.S. from the late 18th through late 19th centuries. Leading a simple, celibate life and named after the “shaking” dances they performed in worship, the Shakers eventually died out largely because of celibacy’s lack of appeal (although three elderly Shakers still remain in the community in Sabbathday Lake, Maine). The other is one of the USA’s most prestigious universities, Ivy League Dartmouth College in the town of Hanover, two hours west of Winnipesaukee; besides touring the 251-year-old campus, it’s very much worth a visit to its Baker-Berry Library, featuring dramatic frescoes by 20th-century Mexican muralist José Clemente Orozco, original editions of Shakespeare works, and temporary exhibitions such as the current one marking the bicentennial of the birth of Charles Dickens.
The region centred on the Northeast’s highest range (Mount Washington tops out at 1,917m/6,288 ft. and claims the highest wind speeds of any summit) is a beautiful playground in all four seasons, and winter resorts such as Attitash, Cannon Mountain, and Cranmore famed for some of the region’s best skiing and snowboarding. Much of this area is covered by the 3,039-square-km (1,173-sq.-mi.) White Mountain National Forest, with 1,900 km (1,200 mi) of hiking and mountain-biking trails (some marked with explicatory panels); 23 campgrounds; and highlights such as several restored 19th-century farmhouses; the Mt. Washington Cog Railway (so called because of its toothed rails, meshed by cog wheels), at 151 the oldest mountain train of its kind. Adjacent with similar offerings and even more historic sites is Franconia Notch State Park (including the aforementioned Cannon Mountain). And other White Mountains attractions include the Conway Scenic Railroad; glacial caves; rock climbing; 29 mostly 19th-century covered bridges; local theaters and other performance venues; another Shaker site, the Enfield Shaker Museum; the 19th-century house-museum of one of the USA’s most beloved poets, Robert Frost; lake swimming, fishing, and boating.
There are several classic foliage driving routes in the Granite State, but if I really had to choose one, I suppose it would be the one centred around craggy Mount Monadnock in the southwest of the state. There’s about 130 km (80 mi.) worth of loop along Routes 12, 101, 202, and 123, with quaint, historic towns along the way like vistas from the 19th-century printmakers Currier and Ives, including Keene, Peterborough, Marlborough, Marlow, Troy, Jaffrey, Fitzwilliam, Gilsum, and West Rindge. Highlights include the Cathedral of the Pines; Keene’s Thorne-Sagendorph Art Gallery at Keene State College; the early-19th-century Horatio Colony House; the Town of Swanzey Historical Museum; in Peterborough, the Mariposa Museum of World Culture and the Mondadnock Center for History and Culture; several marvelous nature reserves; and seven delightful covered bridges.
More info: VisitNH.com.