New Hampshire is known by many names: Granite State, Mother of Rivers, White Mountain State, Switzerland of America. Each one captures the allure of what surely must be one of the most beautiful states in the country. Each of its seven regions, from the Great North Woods to Seacoast, has its own geographical, historical and cultural charms.
For a long and lazy weekend, the Monadnock Region makes a picturesque playground where scenes of classic New England are depicted: covered bridges, ponds and meandering rivers, church-steepled villages, mansions shielded behind leafy maple and oak trees. The region takes its name from Monadnock, the gently sloped mountain that is the second most hiked mountain in the world and surrounded by 40 postcard-pretty towns.
The area has some fun Hollywood connections. Bette Davis, who dominated the silver screen marquee during Hollywood’s Golden Era of the 1930s through 1950s, made her stage debut in 1925 at what is now the Peterborough Playhouse, an active and intimate theatre tucked into an 18th century barn.
Robin Williams’ 1995 action-adventure, “Jumanji,” was filmed in Keene, a charmer of a village that stood in for the movie’s fictional Brantford, NH. Painted on a brick building at the corner of West and Main Streets is the sign, “Parrish Shoes,” recalling the family business in the movie.
There are several Monadnock region delights not to be missed. Ava Marie Handmade Chocolates, founded by self-taught chocolatier Susan Mazzone, has a variety of 30 or so made-fresh-daily, come-hither chocolates in the candy cases at any given time, including house faves Mint Oreo Explosion and Peanut Butter Meltaways.
Book lovers will make a beeline for the Toadstool Book Shop in Peterborough’s Depot Square. Stretching along the Contoocook River, the area is home to the New England Art Exchange, which specializes in 19th and 20th century American prints, Sharon Arts Gallery, Sarah’s Hat Boxes, Paper & Roses, Bowerbird & Friends and other shops. Nearby are the Peterborough Art Academy and the Monadnock Center for History & Culture. Dining options include the Waterhouse Restaurant and Bar and Bakers Station Coffee Shop.
At the New England Sweetwater Farm and Distillery, proprietor and distiller Robert Spruill uses all local ingredients, including apples and potatoes, so that his handcrafted, small-batch spirits – including rum, gin, vodka and moonshine – “taste like the region.” And he makes them in a circa 1850s building with furnishings made from salvaged materials so visitors can feel its history.
“We want to be connected to the past, in a place that says, ‘we age stuff,’” said Spruill, who learned very young that when “Grampy was in the basement,” it meant he was making moonshine. In fact, Spruill uses that old family recipe in Sweetwater’s Monadnock Moonshine.
For dinner with a Latin fusion twist in a rural setting, head into Marlborough’s countryside and Piedra Fina. Here, tapas are served in midcentury modern digs with a glowing bar and a menu of authentic Cuban and Venezuelan dishes: pork and beef meatballs in smoky, spicy sauce; Peruvian-style beef stir fry; cassava mash and goat cheese fritters; ancho-roasted pork belly – each a delicate bite, beautifully plated and colorfully presented.
Get a good night’s sleep at the oldest inn in New Hampshire, the comfortable and lovingly decorated Hancock Inn. Innkeepers Marcia and Jarvis Coffin are hospitality itself; each of the inn’s rooms is a calming retreat with period-appropriate furnishings, buttery-soft sheets, spa robes and Wi-Fi. Book the Rufus Porter room to see original wall murals painted nearly 200 years ago by this famous self-taught American painter. Just don’t leave without a breakfast of Jarvis’ tasty Tomato Stacker and a side of crispy-thin johnnycakes soaked in pure maple syrup.
More information about these regions and their accommodations, attractions, shopping and dining may be found at www.visitnh.gov.