Photo Credit : Courtesy of Lake Opechee Inn and Spa
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Given its name, it’s no surprise New Hampshire’s Lakes Region is a favorite destination for all things aquatic — from boating, fishing, and swimming in warmer months, to ice skating, ice fishing, and ice sailing in winter. But there’s also plenty of activities to enjoy on land here, including skiing at Gunstock Mountain Resort, visiting the League of N.H. Craftsmen’s gallery in Meredith, and shopping and dining in inviting lakeside communities. And there’s ample reason to plan a long getaway to soak it all in, thanks to the region’s numerous cozy inns and B&Bs that await to pamper and replenish travelers.
In Laconia, you’ll find the Lake Opechee Inn and Spa, nestled on the smaller sister lake of nearby Winnipesaukee and Winnisquam. It first opened its doors in 2005, but its history dates back much further. “The inn is actually a renovated knitting machine mill,” says Michelle DuPont, who with her husband, Robert, preside as the innkeepers here.
Michelle’s ties to the community run deep, as both of her parents grew up in Laconia. But she admits being an innkeeper was not the original intention when her family purchased the property in 1998, with plans to put a manufacturing company on the site. Without a large-enough labor pool available to make that happen, Michelle and her husband quickly pivoted the plan to encompass the current 34-room inn, conference center, indoor soaking pool, and spa.
While inns and bed-and-breakfasts in many vacation destinations might hesitate to welcome competition, Michelle says that’s been the opposite of her experience in Laconia — and it’s a testament to the supportive local community. “This location was right on the lake, and had such potential, and it was hard not to get excited about it,” she says. “And the community was so excited to have us, there’s so much opportunity here — we have the WOW Bike Trail, music venues, the lakes and hiking, and people here appreciate good things being done.”
The strong community spirit would be more vital than ever when the hospitality sector was upended last spring. “[Before Covid], business was really strong for us, and strong for other inns in the area,” Michelle says, “but the pandemic really impacted us.” Required to remain closed for three months, Lake Opechee Inn and Spa had to refund reservation deposits totaling more than $200,000.
Still, there were bright spots during that time, too. “I had many locals ask if they could buy gift cards or mention they would be the first to book when things opened up,” she says. “I even had a former guest from California email me to make sure we were doing OK.”
And as soon as hospitality businesses were able to reopen, Michelle was ready, having introduced many changes to ensure the safety of guests without compromising their comfort. Among them were mandatory mask use and daily temperature checks for all staff; new, enhanced sanitization methods for each room and common area; the installation of plexiglass dividers at check-in; and a reservation system for the pool and the billiard room.
The inn’s spa got its own intensive cleaning procedures. “We wipe down everything between clients, removed all soft surfaces, and purchased plastic coverings for all massage tables that could be removed after an appointment, plus waterproof coverings for all pedicure stations,” she says. “Massage tables even have an attachable protective face hammock for when clients are lying face down.”
The inn also created flexibility around cancellation policies. “There’s no charge for cancelling a reservation if you’ve contracted Covid-19 or have been exposed to Covid-19 and are required to quarantine,” she says.
Amid all the changes, Michelle points out that many things already in place at Lake Opechee Inn and Spa have translated well to the Covid era. “Our common areas are so comfortable, with many special nooks to allow for natural social distancing,” she says. “Our multiple fireplaces and cozy alcoves really let our guests be able to come and put the pandemic aside.”
The past year has presented many new challenges for Michelle DuPont and her fellow innkeepers, but she is optimistic about the days ahead and grateful for the support of the community and her guests. “The silver lining during this pandemic has been to look around and see how everyone in the community is doing what is needed to get through this — we’re all rooting for each other. The support is here.”
Thinking of planning an overnight stay in the Lakes Region? Here is a sampling of locally owned businesses that are open and ready to take your reservation! Find more options at visitnh.gov/places-to-stay.
1810 House Bed and Breakfast, Wolfeboro
The Nutmeg Inn, Meredith
Black Swan Inn Bed and Breakfast, Tilton
The Common Man Inn & Spa, Plymouth