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Topic: Things to Do

NewEnglandville | The Town of Our Dreams

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Magic Wings Butteryfly Conservatory & Gardens

Magic Wings Butteryfly Conservatory & Gardens

Photo/art by courtesy Magic Wings

Cranmore Mountain

Cranmore Mountain

Photo/art by Bill Lee

Parker Pie Co.

Parker Pie Co.

Photo/art by courtesy Parker Pie Co.

Red Lion Inn

Red Lion Inn

Photo/art by courtesy Red Lion Inn

L.A. Burdick

L.A. Burdick

Photo/art by L.A.Burdick Cafe

We’ve all seen those “Best Places to Live” and “Best Places to Retire” stories; they almost always focus on abstractions that you can’t truly touch: crime rates; per-capita income; employment rate, and so on. No doubt important factors determining where people live–but that’s not what we went looking for when we created the town where we want to live forever. Per-capita income doesn’t make your heart beat faster when you crest a hill and see your hometown in the near distance. No, it’s because of the people who live there, and what you do with loved ones and friends. And at no other time do we wear our towns so snugly as we do in winter, when so many of us choose to stay close, to create our days and adventures within the familiar boundaries of home. So we’ve built a new hometown for all of us, a place for all seasons, but especially suited to winter. Nearly everything we’ve created here comes from small New England towns and villages: a place where children grow up skiing on a mountain close to the town center; a place with a warm and inviting bookstore, a cafe tucked inside; a department store so steeped in a distant era that shopping there will make you realize what we lost when we turned away from downtown in favor of sprawling malls. Our town is filled with places to stop for conversation, for hot drinks and comfort food, but also for a special night out. It’s a town blessed with beauty and a sense of belonging, and when you do need to leave, returning becomes all the richer. To visit, all you need to do is step across the covered bridge. Here, nobody is an outsider. Nobody is from away.

Morning Treats

Good Buns: The Foothills of Warner
It starts with the little things: a friendly greeting as you walk in the door; a sunny dining area, made cozy by the light of copper fixtures and white window shutters; and a quality cup of steaming coffee. Then there are the big things, such as the oversized cinnamon bun, substantial enough to feed an entire troop of Boy Scouts. And the soft, thick slices of homemade bread. It’s a tough choice, selecting from a big menu offering eggs made to order, the house’s own biscuits and gravy, hand-cut home fries, berry-filled muffins, fluffy pancakes, and more. A hearty plateful is often under $7–but bring cash; no credit cards accepted. 15 East Main St., Warner, NH. 603-456-2140; foothillsrestaurant.com

A Slice of Paris: Le Rendez Vous
Bien sur, every village should have its own French bakery/cafe–unless, of course, you have an objection to the buttery smell of warm, flaky croissants (plain, raspberry, chocolate) begging to be peeled apart and savored. Or traditional baguettes marching alongside walnut, sourdough, and fragrant herb breads, the aroma alone enough to make you fou with desire. For an authentic French experience this side of the Atlantic, certified bakers Verlaine Daeron and Marc Ounis bring steamy warmth and a little slice of their native Paris to the North Woods of New Hampshire. Beret optional; madeleines required. 121 Main St., Colebrook, NH. 603-237-5150; lerendezvousbakerynh.com

The Perfect Buzz: Dave’s Coffee
Nowadays you can’t hoist a cheese wheel without knocking into an artisan, but the true proof of craftsmanship is still in the taste, and nowhere is that more supremely important (sorry, cheesemakers) than in the buzzy world of coffee. Dave’s is hand-roasted in a small, gas-fired unit, certified organic, and carefully monitored for perfection. When this family-owned business cranks up to full speed, it can roast about 700 pounds of caramelizing goodness, more than enough to wake up most of NewEnglandville and still serve up a mean brew at the on-site espresso bar. 5193 Old Post Road (Route 1), Charlestown, RI. 401-322-0006; davescoffeestore.com

Lunchtime Fare

Goodness in a Bowl: Napi’s
Crazy-good soup is always on the menu at Napi’s, but if you can drag your gaze away from the ridiculously hearty Portuguese soup brimming with kale and spicy linguica long enough to scope out the equally outrageous decor, you’ll get a double treat. Part salvage extravaganza, part Key West funk, and 100 percent Provincetown–delectable all around. 7 Freeman St., Provincetown, MA. 508-487-1145; napis-restaurant.com

The Slice: Parker Pie Co..
Debate rages over which is best–puffy or lean–when it comes to pizza crust. For us, though, this is what’s important: to walk to the back of Lake Parker Country Store, enveloped in a cocoon of wooden beams and brick. You feel warm just ordering a “Bangkok Disco” thin-crust pie, washed down with crispy Unified Press Vermont hard cider. 161 County Road, West Glover, VT. 802-525-3366; parkerpie.com

Comfort Food: The Red Lion Inn
Who wouldn’t want to lunch at an aristocratic grande dame like The Red Lion Inn, dominating the center of town with its good looks and feisty history? On a wintry afternoon nothing could be kinder than to shake the snow from your shoulders, slip into Widow Bingham’s dark and cozy tavern, and tuck into a steaming chicken-and-vegetable pot pie–a winter tradition in the making. 30 Main St., Stockbridge, MA. 413-298-5545; redlioninn.com

Hoist a Pint with Dickens: The White Horse Country Pub & Restaurant
Our favorite pub plunks us down in Merry Olde England, courtesy of owner/renovator John Harris, a Brit who’s steeped in history like an Earl Grey teabag. With 16th-century artifacts scattered about–and a bill of sale signed by Charles Dickens for 160 bottles of 1834 port mounted by the bar–this pub-slash-museum mixes memorabilia with traditional and less-likely pub fare (lobster pot pie!). The huge, welcoming hearth would make “Boz” feel right at home. 258 New Milford Turnpike (Route 202), Marble Dale, CT. 860-868-1496; whitehorsecountrypub.com

Evening Comfort

A Place to Roost: Hen of the Wood
If you think that eating (mostly) local in New England in January means turnips baked and boiled, chef Eric Warnstedt will coax you out of your stupor with duck sausage over creamy polenta, salads of shaved Brussels sprouts with apples, and a Vermont cheese plate worthy of hosannas. 92 Stowe St., Waterbury, VT. 802-244-7300; henofthewood.com

Casual Elegance: L. A. Burdick
Don’t get us started: If lounging is a profession, then this is where we want to do it. Brilliant Sunday brunches that encourage you to linger with the New York Times; bowls of piping-hot chocolate, thick enough to spread; dinners where herb-crusted cod rubs elbows with a Gruyere omelet. It’s so casually elegant you might think you’ve drifted off and woken up in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood. But no, you’re right here where you belong, in the heart of a country village, with snow falling softly on the nearby town green. 47 Main St., Walpole, NH. 603-756-9058; burdickchocolate.com

Gracious Living: Inn at Weathersfield
Eating and sleeping, two of our favorite occupations–and this elegant 1792 white-clapboard inn elevates both. It regularly makes Bon Appetit’s “Hot 10 Culinary Inns” list, with locally inspired cuisine such as boiled cider pie, and its 12 fresh rooms include a renovated hayloft. It’s frequently named one of New England’s best historic inns–or most romantic. 1342 Route 106, Perkinsville, VT. 802-263-9217; weathersfieldinn.com

Shopping Scene

A Real Super Market: Roy’s Market
When the 2008 ice storm slammed through New England, Roy’s weathered the conditions and the lack of electricity by keeping its doors open. For a good week, as tired customers streamed through the market, employees greeted them with flashlights and a guiding hand to help shoppers navigate the store’s six aisles. Those same employees packed customers’ carts and bagged their goods. They set up charge accounts for those who couldn’t pay in cash, and then, as is customary here, the Roy’s crew walked shoppers back out to their cars, grocery bags in hand. Unusual perhaps, but not unexpected for a small-town market that has specialized in big-time service ever since opening its doors in 1956. 20 Main St., Peterborough, NH. 603-924-3101

Treasure Hunt: Wilbur’s Antiques
As far as we’re concerned, the best antiques stores remind us of old locked trunks: mysterious, slightly musty, with the possibility of forgotten treasure inside. A healthy dose of clutter helps, too, and a knowledgeable guide–like Rena Wilbur, who leads you through her jam-packed kingdom of clawfoot tubs, fire hydrants, and vintage bottles with the cheerful enthusiasm of an expert tour director. Prices are reasonable; the marital advice is free. 11 Key Hill Road, Greene, ME. 207-946-5711

Anything You Need: The Willey’s Store
In this age of over-specialization, it’s just about impossible to find a proud generalist–which is why NewEnglandville requires a solid, family-run general store that isn’t all tarted up to merely look New Englandy. With a traditional meat counter plus bread, cheese, local produce, rugged clothing, cast-iron bakeware, an epic candy aisle, lawnmowers, wine, hunting and fishing supplies, gas pumps, bulletin boards, and more … In other words, it’s the heart of a small town, the place where folks meet up over a bucket of washer nuts, and reason enough to keep Walmart at bay. 7 Breezy Ave., Greensboro, VT. 802-533-2621 (grocery), 802-533-2554 (hardware); ww3.truevalue.com/willeys/Home.aspx

Come Together: The Alternative Food Co-op
Whoosh, there goes Brendan, the roller-skating cashier, right at home in a co-op that’s been around since 1970, when even Bob Dylan was fresh. Friendly manager Rosemary sets the welcoming tone in this little brick storefront, one of New England’s oldest co-ops, and a fine example of how we all come together over food. 357 Main St., Wakefield, RI. 401-789-2240; alternativefoodcoop.com

The Right Stuff: Lahout’s Country Clothing & Ski Shop
Winter survival, or at least comfort, is all about the gear. Fortunately, we’ve got America’s oldest ski shop to keep us tricked out in the latest Spyder, Patagonia, and North Face paraphernalia, plus skis, boots, and bindings. Herbert Lahout emigrated from Lebanon in 1899, opening his first drygoods store 20 years later. He probably wouldn’t recognize his early roots in this ski shop, which evolved to serve Bode Miller and other local Olympians in the shadow of the White Mountains, but today’s country store is still proudly tax-free, and its “10 Golden Rules of Business” could revitalize any enterprise anywhere. (By the way, you can also visit the orignal Lahout’s on Union Street in Littleton, plus other Lahout’s locations in Lincoln.) 99 Main St., Littleton, NH. 603-444-0915; www.lahouts.com

Good Bindings: RJ Julia Booksellers
As far as we’re concerned, a great independent bookstore is the glue that holds a town together, especially in the winter. Nothing beats coming out of the cold, glasses foggy, to browse floor-to-ceiling burnished wooden shelves, as they curve and meander from fiction nook to bio to fantasy, liberally dotted with employee-reviewed suggestions. This 22-year-old institution joins readers and writers with a fierce commitment reflected in more than 300 events a year–plus a cozy cafe attached where visitors can read and sip. There isn’t a Kindle in the world that can come close. 768 Boston Post Road, Madison, CT. 203-245-3959; rjjulia.com

Getting Playful: The Toy Shop of Concord
Anyplace that quotes the French philosopher Montaigne when talking children’s games takes play (and toys) seriously. In NewEnglandville we want a toy shop that’s friendly, fun, and old-fashioned–but not stuffy. The pretty little exterior of this 70-year veteran, the first specialty toy store in the country, is trimmed with fairy lights and holiday wreaths. Unwrap it–it’s filled with “active play” toys (jump ropes, Frisbees, yo-yos, and so on) plus Legos, arts and crafts, and all manner of stimulating, quality toys. The ultimate toy test: It’s a blast for everyone concerned. 4 Walden St., Concord, MA. 978-369-2553; concordtoys.com

For Whatever Ails You: Baker Pharmacy
We like our prescriptions with a hint of nostalgia, so a classic 1867 village pharmacy with a working soda fountain is just what the doctor ordered. Whoever dreamed up that particular combination of drugs and sweet-and-creamy confections would be well served with a scoop of Snow’s Ice Cream, fresh from the local creamery, and a chance to spin on an old-fashioned soda-fountain stool. 52 Bridge St., Shelburne Falls, MA. 413-625-6324

Arts, Culture & Entertainment

Tropical Getaway: Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory & Gardens
When summer is a dim memory, the brush of butterfly wings and a little jungle vegetation can be more warming than a hot toddy. The air inside this 8,000-square-foot indoor conservatory is set to tropical perfection–80 steamy degrees–and it’s filled with nearly 4,000 flying colors, both exotic and domestic. “Flight attendants” are on hand to help with butterfly identification and to check you for hitchhikers as you leave. The only downer is picking up your parka on the way out. 281 Greenfield Road, South Deerfield, MA. 413-665-2805; magicwings.com

The Blessings of Liberty: Old Brooklyn Meetinghouse
From the high pulpit and spare wooden pews of this historic white-clapboard edifice, the conscience of a young nation took shape and found its voice. Built in 1771-74 as the town’s civic meetinghouse and Congregational church, by 1822 it had evolved into a Unitarian parish. Here Israel Putnam, a hero of Bunker Hill, once served as sexton; here the great Unitarian pastor Samuel May preached abolition and defended Prudence Crandall in her fight to educate young women of color; here the nation’s first female Unitarian minister, Celia Burleigh, was ordained, in 1871. Devastated by the Hurricane of 1938, this venerable house of worship was proudly rebuilt and restored. Today Rev. May’s legacy endures: “No man nor body of men … [has] the least authority given them by God or Christ to dictate to the humblest individual what he shall believe.” Jct. Routes 6 & 169, Brooklyn, CT. 860-779-2623; home.mindspring.com/~apb2/UUSB/UUSB2.htm

Strike It Rich: Big 20 Bowling Center
You didn’t think the New England town of our dreams would forgo bowling, did you? Of course, by bowling we mean the real thing: small balls, no finger holes, cylindrical pins. And by candlepin we mean the Big 20 Bowling Center in Scarborough, Maine, where converts have been made and the same maple-built lanes have induced strikes–and gutter balls–since 1950. With a soundtrack and an atmosphere that haven’t changed all that much in six decades, the nostalgia runs high. But “old school” doesn’t mean unchanged. Along with the usual assortment of burgers, fries, and pizza, Big 20 recently opened a full-service bar, made from scraps of the maple lumber that never did make it into those original lanes. And after 60 years, the Anton family, who opened the place so many years ago, sold to a new set of candlepin fans: Mike Walker and Rick Jones. On Friday and Saturday nights, bowlers who like to add black lights and a little music to their game turn out for Rock-N-“Glow” Bowl. What hasn’t changed is this: For a few bucks you can spend the night out with friends, building memories, and maybe, just maybe, showing the rest of us what it takes to take out the hi-lo-jack. 382 Route 1, Scarborough, ME. 207-883-2131; big20bowling.com

Feeling Cultured: The Music Hall
Vaudeville breathes through the walls of this glittering, restored landmark theater and arts center, which hosts live music, dance, films, plays, and the acclaimed Writers on a New England Stage series. We love having options that include scary-funny Margaret Cho, celebrated writers like Salman Rushdie, and a riveting performance by the Shaolin Warriors, not to mention unexpected indie-movie first-runs. Victorian audiences would applaud or faint. 28 Chestnut St., Portsmouth, NH. 603-436-2400 (box office); themusichall.org

At Home with the Masters: Sterling & Francine Clark Art Institute
Unexpectedly audacious in the scope of its collection, the world-class Clark surpasses every expectation of a small-town art museum. We’re in Impressionist heaven here–colors bursting from the walls, the perfect antidote to winter’s doldrums. This mecca for art lovers is currently undergoing a major expansion, or, should we say, renaissance. 225 South St., Williamstown, MA. 413-458-2303; clarkart.edu

Snow Kids: Montshire Museum of Science
We can’t wait for February 23, when once again Dr. Bert Yankielun, igloo-building expert, teaches us how to construct warm and sturdy homes from what winter gives us. And here we can also learn more about turtle hatchlings and invasive species in this former bowling alley turned hands-on science museum. Offering more than 140 exhibits in the permanent collection alone, indoors and out (100 acres, crisscrossed with nature trails)–all begging to be touched. 1 Montshire Road, Norwich, VT. 802-649-2200; montshire.org

Starry Nights: Fairbanks Museum & Planetarium
The mysteries of the night sky hover closer in winter’s sharp air. Pricks of starry light form a luminous canopy pressing down–the perfect time to trot off to our local planetarium and learn what’s overhead. Alternatively, Fairbanks Museum meteorologists offer insights (and classes) into what’s happening on the ground, and that potential nor’easter headed our way (tune in to their VPR broadcasts). The museum spills over with enough oddities from the Victorian era and Civil War records to while away a snowbound afternoon. 1302 Main St., St. Johnsbury, VT. 802-748-2372; fairbanksmuseum.org

A Winter to Remember: Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum
For the purposes of a reality check, NewEnglandville has its own museum of ultimate winter. After you’ve shoveled one too many walkways, you can come here to gaze at Robert E. Peary’s 1908-09 North Pole expedition sledge, or check out the clothing from Donald B. MacMillan’s 1923-24 Greenland expedition. With thousands of archival black-and-white (really, mostly white) photos and recent acquisitions such as contemporary Inuit art, it puts our season in the proper perspective. Hubbard Hall, Bowdoin College, 9500 College Station, Brunswick, ME. 207-725-3416; bowdoin.edu/arctic-museum

Curling Up: Camden Public Library
Dozy and cozy, the combination of comfy armchairs, soaring ceilings, awe-inspiring windows facing the harbor’s frothy, dark water, and an endless supply of good books makes this the place to curl up for a long winter’s read-a-thon. Upstairs, it’s like stepping into your fantasy library, quiet and discreet; wend your way downstairs, into the mid-’90s addition, and it’s like a carousel, a hub-of-activity community center, which just happens to abut a little skating rink. The setting’s so pretty folks rent it out for weddings. 55 Main St., Camden, ME. 207-236-3440; www.camden.lib.me.us

Acceptance Letters for All: Dartmouth College
Besides its deeply obvious New England roots (Eleazar Wheelock founded Dartmouth in 1769), we wanted a modern-day college resource in the center of town: one with perks such as a famous winter carnival, a cross-country ski center, and a place to skate, like Occom Pond. Plus ski and skating lessons; a membership to the alumni gym; a free-admission art museum (the Hood, one of the oldest and largest in the country); and top-notch entertainment at Hopkins Center for the Arts. And finally, in the pursuit of knowledge, the Institute for Lifelong Education at Dartmouth (ILEAD), one of the best-attended (naturally) learning institutes in the country. Hanover, NH. 603-646-1110; dartmouth.edu

Trailblazing: Cranmore Mountain Resort
We want a ski mountain so close to town we can see the groomer’s lights twinkling on the slopes at night, close enough that we can even take a few runs before work if we have the urge–with 57 trails, big enough for good skiers, small enough that parents can keep an eye on their kids, plus one of the best snow-tubing parks in New England. Who wouldn’t want to point their tips down a North Country mountain steeped in 75 years of skiing and ski-school history? For a glimpse of where it all started–when wealthy financier Harvey Dow Gibson turned his back on a tradition of narrow trails in favor of wide Austrian-style alpine terrain–check out the New England Ski Museum exhibits at the base lodge. 1 Skimobile Road, North Conway, NH. 603-356-5543; cranmore.com

Beachcombing: Hammonasset Beach State Park
The sunbathers are long gone by the time we hit this two-mile-long white-sand beach for a windswept tug-of-war. The Atlantic roils at our feet, a gloriously free dog cavorts by, and we’ve got nothing more pressing to do than ponder the waves. Off-season it’s free, of course, but the shells, the driftwood, and the peace of mind are priceless. 1288 Boston Post Road (Route 1), Madison, CT. 203-245-2785; ct.gov/dep/hammonasset

Mail Call: Castine Post Office
When we go to mail a letter or buy stamps, why not also feel the legacy of history when we step inside? Our post office is one of the oldest continuously operated ones in the country. This elegant 1814 building still has its original gaslight fixtures, but there’s an ongoing debate over whether post-office use began in 1831 or 1833. Just be grateful that the earlier name, “Majabigwaduce,” was simplified to Castine. 43 Main St., Castine, ME. 207-326-8551

Sleepy Time: Woodstock Inn & Resort
When visiting royals come to town, we like to treat them to a quintessential New England inn experience, wrapped up in an elegant package. With its Rockefeller pedigree and the amenities of a four-diamond resort, the hush of well-being settles over the inn like a fresh blanket of snow. There’s a choice of 142 rooms where you can rest your weary head and a spa to take the chill off (“Body Melt Back Therapy” incorporates arnica for achy muscles), but we’re equally enchanted by the sheer postcard prettiness of this sprawling beauty, decking the town center with holiday warmth. (P.S. Lucky Woodstock, and hence NewEnglandville–for a small town we’ve got an impressive constellation of more than 20 inns and B&Bs to accommodate our winter visitors.) 14 The Green, Woodstock, VT. 802-457-1100; woodstockinn.com

Thanks to Annie Graves, Johnette Rodriguez, Dale Salm, Julia Shipley, and Chris Tree, who contributed to the town of our dreams.

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