Exploring Newport & Lake Sunapee
While visiting the Hanover, Concord, or Cornish areas, don't forget to side-trip over to the Newport-Lake Sunapee region. The commercial center of the area is Newport, an old mill town with grit, character, and substantial history in a pretty valley setting. This town produced Sarah Josepha Hale, author of the children's poem "Mary Had a Little Lamb" and creator of the Thanksgiving holiday (President Lincoln was sufficiently impressed by her persistence to make it official). Hale was also among the first American women to serve as editor of a national publication, Godey's Lady's Book. She's just one of the famous folks who grew up here.
Today the town's historical attractions include a quilt project documenting Newport's industrial past and the immigrants (including healthy numbers of Finns, Polish, Greeks, and Italians) who pitched in to turn the engines of commerce here; an antique 1815 Hunnemen "handtub," a wheeled apparatus built by an apprentice of Paul Revere and once used by firemen to pump water while fighting blazes (it's on display inside the Lake Sunapee Bank, at 9 Main St.); and a wooden covered bridge, painstakingly built by a local craftsman to replicate the priceless original, which was torched by an arsonist in 1993.
Drop by the town's Richards Free Library (tel. 603/863-3430), at 58 N. Main Street, to get oriented; for my money, it's one of the best small-town libraries in America. (Tantalizing historical tidbit: President Kennedy was invited to accept a writing award at this library on the night of November 22, 1963. He politely declined, due to commitments in Dallas.) Ponder that over a delicious pizza at Newport Village Pizza (tel. 603/863-3400), 7 S. Main St., which makes one of my favorite pies in New England. For more details about town and the area, contact the helpful Newport Chamber of Commerce (tel. 603/863-1510). There's a good, volunteer-run info kiosk on the town common (that big, green space right in the middle) during the summer months.
Six miles away, big Lake Sunapee is said to be one of the purest in the nation; it's much deeper than it looks, which helps. Sunapee is a longtime favorite summer resort of Bostonians, and offers excellent swimming, boating, and fishing. The short, steep mountain across the way -- which, together with the beach, forms Mount Sunapee State Park (tel. 603/763-5561) -- is a fine place to hike, ski, snowboard, or catch a gondola ride for expansive foliage and lake views. There's a $3 charge ($1 for kids) to enter either the beach or mountain portion of the park; you can rent skis from a hut at the mountain, or at Bob Skinner's Ski & Sports (tel. 603/763-2920) outside the park entrance near the traffic circle. Early August brings an outstanding arts event to the park, the weeklong Craftsman's Fair (tel. 603/224-3375) -- expect plenty of high-quality, handcrafted art pieces. Two-day admission tickets to the fair cost $10 per adult, $8 per senior or student; children 11 and under are admitted free.
The main commercial harbor for the lake, Sunapee Harbor, is a few miles away at the junction of Route 103B and Route 11. This is the place to put in your boat, grab an ice-cream cone at sunset, or just sit watching the lakeside cottages light up. You might see a famous face; members of the band Aerosmith and their families own lakefront or island homes in the area, for instance. On the back side of the lake, pretty New London is an attractive college town with more than its share of fine homes and upscale restaurants. Without ever straying off Main Street, you can settle down for a full meal at the tony Millstone (tel. 603/526-4201); relax over eggs and java or bistro dinners at Jack's (tel. 603/526-8003); or go British pub-style with a shared table of bread, cheeses, sandwiches, pot roast, and beer at Peter Christian's Tavern (tel. 603/526-4042).