When I was a teenager, my mother was enamored with a new type of lodging called “The B&B.” I suppose it was not new of course, but it was recently getting trendy – it was in it’s zenith. My parents scheduled a few trips, stayed at B&Bs and Country Inns, then came home to tell me all about it. I know this cannot be true, but it seemed like the B&B WAS the destination, the experience.
Over the years, Scott and I have traveled a lot, we like the predictability of a hotel. You know what to expect. Clean room (God – hopefully), free wi-fi, mini-fridge and a Keurig in the room – two caffeinated pods and two decaf, maybe tea. When we traveled with kids, we always looked for hotels with pools. We did not stay in B&Bs – if not with a relative, we were in a hotel.
When I retired we set off on my dream post-retirement vacation. A road trip “Back East” to watch the leaves change. I researched this trip meticulously. Even though I read fall foliage forecasts, and weather reports, blogs and “Yankee Magazine,” we still did not hit the whole leaf thing spot on – but that is a side note for another blog, and did not really matter to me.
I also read Fodors, Lonely Planet, blogs and spent hours on Google Maps to tailor a perfect circular trip, starting in Boston and ending in Boston. We stayed in exactly three hotels. The historic Omni Parker Hotel in the heart of downtown, sitting squarely on the Freedom Trail, actually it IS a stop on the Freedom Trail. The next was the Portland Harbor Hotel in Maine, and the third was super sleek airport hotel for an early morning get away.
About halfway into the trip, we left Maine to traverse across northern New Hampshire on our way to Stowe, VT. Based on a blog, I selected the small town, I mean SMALL town of Jackson NH as the halfway pt. It was near Mt. Washington and North Conway. We had tickets to take a train the next day on a 5 hour fall foliage ride through the White Mountains. We stayed in the Inn at Ellis River. Hands down my favorite Inn/B and B of the entire trip.
The part of the inn we stayed in was the original 6 rooms – built in 1893. You found this room, called “The Basin” up a steep set of stairs. The bathroom was tiny with a little cubby of shower and dark recess that housed the toilet. The hallway, the bathroom, the bedroom all had dramatically different flooring and it listed a bit. None of this took away from the charm though. A comfy bed, antique furniture, the balcony and the view down on the green space and the Ellis River. We were charmed.
Another true charm of this Inn was the Host – Annie. She seemed to genuinely love her job, love the inn and love the guests. It as weird when we got there though, there were pumpkins scattered throughout – on tables, in corners, in the office. They were in various stages of paint and decor, “It’s Return of the Pumpkin People,” Annie explained during our introductory tour. “We won last year!” We followed her to our room and dropped off our bags.
I surveyed the compact and comfy looking room. On the bed was a silver tray, gilt plates, champagne flutes and a bottle of bubbly chilling in a carafe. I was suitable impressed. This Inn, I thought, really pulled out all the stops. Annie hesitated behind us smiling and staying a little longer than I thought was needed. I smiled and told her how nice the champagne was. She smiled even broader and said it wasn’t from the Inn, in fact, it was a birthday gift from my family. Almost as excited as my own family, she explained how much fun they had talking to my sister in law and putting this together. My official birthday was the next day, and in addition to the bubbly, there was cake in the cooler that I could have anytime I wanted.
After she was gone, and as we settled into our room, I quickly googled “Pumpkin People” and learned it was a local competition where people dressed up the pumpkins… and the event would be held the weekend we were there!
We decided to walk through town and scope out a place to eat. There was a loop, maybe a mile long, that took us past everything this small and charming town had to offer. We passed a few pubs and restaurants and made note of them, and finally we ended the loop at an authentic, working, covered bridge – our first! We were so excited to stumble on it. We took a picture, went back to the Inn and made a few calls trying to get dinner reservations. We had no luck, some were closed, most were full.
Side note: This became a pattern on this trip -this indefatigable search for reservations- everyone was extremely short handed – when we called one restaurant in Stowe, the message machine said, “If you are trying to make a reservation, there is nothing available for the next two weeks, and if you know anyone who is looking for a job, please have them call us…” We became very strategic on this front. We ate cheese and fruit some nights in our B and Bs, but mostly just took our luck walking in those places that did not take reservations or we ate really early or really late. It was doable – but be warned.
We wandered back into town taking our chances that we would find somewhere that would take a walk in and found “The Wild Cat Tavern.” Having been raised in ski country, we knew a ski village when we saw one, and Jackson was this – and the Wild Cat Tavern, named after a ski run nearby was a typical ski pub. Wooden scuffed floors, dark wood, warm and cozy complete with a big wrap around bar and chairlift chairs repurposed for seating. The food was excellent, as far as we were from Maine, Scott had his last lobster roll of the trip anyway and declared it one of the best! We ordered maple flavored cocktails and had a long a leisurely dinner.
Returning to the Inn, we wandered to the small pub they have and found a lively crowd relaxing and enjoying drinks. We joined them and found the true fun of a B and B was connecting with the other guests! I cannot remember names of course, but they were from California and worked IT remotely or something like that. The other was maybe a college professor?
The next morning we said friendly “hellos” to our new friends and I was served a special birthday breakfast then we were off for our excursion for the day – a five hour ride on a vintage train through the mountains! We chugged along, gently rocking, taking in gorgeous scenery. It was all so lovely and relaxing that I may have snoozed a bit. I recommend the train ride!
Dinner was once again wherever we could walk in – this case it was a HUGE place that reminded me of an Applebees. Nothing special, but it did not need to be, I had had the best day ever and we capped off the uneventful meal with a STUNNING birthday cake and champagne at the Inn. The big deal that evening turned out to be “The Return of the Pumpkin People.” The staff was busy putting their display together. Each guest that returned stopped to admire their work, the name of their display…. “An ET Extravaganza!” We had been seeing exhibits for a couple of days, even in Conway where the train was. I had had so many conversations with Annie and the staff at the Inn, I was starting to feel personally invested – “Our” display was better than any others I had seen.
Looking forward to our next adventure we said “goodbye”the next morning and with our “Pumpkin People” map in and ballot in hand, we made one more loop around the town – this time noting all the creative work and voting for our favorite – An ET extravaganza. Months later, returned to home and routine, I couldn’t resist – I looked up the winners of the 2021 Pumpkin People contest and was happy to see that ET had tied for second! Great accomplishment with so many cool ones out there.
We stayed at several B and B’s during our trip that were more updated or provided more gourmet breakfasts – but the Inn at Ellis River was our favorite. The setting – the river – the town, the friends in the pub, the cheerful host, yummy breakfasts and the Pumpkin People all attributed to that. I see that the owners will be remodeling the very room we stayed in! In all honesty, it probably needed it, but when we were there? We didn’t notice. What we noticed was the cozy-comfy, home away from home feeling it offered. My mom and dad never traveled to Jackson, NH, but if they had, I a certain this is just the B&B they would have selected, and I imagine my mom – creative soul and friend to everyone would have loved this Inn, this town and these people.
Return of the Pumpkin People: LINK HERE. (I suggest you do a google image search… SO MANY)
Words used: Zenith, indefatigable, chances