Friday, October 24, 2008
Peterborough, New Hampshire
If you are in the mood to meander on a fine fall weekend, try taking the scenic route to Peterborough, New Hampshire. The drive, which takes about 90 minutes, winds through quaint towns, past vistas of open fields and Mount Monadnock, finally landing in Peterborough, a lovely town with the literary claim to fame as the setting for Thornton Wilder’s play, Our Town.
Start by picking up Route 119, which will take you through Littleton Center towards Groton, and watch the scenery slowly shift to farmland and cattle pasture. The road is dotted with farm stands
featuring mile-high apple pies and populated with pumpkins of every shape and size. A short way past Townsend center, watch for the cut-off to Route 124 on the right. If you are an antiques buff, you can’t miss it – it is surrounded by antique shops. Follow this road as it climbs towards Mount Monadnock, past orchards and bed-and-breakfast inns, through New Ipswich, until it meets Route 123, where you will veer right. Shortly after you pass the Sharon Arts Center, turn left on Route 101 and you will find Peterborough center a short distance down the hill.
A variety of things to do
The area offers a host of things to do. The renowned Peterborough Players make their home here in the summer, and if you visit in the fall or winter, the Peterborough Folk Music Society can be found using the theater for its weekend performances (http://pfmsconcerts.org). The famous artists’ retreat, the MacDowell Colony, is right down the road. Mount Monadnock’s towering presence offers a multitude of walking and hiking adventures, whether you try the challenges of Monadnock State Park (http://nhstateparks.com/monadnock.html) or the gentler offerings of Shieling Forest (dred.state.nh.us).
The town itself is a pleasure to explore. If you are a book lover, start at the wonderful Toadstool Bookshop, but be warned – leave yourself plenty of time, for there is something here for everyone and you will always find reasons here to while away an hour or two. The book selection is stellar, as is its children’s section. In an adjoining building, they offer a remarkable collection of used books, while the back of the store is dedicated to hard-to-find music. Aesop’s Tables, a small café, shares the space and provides coffee and pastry in case you need fortification during your visit. Because MacDowell Colony is so close by, the store often hosts hard-to-meet authors and artists. A listing of upcoming events is posted at www.toadbooks.com.
If your thoughts run to early Christmas shopping, check out the Sharon Arts Center’s gallery, just across the driveway from the bookstore. This combination art gallery and gift shop can satisfy a myriad of tastes with the works of local artists, and it offers affordable works of art. It’s always worth a visit just to see the latest exhibit. If you leave the gallery by its opposite entrance and turn left, you find Joseph’s Coat, a fair trade emporium where you can find unusual gifts that range from the elegant to the funky. The owners are always ready to tell you the provenance of anything you buy there, making your shopping experience even more special.
Restaurants for every palate
Hungry? You have some hard decisions to make, since the Peterborough area boasts a tantalizing range of very good eateries. If you want something simple, head directly across from the bookstore to the Peterboro Diner, an authentic townie hangout with good, basic food and lots of it. A short distance from there is Harlow’s Pub, whose specialty is comfort food with live music. Or there is gourmet pizza at the Acqua Bistro, which overlooks the Nubanusit River. A bit fancier, but just as tasty, is Intermezzo, with its movie marquee façade and contemporary Italian cuisine. And if you crave rustic Italian fare, featuring homemade pasta and family recipes, hop in your car and take a short drive up Route 101 West to Route 137. Less than a mile on your left is Del Rossi’s, a restaurant housed in an old farmhouse. The cream of garlic soup alone is worth the trip.
Scenic strolls through town
If you feel like walking off that meal, the town offers a walkway along the river from which you can view one of Peterborough’s most distinct features – the mural which covers the long riverfront wall of the bookstore building. The two-story painting is a treat for youngsters who like to discover what lies beneath the giant falling leaves and to wonder what that dinosaur is doing next to the orchestra. Follow this walkway along until it crosses the street and you will come to one of Peterborough’s little gems – Putnam Park, a gift to the town, that overlooks two waterfalls. Stop here in one of the chairs and soak up the autumn sun, or follow the trail up the hill where the woods open up onto a grand gathering place for – what, gnomes, elves? Let your kids decide.
Leaving Peterborough always means a visit to The Black Swan, a smart gift shop set in the most intriguing house I have ever seen. With windows within windows and entire walls that open to the outside in the summer, I often find myself looking past the goods for sale and ogling the building, but I always manage to drag my attention back, to admire the seasonal decorations the store specializes in.
Then we hit the road home and ponder the inevitable physics question: why does the trip back always seem so much shorter? ∆
© 2008 The Carlisle Mosquito