5. Toadstool Bookshop, Peterborough
Peterborough is a town apart. In the post office you hear talk of "theosophy" and "new paradigms." At Acqua Bistro you might spot author Michael Chabon, set loose from the nearby MacDowell Colony, a legendary artists' retreat since 1907. This village of 5,600 can feel like Cambridge or Berkeley dropped into the woods. Colonial meetinghouses, 19th-century churches, and an idyllic brook provide an inimitable Our Town setting. (Indeed, Peterborough inspired Wilder's play.) Fittingly for a literary mecca, the local A&P was replaced by a purveyor of another sort of nourishment, the Toadstool Bookshop. Toadstool is big and busy and has the requisite café, but this is no Barnes & Noble. Rather, it's a musty, cluttered place where aesthetics is secondary to content, and where patrons hunker down in the aisles to ruminate on Charles Simic poems. Oh, and the excellent coffee is still only a buck.
6. Ashuelot covered bridge, Winchester
See, it's like a regular bridge, only covered. This one, built in 1864, traverses the Ashuelot River in bucolic Cheshire County. New Hampshire has 54 "covereds," as aficionados call them; Ashuelot's intricate latticework certainly makes it the most elaborate and, arguably, most handsome. Your job is to drive, bike, or walk across, ideally half a dozen times to get the full effect: dappled sunlight streaming through, the smell of old wood, the gurgle of the river below.
7. Climbing Mount Monadnock
There are taller peaks to ascend in the Whites, yet Monadnock—rising alone from a valley in the southwest—has distinct advantages. In the early 1800's, a fire burned off Monadnock's forested slopes, an accident that turned out to be a hiker's gain, as the bare-rock summit now affords unobstructed views in all directions. The exposed summit and 40 miles of trails explain why Monadnock is the second-most climbed mountain in the world, after Mount Fuji. The White Dot Trail can take you up and back in three to four hours. On a clear day you can see Boston, 60 miles off, along with the Berkshires, the Green Mountains, and the snowcapped Whites.
8. Swopper's Column in Yankee Magazine Published in the village of Dublin, Yankee has been a New Hampshire fixture since 1935, and its original "Swop" page is still going strong, in print and on the Web. Thank God for that. The Swopper's Column is an illuminating—and hilarious—glimpse into the minds of New Englanders. They're want ads with a twist, wherein readers offer up the detritus of their attics in hopes of finding a particular item in exchange. For instance:
—Will swop Victorian pump organ for 10 gallons dark-amber maple syrup
—Will swop 100 antique circus tickets for The Nancy Drew Cookbook
—Will swop collection of trolls made in Ozarks (survived a fire, very sensitive, must go to a loving home) for autographed photo of John Candy
Seriously, you could spend hours imagining what these people's living rooms look like.
9. Lunch at L. A. Burdick, Walpole
Unassuming Walpole (population 3,387) is the headquarters of chocolatier Larry Burdick, who made his name at Le Cirque and Bouley in New York, then ditched Manhattan for New Hampshire—something I occasionally dream of doing myself. Burdick and co-owner Ken Burns (whose documentary film studio is also in Walpole) have turned a former IGA grocery into a Provençal bistro, with chalkboard menus listing specials such as duck confit and pork terrine. A note-perfect salad uses golden, red, and purple beets from a nearby farm; dessert, of course, comes from Burdick's adjacent confectionery. Order the Harvard Square (ganache and dark chocolate with walnuts), take it to go, then bench yourself on Walpole's town green and read Emily Dickinson—she used to sit here, too.
10. Cheese from Boggy Meadow Farm, Walpole
A few miles away lies one of the few cheese-producing dairies in New Hampshire. You can smell the pungent Boggy Meadow Farm long before you reach it, at the end of a country road lined with shade trees. Some days there's no one tending the store—they're all out milkin'—so just walk in, take your pick from the fridge (jack, baby Swiss, or smoked Swiss), and leave some cash in the metal box. Shut the screen door when you leave, now.
11. Listening to Dan Colgan on NHPR
The voice of New Hampshire Public Radio is a savvy newsman and a tawp-nawtch announcer. He's also got one of the best New England accents since the guys from Car Talk. Since outsiders can't get enough of the way New Hampshirites speak—as a tourist attraction, elocution must rank up there with the Mount Washington Cog Railway—Colgan's accent is a fitting sound track for a country drive. Think of it as a language lesson. Like many of us, Colgan doesn't drop the final R's. That's more a Massachusetts thing. Here the R's are emphasized and rounded off, as in "This is NHP-ahhrr." Colgan's is the first voice I hear whenever I return home; when I'm away I'll tune in on the Web just to hear him say "dawt-cawm." He's an icon. (That's eye-cawn to us.)
12. Home Hill Inn, Plainfield
The scent of fresh lavender ushers you in; a pétanque court awaits beyond the swimming pool, which the staff calls la piscine. Could this be New Hampshire?French hotelier Stéphane du Roure and his American wife, Victoria (a Ritz-Escoffier-trained chef), have refurbished this 1818 mansion with Gallic flair; it's now a member of Relais & Châteaux. Sconce-lit public rooms are hung with oils by Stephen Parrish, who, with his son Maxfield and sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, transformed nearby Cornish into an artists' retreat. Upstairs, plank floorboards, which slope a bit off-kilter, are laid with Oriental rugs. The dozen guest rooms are appointed with early French and American antiques; outside your window lies a pasture full of horses. (Stéphane plays in a local polo league.) The kicker is Victoria's assured, creative cooking: her seafood tasting menu is superb.
Though the inn feels satisfyingly remote, secreted away on the banks of the Connecticut River, its location is near-perfect. Within walking distance are pick-your-own berry farms and apple orchards. A short drive takes you to the genteel campus of Dartmouth, or to the Simon Pearce glassblowing studio in Windsor, Vermont—which, repeat after me, is the only reason to cross the border.
13. Canoeing the Connecticut River
The stretch of the river north of Cornish is plenty wide, yet shallow enough to discourage motorized boat traffic. North Star Canoe Rentals can shuttle you to a launch site upriver, from which you paddle the four miles downstream, passing riverbank farms, flocks of herons, and the Cornish-Windsor covered bridge, the longest in the nation at 450 feet. Bring along a lunch from Home Hill and picnic on uninhabited Chase Island, just past the bridge.