I was barely a teenage when I fell in love with the White Mountains. It was my first time at camp, the last summer before liking boys and caring what other people thought about me. We did a lot of hiking and the trail almost always ended with a spectacular view of those rocky peaks and the tiny towns in the valley below. My memories of this place and time are hazy, like the blue-hued ridge line in the final hours of the day. I can’t remember the trails I took or the people I met, but I’ll always remember how at peace these mountains made me feel.
This summer, I got painfully homesick for the mountains. It had been a few years since I’d visited. After the birth of our daughter we stayed pretty close to home. Knowing my husband shares my fondness for the hills and peaks just a few hours north of us, I booked a quick Labor Day vacation for the family at the Mountain View Grand Resort & Spa. It looked beautiful on website and the reviews screamed family friendly, but because this is the White Mountains and you never know what you’re going to get up there, I worried it wouldn’t meet our expectations.
I vastly underestimated this place.
The yellow clapboards pop from behind the trees as you round the final twist in the road to the hotel. Pulling up for check-in, a bell hop grabs your bags and helps you up the tall staircase to the Veranda. Don’t worry about them again. Staff whisks them of to your room in good time. This is old-school hotel service for a very old hotel.
The Sunday evening we arrived was rainy and miserable. The expansive porch and lobby bustled with families wrapping up their trip. We took a seat by a picture window, looking at only fog. My husband and I sipped cocktails while my daughter danced to jazz standards and Disney ballads played by an older gentleman at a baby grand piano. For a wash-out kind of night, it was pretty fantastic.
I envisioned Santa’s Village as one-part fun, one-part scary and two-parts depressing. I was happy to find it’s a clean, well-run, quirky and creative place to take young children for the day. We went on Labor Day and had plenty of elbow room; we waited in line for a ride twice. The food was surprisingly good, with plenty of kid favorites and healthy options. Admission includes the new water park, which we didn’t try but looked like a blast.
I rode the carousel with my daughter for the last ride of the day. She waved to my husband as we rode round and round, and I realized this was one of those moments parents of grown children talk about – you just never want to forget it.
The dining options at the Mountain View are somewhat limited in the off-season, but largely good. Our first night, my daughter enjoyed chicken fingers, fruit and French fries from the free kid’s buffet. I had a seafood-stuffed baked haddock that was that good. Breakfast dishes included the regular favorites, and all that we tried was fresh and tasty. On a breakfast menu, fare like oatmeal can be tasteless afterthoughts, but my oatmeal was topped with nuts and fruit and real maple syrup. The table service overall was a little lacking, mostly just slow really, but we were on vacation. I sipped my coffee, looked out as the sun crossed over the mountains and was patient.
The rooms are neat and clean, but the standard king we booked felt a little cramped. They were not designed for hanging out, but for crashing after a fun-filled day. This wasn’t really a problem for us. My daughter wanted to run around the grounds and my husband and I were drawing all we could from the last days of summer.
The Mountain View’s onsite farm has a large barn with hens, rabbits, llamas, goats and cows. You can visit most days and the farmers welcome kids to pet animals when appropriate. My two-year-old showed no fear, walking right into the goat pen. The farmer guiding the tour said the goats must like her. They usually aren’t that nice to kids, she said.
Turning 37 isn’t one of those birthdays you’re texting friends about. It’s not a milestone. It’s just one day closer to 40. I could tell my husband wasn’t feeling the one-year-older thing, so when I saw there was an ax-throwing class the morning of his birthday, I pushed him to try it. He landed one. Not quite a bulls-eye, but close.
The Veranda is by far the Mountain View Grand’s best asset and where we spent the bulk of our time each afternoon. The long, wide porch has rocking chairs and sitting areas for taking in the expansive view of the White Mountains. In the summer, they serve drinks and small snacks on the Veranda, but in the off-season you must grab your own drinks at the tavern.
When it came time to pack up the car, I took my daughter to the playground. A little exercise and distraction would help with the ride home. As I pushed her on the swing, I reminded her we would be leaving soon. “I don’t want to go,” she cried.
“I don’t want to go either,” I said.