Summer in the city is all very nice, but there’s nothing like a getaway to the countryside to breathe fresh life into a midsummer weekend. The small New Hampshire town of Hancock is just the right distance away, a good choice relaxation and low key exercise.
Sleeping with history
The Hancock Inn has been a fixture in the town since 1789 when it was built for travelers arriving by horse and stagecoach. Today it’s closer to a fine boutique hotel, still in touch with its past but clearly in the present. Those 18th- and 19th-century guests would probably have appreciated the central air conditioning and heating. This being an old building, each room is different, but unlike the original inn, today each has its own en-suite bathroom. While the furnishings and décor pay tribute to the inn’s history, they are attractive and tasteful. Our room, named for George Washington, was smallish but ample and it had a small alcove with an upholstered window seat overlooking the garden, perfect for snuggling up with a good book. One of the guest rooms even has original wall murals done in the 19th century by itinerant painter Rufus Porter – an multi-talented artist who went on to found Scientific American magazine.
Reception for the Hancock Inn is in the old tavern room, decorated with hand painted murals, done in the style of Rufus Porter. There is a nice sitting area here, and across the hall is another parlor for inn guests with a big fireplace. Both of these rooms are beautifully furnished with appropriate antiques without being stuffy, really comfortable places to settle in for conversation or a good book.
Past the dining rooms, the new tavern room has tables for informal dining and for sharing drinks with friends. It overlooks the expansive lawn that spreads out behind the inn. Beyond, through a swinging gate, is their croquet pitch and a beautifully laid out raised-bed garden where the inn raises some of their own vegetables and herbs.
Dining in and out
Hancock Inn has one of the best restaurants in southern New Hampshire, where Chef Rob Grant has continued to bring people back for more than 12 years. His menu, which changes quarterly, also changes with the availability of seasonal ingredients. He sources much of the meat and produce locally, from Hancock itself and neighboring towns. One source is right next door, Main Street Cheese, which produces fine goat cheeses including a wonderful fresh chevre. Breakfast, by the way, is included in the room rate and has a number of choices among them two delicious variations on Eggs Benedict, made with smoked Swiss cheese from another southern NH cheese maker.
The inn does not serve lunch, but across the street is Fiddleheads Café, is a good place for lunch, a coffee or a snack – or breakfast if you oversleep. Look in the cooler case for their own ice cream sandwiches -- chocolate chip cookie with vanilla ice cream or chocolate with mint. Another good choice for a sandwich or picnic supplies in Hancock Market, where the gregarious owner will make you feel like a native.
Things to see and do
Walk down the street to the right from the inn to see the big white colonial-style church that is the pride and joy of Hancock. On the hour you will hear a bell peal -- the voice of a bell cast by Paul Revere’s company in 1820, the same year that the church was built. Next door the smaller brick building is the Vestry Building, now used for town gatherings. The cemetery behind the church has tombstones dating from the early nineteenth century. Further on down the street is the public access to Norway Pond, a favorite place for swimming and boating-- but you’ll have to bring your own kayak or canoe.
One of the most beautiful ponds in southern New Hampshire is also accessed from Route 123 in Hancock. From the center of town take Route 123 west about five miles to Willard Pond Road. About a mile and a half into the woods on a dirt road is a parking lot on the left. This entire area around Willard Pond is a property of the NH Audubon Society and they maintain a series of trails and access to the pond on this conservation area. Canoes and kayaks are allowed but no gasoline-powered boats are permitted. The trails range from easy (around the pond) to strenuous (climbing the surrounding mountains). Quiet paddlers in this pond have a great chance of seeing loons (there is a nesting pair, so give them space), Blue Heron and a variety of ducks.
While in town in July and August be sure to take Route 37 south a few miles to Davis Brook Farm daylilies. At that time of year the hillside is ablaze with an huge assortment of daylilies, most of them bred and developed right there on the farm. It is worth a stop even if you are not in the market for daylilies.
From Boston take I-93 north to I-95 south, traveling west on I-95 to exit 32. Follow the signs for Route 3 north to Nashua New Hampshire. At Nashua take the exit for Route 101 west. At Milford take NH Route 34 north. If you miss that turn continue on to Peterborough and take Route 202 north, watching for Route 34 (Forest Road) on the left. The trip should take about an hour and three quarters.