In grand fashion; Long views and plenty to do at The Balsams.
If you paint a winter wonderland setting in your mind, you'll picture The Balsams, one of the grandest of the grand hotels.
Located in the far reaches of New Hampshire's White Mountains, The Balsams is a vast, red-roofed castle nestled against balsam, rock and ice. Everything is here for the snow-lover: a ski area with 16 downhill runs, miles of cross-country, snowshoe and snowmobile trails, and ice skating on Lake Gloriette (the lights are on at night).
You may know more about The Balsams than you think.
Every four years, the residents of Dixville Notch vote in New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation presidential primary at the hotel's storied Ballot Room. When the clock ticks midnight, cameras flash and reporters scribble the results: from Jan. 8 (which now seems ancient history) on the Republican side, Giuliani 1, McCain 4, Romney 2; for the Democrats, Edwards 2, Obama 7, Richardson 1.
Mementos in the Ballot Room are town and national history: a photo of the late Neil Tillotson, hotel owner and town moderator, casting his ballot at age 101; a plaid shirt worn by Lamar Alexander when he made the primary rounds in 1996; photos of other candidates: a newly inaugurated governor from Arkansas with bigger dreams (no, not Huckabee), John Connolly in 1979, Phil Crane in 1980, Bob Dole in 1986, D-list actor Tom "Billy Jack" Laughlin in 1992, and Pat Buchanan (remember, he did win New Hampshire in 1992).
Outside, The Balsams' 15,000 wooded acres are rugged and rocky - and perfect: The air provides relief for hay-fever sufferers (another reason the hotel is here) and the views stretch forever. You are welcome to work out, or relax and watch the snow fly. If you visit in the warmer months, there's fishing, hiking and golf.
The hotel dates back to 1866, when it opened as a rustic, 25-room summer inn called the Dix House after the town's founding father, Col. Timothy Dix. In the ensuing years, the Whittemore family hosted travelers here with family-style accommodations.
But it took a wealthy summer visitor to turn the place into the elegant resort it is today. Henry S. Hale, a Philadelphia industrialist (and hay-fever sufferer) who invented the swivel chair for Pullman cars, bought the inn in 1895 and renamed it The Balsams. The resort, which accommodates 400 guests, has been recognized by the National Trust for Historic Preservation as one of America's treasured historic hotels.
To get there, most folks traveling from Central Massachusetts will head north to Nashua and up Interstate 93. After driving past the remains of The Old Man of the Mountain in Franconia Notch, take Exit 35 (you're now on Route 3) to Colebrook, and turn east on Route 26 for 11 miles (The Balsams is on the left); or, take an alternate route to Gorham and Route 16, then to Berlin and along the Androsgoggin River to Errol, turn west on Route 26 (The Balsams is on the right). For more information, visit www.thebalsams.com.
How far north are you? Well, locals say they can make the Canadian border in 20 minutes, but take your time. There's much (moose) to see.
George Geers is a former resident of Southbridge. He publishes books in Concord, N.H., and writes about traveling in northern New England.
PHOTOG: Photography by Tom Rettig
CUTLINE: (1) The Balsams, a resort hotel, is located in Dixville Notch, N.H. (2) Skiing - cross country and downhill - or snowboarding can fill the day at The Balsams. (3) Above, guests warm up by the fire in the ski lodge. (4) Photo below, guests choose their entrees during dinner. (5) Above, spa treatments are available at The Balsams. (6) At left, the Governor's Suite is one of the rooms in the hotel.