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Present-day luxuries, yet evocative of bygone era

Email|Print| Text size + By J.M. Lawrence
Globe Correspondent / October 30, 2005

JACKSON VILLAGE, N.H. -- At The Wentworth, lovers leave scribbled wishes in a tall Moroccan vase before they leave the antique inn's ''honeymoon room."

Owner Fritz Koeppel says he once dug through the notes on a special mission. A female guest had phoned to announce that she was coming back to enjoy the fireplace and the king-size canopy bed again. But this time, she was bringing a different man. Koeppel discreetly trashed her old note.

Nestled in the valley of the White Mountains, the 51-room inn boasts the history and elegance of its Civil War-era birth and Jazz Age heyday. Guests get the great outdoors and a taste of the Great Gatsby.

By day, my companion and I were sweaty hikers munching trail mix on our way to the top of Mount Kearsarge or to the spectacular Arethusa Falls in the surrounding White Mountain National Forest. By night, we dressed for dinner and dined by silver lamplight next to a sputtering fire in the inn's dining room.

Built in 1869, the inn was originally a wedding gift from Captain Joshua Trickey to his daughter and her husband. The couple expanded the property into a resort with its own farm, greenhouses, dairy, and blacksmith shop.

By 1894, The Boston Globe had dubbed ''Wentworth Hall" a famous hostelry. ''Hither . . . come persons of intellectual culture and love of the beautiful, and settle down with their books, pictures, and music, live an ideal country life. It is not a hotel; it is a home of the utmost quiet elegance," the article said.

Soaking in Room 408's two-person Jacuzzi with the Rolling Stones piped in on a speaker from an entertainment center, I could at least agree this was an ''ideal" life. A gas-burning fireplace gave the bedroom, with its botanical prints, a warm glow, and a cozy nook offered just the right space for reading or a game of Scrabble.

Other deluxe rooms have private outdoor hot tubs with views of the mountains. Jacuzzi suites also include generous supplies of scented bath salts and luxurious white robes, and tiled showers for quicker bathing.

Renovations have left the suites in the Arden cottages, built in 1880, feeling almost brand new, while the rooms in the main hall retain a creaky, antique quality. The dining room evokes the past with wavy panes of old glass in the windows and dried roses on the white-linen-covered tables.

While good quality food isn't hard to come by among the many bed-and-breakfasts in this region, the food here during a three-night stay rivaled that of a four-star hotel. Chef Brian Gazda, formerly of the Boston Harbor Hotel, cooked succulent beef tenderloin with broccoli rabe and served baby shrimp and spinach gnocchi as light as the wilted pea tendrils that came with the dish.

Another night featured sweet potato lobster bisque, which managed to impart both flavors equally without drowning in cream, and a delicate herb-roasted sea bass with wild rice.

Desserts by pâtissier Fabrice Dubuc were outstanding, including a warm chocolate fondant cake with Tahitian vanilla bean sauce well worth the 10-minute wait for preparation. Dinners of this quality could easily command a $100 tab elsewhere, but are included with the room rate here.

The inn's extensive wine list has won accolades. The Wentworth posts its many Wine Spectator awards near the lobby. Anyone for a $575 bottle of '81 Chateau Lafite Rothschild?

In mild weather, guests relax after dinner on wicker furniture along the inn's giant wraparound porch, which is decorated with photos of The Wentworth's bygone days. One image shows three smiling women in floor-length Victorian-era dresses holding tennis rackets. The resort maintains a clay court, a heated outdoor pool, and the 18-hole, public Wentworth Golf Club is right next door.

There is a pool table in the small library, which also features inn memorabilia. A June 1881 menu promised an elaborate feast of boiled codfish with shrimp sauce, beef ribs, boiled fowl, beet greens, boiled and mashed potatoes, and mince pie with caramel ice cream.

Besides the memorable five-course dinner, room rates today include a basic breakfast of cereals, pancakes or eggs and bacon, and seasonal fruit.

The town's tiny library is across the street. In good weather, it offers 24-hour access to good reads with boxes of paperbacks on the porch. Buyers are asked to slip a dollar into the mail slot for J.D. Salinger's ''Franny and Zooey," or perhaps ''The Overlook Guide to Small-Scale Goat Keeping."

Contact Janelle Lawrence, a freelance writer in Newton, at jmlawren@aol.com.

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