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1840 stagecoach stop comes of age

Super porch, sandy beach -- but watch the mosquitoes

Email|Print| Text size + By Patricia Harris and David Lyon
Globe Correspondents / August 8, 2004

BRIDGEWATER, N.H. -- New England summer vacationers tend to divide between ocean people and lake people. While we tend to prefer our water salty, we decided to escape the shore's early July crush by heading upcountry to New Hampshire's Lakes Region. Nestled in the foothills of the White Mountains, Newfound Lake is a long finger of water with sandy shores fringed by large pines and stands of gleaming white birches.

The three-story, yellow clapboard Inn on Newfound Lake sits on a rise across Route 3A from the lake's eastern shore. Neatly manicured lawns and profusely blooming gardens stake a claim against the forested hillside. Built in 1840 as a stagecoach stop on the road between Boston and Montreal, the inn is one of the oldest in the region.

We had booked Room 1 in the main building, a corner room on the front with three windows that gave us lake views and cross ventilation. Square and small (about 100 square feet), the room was decorated with a wallpaper of pink and white roses on a green background and furnished with a diminutive wing chair, a small dresser, queen-size four-poster bed, and a nightstand with a lamp and clock radio (alas, no reading light for the other side). A shelf and some pegs with hangers filled in for a closet. Ceiling and window fans made air conditioning unnecessary.

As we'd been forewarned when booking, our compact but efficient private bathroom -- shower stall, no tub -- was across the hall. We were glad we had packed robes, since none were provided.

We imagine that, in winter, guests congregate around the fireplace in the front parlor with its overstuffed chairs and sofa and baby grand piano. We paused only long enough to leaf through the scrapbook of the inn's 1994 rejuvenation. Los Angeles fugitives Larry DeLangis and Phelps Boyce II transformed the down-at-the-heels property into an upscale Victorian showpiece with bold, dark colors and large-pattern floral wallpaper. A profusion of knickknack bunnies lends a touch of levity.

DeLangis and Boyce also rebuilt the front porch, a solid contender for best front porch in New Hampshire. About 12 feet wide and more than 130 feet long, it stretches the length of the inn. Clusters of two wicker chairs, a settee, and a coffee table of wrought iron and glass portion the space into conversational cliques. Like many guests, we took our continental breakfast to the porch, and returned there in the evening for cocktails.

Across the highway and about 100 yards south, a grassy path leads to the inn's private sandy beach shaded by old pines and amply outfitted with a picnic table and stacks of plastic lounge chairs. (Large beach towels are provided in each room.) The bottom tapers gradually, and once we realized that it was futile to wait for the tide to rise, we waded in for a swim in the chilly water. Independence Day was past but the swimming float was still on the beach.

The inn also has a dock, but no rowboats or canoes for guest use. It makes a good vantage for watching the sun sink behind low mountains, but for the most part, the dock is a convenience for diners who arrive by boat -- which many do. The inn's Pasquaney Restaurant and Wild Hare Tavern are popular with summer people, year-round residents, and parents visiting their offspring at one of the lake's many summer camps.

Our first night we had a light meal at the tavern -- meatloaf made with locally raised buffalo meat and a salad topped with strips of sesame-crusted grilled chicken. We also sampled a signature summer dessert of fresh fruit barely held together with creamy gelatin in a baked pastry shell. The granite-topped horseshoe bar was hopping with nicotine-huffing locals (New Hampshire permits smoking in bars) who discussed their golf swings and yard sales and guffawed as they exchanged jokes that were old when Henny Youngman was a lad.

We decided Saturday night dinner should be more of an affair. The dining room is a pretty space with dark green walls, white linen over burgundy tablecloths, and lots of windows looking over the lake. But we chose to dine al fresco at one of the tables at the north end of the porch.

The menu is attuned to the season: delicate vegetable spring rolls with a ginger-lime-sesame vinaigrette or spice-rubbed chicken served with peach and red pepper salsa and three-potato (purple, white, and sweet) salad. Artful plating whetted our appetites for the generous portions. With sunset unfolding slowly, we lingered over glasses of pinot grigio until mosquitoes finally drove us inside.

Patricia Harris and David Lyon are freelance writers in Cambridge.

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