WHITEFIELD, N.H. -- Ever since we booked a "harborview motel" on the Maine coast, only to discover that it sat 2 miles from the ocean, we have been leery of lodgings whose names promise more than they might deliver. But "Mountain View Grand" is actually an understatement.
As we emerged from the woodsy access road, the barny, buttercup-yellow clapboard hotel stood in a clearing atop a ridge. On the horizon, the white-capped peaks of the Presidentials caught the last rays of the sun as the serrated ridges of the Kilkenny Range hunkered down under the dark-slate sky.
We had been curious about the Mountain View Grand -- one of only a handful of grand hotels left in the White Mountains -- ever since it reopened in 2002 after a $20 million renovation. A Romantic RendezVIEW for Two package provided the incentive for a visit.
Booking a month ahead gained us an upgrade to a "Majestic" room. On the second floor, it was about 14-by-20 feet, with cream-colored walls, a king bed with mahogany headboard, matching night tables, and a desk. A round table and two armchairs were placed by the windows to enjoy the view. The modern white bathroom had a pedestal sink and tub/shower combination. One of the best features was a walk-in closet large enough to swallow two suitcases, ice skates, and snowshoes.
Our quarters were lovely, though we would probably reserve "majestic" to describe the long lobby with its dark flowered carpets, columns, coffered ceiling, grand piano, and leather sofa by a big fireplace. The equally gracious Eisenhower library (named for the president, a frequent guest) had three walls of books, a fireplace, and a wall of windows. Tables in the similarly spacious game room were set up with a different game on each (chess, Scrabble, checkers, Go). Photos along one wall traced the evolution of the property since the first boardinghouse opened as an attachment to the Dodge family farmhouse in 1866. The last of eight additions was a "sports house" constructed in 1939 of lumber sawed from logs salvaged after a 1938 hurricane.
Our package included a casual meal in Nicky Finn's the first evening and dinner in the dining room the second night. Nicky Finn's is a bar with a billiards table and only a few cafe tables for dining. Additional seating is available in booths in a side room that sometimes doubles as a comedy club. Excellent burgers from the bar menu were far more appealing than the red-and-black decor that was more Granite-State Vegas than classic Grand Hotel.
The top floor of the hotel is devoted to the Tower Spa and Salon, with "massages of the world," hydrotherapy, body wraps, and a variety of other treatments. Although the woman who took our reservation had sworn by the ylang ylang aromatherapy massage ("I've heard that it saves marriages"), we thought outdoor exercise would do us more good.
In the morning, we headed over to the Jumpin' Jack Frost Activity Center. The $12 daily fee for cross-country and snowshoe trails was not included in our package, but since the previous night's 4-inch snow was too thin for either activity, the trail boss told us to take a hike -- free. We meandered up past the stables (in warmer weather, the resort has trail rides), and down what must have been former logging roads, encountering juncos, crows, and hyperactive chipmunks. We could have had better mountain views hiking across the golf course, but we enjoyed the alpine landscape while skating on the rink, where the staff built a bonfire at sunset.
Our appetites were roused for dinner in the formal dining room, Juliet's, where we also had morning breakfast buffets with a host of choices among baked goods and hot dishes and enjoyed the sunny views. In the evening, the cheery daytime setup switched to white linens and soft lighting from brass chandeliers, and diners turned toward the fire rather than the windows.
The contemporary American menu was competently executed. A frisee salad tossed with shreds of smoked trout was set off nicely by a crispy potato slice and horseradish creme fraiche. The flavors of chicken breast in bacon-cider sauce with squash-polenta gratin were well chosen, but the chicken was a little tough. The halibut with roasted fennel and couscous (and a garnish of clams) was more succulent. Dessert choices are geared toward diners who have earned their calorie allotment by lots of outdoor exercise. A flourless chocolate cake was properly dense and rich; the lemon tart with crisp caramelized sugar glaze exploded with flavor and contrasting textures, a success on all counts.
Patricia Harris and David Lyon write from Cambridge.