There’s one in Connecticut, another in New Hampshire. One has a monastery, the other a mountain. Both are beautiful small towns with unique ways to celebrate the holidays and capture the spirit of the season.
No one is sure how it became known as Bethlehem — it was chartered in 1774 as Lloyd Hills — but they make the most of it, especially during the holiday season. Stop by the tiny Post Office to get your envelopes stamped with the Bethlehem postmark. Then, spend a few days soaking in clean mountain air and playing in the surrounding wintery fairyland.
ROOM AT THE INN The tree-lined drive to the Adair Inn (80 Guider Lane, 888-444-2600, www.adairinn.com, $185-$325) sets the stage for a stay at this former country estate overlooking forests and wildlife meadows. Nine guest rooms, with fluffy featherbeds and lush linens, are individually decorated with antiques; most have fireplaces and mountain views. Guests can hang out in the large living room with a log-burning fireplace or downstairs in the cool Granite Room, with stone walls and floors, a pool table, and cozy sitting areas.
The sprawling Mulburn Inn (2370 Main St., 800-457-9440, www.mulburninn.com, $125-$155, and after Jan. 4 pick any room, any night for $120) was once the retail giant Woolworth family’s summer residence, and host to such famous people as Thomas Edison, Joe DiMaggio, and Marilyn Monroe. Much of the original detail remains, including wood floors and trim work, Tiffany glass, curved windows, original lights, and some very unique bath fixtures (think: bright pink toilets and tiny salmon-colored bathtubs). Seven guest rooms are all unique; the spacious and light-filled Adams and James Madison rooms are favorites. The inn also has large public areas, including the original grand parlor, where guests can gather.
Ralph Lauren meets backwoods camp at the Bear Mountain Lodge (3249 Main St., 603-869-2189, www.bearmountainlodge.net , $165-$350), with massive log beams and soaring windows with expansive mountain views. Nine rooms have handcrafted log beds, flat-screen TVs and DVD players, and many have fireplaces and spa tubs or steam showers. A recreation room with a pool table, outdoor hot tub, and fire pit, and snowshoeing trails add to a stay here.
SAVOR THE SEASON The warm and inviting Cold Mountain Cafe (2015 Main St., 603-869-2500, www.coldmountaincafe.com, most entrees $14-$22) is far more Paris bistro than north country outpost. The colorful, art-filled eatery is known for its homemade soups and creatively-prepared signature dishes, like the bouillabaisse and rack of lamb with rosemary roasted potatoes.
Homemade soups and breads, hearty vegetarian sandwiches, and thick smoothies make Maia Papaya (2161 Main St., 603-869-9900, $12-$24) a popular choice.
For upscale dining, consider Adair Inn (see above). Two-, three-, four-, and five-course dinners are offered ($33-$56), with signature entrees like lamb loin with roasted garlic-goat cheese bread pudding and Yankee jambalaya with haddock, crabmeat, Andouille sausage, and Cajun spices.
OH, CHRISTMAS TREE For a big dose of holiday spirit, head to The Rocks (4 Christmas Lane, off Route 302, 603-444-6228, www.therocks.org). The former country estate is now a 1,400-acre tree farm, where you cut your own Christmas tree, dash through the snow on a horse-drawn wagon, and roast marshmallows over an open fire.
DECK THE HALLS For holiday gift-giving, check out the side-by-side Local Works Marketplace and Gallery at The WREN (2011-13 Main St., 603-869-3100, www.wrencommunity.org/shop/shopatwren.php), featuring the work of more than 200 local artists, including jewelry, ceramics, original art, and a nice selection of local foods and wines. For holiday decorating ideas, consider timing your visit for the annual Home and Inn Tour (Dec. 8, purchase tickets at WREN, Maia Papaya, or the visitors center, 2182 Main St., 888-845-1957, www.bethlehemwhitemtns.com/visitorscenter.html, $10).
It’s here that the first theological seminary in the country was founded and the early townsfolk listened to the powerful sermons of the Rev. Joseph Bellamy. Bethlehem is also home to the Abbey of Regina Laudis, a monastery of contemplative Benedictine women, and, in December, one of the busiest post offices in the state. The annual Christmas Town Festival (Bethlehem Center, 203-266-7510, www.christmastownfestival.com, free), takes place Dec. 7-8, with entertainment, music, tree lighting, crafts, hay rides, and food.
A PLACE TO REST Consider a splurge-worthy stay at luxurious Winvian (155 Alain White Road, 860-567-9600, www.winvian.com, $650 per cottage, $1,050 all inclusive) a gift to yourself. Located about 4 miles from the village, this whimsical resort includes 18 cottages designed by 15 architects. Our favorites include the Beaver Lodge, with a two-sided fireplace, waterfall tub, and stone steam shower, and the Library Cottage with a river stone fireplace and cozy reading areas.
The Litchfield Inn, about seven miles from Bethlehem (432 Bantam Road, 860-567-4503, www.litchfieldinnct.com, $109-$119), has been recently renovated and refreshed. Thirty-two rooms now have lush linens, flat-screen TVs, and updated baths.
The award-winning Mayflower Inn, also about seven miles from the village (118 Woodbury Road, Washington, 860-868-9466, www.mayflowerinn.com, $675-$975), features 30 elegant, antiques-laden rooms, many with four-poster beds, marble and mahogany bathrooms, soaking tubs, walk-in showers, and fireplaces. The spa, lauded as one of the finest in New England, is especially inviting during the cold winter months.
SAVOR THE SEASON The family-owned and longstanding Painted Pony (74 Main St. South, 203-266-5771, www.paintedponyrestaurant.com, most entrees $13.95-$25.95, including soup, salad, potatoes, or vegetables) serves comfort on a platter, with dishes like the award-winning, slow-roasted prime rib and chicken breast with shrimp and broccoli, and topped with a lobster seafood sauce. The casual eatery also serves sandwiches, burgers, and pizza.
The fine dining Woodward House, located in a restored 1740 saltbox (4 The Green, 203-266-6902, www.thewoodwardhouse.com, entrees $26-$36), features four charming dining rooms, adorned with colorful, contemporary art. Locals rave about the rosemary-crusted rack of lamb, the grass-fed beef tenderloin with pecan Gorgonzola butter, and the fresh-caught cod wrapped in puff pastry.
HOLIDAY GREETINGS Thousands of people pack into thetiny Bethlehem Post Office (34 East St., 203-266-7910) to hand-stamp greeting cards and packages with one of the specially-designed rubber stamps. The tradition has been carried on since 1938. You can choose from more than 70 stamp patterns, designed by local artisans, young students, and residents.
COME ALL YE FAITHFUL At the Abbey of Regina Laudis (273 Flander Road, www.abbeyofreginalaudis.org), you’ll find an 18th-century Neapolitan crèche. The 16-foot-long, 6-foot-wide Nativity scene includes more than 65 figurines, between 14 and 16 inches high. The beautifully hand-painted Baroque figures are made of porcelain, carved wood, terra cotta, and jute. Stop by the gift shop, featuring artisan cheeses, pottery, wool, and hand-forged items, all made at the monastery. DVD recordings of the community’s Gregorian chant are also for sale.
The historic Bellamy-Ferriday House & Gardens (9 Main St. North, 203-266-7596, www.ctlandmarks.org/index.php?page=bellamy-ferriday-house-garden, suggested donation $3) gets decorated for the holidays and is open during the Christmas Town Festival.
Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.