In the early 1900s, the White Mountains of upper New Hampshire were a playground for the rich and famous. Names like Rockefeller and Vanderbilt would catch the Green Mountain Railroad from Boston to spend their summer months at the base of Mount Washington. Twenty-four grand hotels were spread out across the valley, with a daily newspaper reporting the arrivals of the “who’s who” and what the ladies were wearing. Then-celebs would spend a week at each resort, rotating throughout the summer, and it was only the best of the best for the biggest grand dame resorts.
Of those 24 resorts, only three still remain. The Omni Mount Washington Resort (from $189/night) of Bretton Woods Mountain Resort was the last of the grand hotels built, and one of the three in which you can still stay and relive the glamour days of the turn of the 20th century.
You can’t miss the Omni Mount Washington Resort. Its red roof peaks from the trees during the summer and brings color to the snow-covered region in the winter. Grand resorts were meant to be enjoyed in the summer months, when mountain breezes would keep guests cool while relaxing on the veranda and porches overlooking the mountains. Today’s hotel’s back porch looks straight upon the Presidential Mountains, the tallest of which is named Washington, the first of the presidents honored with a mountain in the range.
Turning onto a grand driveway leading up to the massive resort, you can just imagine how it must have felt during a time of horse and carriage. When the hotel was constructed between 1900 and 1902 by Joseph Stickney, it was his wife, Carolyn, who refused to allows automobiles to arrive via the main entrance to continue the grandeur.
Joseph passed away a year after his hotel opened, leaving Carolyn as the owner, and a celebrity in her own right. Living in a wing of the hotel, she would watch guest arrivals from a balcony, and overlooked all entering the main dining room to see what the ladies were wearing so she could change if she wasn’t the most fashionably dressed woman at dinner in the evenings. (She sat at a private table near the door so she could be sure her guests were taken care of, but also so she could be noticed.)
Back to today…
Carolyn watches over me as I enter the main lobby to check in; her portrait is painted on a wall the covers her former perch. The main lobby, although modernized, still looks much as it did during the hotel’s grand hotel height, as the Omni had furnishing, lighting and other touches mimic the original look, but in a way that doesn’t look dated or old-fashioned. I can catch views to the mountains through windows in the Rosebrook Bar, which is filled with people in the afternoon sipping on cocktails as they take in the majestic views.
A room with a view & a cave
My Moutainview room is one of the more traditionally styled rooms. To be honest, it’s what you may expect from an Omni and an older hotel. It’s quite comfortable and I didn’t have any complaints, but the point of this hotel is its amenities and its surroundings. I drop my bags and take a tour of the property to get my bearings and plot out my weekend activities.
This is a weekend getaway and I’ve arrived on a Friday’s late afternoon. Tonight’s plan is to sample Stickney’s Steak & Chop Pub and then grab drinks in The Cave. The perfect welcome to the weekend, Stickney’s was everything it promised it would be: “A fantastic steak you’ll be talking about for days.” (I’ve been talking about it for months now!)
The steaks served at Stickney’s come from Savenor’s in Boston. This Beacon Hill butcher shop has been around for 75 years, providing the best cuts of beef to Boston’s steakhouse and made famous by Chef Julia Child, who raved about the steaks. I knew the 160oz prime ribeye would be too much to handle, especially after sampling the heirloom tomato and basil bisque, yet I found myself practically inhaling the entire steak. If the restaurant wasn’t booked solid for the weekend, I would have returned for dinner on Saturday night, as well.
But the real fun came after dinner when it was time for drinks in The Cave. Literally built in the basement level of the property, The Cave was a speakeasy during Prohibition, when one half of the room focused on games to look like a legit operation, and the other half served as a cave holding barrels of booze and a tunnel up to the road to sneak the booze into the bar. Only open from 9pm to midnight, The Cave gets packed and is an excellent place to meet other guests of the hotel. You’ll be running into them throughout your stay at the grand hotel.
Exploring the mountains
As a grand hotel, the Omni Mountain Washington was only open from late spring into early fall until 1999. Winters make the resort a ski destination, as it’s directly across the street from the Bretton Woods ski resort.
Summer, however, is what the resort knows how to do best. The White Mountains themselves are nearly 800,000 acres and the resort excels in making sure you enjoy as much of its backdrop as you can squeeze into a weekend, a week or a full summer. Mountain biking, rock climbing, river tubing, ziplining, horseback riding, fly fishing, ATV tours, and, of course, hiking are all available to outdoor-loving guests. (It’s hard to imagine the Astors doing anything of the sort when they visited 100 years ago!)
Before heading for the hills—and climbing Mount Washington on the cog railway for the best views in the area—grab breakfast in the resort’s dining room, which features even more fantastic views from floor-to-ceiling windows. On the property itself is an outdoor pool with more mountain views, and 9- and 18-hole golf courses. The 25,000-square-foot spa is sure to massage away any kinks following any time spent getting a workout on the mountains. Or, you could make it a true vacation and ignore the great outdoors for a few hours to be pampered at the spa and curl up with a good book on the veranda, as I did on my Sunday morning before heading home. You might also enjoy an official afternoon tea service with crumpets in the Princess Room, which was Carolyn’s former dining room during her time here.
Beyond the property
As much as I enjoy being in the woods, I also enjoy shopping. The nearby town of North Conway was a cute town for just such a workout (lifting all of those bags of goodies I bought and walking around the town counts as exercise, right?). Driving along 302 south and the Saco River, you’ll pass Attitash Ski Resort to find boutique shops like Sister Crows Native American and Zeb’s General Store, along with good eats and drinks at places like the Muddy Moose Pub and Delaney’s Hole in the Wall. There’s even a water park and children’s museum, if you’re traveling with little ones. (They’ll also love a visit to the Bavarian Chocolate Haus, as well as the dedicated children’s programs at the resort.)
A mountain getaway in the summer really does feel like an old-fashioned vacation. You get to feel like a kid again by playing outside, yet enjoy the fully adult spoils of a grand hotel. The Omni Mount Washington is just a stunning setting, and may even become a place you return to year after year.
And finally, 3 more reasons to stay at the Omni Mount Washington
- It’s haunted. Many say Carolyn Stickney still roams the halls of her hotel, and the staff tell tales of certain rooms where odd things are a regular occurrence. It’s rumored that in “The Shining” Stephen King wrote about rooms 217 and 237—and even in my room, lights randomly turned on in the night!
- It connects the world. In 1944, in the hotel’s Gold Room, 29 countries created the International Monetary Fund that is what countries use to borrow from another. Today, 189 countries are members.
- Riding a first. The Mount Washington Cog Railway was the very first mountain-climbing cog railway in the world. The special cog system is what helps get a train up the 6,288-foot mountain.
For more on the Omni Mount Washington Resort, visit the hotel’s website here.
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