The charming Camden Harbor in Knox County, Maine
This article first appeared in our September/October 2016 issue.
By Laurie Kahle
When the frost is on the pumpkin, it’s time to hit the road in New England. The region’s famous fall foliage draws visitors from around the world for the annual leaf-peeping season. Boston-based writer Laurie Kahle shares her picks for where to stay, spa and dine.
New England’s charms are abundant with quaint colonial towns built around white-steepled churches and rugged seascapes dotted with lighthouses. After beach season wanes, mother nature pulls out the brushes and palette to paint her annual masterpiece, turning the region’s verdant forests and rolling hills into a canvas awash in scarlet, gold, burgundy and ochre. Blanketing the landscape in a slow crawl from north to south, this magnificent natural exhibition peaks around mid-October, when crisp blue-sky days give way to chilly nights best spent by the fireside. In the autumn, New England’s true colors shine with spectacular foliage providing a stunning backdrop for driving back roads and main streets from Boston to the Berkshires and beyond.
Though it is a small corner of the country, New England offers remarkable diversity within a few hours’ drive or a quick flight. Outdoor enthusiasts can hike, bike and kayak, while culture vultures can visit museums, galleries and antique shops, and foodies can indulge their palates with locally sourced farm-to-table cuisine, fresh-caught North Atlantic seafood and even Michelin-inspired gastronomy.
City trees in Boston put on their own display
Famous as the cradle of liberty, where the seeds of the American Revolution first took root, Boston exudes an old-world charm rarely found in the US. This gem of a city offers a surprisingly diverse array of things to do – from visiting world-class art museums and shopping in premier boutiques, to indulging your inner historian by learning about the people and events that shaped the nation.
While it boasts a fascinating and impressive history, Boston is by no means caught in a time capsule. Home to more than 100 colleges and universities, the metropolitan area is a magnet for students from around the globe, keeping the city’s vibe young, international and brainy. Meanwhile, a burgeoning culinary scene is growing more creative each year with young chefs fusing influences from around the globe.
First timers should not miss walking the city’s Freedom Trail. The two-and-a-half mile red-brick ribbon guides you in the footsteps of the patriots to 16 historical landmarks including the site of the 1770 Boston Massacre, the Old South Meeting House and the North End neighborhood, home to the house of Paul Revere who made his daring midnight ride sounding the alarm of the British invasion.
The North End later became the city’s Little Italy where Italian immigrant families settled in the early 20th century and imparted a cultural imprint that remains to this day. One tiny hole in the wall here offers what is heralded as the city’s best seafood. Unassuming and unabashedly charming, Neptune Oyster serves exceptional fish and shellfish for which patrons line up for more than an hour, thanks to a strict no reservation policy. Talk to your concierge or put your name in first, then head off to explore North End landmarks until they call you when your table or counter seats are ready.
The Liberty Hotel – a former prison
For dinner, Ostra presents contemporary seafood prepared with a Mediterranean flair in an elegant, minimalist dining room. Grilled octopus and a variety of carpaccios, tartares and hamachi are highlights. After dinner, the city’s new hotspot for a nightcap is Yvonne’s, which occupies the former Locke-Ober restaurant, a dining institution that served Boston’s elite from 1875 until 2012. You can sit at the original carved wood bar for an artfully mixed cocktail or dine on creative fusion cuisine that blends Latin, Asian and American influences.
Boston has familiar five-star hotels – Four Seasons, Mandarin Oriental, The Ritz-Carlton and Taj – but two boutique properties stand out for their local character. The Liberty Hotel, which is part of the Luxury Collection, is housed in a former Victorian-era prison, which was transformed to emphasize its dramatic architecture. A recent renovation upgraded the room decor, which subtly plays with the prison theme – keys are a central motif, and the do not disturb sign features a jailer’s key with a banner that reads “solitary.” The Ebersol Suite provides stunning 270-degree views of the city and a balcony that can be enjoyed year-round. For other rooms, book odd numbers on high floors for the best views.
For those who prefer a more low-key, intimate hotel, XV Beacon is steps away from the gilt-domed statehouse and Boston Common. With only 63 rooms and suites in a 1903 Beaux Arts building, this arty hotel prides itself on over-the-top personalized service. The Gilbert Stuart Suites feature two bedrooms connected by a parlor with dining and living spaces. And the hotel’s modern steakhouse, Mooo, offers a meaty antidote to an overdose of local seafood.
Concierges at both hotels can arrange private behind-the-scenes experiences at museums and cultural landmarks such as Fenway Park, home to the Boston Red Sox, a helicopter tour of the city, or a hard-to-get table at the city’s top restaurants. Be sure to take a stroll along Beacon Hill’s red brick sidewalks, lit by old-fashioned gas lamps, past Federalist and Greek Revival townhouses, and you can imagine having time traveled to another era.