Sorry for not having a post yesterday but I have a great excuse. Our family increased by one yesterday with the birth of our grandson. My stepson Mark agreed to fill in with a guest post from his recent family trip to New Hampshire over the holiday break.
Oh so close. The Mountain View Grand Hotel in New Hampshire’s White Mountains is oh so close to marrying family amenities with a luxury turn-of-the-century grand hotel experience that my family and I can’t help but root for them. Just a few issues to fix (more on those below) and the hotel would be fully there…except maybe then it would book solid and stop offering the frequent deals that make this extravagant experience financially within reach. So maybe we won’t root too hard. If you’re the type who is accustomed to luxury and scoffs at every imperfection, then this is oh so close, but not quite your hotel. But if you can brush off a few minor issues, you’ll love the MVG, and your kids will too.
The White Mountains are a four season draw, and there are plenty of flavorless motels and quaint B&Bs to choose from (if you don’t mind invading the intimacy and calm of a B&B with children). But if you want to experience the charm and history of the mountains, dine where presidents once dined, and enjoy fireside extravagance, then the grand hotels—leftovers from a bygone era of horse drawn carriages and wealthy families escaping (with staff) for the full summer—stand out. There are several nestled right in the heart of the mountains: Eagle Mountain House, the Balsams, the famous Mount Washington Hotel in the shadows of its namesake mountain all come to mind. And then there is the Mountain View Grand, which is not quite in the mountains, but oh so close. It’s just north of the main mountains and the main towns, perched on a hill with a glorious view spanning the slopes of Cannon Mountain ski resort, Franconia Ridge, and all the peaks of the Northern Presidential Range. But unlike the other grand hotels, you’re not quite in those mountains; you’re admiring them from a 25 minute drive away. And you’re not quite near any towns of appreciable size either. So if you want to get away and stay away, which is what we did, then you’ll be happy. But if you want the slopes or the trails or the shops and restaurants at your doorstep, keep looking.
We spent four days with our two kids, and the kids didn’t want to leave. The list of what we parents and the kids loved is long: live piano music in the lobby in the evening; a mini movie theatre with reclining leather seats where you can pick the movie you want and request the staff bring down free popcorn; a good sized indoor pool, hot tub, exercise room, exercise classroom, and sauna. Wide hallways adorned with oil paintings and stocked bookshelves; a game room with pool, ping pong, air hockey, and foosball; a parlor rooms with checkers and chess. The food in the restaurant is excellent again this year—two years in a row now, and a marked improvement over earlier years. There is a barn stuffed with alpacas, lamas, sheep, ducks, and donkeys, with an engaging farmer who provides excellent and educational tours for the kids. The golf course offers a good hill for sledding. There are daily activities (ax throwing anyone?) and a fully staffed “Explorer’s Club” activity room if you want to deposit the kids for a few hours of supervised fun. There are other things too that we haven’t sampled, either due to price or season, among them the spa, golf course, outdoor pool, tennis, mountain bike rentals, and snowmobile rentals.
There are also more basic conveniences. After its heyday in the pre-WWII era, this style of hotel in general, and this one in particular, fell out of favor and repair; the MVG eventually closed in the mid-80s. But it was purchased, gutted, and redone via a major renovation inside and out before re-opening in 2002, and the results are the little things that make a grand old hotel feel modern where you want it to: modern windows that seal, modern heating, outlets where you need them, modern bathrooms…in short, it’s still has the grandeur of the old hotel, ornate and with crown molding on the crown molding, but is quite new in all the right ways.
So then what about those imperfections? Why oh so close? I mentioned the location—not quite in the mountains, a bit more than a hop skip and jump from the slopes, and at least 20 minutes from any sizeable town. Good luck trying to run out for a meal. But there are other little things as well. Our first year we fell in love with the outdoor skating area, surrounded by a snow covered string of lights for a quintessential New England experience. But for three straight years now, they can’t quite bring themselves to get the skating ice up and running. Either they try but forget how to make an outdoor skating area, or claim the weather is not quite right (even though every fourth house in our neighborhood has their backyard rink running smoothly), or they can’t be bothered to set it up in time, or they forget to shovel. We bring skates each year, and leave disappointed. Oh so close. And I mentioned the movie theater…except many of the reclining leather seats are broken and slumped—not a surprise with kids climbing all over them on a daily basis—except the slumping chairs remain year after year. Oh so close. Service in the restaurant is prompt and attentive and our breakfast arrives quickly. And yet there is no syrup with our pancakes and waffles, and it takes repeated requests and ten whole minutes to get some. Oh so close. The sledding hill is great but used to send us straight into bushes and a stone wall behind. Last year they field-mowed the bushes but left the eight inch stalks in the ground like awaiting daggers that made short work of our inflatable sleds. (Whoops—stupid us.) Finally this year they’ve taken a bulldozer to the area and cleared out the bush trunks and wall altogether.
The hotel is not inexpensive, and if you go at peak time and pay full price, you’ll be paying full luxury fare commensurate with the ice sculptures and doormen that will great you. But if you can pick an off season or keep your eyes open for a deal (we found ours through Groupon), and you’re willing to overlook a few rough spots, then you’ll love relaxing and exploring this historical grand hotel. And your kids will not want to leave.
Thanks Mark for your review. For those unfamiliar to this area, you are close to the Presidential Range and Mt. Washington. For the skiers, downhill skiing is available at Bretton Woods, Canon Mountain, Wildcat, Attitash. If you visit in the spring, summer or fall, make sure you go over to Mt. Washington and take the cog railroad to the top of the mountain or hike up but remember, it is much colder at the peak so be prepared with clothes for a much colder climate.