Travel

A Lesbian Getaway in North Country

by Winnie McCroy
EDGE Editor
Friday Dec 16, 2011

Winter's on its way, and now's the time to schedule that ski trip you've been dreaming about all year. As the snow falls and the holidays draw near, turn your thoughts to New Hampshire's North Country, and the famed lesbian B&B, The Highlands Inn. Nestled in the hills of tiny Bethlehem, this restored hunting lodge provides a women-centric environment close to shopping, skiing, and other winter sports.

Innkeeper Grace Newman is as good as her name, gracious and accommodating without being intrusive. She was more than happy to welcome our large Rottweiler and us in the adjacent farmhouse - ideal accommodations for a large group of friends.

"This is a great life; I meet a lot of really nice people," said Newman, who has operated the inn since 1983. "I also think it's really important to have women's spaces; we are losing more and more all the time. People think that young lesbians don't appreciate it, but a lot of them have visited lately, and they tell me it is incredible to be here just with other women."


The inn is a rustic old hunting lodge with exposed timber beams, indoor and outdoor hot tubs, a 54-foot heated swimming pool, a cozy fireplace, a lesbian-centric video, DVD, and book lending library, free Wi-Fi, plus 15 miles of nature trails with names like Tomlin, Steinway, Middle Earth, and Stonewall.

The inn offers a total of 19 rooms, all with private baths. There are a wide variety of accommodations and price points, from a rustic cottage at $180 a night to rooms in the main inn, which range from $110 to $225, the higher-end rooms featuring a queen-sized bed, fireplaces, and two-person spa. Checkout is 11 a.m.; for a nominal fee, guests can extend their stay.

Newman said she gets many visitors from all over the country and Europe, especially England and Germany. She also gets many guests from Boston, about two hours away, and New York, a six-hour drive.


"Women come here for good, clean air, hiking, scenery, and for going to the top of things. Mount Washington’s Cobb railroad goes to the top; and there are lots of fun things to do outside," said Newman. "There are fall colors, wonderful skiing, and it is popular year-round."

Hikers that are more adventurous can investigate the countless trails in the area, including the Zealand State Park in White Mountain. Nearby skiing attractions include Attitash, Loon Mountain, Waterville Valley, Harmon’s Ridge, Bretton Woods and the zip lines and slopes near Cannon Mountain. Newman said guests also enjoy snowshoeing and cross-country skiing right on the property.

Relax after a long hike on the row of rainbow-colored Adirondack chairs that offer a breathtaking view of the valleys and mountains surrounding the inn. The nearby covered trellis is a prime spot for many same-sex unions, legal in New Hampshire and nearby Vermont. Newman admitted that recent wedding parties have booked the entire inn, cottage, and farmhouse for the couple’s friends and family.


"Same-sex marriage has been legal in New Hampshire for a couple of years, and guests like to get married in the arbor in the summer or by the fireplace in the winter," said Newman. "The biggest wedding this year brought 100 people to the inn! We get a lot of these guests from Florida, Texas, North Carolina, and Ohio. New Hampshire is the only state to have had civil unions and same-sex marriage achieved through the legislature rather than the courts."

For the enjoyment of her guests, Newman also hosts a regular Women’s Concert Series, inviting musical guests to stage shows in the great room on weekends, free to guests. During our visit, lesbian folk singer Jamie Anderson performed a set on her acoustic guitar and mandolin. After the concert, Anderson and her partner, both living in Canada, reminisced with some visiting old friends (and new friends - us!) over a bottle of Jack Daniels.

"The series has attracted some pretty well-known people, from Tret Fure to Lucy Blue Tremblay," said Newman.

The inn serves up breakfast daily, featuring fresh Cabot cheeses, breads, quiche, French toast, fresh fruit, juices, coffee, and teas. They also put out snacks like popcorn, candy, and apple cider every afternoon. But guests will need to forage for their own lunch and dinner. In Bethlehem, dining options are somewhat limited, but what they offer is good.

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Located just a mile down the road from The Highlands Inn, the Cold Mountain Café is a popular gathering place with a reliable menu. We started with the crabmeat queso appetizer, a delicious creamy amalgam of cream cheese and lump crabmeat bubbling in its ample crock. Toothsome lamb chops followed, with the ravioli of the day for my partner.

For a bit nicer fare, head up Main Street to the more upscale Terra, a warm farmhouse-style eatery with exposed timbers, mossy green walls featuring local art.

A tasty, fig-flavored Old-Fashioned was followed by a slightly dry elk pâté (more a rillette) and a delicious roast duck breast with fingerling potatoes and escarole. My partner tried the wild sockeye salmon with spaetzle and braised leeks. A pumpkin cheesecake more akin to Crème Brulee, served with crème fraiche, cranberries, and pumpkin seeds, rounded out the meal nicely. Guests of the Highlands Inn need only to mention their accommodations to receive a 10 percent discount at local restaurants.


The main drag of Bethlehem is also home to The Colonial Theater, the oldest movie theater in continuous operation. The theater screens current hits, and draws the community together for a summer children’s series, music, and special events.

Seasonal activities included an "Open Doors" event, with shops in local towns like WREN, the Women’s Rural Entrepreneurial Network, selling homemade treats such as jams and jellies, local aged cheddars, chocolates, and tiny handmade crockery.

On a recent fall visit to Highlands Inn, the chill in the air didn’t impede our enjoyment of nature. The area is a boon for birdwatchers, abounding in wild turkeys, blue jays, cardinals, turtledoves, and more. We also spotted chipmunks, deer, and elk - ironically, grazing directly across the street from the Littleton Elks Lodge on Rt. 302, the local route that links all of these tiny towns together.


Activities Outside of Bethlehem

Don’t be afraid to venture beyond Bethlehem. Drive up the long dirt road leading up to the inn (ignore the No Vacancy sign - it deters drop-in visitors) and take a left. In about 45 minutes of the most beautiful mountain vistas you’ve ever seen, you’ll run into North Conway’s Settler’s Green, New Hampshire’s premier tax-free outlet shopping destination.

On the way, stop to see the Mount Washington Cog Railway, the oldest man-made attraction in America, plus Franconia Notch State Park, the North Conway Scenic Railroad, and more.

Enjoy great deals from Brooks Brothers, Abercrombie & Fitch, Adidas, Old Navy, Aeropostale, Banana Republic, Van Heusen, Coach, Reebok, Nike, PacSun, American Eagle Outfitters, Eddie Bauer, Jockey, Talbots, Sunglass Hut, Tommy Hilfiger, and more.

Take a right out the driveway, and in about 10 minutes, you’ll encounter Littleton, another charming little town. The Littleton Diner, a popular hot-spot on the primary campaign trail, serves up lighter-than-air pancakes made from flour ground at the nearby Littleton Grist Mill, a red clapboard building fronting a rocky river. The town also hosts several antique shops, a nice bookstore, and three pizza joints.

Bailiwicks in the historic Thayers Inn hosts the local martini bar, and while the drinks are festive and generous, the cuisine was...well, not their bailiwick, so to speak. A wasabi and sesame-encrusted tuna was marred with so much wasabi it rendered it uneatable, and the accompanying edamame risotto was only par.

Special events include The Highlands Inn’s annual Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve festivities, including a full dinner, champagne, chocolate fountain, and DJ. The inn also hosts a Murder Mystery Weekend, plus special family, older women’s, and singles weekends.

At the end of our visit, Newman confided in us that as she neared the age of retirement with 28 years as an innkeeper under her belt, she had begun searching for another woman to take over the business.

"I am committed to maintain this as woman’s space," said Newman. "And I have several years until retirement. I believe the new owner will end up being one of the inn’s former guests."

For info or to make reservations, visit www.highlandsinn-nh.com or call 877-LES-B-INN.


Winnie McCroy is the Women on the EDGE Editor, HIV/Health Editor, and Assistant Entertainment Editor for EDGE Media Network, handling all women's news, HIV health stories and theater reviews throughout the U.S. She has contributed to other publications, including The Village Voice, Gay City News, Chelsea Now and The Advocate, and lives in Brooklyn, New York.


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