Tom Cocchiaro, communicationsmanager for the Greater PortsmouthChamber of Commerce, ismore than ready to tell vacationers whythey should visit New Hampshire. "Therest of the world has changed and becomeplastic," he insists, "while New Hampshirehas steadfastly refused to becomedifferent. It chooses the simple life. Gointo the White Mountains and you'll finda store still making its own candy. Checkinto an inn for service continuing as it hasfor 100 years, treating guests like royalty.Come and see nature that's not crowded.Travel back in time. Do the best first.Come to Portsmouth."
He has a point. Portsmouth (603-436-3988; www.portcity.org) is the jewelof New Hampshire. A small town ofperhaps 22,000 souls, it rests at themouth of the Piscataqua Riverâ€”thesecond-fastest running river in thecountry navigable by ships.
For more than 2 centuries, the riverspawned men who built boats, sailedseas, and fought for their country.When the navy established the shipyardin 1800, it was already the oldest shipyardin America. John Paul Jones livedthere for 2 years. The USS wasbuilt in Portsmouth's shipyard forJones' daring sally against the British atWhitehaven in 1778.
At its busiest from 1840 to 1860,Portsmouth built 169 ships. Later itbecame the forefront of submarinetechnology, making 138 submarines between1918 and 1971. The USS ,at one time the world's fastest submarine,is permanently berthed there asa tourist attraction.
Historic Little Stroll
Another tribute to history is theStrawberry Banke Museum, a combinationof 18th- and 19th-century homescollected on 10 acres of Puddle Dock'sformer waterfront. Several of the town'shistoric homes are open to the public,including John Paul Jones' residence. The1716 Warner House was rescued fromthe wrecker's ball by local outrage, andanother, the 1760 Wentworth-GardnerHouse, was snatched back by the townjust as it was going to be dismantled forthe Metropolitan Museum.
With all its interactive stations, theChildren's Museum caters to those littlepeople not interested in history.Harbor cruises lasting from 1 1/2 hoursto half a day are available for all agegroups. The attractions are all withinwalking distance. One of Portsmouth'scharms is that everything is within 15minutes of the central garage, whereparking is still only $0.50 an hour. Notonly does its downtown thrive, it evensparkles as a Disneyland creation withits unique boutiques.
Another one of Portsmouth's manystrengths is its 100 restaurants, someworld-class. The Oar House, arguablythe best and a favorite of locals, wasbuilt right on the harbor in 1803 (603-436-4025; www.portsmouthnh.com/oarhouse). One restaurant dating backto 1889, The Library, is just around thecorner from the coolest hotel in town,the Sise Inn (603-433-1200; www.siseinn.com), an 1881 Queen Anne Victorian.The Sise achieves the difficulttask of creating the ambiance of a bedand breakfast, despite having 34 rooms,all beautifully appointed to give a warmand elegant feel.
The ultimate in elegance awaits visitors in the 161-room Wentworth bythe Sea (866-240-6313; www.wentworth.com), a magnificently restoredhotel that first saw light in 1884. Onceone of the famous four Victorian destination resorts of the Granite State, itreopened in May 2003 with a multimillion-dollar reconstruction that has delightedformer patrons.
Although the expansive resort catersto golfers andâ€”with a marina at itsdoorstepâ€”the yachting community, it isbeing rediscovered by American familieswho find that its comfortable rooms, fantasticrestaurants, indoor and outdoorpools, leisurely style, and graceful settingbring back something sorely missing inmany vacations todayâ€”the calm andcomfort of yesterday.