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The Omni Mount Washington Resort: Historically Comfortable Elegance in New Hampshire's White Mountains

I remember it very well - the very first time I laid eyes on the Mount Washington Hotel in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire and told myself that someday I was going to stay there. It was August 20th, 1991 and I was on my honeymoon with my now-ex husband; we had spent the day at the Mount Washington Cog Railway and had decided to return to our Franconia inn via the Kancamagus Highway to take in the scenic views. To get there we had to travel down Route 302 and as I looked to the left I saw it - the grandest of the White Mountain's grand hotels.

Like something out of a fairy tale, the huge white castle-like structure with its bright red roof sat at the base of Mount Washington and spoke of bygone days when families would arrive via train to spend long, leisurely summers enjoying the spectacular beauty of the White Mountain region. It reminded me of one of my favorite romantic movies - "Somewhere In Time" - and one of the scariest - "The Shining" - and I knew that someday, somehow, someway I would figure out how to walk in the footsteps of the privileged gentry before me and become its guest.

Fast forward a mere nineteen years and I once again found myself gazing upon the beautiful Mount Washington Hotel and vowing to myself yet again that someday I would stay there.  This time my view of the Grand Dame of Grand Hotels was while I was a passenger on the "Notch Train" of the Conway Scenic Railroad. Hanging out of an open coach car, I managed to somehow take the below photo without falling out of the train car in the process!

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After looking at the resort's website many times over while trying to figure out when I could possibly work in a stay, two years later in November of 2012 I finally got the chance to realize my dream when The Doodologist (aka my friend Claire) came over from England on an extended holiday.  Knowing how much I wanted to cross a stay at the Mount Washington Hotel off of my Bucket List, she agreed that a visit would be lovely and we added a one night stay the weekend after Thanksgiving to our whirlwind itinerary.

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We arrived on a very cold (somewhere around 23 degrees with an even colder wind chill factor) Sunday afternoon with only part of the snow-dusted Mount Washington visible behind the hotel that Concord, New Hampshire native Joseph Stickney built on a rocky glacial ridge at the foot of New England's highest peak in 1900.  Stickney, a self-made millionaire who amassed his fortunes in the railroad and coal business, first got into the hotel business when he purchased the Mount Pleasant House in 1881 along with 10,000 acres of land stretching from its front door across to the foothills of the Presidential Range.

The Omni Mount Washington Resort sits at the base of Mount Washington in Bretton Woods, NH

At first Stickney's plan was to clear the land to provide guests of the Mount Pleasant House an unobstructed view of Mount Washington but then the thought occurred to him that, rather than try to clear the acres and acres of trees that lay before him, why not build a grand hotel the likes of which the White Mountains region had yet to see?  To that end, Stickney hired Charles Alling Gifford, a relatively obscure New York architect, to design his Spanish-Renaissance Revival style kingly palazzo.

Adopting the outlook of his mentor, Chicago architect Daniel Burnham, to "Make no little plans", Gifford used $1.25 million from the Bretton Woods Company (a partnership between Joseph Stickney and John "Jack" Conyngham) to design and build what was then and still is today, the largest primarily wood structure in New England. In 1900, Gifford brought in 250 Italian workers - stonecutters, stained glass artisans, woodworkers, masons, and more - to build the gigantic new hotel. Featuring a steel skeleton, unique at its time, the design called for a Y-shaped structure with two eight-sided, five story towers, a copper roof that was originally green but later painted red to imitate Spanish tile, exterior walls stuccoed like those of a Mediterranean villa, and over three hundred guest rooms.

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As the Old World craftsmen brought to life the Great Hall with its 23-foot ceilings, the wraparound veranda that extends for almost a quarter mile, a massive dining room decorated with Tiffany stained-glass windows and shaped in an octagon so that no one sat in a corner, and a Grand Ballroom with the largest piece of window glass in the White Mountains that provided a magnificent view of Crawford Notch (unfortunately it was covered during one of the hotel's renovations), they also built in their Old World superstitions. For example, in order to confuse the ghosts, the number of steps to the floors were varied - thirty-three to the second floor from the main registration area but only thirty-one steps in the south tower staircase.

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Unique among the many other grand hotels that populated the White Mountain region of New Hampshire when it received its first guest on July 28th, 1902 (followed by a Grand Opening complete with a thirteen-cannon salute and resplendent ball on July 31st), the Mount Washington Hotel was full of innovations and amenities rarely found elsewhere including a bowling alley, a squash court, Turkish baths, a billiard parlor, and both indoor and outdoor swimming pools fed by water from the Ammonoosuc River. As the doors opened, there was a staff of no less than 350 ready and waiting to cater to wealthy guests from Boston, New York and Philadelphia.

In terms of technology, the hotel had one of the most elaborate and complicated heating and plumbing systems in the United States along with an advanced fire sprinkler system which is acknowledged as the best in the State of New Hampshire to this day.  Thomas Edison installed the hotel's electric system as well as a stock ticker that was wired directly to Wall Street; the original electrical wiring panel is on display outside of the Grand Ballroom.

In the October 1, 1902 edition of the Bugle of Bretton Woods, it was noted that "Nothing that genius could suggest or skilled craftsman execute has been omitted in this palatial edifice."


Barely a year after his dream hotel in Bretton Woods opened to great acclaim, Joseph Stickney died in December of 1903 at the age of sixty-four from a "stroke of apoplexy" leaving the ownership of the hotel to his much-younger wife, Carolyn Foster, who was devastated by his sudden and unexpected death.  Though she spent much of her time in Paris at the couple's third home (they owned a country house in New York's Westchester County in addition to a Fifth Avenue home), Carolyn returned to the Mount Washington Hotel every season.  Somewhat reclusive in behavior following Joseph's death, his widow would stand on a mezzanine balcony and watch the other guests come down for dinner from behind thin curtains.  It was said that if she saw a female guest dressed better than she that she would change before coming downstairs to her own private dining room where up to fifty select friends could join her for a meal.

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Following her marriage in 1910 to Prince Jean Baptiste Marie de Faucigny Lucinge, a French Royal, Mrs. Stickney became known as "the Princess" to both staff and guests alike as she continued to visit the hotel every season.  In honor of Carolyn Stickney, her private dining room is now called the Princess Room, an elegant lounge where guests can enjoy a cocktail before dinner in the hotel's elegant four-diamond Dining Room or an Afternoon Tea Service - which is exactly what Claire and I had planned for later in the afternoon.

First we needed to check in though and to that end I happily made the turn off of Route 302 and started the mile long drive up the hotel's private roadway to the porte cochere, formerly the entrance for colorful horse-drawn carriages while automobiles were relegated to a separate "auto entrance" on the north side of the hotel, but where courteous attendants now offer valet parking to the resort's guests.

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Walking into the Great Hall, I did my best to not just stand there with my mouth hanging agape and stare at the beauty that greeted us as I took in the high ceilings, the intricate details of the woodwork, and the festive Christmas decorations all of which was as I always dreamed it would be.  Claire probably had to nudge me in the direction of the Main Registration Desk where we were warmly welcomed to the resort and given the key to our room on the third floor.

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Front Desk as seen from the Grand Staircase
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Arriving on our floor, we found our room for the night to be a very large Deluxe Double Queen located on the western side of the building overlooking the porte cochere and Bretton Woods Ski Resort in the distance.  Our comfortable beds were triple-sheeted and piled high with plenty of plush pillows as well as a comforter for extra warmth at the foot of each bed.   There was a flat-screen TV, sitting area, desk, large closet, and a very roomy bathroom that I wish I could have packed up in my suitcase and taken home with me! We had piles of soft towels and pretty much every amenity a guest could want; something that I was familiar with when it comes to an Omni property having had the privilege and pleasure of experiencing their hospitality at  the Omni Parker House in Boston last year.

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Room #336 Lots of comfy, cozy pillows!
Double Queen Room #336
Room #336 Bathroom
Bathroom of Room #336Bath Amenities
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In addition to all of that, I received a lovely welcoming gift from Craig Clemmer, the Omni Mount Washington Resort's Director of Marketing, with whom Claire and I would be getting a special tour of the hotel the next morning. The Mount Washington: A Century of Grandeur has come in really handy for not just learning the history of the resort itself but also of the hotel industry in the area since Abel Crawford, one of the area's first settlers in 1791, first started offering overnight accommodations to the area which eventually bore his family's name. The covered coffee mug is a great reminder of my visit and I've added the note to my collection which helps me to feel just a little like a real travel writer! 

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After checking in and checking out our room, Claire and I made our back downstairs to the Princess Room where we had reservations for our Afternoon Tea Service - something else that I had really been looking forward to. On the way downstairs, I stopped to take a couple of photos of the views from the landing windows. We couldn't see the summit of Mount Washington but the scene before us was still simply gorgeous with Jacob's Ladder, the steepest portion of the Mount Washington Cog Railway, outlined by the recent snow.

Mount Washington from a stairway window
View from the second floor stairway window

Arriving downstairs, we entered Princess Carolyn's former formal dining room which is definitely fit for royalty and gorgeous in every possible way!  For Afternoon Tea, which starts at 2:00 pm everyday, there are three tea menus available:  The Victorian Tea features an assortment of tea sandwiches, scones and pastries, with your choice of tea ($17); the Mad Hatter Tea for children ten years and under includes a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, banana bites, chocolate chip cookies and a choice of cold milk or hot cocoa ($10); and the Royal Tea with a champagne cocktail, Kir Royale, or Mimosa served with your choice of tea and assorted tea sandwiches, pastries, and scones ($25).  Helpful Hint:  If you are making reservations on the hotel's website, you can save a little money by choosing to Enhance Your Stay during the booking process and selecting the Royal Tea Service for only $19 just as I had done for our visit.

The Princess Room
Interior of the Princess Room

The interior of the Princess Room is fabulous - complete with Princess Chairs - and the tea service is as fabulous as the room it's served in!  Upon arrival, guests will find a tea chest on their table from which they can make their selections from the freshest tea leaves and other flavorings.  In addition to the blends on the menu, your server can also make suggestions based on your preferences.

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Claire and I started out with a Kir Royale and then our server brought out our tea blend for our inspection and approval.  It smelled absolutely wonderful so we knew we were in for something special!

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I felt rather like royalty as our tea was served then followed shortly by a three-tiered tray of tea sandwiches, mini-scones, and petite pastries.  Naturally there was fresh Devonshire cream, lemon curd, and assorted jellies to go along with everything.  Our server was a very personable young woman who refilled our teapots for us and encouraged us to sit and take our time and not to hurry in the least.  As we had the whole room to ourselves with only the occasional guest popping in to make inquiries or have their photo taken in one of the Princess chairs, we did just that and lingered over tea for close to two hours!

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One of the things that you want to be sure to see when in the Princess Room is the Prohibition painting which depicts a group of gentlemen gathered around a table for a spot of tea but that wasn't tea they had in those cups!

Prohibition Painting in the Princess Room

Though Prohibition was in effect nationwide from 1917 to 1933, it had little to no affect on cocktail hour at the Mount Washington Hotel as patrons visited the Cave Grille on the patio level, a speakeasy that offered gambling and whiskey in addition to hot lunches from noon to midnight. Still open to this day, the Cave is now enjoyed by sports enthusiasts and customers who enjoy live entertainment in a truly historic atmosphere!

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After finishing our last sips of tea, we decided that walking around a bit before we even thought about attempting dinner might be a real good idea so Claire and I strolled through the beautiful Great Hall admiring the Christmas decorations, the hotel memorabilia, and the large moose over the equally large fireplace!

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Hotel Memorabilia
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At the end of the Great Hall, we found the room that helped put the Mount Washington Hotel on the map in 1944 when the hotel hosted the Bretton Woods International Monetary Conference and its 730 delegates from 44 nations. With World War II still on-going, it was felt that the hotel's location in the remote highlands of New Hampshire would be better protected than the State Department's original choice of an Indiana resort so it was that in mid-June the conference convened, eventually establishing the World Bank and International Monetary Fund while setting the gold standard at $35.00 an ounce and designating the United States dollar as the backbone of international exchange. The signing of the formal documents took place in the Gold Room which is now preserved as an historic site.

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From the Gold Room we then made our way outside to the wraparound veranda that offers guests a terrific place to sit and enjoy an unprecedented view of the Presidential Range - though it's probably better enjoyed when it isn't quite as cold as it was the evening we first walked out upon it! In spite of the cold though, it was gorgeous and there was nowhere else I would have rather been. Had I actually had the foresight to bring my coat with me, I probably could have sat out on the veranda and taken photos for hours but as I was only wearing a light sweater at the time, we didn't linger too long though the bonfire in the pit below looked quite inviting!

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Moon and Clouds Over Mount Washington

Back inside the warmth of the hotel, we went downstairs to the Patio Level and checked things out down there including the shops, the hotel's own Post Office, and the comfortable seating area.

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On the same level we found Stickney's, a pub and steak house located in the hotel's former billiards room. Integrating fresh local and regional products with the finest ingredients available, Stickney's brings “farm-to-table” to the White Mountains and when they say that a steak there is one of the best you'll ever have, trust me - a steak there IS one of the best you'll ever have!

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Oh yea, it was THAT good!

Again, we had a fantastic server who was very helpful and saw to our every need. Oh, and if your server asks, "Would you like two spoons with your dessert?" - there's a good reason for it and the answer is YES!


After dinner we went back to our room where our beds had been turned down and robes laid out for the night (gosh, I love staying at hotels!) Following a bit of television it was lights out in anticipation of our tour with Craig Clemmer the next morning but upon arising, first things first - we enjoyed our Complimentary Morning Beverage Delivery along with a croissant. Helpful Hint: If you're going to stay at an Omni property, be sure to sign up for Omni Hotels Select Guest Program which offers you some great perks on your very first stay - best part is, it's free just like that first cup of coffee or tea in the morning!  

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At 9:15, Claire and I met up with Craig in the Great Hall and after introductions he gave us a wonderful tour of the hotel complete with all of the history that this history lover loves! Starting with the story of Joseph Stickney we also learned about the Bretton Woods Monetary Conference, the addition of the Mount Washington Hotel to the National Register of Historic Places in 1986, and the recently completed $80 million worth of additions and renovations to the Omni Mount Washington Resort as we spent several hours walking around the property.

Though the Dining Room was closed for renovations, we took a peek in to see the Tiffany glass windows, glimmering chandeliers, and stately columns that adorn the room and then it was off from one end of the complex to the other.

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We stopped in the Grand Ballroom which was in the process of being set up for an upcoming function and looked at the intricate carvings and glasswork ...

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We went past the indoor pool and into the gym with its state-of-the art equipment ...

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We continued on to the Presidential Wing which houses the hotel's conference rooms and their 25,000-square foot spa which was closed for a private photo shoot but which offers an array of services that sound absolutely wonderful - and very relaxing!

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I'm sure it's no coincidence that the Washington Boardroom has a commanding view of Mount Washington!

The hotel's all-season pool is also visible and accessible from the Presidential Wing - heated to a balmy 95 degrees it's apparently a tradition for lots of children staying at the resort to make the run from the indoor pool down to the outdoor pool and back, not through the heated locker rooms but down the back lawn - brrrr!

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On the roof of the Presidential Wing can be found the Jewel Terrace and the resort's year-round, all-weather skating rink which is made of a synthetic material that allows the fun to continue all year. Guests can bring their own skates or rent a pair for $5 per hour at the Activities Concierge desk in the Great Hall.

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And then of course, there's the Mount Washington Hotel's marvelous veranda!

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Heading back inside from the cold, you can warm yourself by a fire the Conservatory, formerly called the Hemicycle Room. As it was back when it was first built, the room is furnished in comfortable wicker furniture and its windows offer a great view of the Presidential Range minus that whole sitting-outside-in-the-cold-on-the-veranda thing! By the by, should you fancy yourself to be a great orator, you can stand underneath the room's dome - smack in the middle if you please - and your voice will be amplified minus any need for a microphone!

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Just outside of the Conservatory in the Great Hall stands the hotel's grandfather clock which played an important role in the hotel's operation until 2001 when it became an all-season resort and open year-round rather than simply in the summer.

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Craig also took the time to show Claire and I a few of the other room types that are available at the Mount Washington Resort including a King Room and another Double Queen. They were both quite sizable and offered views of the Presidential Range from their windows.

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I feel like there's so much more that I could show you - like the small lobby on each floor as you come up the stairs or off of the elevator ... or the chairs where you can sit and play a friendly game of chess on the landing ... or the beautiful chandeliers that hang in the Great Hall ...

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... but if I do that, you'll have no reason to go explore the Omni Mount Washington Resort on your own!  Or would you?

I haven't even touched on the many resort activities that are available to all guests in both summer and winter - activities like sleigh rides, snowmobiling, tobogganing, all types of skiing from Nordic to Cross Country, the Canopy Tour and Williway Racing Zip, hiking and nature walks, tennis, the Equestrian Center, and golf on two resort courses - the Mount Pleasant Golf Course, a championship 9-hole course that first opened in 1895 and was recently restored and upgraded, and the Mount Washington Course, an historic award-winning 18-hole course which was designed by legendary Scottish Architect Donald Ross and was completed in 1915.  And that's only the tip of the iceberg!  For an almost-full list of available Resort Activities, go to this link and take a look around and then start clicking around the rest of site to see what else is there - which is lots!

For me to have seen and done even close to half of what the Omni Mount Washington Resort offers, I'd have to stay a lot longer than one night which means guess what?  Yep, I may have crossed a stay at the Mount Washington Hotel off of my Bucket List but in doing so, I put it right back on the bottom where I hope it doesn't take me another 21 years to get to!

In closing, I'd like to take the time to thank Craig Clemmer, Director of Marketing for the Omni Mount Washington Resort for taking the time to meet with me and show me around - you, sir, have the best job ever!  I'd also like to thank Laura Lopez, who handles the public relations for the Omni Mount Washington Resort for putting me in touch with Mr. Clemmer; Monica Blessing, my Loyalty Ambassador at the Omni Mount Washington (you get one of those when you become a member of the Omni Select Guest Program so be sure to sign up!); and Kate Casey who was my Loyalty Ambassador when I stayed at the Boston Omni Parker House and who was invaluable in helping me make the right connections for this trip. I am indebted to you all for not just helping make a gal's dream come true but coming true in a great way!

Finally, I'd like to post one last photo that I shot from the stairway overlooking the Great Hall. Even though I know the shadowy forms in the photo are a result of shooting through the glass in front of me, it's still nice to think that they're the ghosts of guests who had such a good time at the Mount Washington Hotel that they've returned. Of course, they're too confused to go up the stairs and have to spend eternity in the Great Hall but when you get right down to it, there's certainly nothing wrong with that! I certainly wouldn't mind that kind of an after-life!

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The Omni Mount Washington Resort, Bretton Woods is a member of Historic Hotels of America®, a program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation® which identifies quality hotels that have faithfully maintained their historic integrity, architecture and ambiance. You can book your reservations through them or through their Omni Hotels & Resorts website.

For more photos, please visit my SmugMug Gallery

Comments

  1. As usual, a great post! Now we really want to go!!!!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Oh wow! Overwhelmed... It's so beautiful and so grand! And the photos of it set in the mountains.... I really want to visit!

    ReplyDelete
  3. I need to add that I think this is a national treasure.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I am more of a B&B (or a cruise!) kinda gal, but it is definitely full of grandeur, if that's your kinda thing. I stayed at a 5-star hotel in South Beach for a trade show one. It was all kinds of fancy. I felt like my relaxing clothes weren't up to snuff! But I wore them anyway! Hee!

    I was just thinking of the Hawthorne and triple sheeting... I want to try that at home!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Barb, I'm not a big one for dressing up myself however, the nice thing about the Omni Mount Washington Resort is that even though it is full of grandeur, it's a type of place where you can still wear your "relaxing clothes" and not feel a bit out of place. Most people I saw were dressed quite comfortably without a single bit of pretentiousness at all.

      There is a dress code in place for dinner in the Dining Room but if I had the chance to dine in a room where Presidents have sat and with such gorgeous decor, I'd want to look nice myself! Besides, you wouldn't have to dress any nicer than what you would wear to dinner on a cruise ship!

      Delete
  5. Fabulous post!! I'm staying at the hotel next week and this just made me even more excited!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Thank you for this thorough post! I just toured the hotel with the Granite State Ambassadors and our tour was not very extensive. I enjoyed reading this to get a complete picture of the hotel.

    ReplyDelete
  7. You need to take part in a contest for one of the greatest sites on the web.
    I will highly recommend this site!

    ReplyDelete
  8. This blog was... how do you say it? Relevant!! Finally I have found something that helped
    me. Many thanks!

    ReplyDelete

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