Taste maple syrup fresh from the tree
A sure sign of the coming of spring in New England is the ritual of turning maple sap into syrup. The process, known as 'sugaring off', involves tapping the tree trunks, collecting the sap, boiling most of the water out and (this part is optional) devouring a stack of pancakes doused in the thick amber syrup.
Head for The Rocks Estate, a non-profit conservation education centre in Bethlehem, to experience sugaring off first-hand. During the Maple Sugar Festival, visitors take a horse-drawn wagon around the estate’s 1,400 acres, learn to drill and tap a maple, observe a working sugarhouse and, finally, make their own syrup (it takes 40 gallons of sap to produce one gallon of syrup). Perfect conditions for good sap production (cold nights and sunny days) dictate the timing of the sugaring-off season. Since spring weather also guarantees abundant mud, pack boots that can get down and dirty.
Although it doesn’t open until the sugaring season ends, Polly’s Pancake Parlor in Sugar Hill reputedly serves the best flapjacks in the country—that’s right, the country. Originally opened in 1938, Polly’s offers plain, whole wheat, cornmeal, buckwheat or oatmeal-buttermilk pancakes that can be customised by adding everything from nuts to blueberries to coconut—with plenty of maple syrup to go on top. If you need to lie down after all that, head to the Sugar Hill Inn, a cosy 1789 farmhouse retreat with a generous porch and old, tilting pine floors, in nearby Franconia. The current innkeepers, a gourmet chef and a massage therapist, have created a delightful blend of a rustic hillside setting, top-notch dining and relaxing spa offerings. Dinner is served by candlelight and, in winter, in front of the fireplace.
In December, Bethlehem honours its name with a Christmas festival and craft fair, and The Rocks offers Christmas tree harvesting. Families come from great distances to pick out a tree and enjoy a wagon ride around the property, picture-perfect with its snow-covered stone walls and old buildings hung with wreaths.
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Trip idea text ©Patricia Schultz. For contact information about the places mentioned and many more USA trip ideas, see Patricia Schultz's blockbuster book.