Report from New Hampshire: Going Green Along the Shore


Portsmouth, New Hampshire

By Robert Israel

The New England seacoast is magnetic during the spring and summer. There’s a special quality of the light, the salty air, the historic towns, the ships, sandy beaches and open sky; the way the light shines through the pines and oak groves; the sudden discovery of marshes and coves. You can spend the quiet of an afternoon watching the horizon or viewing the darkly distant shapes of the offshore islands, while the tides roll in and out again. Or you can mingle with the crowds for food, fun and frivolity.

While many areas of the New England seacoast have been overdeveloped, the New Hampshire coastline – which totals only 18 miles – is relatively unspoiled, thanks to concerted efforts by the townsfolk. They’ve successfully preserved the unique history of the areas as well as the ecology.

Increasingly, travelers are seeking out vacations that give them all the distractions of city life without the big city tensions. They seek places to spent leisure time not only at the beach but on hikes, bike rides, or boat trips. The cuisine, too, is also an attraction, because it’s the freshest you can find. The New Hampshire coastline has it all.

Historic scenic beauty

Portsmouth, New Hampshire, a seacoast town settled in 1623, is the third-oldest city in the United States. The city retains its unique historic charm today, replete with interesting alleyways, historic mansions, a restored 17th century Strawberry Banke neighborhood, and deep-sea fishing boats and ship building. It’s also home to some marvelous inns, hotels, art galleries, bookstores, restaurants, bars, and nearby beaches.

The citizens of Portsmouth are highly aware of the fragility of its ecology, and don’t take caring for it lightly; something that carries over to the tourism industry as well, including those catering to the hordes of visitors who arrive in spring and summer. The people of the city have taken great pains to protect wildlife, marshes, and seacoast – all while providing ample public access to these areas.

Another area where the locals excel is in their commitment to keep the 400-year old fishing industry alive and prosperous. Fifteen of the town’s restaurants have joined up with New Hampshire Seafood Fresh and Local, a local lobbying group, and have committed to serve locally caught haddock, cod, lobster, and scallops. The group also held a “Fishtival” in Portsmouth’s Prescott Park last fall that drew 5,000 people, as part of their “buy and eat local” campaign.

For the ecology-minded traveler, Portsmouth is a great place to visit. You can truly go green along the shore: eat and shop locally, park the car and never use it again, and still get to the beach and several state parks. So long as you’re set to do a bit of walking, hop on a bus, or ride a bicycle – as I did, during a recent weekend visit – you’re set!

I began my weekend stay in Portsmouth at the Sheraton Harborside, located just off the highway and facing the Piscataqua River, which separates New Hampshire from Maine. The hotel has a wonderful restaurant featuring locally grown produce and seafood, a view of the river on one side and the harbor on the other, and comfortable rooms. There’s also a gym, a spa and a pool, so even if the weather keeps you in, there’s no excuse for not getting exercise.

There’s also this important feature: all you have to do is take a flight of steps just beyond the parking lot to get to the heart of downtown Portsmouth. There are funky art galleries, and a great place to hear live music- The Pressroom, located just a five minute walk from the Sheraton. History has been lovingly restored downtown, as well as a sense of safety and snugness.

While the hotel itself doesn’t offer a bicycle map to nearby trails, you can download one for free from the State of New Hampshire, or pick up a book that describes several bike rides in Portsmouth and surrounding environs: Bicycling Southern New Hampshire by Linda Chestney (University Press of New England) and is available at the River Run bookstore downtown Portsmouth.

Wentworth by the Sea

Three miles away from the center of Portsmouth is Wentworth by the Sea Hotel and Spa, a 136-year old hotel that’s been lovingly renovated by the folks at Marriott. The hotel sparkles with fresh paint and new furnishings, while retaining that sense of 19th century openness and history. The 161 guest rooms are large and comfortable, and have a historical feel while offering modern comforts.

The room I checked into overlooked the harbor, and in the morning I watched lobster boats make their way out to sea past the undeveloped marshes and coves that make this area so unique and sought after. The view from the dining room looks out on Portsmouth’s Navy base, and the towering and eerie former Navy prison, now abandoned.

The Wentworth is truly a gem, quiet, comfortable, with a gracious and attentive staff and delicious food served in an ornate dining room.

The Wentworth does its share of supporting the “go green” campaign, too, and according to manager Frank Wetenkamp, participated in Earth Day activities by leading volunteer efforts to clean up nearby Fort Stark and Great Island Common.

From the Wentworth, I followed one of the bike rides recommended by Linda Chestney, which took me past Odiorne State Park, and its science center overlooking the ocean. Nearby hiking trails are perfect for those traveling with children. Rye beach, just three miles from the hotel, features several clam shack restaurants. One of them, Petey’s, boasts their own catch of local lobsters. The menu features an award winning clam chowder that’s absolutely scrumptious.

I followed signs that took me down a path that’s been designated as part of the East Coast Greenway. The Greenway is 3,000 miles of trail that connects Maine with Key West, Florida. This trail I took is almost completely flat; even novice bikers will find themselves pedaling without having to exert much effort at all.

Take this trail and you’ll cruise past quiet suburban estates, town centers, and expansive lawns. When you turn back to route 1A, the town of Hampton is only 13 miles away. Out to sea, the dark shapes of the Isles of Shoals (a boat leaves Portsmouth daily for the trip out and back) can be seen just on the horizon.

The Wentworth also features entertainment in the evening (not to mention a wonderful spa, swimming pool and other accoutrements), but after the long bike ride, I decided to hang back and enjoy the quiet comfort of my room. In the morning, the view from my balcony was breathtaking, as the storm from the night before had gone out to sea, leaving the sky open, expansive, and blue.

Much more to explore

It was difficult to leave the room at the Wentworth and drive away from Portsmouth; there is much more to explore, many more bike trails to take, and just over the bridge, the shopping at Kittery, Maine and more beaches.

Even though the height of the summer is before us, Portsmouth is a place to find quiet, relaxation, history, and the best of nature’s bounty.

**
Robert Israel is a Boston-based writer. He can be reached at risrael_97@yahoo.com. An earlier version of this piece appeared in Edge Magazine (Boston).

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