LINCOLN, N.H. - About a decade ago, on a weekend hiking trip, I spent the night at a sweet little bed-and-breakfast in this White Mountain town. It was called the Red Sleigh Inn, and years later the stay lingered happily in my mind. I remembered Loretta, the high-spirited innkeeper who chattered with abandon. I remembered our snug attic bedroom with sloping eaves. I remembered the bounteous blueberry pancakes drenched in thick maple syrup.
Last fall, planning a New Hampshire hiking weekend, I wondered, was the Red Sleigh still around? Trusty Google confirmed that it was. And, to my surprise, its website showed that innkeepers Loretta and Bill Deppe were still in charge. Curious to see how the place had changed, I booked a room.
All these years later, Lincoln's only B&B is as homey and inviting as ever. On a residential street within walking distance of the town's main shopping and dining drag, the Kancamagus Scenic Byway, the Red Sleigh Inn is a cozier alternative to the motels, hotels, ski resorts, and condo rentals that dominate the lodging scene here.
Since our last visit, the inn had been gorgeously landscaped, and beds of wildflowers cover much of what used to be lawn. In season, the yard is ablaze with coneflowers, black-eyed Susans, Oriental lilies, and blazing stars, a colorful explosion of reds, oranges, blues, yellows, pinks, and purples that attracts swarms of hummingbirds and monarch butterflies. Ever generous, the Deppes will urge you to take home an armful of clippings if they notice you admiring a certain flower.
As for Bill and Loretta, they looked older and seemed a touch more tired - the round-the-clock, customer-service life of running a B&B will do that - but she is still vivacious and voluble, and he remains the low-key counterpart to her high-energy personality. They've run the inn since 1987 and live on its first floor. The six guest rooms are scattered throughout the house: one on the first floor, three on the second, and two in the finished attic.
The rooms have a wide range of bed sizes, from twin to king, and some have shared rather than private bathrooms. The first-floor Rose Room even has a two-person Jacuzzi. Some rooms are carpeted, some have hardwood floors, and most have color themes (the blue room, yellow, green, etc.). The furnishings and decor have a country-casual look, with printed wallpaper, floral comforters, and lacy curtains.
The decor leans toward the cutesy, like stuffed bears and trinkety ceramics. But each room offers privacy and comfort, and a small hallway refrigerator is stocked with complimentary beverages.
Downstairs, guests can gather in the sunporch, dining room, and fireplaced den to watch TV, listen to music, work on puzzles, or play board games. One disappointment: I crept downstairs one evening around 10 in hopes of reading quietly in the den, only to find that the door to the common areas had been locked for the night. There's a bell guests can use to reach the Deppes after dark, but I didn't want to disturb them, so I headed back upstairs.
Bill says the door is locked primarily to keep the inn's two cats downstairs. The Red Sleigh has a no-pets policy, so we were surprised by these resident felines. And although the Deppes try to keep them out of the guest rooms, my allergic husband still felt a telltale, cat-induced heaviness in his chest after one night of sleep.
The downside of the second-floor Green Room, where we stayed, was its narrow, pink-carpeted bathroom, which is awkwardly designed and has no tub, only a cramped plastic shower. It was also woefully lacking in towel hooks. Other private bathrooms, including the one in the spacious Yellow Room across the hallway, are much roomier.
In the morning, Loretta put out a fantastic breakfast spread, including fruit, juices, cereals, delicious French toast sprinkled with lemon peel, and moist raspberry-blueberry muffins dusted with powdered sugar and shaped like rosebuds. At our request, she also whipped up an egg-white veggie omelet.
Midway through breakfast, Bill and Loretta asked if we minded if they joined us. Their company and conversation were a delight, not a too-congenial innkeeper's forced or stilted word spoken. Loretta's vibrant personality is tough to resist - fittingly, she once won Mrs. Congeniality in the Mrs. New Hampshire contest and has the pageant photos to prove it - and she and Bill have great tales about bears and moose wandering onto the inn's property.
The inn's location is as gorgeous as its landscaping. Lincoln, home to Loon Mountain ski resort, is rich with opportunities for hiking, fishing, kayaking, and biking. It's also close to the Cog Railway, Franconia Notch, The Flume, and the Pemigewasset River - some of the best attractions the region has to offer.
Sacha Pfeiffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.