Snow was falling heavily, covering Route 302 and the world around it in white as we crossed the state line from Conway, New Hampshire, into Fryburg. Only a few yards off the main road, we found the inn, a rambling house whose history is hinted at by its name. It was once the home of Arctic explorer Robert Peary, who led the first expedition to reach the North Pole, in 1909.
As Donna, the lively and good humored new owner, showed us to our rooms, 12-year-old Mary was enchanted by the secret passageway that connected hers with ours. Although hers was reached from the staircase ascending from the large comfortable common room and ours from another set of stairs in the oldest section of the house, a gentle push on some recessed shelves in her bathroom revealed it to be a small door leading into an under-the-eves closet. At the other end was a door that opened into our room.
That wasn’t all. The slanted ceiling in her room was covered in a scene from Tuscany, complete with a stone castle, so from her bed instead of looking out at a snow-covered New England village, as we did, she looked out on a sun-drenched Italian landscape.
With a nod to Peary’s wanderlust, and to her own travels during a career in the Air Force, Donna has decorated each room as a bit of somewhere else. Mary’s was Tuscany, ours Panama. On our walls were some of the best examples of molas I have seen, one an incredibly fine piece from the height of this needlework form, another a wonderful example of how the San Blas islanders incorporated modern design themes into their age-old handwork.
The most dramatic room holds her collection of Japanese woodcuts, and above its bed – an elevated futon decorated in red cushions – hangs a pair of dramatic two-tiered red lamps. Savannah wildlife photos and a bold tapestry rug from Africa gave a safari feel to another. Other guests were in Paris, so we didn’t see that one.
The exceptional molas and secret passageway were not the only attractions of our room. A desk was built into a dormer, with a handy outlet for electronics (there is wifi throughout the building) and light that window and two on the opposite wall made the room bright and cheerful. A complete suite of Olivia amenities were on the top shelf in the bathroom, and other shelves were filled with plentiful extra towels. A thoughtful extra was a cheeseboard with corkscrew, bottle opener and a cheese spreader on our bureau.
Downstairs, adjacent to the big common room was a pool table, so Mary taught me the finer points of the game, then beat me at it (but not by much), before we walked up the street through the still-swirling snow to Oxford House Inn, an excellent restaurant recommended to us by our friend Hilary at Maine Travel Maven.
After a breakfast of home-made granola with berries and a delicious hash-brown-and-sausage quiche, my two companions went off to ski in the 9 inches of new now at nearby Cranmore Mountain in North Conway. I settled into the comfy wing chair in our room, with my feet propped on the fender of a Franklin stove. I’m sitting out the rest of this ski season with a knee injury, but that doesn’t keep me from having a good time on our annual ski vacation.
Donna tempted me with a bowl of her chili for lunch – way above and beyond the expected at a B&B, and a little guest kitchen held a Kurig coffee maker, microwave and refrigerator stocked with complimentary soft drinks. In the afternoon, I retired to the library, a gem of a room on the front of the old house, with walls in a muted dark blue and one entire wall of bookshelves filled with everything from mystery and romance to literature and world travel. Maybe after my leisurely day and Mary’s long day on the mountain, I’ll have enough advantage to win at tonight’s pool game.
Admiral Peary Inn is at 27 Elm Street, in Fryeburg, Maine 04037; tel (207) 935-1269.