Nikki Gloudeman, smartmeetings.com
May 9, 2011

There’s something about New England that conjures up a vivid idea in people’s minds, of colonial homes, a glittering blue waterfront, lighthouses standing watch over the sea, quaint inns and B&Bs and, of course, colorful fall foliage. Its singular beauty has been captured in countless photos, which have launched countless fantasies of an enchanted getaway or meeting. 

But while the area is easily enjoyed in pictures and pipe dreams, its charms only truly come to light when it is experienced in person. All the facets you’d expect are present, but being there creates a sensation—of aesthetic wonderment, away-from-it-all calm and historical fascination—that must be felt to be understood. In its northern states of Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine, and small-but-mighty Rhode Island, this experience awaits. Hold a meeting in one of these states and find out why a postcard just doesn’t do the place justice.

RHODE ISLAND

Famously tiny Rhode Island—Alaska could hold 424 states its size—still manages to pack a mighty punch. About 30% of it is comprised of stunning bays and inlets, and inland, it is packed with rustic barns, sprawling mansions, old-fashioned churches and several national historic landmarks. The state is also home to two popular meeting locales—the city of Providence and the harbor town of Newport.

PROVIDENCE

Rhode Island’s capital city of Providence provides a cross section of appeal. Striking Georgian and Victorian architecture signifies the city’s past, which traces back nearly 400 years. Yet this history is paired with the fresh cultural influences of seven colleges and universities, including Brown University. This mix makes for an intriguing destination, with tea shops next to tattoo parlors and cobblestone streets trodded on by 20-somethings in hipster wear.

Arguably, the city’s most striking structure is the Rhode Island State House, a building so imposing, its exterior was shot as a substitute for the United States Capitol Building in Steven Spielberg’s Amistad. The structure is located across the street from the Renaissance Providence Downtown Hotel. Like the city in which it resides, the Renaissance also has a fascinating history: It was built in the neoclassical style of the circa-1929 Masonic Temple that preceded it. The property offers 272 guest rooms and 10,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.

For larger groups, a top choice is the Rhode Island Convention Center, also in the heart of downtown, which offers 100,000 sq. ft. of exhibition space, 23 meeting rooms and 20,000 sq. ft. of ballroom space. The center includes the unique Rotunda Room, a venue-in-the-round that offers panoramic views of the city. It is conveniently connected to the 31,000-square-foot Dunkin’ Donuts Center, and The Westin Providence, with 564 guest rooms and 22,877 sq. ft. of meeting space.

NEWPORT

Just 35 miles south of Providence, Newport is a circa-1630 harbor town filled with lighthouses, boats-at-bay and more preserved colonial homes than any other city in the country.

A popular excursion here is the Cliff Walk, flanked on one side by the endless blue sea and the other by the town’s famous collection of 11 historic mansions, an assortment of which provide meeting space.

Another renowned feature is the town’s boating scene. It is home to the country’s largest fleet of America’s Cup boats, mementos from the 50 years it spent hosting the premier sailing event. Tennis buffs, meanwhile, flock to the event-friendly International Tennis Hall of Fame & Museum, home to a diverse assortment of tennis memorabilia and a collection of pristine tennis lawns.

All these venues make the town an ideal spot for off-site group outings. As Anne Roberts, national sales manager for the Newport & Bristol County Convention & Visitor’s Bureau, says, “You can go to a much larger city and not get the variety of venues we have here.”

The town offers four major conference hotels to choose from. One is the 257-room Hyatt Regency Newport Hotel & Spa, a property set against the water with an expansive spa and 75,000 sq. ft. of indoor and outdoor function space. This month, the hotel will unveil an expansion of its pool area and renovation of its outdoor restaurant.

A historic option, meanwhile, is the 209-room Hotel Viking Newport. Opened in 1926, it offers an on-site chapel from 1869, an award-winning spa, fine dining and 14,000 sq. ft. of elegant meeting space.

VERMONT

Vermont’s population of more than 625,000 makes it the second-least-populated state in the country—a fact that leaves much of its area appealingly untouched by development. Instead, you’ll find stretches of rolling hills, mountains, farms and villages, as well as some of the nation’s finest dairy products and, of course, maple syrup. Its meeting venues are scattered throughout the state, in areas including Burlington, Stowe, Woodstock and Killington.

BURLINGTON

Relative to the rest of Vermont, Burlington is a massive city hub, with a population of more than 40,000, a string of big-name hotels, and extensive dining and entertainment. Relative to the rest of the country, it is still very much a quaint New England destination, with the rural backdrop of Mount Mansfield and Lake Champlain, and a laid-back vibe. For planners, this makes the city an ideal mix of large-scale amenities and small-town appeal.

Mid-sized groups can head to the Hilton Burlington, a property with 258 guest rooms, 16,000 sq. ft. of meeting space and a complimentary airport shuttle. A top spot for larger groups is the Sheraton Burlington Hotel and Conference Center, Vermont’s largest hotel and conference center, which offers 309 guest rooms and 30,000 sq. ft. of function space.

A unique option is the 120-room Essex, Vermont’s Culinary Resort and Spa. The area’s only Four-Diamond property, it provides an extensive spa, golf and six tennis courts. But the resort’s greatest distinction is its culinary focus—the on-site Cook Academy allows groups to learn culinary techniques from some of the state’s finest chefs. The resort can accommodate up to 300 in spaces ranging from a 3,185-square-foot atrium to a series of intimate salons.

STOWE

Set against the backdrop of Mt. Mansfield, Vermont’s highest peak, Stowe is an idyllic spot for outdoor adventure. Its alpine setting frames the 200-year-old village at its core, which is filled with specialty stores where you can purchase everything from world-famous maple syrup to locally renowned cider doughnuts.

Tucked away at the base of the mountain is the Four-Diamond Stowe Mountain Lodge. With its warm aesthetic and assortment of crackling fireplaces, the property feels like home; with its 21,000-square-foot spa, award-winning 18-hole golf course and upscale culinary offerings, it also feels like a luxury getaway. Plus, as Jim Beaulieu, sales manager for the lodge, says, “The guest rooms have spectacular views of the mountain range [and have] resort kitchens and kitchenettes, marble-appointed bathrooms and many other distinguishing features.” For meetings, the lodge provides 12,000 sq. ft. of indoor space, 4,000 sq. ft. of outdoor space and an additional 44,000 sq. ft. of space in the adjacent Stowe alpine village and new Spruce Peak Performing Arts Center.

Other options appropriate for a mountain retreat experience include the Four-Diamond Top Notch Resort & Spa, with 68 guest accommodations, a 35,000-square-foot spa, a tennis center and 9,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; and the Four-Diamond Stoweflake Mountain Resort & Spa, which offers 120 guest accommodations and 22,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.

Stowe is also where the Von Trapp family lived and set up a music school after fleeing Austria in WWII. To get connected with these unique roots, head to the Trapp Family Lodge, located on the site where the family built a 27-room family home after settling in the town. Still owned by the family, the 2,500-acre resort offers a 96-room alpine lodge, 100 guest chalets, a collection of three-bedroom villas and four meeting venues that can accommodate 20–150 attendees.

WOODSTOCK & KILLINGTON

Further south in Vermont, Woodstock looks as if it were plucked straight out of a New England postcard, with a central square flanked by art galleries, antique stores, farms, taverns and old-fashioned homes. At its heart lies the Woodstock Inn & Resort. While the property blends perfectly into its surroundings, it also offers a modern twist, with a new spa built to LEED standards and sophisticated A/V in meeting options including a 2,730-square-foot ballroom and a garden terrace that can accommodate up to 40 guests.

Nearby Killington similarly captures New England’s picturesque allure, and has a distinction sure to please winter-sports buffs: It is home to the largest ski area in the Eastern United States and offers New England’s tallest vertical, at 3,050 feet. The area is accessible from the 99-room Inn of the Six Mountains at Killington, which offers 3,250 sq. ft. of meeting space.

NEW HAMPSHIRE

New Hampshire is known for its diverse topography, colonial history, political prowess—it is one of the first presidential primary states—and independent-minded residents, who live by the state motto, “Live Free or Die.” For meeting planners, it is known for being a consummate event spot, with myriad options in areas including Manchester, Mount Washington and the White Mountains.

MANCHESTER

With a population of more than 100,000, Manchester is a major city by New England standards—in fact, it is the largest city in all of northern New England. For meetings, the options are appropriately large-scale as well, starting with the Radisson Hotel Manchester Downtown, which touts 250 guest rooms and 65,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. Another convenient option for groups is the Highlander Inn & Conference Center, situated on 33 lush acres next to the airport. It is home to two separate facilities—the 65-room Highland Inn and the 21-room Coldwell House, which was built in the 1930s. Meeting options range from a 510-square-foot meeting room to a 2,750-square-foot ballroom.

WHITE MOUNTAINS

New Hampshire’s White Mountains are one of New England’s most famous attractions, spreading across a quarter of the state and into Maine, with hiking trails and a famous collection of alpine huts—where hikers on multiday treks camp overnight—scattered across its peaks. Its highest point is Mount Washington, which at 6,288 feet is the highest in the Northeast as well. The range’s beauty has led to the development of several expansive resorts around it, including the 145-room Mountain View Grand Resort & Spa in Whitefield, a Four-Diamond property built in 1865 with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the mountains, an extensive spa and wellness center, and 20,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; and the 148-room Red Jacket Mountain View Resort in North Conway, which features 6,000 sq. ft. of meeting space and a 40,000-square-foot indoor water park.

LAKES REGION

Some of New Hampshire’s most striking sights are its crystal-clear lakes and ponds, of which there are more than 270 spanning 70,000 acres. Fronting these waterways is an assortment of antique structures, cultural attractions and meeting-friendly venues. Overlooking the state’s largest lake, the 72-square-mile Lake Winnipesaukee, you’ll find The Inns & Spa at Mills Falls in Meredith. The sprawling property includes a collection of four inns, cottages, a European-style spa, seven restaurants and a marketplace with 15 boutique shops. Scattered through the grounds are several meeting venues, totaling 15,000 sq. ft. Terri Bouvier, a planner for Acosta who will be holding her third event at the property this month, says the mix of venues makes for the ideal group experience. “With the four different properties and shops, it’s a great place for people to be able to have down time, but also be part of the meeting,” she says.

PORTSMOUTH

Situated along the Atlantic Ocean shoreline is the historic port city of Portsmouth, known for its colonial downtown and waterfront Prescott Park. Here, you’ll find the Portsmouth Harbor Events & Conference Center, a green-friendly option just a short walk from the downtown area, which can host up to 300 in a variety of window-filled spaces. The area is also home to Wentworth by the Sea, a Marriott Hotel & Spa, which offers waterfront dining, 161 guest accommodations and 10,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.

MAINE

Maine’s vast stretches of untouched land, rocky coastline, dense patches of forest and—of course—assortment of lighthouses inspire an immediate sense of calm and wonder. The state is filled with striking 19th-century architecture, old-fashioned main streets and such natural excursions as Acadia National Park, the second-most visited national park in the country. For meeting planners, it is also home to several top-rate event venues, primarily clustered around the city center of Portland and the waterfront towns of Bangor and Bar Harbor.

GREATER PORTLAND

The Greater Portland area is at once a distinctly natural destination, situated by the lapping waves of Maine’s coast, and a lively one, home to one-third of the state’s population. Portland itself is known for its throwback Old Port district and its setting on the edge of the scenic Casco Bay inlet. Sheila Nee, director of convention sales for the Greater Portland Convention & Visitors Bureau, says, “The area is a culturally sophisticated, yet down-to-earth, warm and friendly small seaport city. It creates an ideal location to mix business with adventure.”

In Portland, one memorable option is Ocean Gateway, a waterfront facility designed to resemble the prow of a ship. While mainly used as a receiving terminal for incoming ships, the venue can also host groups in 5,590 sq. ft. of unobstructed space. Another top choice for events is the Portland Regency Hotel & Spa, which is housed in a circa-1895 structure originally built for the state’s National Guard. The property offers 95 guest rooms and suites and 6,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.

In the outskirts of Portland, there are also a handful of resorts available. Lincolnville, for instance, is home to the Point Lookout Resort and Conference Center. Situated on nearly 400 acres of woodland, the property provides 106 luxury cottages, a bowling alley and stunning hiking trails. Meeting options include a 20,000-square-foot conference center and The Summit, an 18,900-square-foot mountaintop facility with five conference rooms offering views of Penobscot Bay.

BANGOR

About a two-hour drive northeast from Portland, the Greater Bangor area offers all the stunning natural terrains Maine is known for, from coastlines along the Atlantic to a series of dazzling blue rivers and lakes.

Bangor’s central meeting point is the Bangor Auditorium and Civic Center, with 22,000 sq. ft. of meeting space and a 6,000-seat auditorium. For a more unique outing, planners can utilize space in the University of Maine Museum of Art, which houses 3,500 pieces of fine art and can be rented out to accommodate groups of up to 100.

BAR HARBOR

Situated on Mount Desert Island, off the coast of Maine, Bar Harbor is known for its proximity to the 50 square miles of rugged granite peaks, carriage roads and shoreline that make up Acadia National Park. Located within striking distance to the entrance of the park is the Bar Harbor Regency, which offers 278 elegant guest rooms and 4,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. Attendees can reach the property via yacht or sailboat, and dock at the hotel’s on-site marina in Frenchman’s Bay.

Set along 12 oceanfront acres, the Atlantic Oceanside Hotel and Conference Center is home to 153 guest rooms and suites—each with a balcony perched above the water—as well as two lighted tennis courts and nature boat cruises from the pier nearby. It offers 13,000 sq. ft. of function space.

In the heart of Bar Harbor’s scenic downtown, the Harborside Hotel Spa Marina offers 187 guest accommodations and 4,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, spread among oceanfront breakout rooms, master suites, and banquet and outdoor tent areas.

GETTING THERE

RHODE ISLAND

* T.F. Green International Airport Providence, located 12 miles from Providence in Warwick, offers service through seven carriers to cities across the U.S. and Canada, including Toronto, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Atlanta, Chicago, Phoenix, New York City, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.

VERMONT

* Burlington International Airport, located three miles from downtown Burlington, offers service through five major carriers to and from Philadelphia, Chicago, Newark, Washington, D.C., Detroit, New York City, Cleveland and Orlando, Fla.

NEW HAMPSHIRE

* Manchester-Boston Regional Airport, located three miles from downtown Manchester, offers service through six carriers to cities across the U.S. and Canada, including Chicago, Phoenix, Toronto, Philadelphia, Las Vegas, Washington, D.C. and New York City.

MAINE

* Bangor International Airport, located about three miles from downtown Bangor, provides service through Allegiant Air, Delta Air Lines and US Airways to and from New York City, Detroit, Philadelphia, Orlando, Fla., Clearwater, Fla., and seasonally to the Washington, D.C. area.

* Portland International Jetport, located two miles from downtown Portland, offers service through six major carriers to and from New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, Washington, D.C. and Newark, N.J.

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