Wentworth by the Sea…The Last of the Grand Dame Hotels
What is that quaint, little portside town with the glistening steeples and lovely, historic homes and architecture? This is a question I would ask myself so many times as we crossed the Piscataqua River on our way to Maine and back. Considering I have such a love of seaport towns, it was amazing that I hadn’t found my way to Portsmouth, New Hampshire many years before. But finally, one year we stopped…and I’ve been going back ever since.
For me, Portsmouth has it all. Locally sourced, fresh and imaginative cuisine; historic buildings; cozy sidewalk cafes; art galleries; jazz clubs; distinctive artisans’ boutiques…and some of the best pumpkin-spiced beer you’ve ever tasted – well, that is if you visit in October! An easy hour drive north from Boston, it makes a great weekend getaway. There are charming inns and B&Bs and your standard well-known hotels right in the downtown area, however, a trip to Portsmouth wouldn’t be complete without staying at the grand Wentworth by the Sea.
The almost 140 year history of Wentworth by the Sea is astounding. As the only grand seaside resort left standing on the New Hampshire coast, it was named to the National Trust’s 2008 list of Dozen Distinctive Destinations.® Only four grand hotels remain in New Hampshire, and the Wentworth almost wasn’t one of them. In the early 1980’s grand dame hotels had lost their appeal to most upscale travelers. Huge hotel chains were popping up everywhere and people wanted modern comforts and modern design in up and coming sophisticated cities. Sadly, having fallen into disrepair, the Wentworth closed in 1982 and was almost demolished to make way for private homes.
All was not lost though as the grand hotel was reborn after Friends of the Wentworth, the nonprofit group that helped save the endangered building from extinction, captured the imagination of a local hotel company, Ocean Properties, Ltd. Rescued from the wrecking ball and its place on the National Trust’s “Most Endangered Sites” list, Wentworth reopened in 2003, just in time to be a focal point in 2005 for the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the negotiations that ended the Russo-Japanese War in 1905.
The six year, $30 million reconstruction of Wentworth by the Sea Hotel & Spa added an 8,500 sq. ft. spa wing with an indoor pool and Jacuzzi; a reimagined space for the new restaurant, SALT; fireplaces in 18 of the guest suites; a fitness and business center; and the waterfront hideaway, Little Harbor Marina Suites. In addition, the 161-room hotel has incorporated the three distinctive original Victorian towers and as many architectural details as could be salvaged. The hotel made such a splashing rebirth that it won the accolades of being the only hotel in New Hampshire on the 2012 Travel + Leisure and Conde Nast Traveler lists of “Best hotels in the US.”
From the minute you walk through the grand entrance of the Wentworth, you feel welcomed with open arms. While some grand hotels may appear stuffy and pretentious, the look and feel of the Wentworth couldn’t be more welcoming. From the beautiful, grand entryway into the lobby to the stunning ocean and sea glass themed restaurant and bar to the luxurious rooms, the Wentworth is a vision to behold. Our room was perfect with silky linens on a plush king-sized bed you could sleep in forever, an exquisite marble bath and oversized glass shower enclosure and the best part of all… radiant heat beneath the bathroom floor! Who could ask for more?
But if you did – you’d certainly receive it if you booked the Center Turret Officer’s Suite. It features 600 square feet split between two levels and connected by a spiral staircase, with a four-poster King bed and sitting area on one level and an elegantly appointed parlor with desk, armoire and dining area on the other. This suite offers a 360-degree view of the ocean, harbor and marina, a kitchenette, and bath with a glass and marble-enclosed shower.
As much as I loved the room, I had to leave it to experience the newly designed SALT Kitchen & Bar. Officially reopened in June 2013, the restaurant is housed in a completely reimagined space that was able to keep alive the classic yet modern feel of the former space. It is truly a sensory experience for diners, engaging on multiple levels. “We created SALT to be approachable, intimate and engaging with a lively, theatrical chef’s bar at center stage to provide a social hub for friends and family to gather round a selection of small plate offerings, handcrafted cocktails and sommelier-selected wines,” said Michael O’Shaughnessy, Wentworth General Manager. However, if privacy is what you’re looking for, there is a lovely private dining room lined with glass walls on one side and stocked with hundreds of amazing wines on the other. It’s perfect for an intimate dinner party with friends or family.
The focus at SALT is on authentic, locally-sourced flavors and small plates. And the menu is to die for. While I seriously would have liked to try everything – and you can’t say that about most places – here’s what not to miss: Northeast Family Farms Beef Carpaccio with a Himalayan SALT Block, Orange and Espresso Crust, Truffle, Gorgonzola Cream, Pepper Cress, and Crispy Capers; Rustic Hand-Rolled Gnocchi with Local Mushrooms, Spinach, Crispy Pancetta, Sheep’s Milk Cheese, and Tartufo Cream; Bucatini Angry Lobster and Shrimp with Harissa, Garden Basil, Mint, Crushed Tomatoes, and Herb Foam; and the East Coast Halibut with Hand Spun Pasta, Local Littleneck Clams, Sun Blushed Tomatoes, Artichokes, Capers, and Lemon Parsley Butter. On the weekends you can wake up to a build-your-own Bloody Mary and mimosa bar. With a selection of over 40 artisan components featuring an endless array of mixes, spices, hot sauces, juices and garnishes, you can make the Bloody Mary of your dreams. Or if mimosas are more your style, swap the standard orange juice for grapefruit, or have a swirl of both topped with fresh berries and a sliver of candied fruit. Even if you’re not staying at the Wentworth, stopping by for a meal here is a must do!
Maybe the best part of the Wentworth experience was the spa treatment. I received an ancient Ayurvedic treatment called the Shirodhara, which is a healing massage that entails continuous pouring of warm oil on the forehead with a pendulum motion for a specific period of time. The treatment begins with a full body massage and head massage to warm up the body. Then, the dhara (pouring) begins at the forehead for 40-50 minutes. The pouring of warm oil on the skin and skull sends impulses to the cerebral cortex and hypothalamus, which gives a soothing effect and increases the secretion of neurotransmitters that control and regulate functions of the pituitary gland. It was one of the most relaxing spa experiences I’ve ever had, so relaxing in fact, that they tell you not to drive for at least thirty minutes. I was also happy to learn that the Wentworth spa does not use any animal tested products and they recycle and use recycled products whenever possible to not only enhance your appearance and health, but that of our earth as well.
And last but not least…their green initiatives. The hotel has earned EnergyStar certification through the EPA, promotes Green Meetings, and has adopted recycling programs and a lighting program that saves energy. “When National Geographic’s geotourism editors in 2008 identified Wentworth as a place that preserves an authentic sense of place, they called on us to continue to do whatever we can to protect the environment that makes our location so memorable. Our annual Earth Day clean-up of Great Island Common and Fort Stark and our EnergyStar initiatives are central to that commitment,” said GM Michael O’Shaughnessy.
The last of the great Grand Dame hotels, Wentworth by the Sea, is a place not to be missed and one you’ll never forget. Blending historic elegance with 21st century convenience, it conveys the quintessential New England resort experience. So the next time you’re about to cross over that Piscataqua bridge into Maine – you might want to stop, even briefly, to discover this beautiful place.
Submitted by Dr. Diane Hindman. For further information, visit www.wentworth.com or call (800) 627-7468. The Wentworth by the Sea is located at 588 Wentworth Rd in New Castle, NH.