Leg­ends of the fall

A blaze of au­tumn colours lights up a coach tour of New Eng­land

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Holidays For Seniors - AN­DREW CON­WAY

IT is mid-af­ter­noon on a cloud­less Oc­to­ber day and Mother Na­ture is putting on a daz­zling dis­play. As our lux­ury coach mo­tors along the Kan­ca­m­a­gus High­way, deep in the heart of New Hamp­shire’s White Moun­tains, dense forests on both sides of the road are ablaze with au­tumn colours, as if some­one had struck a match and set the trees on fire.

Vast stands of oak, ash, birch, aspen and beech are in­ter­spersed with thick­ets of speck­led alder, pin cherry, lin­den, witch-hazel and tupelo, cre­at­ing a kalei­do­scope of bur­nished golds, flame reds, pale pinks, ra­di­ant yel­lows and lime greens.

We’ve missed the peak of New Eng­land’s cel­e­brated but un­pre­dictable ‘‘leaf peep­ing’’ sea­son by about a week, which sadly means the sugar maples have largely shed their fiery ver­mil­ion leaves, but the in­ten­sity of the re­main­ing fo­liage is breath­tak­ing.

‘‘The colours this year are fan­tas­tic,’’ says tour di­rec­tor Steve Jo­brack, who is over­see­ing his third Grand New Eng­land trip of the sea­son for US op­er­a­tor Tauck and mark­ing his 32nd year as a guide. ‘‘A wet sum­mer, Oc­to­ber snowfall and Hur­ri­cane Irene led to al­most no fall fo­liage in 2011, but this is one of the best I’ve seen.’’

Tonight’s stay at the his­toric Omni Mount Washington Re­sort, nes­tled at the foot of the high­est peak in the north­east, is the half­way point of a re­mark­able 11-day lux­ury coach tour of one of the most charm­ing and pret­ti­est re­gions in the US.

Start­ing in Bos­ton, end­ing in Al­bany, and stretch­ing 1554km from ocean to moun­tains, our jour­ney takes us through four of the six states of New Eng­land — Mas­sachusetts, Maine, New Hamp­shire and Ver­mont — as well as the beau­ti­ful Adiron­dacks of up­state New York.

This is a bu­colic land­scape of white­washed churches, red-painted barns, cov­ered bridges, ver­dant hills dot­ted with black-and-white Hol­stein cows and neat clap­board houses with wisps of woodsmoke curl­ing like cats’ tails from chim­neys. It’s a time of pump­kins and chrysanthemums, tiny blue­ber­ries and fat lobsters, cin­na­mon­spiced cook­ies, mom’s ap­ple pie and more maple syrup than you could poke a pan­cake at, all framed by fo­liage sat­u­rated with au­tumn colours.

While a coach trip might not be to ev­ery­one’s taste, our merry band of 24 well-heeled and widely trav­elled pas­sen­gers — three from Aus­tralia, two from Malta and the rest from across the US — quickly set­tles into a daily rhythm. Not sur­pris­ingly, it’s a ma­ture group with ages rang­ing from early 50s to mid-80s and a mix of cou­ples and sin­gles, but the dif­fer­ent per­son­al­i­ties and na­tion­al­i­ties bond eas­ily.

While Tauck can’t guar­an­tee five-star ac­com­mo­da­tions at ev­ery lo­ca­tion, it does well with its choice of grand ho­tels and small coun­try re­treats, from the up­scale Lang­ham in Bos­ton and cosy Har­raseeket Inn in Freeport, Maine, to the lovely Stowe­flake Moun­tain Re­sort & Spa in Stowe, Ver­mont, and ro­man­tic Mir­ror Lake Inn at Lake Placid, New York, with leisurely two-night stays at each. I’m dis­ap­pointed to spend only one night at my favourite ho­tel, the beau­ti­fully re­stored Omni Mount Washington Re­sort, but elated to drive to the sum­mit of the moun­tain the next morn­ing un­der a cloud­less sky.

Din­ing is more of a hit-and-miss af­fair, but one thing’s guar­an­teed — you won’t go hun­gry. With the daily itin­er­ary rolling from break­fast to morn­ing tea, lunch, af­ter­noon tea and din­ner (some meals are in­cluded, oth­ers are at your own ex­pense), you might want to pack clothes with ex­pand­able waist­lines.

The op­er­a­tion of the deluxe mo­tor coach, an al­most new 46-seat Se­tra (Mercedes-Benz), is in the ca­pa­ble hands of Bos­to­nian Mike Ryan, a former Marine who han­dles the driv­ing, main­te­nance and on-time de­par­tures and ar­rivals with mil­i­tary pre­ci­sion.

The ve­hi­cle’s two-by-two leather re­cliner seat­ing is pre­mium econ­omy air­line-style. Over­size win­dows of­fer wide-an­gle side views and Tauck clev­erly ro­tates pas­sen­gers on a daily ba­sis, so ev­ery guest scores the prime front-row view be­hind the driver at least once.

Ryan’s ex­per­tise en­sures a re­laxed and in­ci­dent-free road trip, rarely step­ping on the brakes, skil­fully ne­go­ti­at­ing busy free­ways and nar­row coun­try lanes, and al­ways on hand to as­sist less mo­bile pas­sen­gers on and off the coach.

He and tour di­rec­tor Jo­brack have an easy rap­port, some­times veer­ing off the planned route on to side roads and hap­pily stop­ping for un­sched­uled photo op­por­tu­ni­ties at mo­ments of as­ton­ish­ing beauty.

On-board WiFi, elec­tri­cal out­lets and a good au­dio sys­tem al­low for easy lis­ten­ing to Jo­brack’s in­for­ma­tive, if oc­ca­sion­ally goofy, com­men­tary and also for keep­ing mo­bile phones and cam­eras fully charged, which is just as well be­cause the photo op­por­tu­ni­ties come thick and fast.

We take a vin­tage schooner cruise on Maine’s be­guil­ing Booth­bay Har­bor (al­beit in lash­ing rain); en­joy a hi­lar­i­ous les­son in maplesyrup pro­duc­tion with Burr Morse, whose fam­ily has been tap­ping maple at Morse Farm Su­gar­works in Ver­mont for seven gen­er­a­tions; and savour a tast­ing of the lat­est Ben & Jerry’s ice cream flavour (vanilla bean with a caramel swirl and fudge-cov­ered potato chip clus­ters — sounds dis­gust­ing, tastes de­li­cious) at its head­quar­ters in Ver­mont.

And how to for­get a visit to the in­com­pa­ra­ble Shel­burne Mu­seum, a na­tional trea­sure on the shore of Lake Cham­plain? Or a heart-stop­ping 120m ski jump demon­stra­tion in Lake Placid by 16-year-old Win­ter Olympics hope­ful Luke Daniels? Or a pri­vate be­hind-the-scenes tour of his­toric Saratoga Race Course?

Given this is Tauck’s 88th year of­fer­ing up­scale ex­cur­sions by mo­tor coach, small ship and river cruiser world­wide — and I’m trav­el­ling on its 836th Grand New Eng­land tour — you’d ex­pect the com­pany to get it right, and for the most part it does.

Well be­fore de­par­ture date, pas­sen­gers re­ceive a com­pre­hen­sive package on ev­ery­thing from ar­rival in­for­ma­tion to lug­gage, weather con­di­tions, health, cloth­ing and pack­ing tips, ho­tels, din­ing and shop­ping, gra­tu­ities, ad­di­tional ex­penses, a sug­gested read­ing guide and, of course, a de­tailed itin­er­ary.

Ho­tels are cho­sen care­fully for their unique lo­ca­tion, his­tory, com­fort and char­ac­ter and the trip has a mostly leisurely pace for re­laxed sight­see­ing, with free time for rest or quiet mo­ments away from the group.

Per­sonal ser­vice is a cor­ner­stone of the Tauck phi­los­o­phy, es­pe­cially ev­i­dent at crit­i­cal mo­ments such as when the coach ar­rives at a ho­tel and pre-as­signed room keys are pre­sented to weary and rest­less pas­sen­gers on board rather than at the re­cep­tion desk, thereby avoid­ing an un­wel­come scrum at check-in.

Qui­eter mo­ments also speak to thought­ful, be­hindthe-scenes plan­ning, such as handy route maps, per­son­ally marked by Jo­brack, and in­for­ma­tive leaf-peep­ing guides placed on each seat at the start of the tour.

On the flip­side, there are some frus­trat­ing blink-andyou-miss-it mo­ments as the coach mo­tors along. A cou­ple of Tauck’s lunchtime restau­rant choices are less than stel­lar, and re­peated ref­er­ences to rest rooms and gift shops at ev­ery stop grate af­ter a while. But mi­nor gripes aside, Tauck of­fers a pro­fes­sion­ally or­gan­ised and largely has­sle- free ex­pe­ri­ence that cov­ers a lot of ground in a rel­a­tively short time.

And the proof, as they say, is in the maple-in­fused pud­ding.

De­nis and Ina McMa­hon, of Cor­lette, NSW, com­bined a seven-day Tauck Cape Cod tour with their Grand New Eng­land trip and en­joyed both. ‘‘We’d ab­so­lutely do it again,’’ says De­nis. ‘‘The main rea­son we booked was to see the au­tumn colours, [which] blew us away. I’ve trav­elled a fair bit and I reckon New Eng­land in au­tumn must be one of the most beau­ti­ful places in the world.’’

In­trigu­ingly, Tauck has re­versed the route for this year’s 12-day itin­er­ary, start­ing and end­ing the tour in Bos­ton (a more con­ve­nient en­try-exit city than Al­bany), and in­clud­ing some prime rev­o­lu­tion­ary sites, such as Lex­ing­ton and Con­cord in Mas­sachusetts, as well as beau­ti­ful Bar Har­bor in Maine.

A new eight-day Hid­den Gems of New Eng­land tour, co-de­signed by ac­claimed film­maker Ken Burns and vis­it­ing the homes of Mark Twain and Har­riet Beecher Stowe in Hart­ford, Con­necti­cut, is on of­fer be­tween June and Oc­to­ber. An­drew Con­way was a guest of Tauck’s Aus­tralian rep­re­sen­ta­tive, Travel The World.

clockwise from

A lake in New au­tumn colo re­sort in New Woodstock, White Moun and Cape Ne Booth­bay Ha

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