Tucked in a remote northern corner of New Hampshire's White Mountains, the Balsams is a throwback to the luxury and gentility of the family summer getaways of the Fifties. The sprawling estate's red-roofed turrets and grand wraparound porches are only the beginning of its magnificence. Inside the Balsams, guests are greeted by stately mahogany furniture and walls adorned by ancestral portaits.
But intense mountain biking, nearly a dozen tennis courts and the Donald Ross Sr. golf course make this historic hotel more than just a luxury hideout. This 15,000-acre oasis, built in 1866, draws even the most hardcore mountain bikers with its 95 km of sprawling trails. Water-sport fanatics come to enjoy 32-acre Lake Gloriette, regularly stocked with trout and accessible with the resort's fleet of rowboats, canoes and paddleboats.
This posh playground doesn't slow down at night. Dinner is a formal affair involving tuxedoed waiters, a challenging array of silverware and live piano music, with coats required for men. Three rooms of live entertainment, plus nightly ballroom dancing provide enticing choices for after-dinner diversion.
Parents have even more reason for excitement: The resort's child-care program is available seven days a week. As if all that weren't incentive enough, return guests are welcomed back with a symbolic hand-labeled bottle of maple syrup. Just one more reason 85 percent of guests book their next vacation to the Balsams as they check out.