Day trippin’ in the Merrimack Valley

The Drive

For many of us, there isn’t much of a drive to get into the Merrimack Valley, namely Concord, Manchester, Nashua and nearby towns, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take the back roads to get there.

Route 43 makes a particularly lovely drive into the Deerfield area if you’re going to the Deerfield Fair. Driving south from the Lakes Region and points north into the Merrimack Valley, Routes 28, 106 and 114 or Route 4 are all beautiful alternates — slow, but beautiful. But a leisurely drive is what it’s all about.

The Doin’s

If taking the back roads makes you yearn for the way life used to be, visit the Canterbury Shaker Village (783-9511, shaker.org), just north of Concord. Tours of the 200-year-old village, buildings and gardens are available or you can explore on your own. Be sure to stop by the gift shop for handmade specialty items and, of course, Shaker baskets. Admission is $13 adults, $7 youths (ages 6-17), children 5 and under are free. There are also discount rates for families and groups.

If you want to travel really far back in time, America’s Stonehenge (893-8300, stonehengeusa.com) in North Salem has habitations that are over 4,000 years old. No one knows who made them, but like England’s Stonehenge, the network of chambers, walls and ceremonial meeting places also have astrological alignments. There is a visitor’s center where you can watch a 10-minute film about the site. Admission is $8.50 adults, $7.50 seniors (65+) and $5.50 children (ages 6-12).

Ushering in the change of seasons is the 128th annual Deerfield Fair (deerfieldfair.com, 463-7421), Sept. 30 through Oct. 3. As New England’s oldest family fair, there is something for everyone. Livestock competitions, live music, games, rides, and of course, FOOD — fried, grilled, frozen, popped or on a stick, it’s there. Be sure to check out the sheepdog demonstrations on Saturday and Sunday. Gates open at 8 a.m. Tickets are $7 adults, children 12 and under are free. There are also discounts for seniors. Advance tickets are $5 until Sept. 26.

All this touring can really work up a thirst. Grab a free brew at the Anheuser-Busch Brewery Tour (595-1202, budweisertours.com) in Merrimack. Try to go on a day when the bottler is in operation – it’s capable of filling up to 2.6 million 12-ounce cans per day. Of course, you won’t want to miss the famous Budweiser Clydesdales, and the award-winning landscaping surrounding the visitor’s hamlet is spectacular. Tours are free, but you must be 18 years or older, unless accompanied by a parent or guardian. The complimentary beer is only for those 21 and over, but soda also is available.

The Eats

The Shaker Table at Canterbury Shaker Village presents the Shaker simplicity ideal with dishes featuring local produce, cheese and meats. Even the microbrewed beer is from New England. Reservations are suggested, and once you eat here, you’ll know why – New Hampshire culinary king, Chef James Haller, developed the menu and is the creative consultant. Open Thursdays through Sundays 5 to 8:30 p.m.

Loafers American Restaurant (890-6363, loafersnh.com) in Salem has been voted “Best Fine Dining” by New Hampshire Magazine readers several times. It features an all-American wine list and creative American cuisine, like seared Atlantic salmon fillet with creamy lobster and corn succotash. This might leave you with little space for the Chocolate Ganache cake, so be sure to get it to go. And pick up something for Fido while you’re at it: a bag of their all-natural dog biscuits is only $6.

Whether you’re new to sushi or a longtime maki master, you’ve got to try You-You Asian Bistro (882-8337), just off of Exit 6 on the F.E. Everett Turnpike in Nashua. Slick modern décor, a decent wine selection and great sushi and other Asian dishes offer something for the novice and the experienced diner alike. Everything is explained to you by the knowledgeable waitstaff, and, yes, you can use a fork.

A few miles north of the Bud brewery will bring you to a hacienda in the middle of Merrimack. Tortilla Flat (424-4479, tortillaflat.userworld.com) has some of the best Mexican food east of the Pecos. I know – I’ve lived on both sides of the Pecos! Few places do mole really well, and Tortilla Flat’s mole plates are among the best. The sultry combination of unsweetened chocolate, spices and peppers is muy bueno!

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