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Fine food and the great outdoors in Keene, NH

Just as the rest of New Hampshire is gearing up for summer, Keene is quieting down a bit, thanks to the evacuation of some 5,000 students from Keene State College. While the city is known mostly for its annual (and sometimes record-breaking) Pumpkin Festival in October, visitors in summer will find a vibrant New England community nestled in the quiet New Hampshire countryside.

Downtown Keene is lively, with restaurants, coffee shops, and an active theater scene, while the campus of Keene State is home to the Thorne-Sagendorph Art Gallery. The E.F. Lane Hotel puts you right in the middle of it all, starting at $99 per night, but there are other options a bit removed from downtown.

Outside of Keene, a pastoral landscape beckons, with craggy hills and rolling pastures cradling tiny villages such as Walpole and Hillsborough. Mount Monadnock, about a half hour away, towers above all, crowned by a 3,165-foot-high summit thick with rare alpine vegetation. While hardly the tallest mountain in New Hampshire, it is arguably the most popular, thanks to 40 miles of trails and seemingly endless views of all six New England states.

Back up in Walpole, 25 minutes outside Keene, foodies and chocoholics alike will weep for joy at L.A. Burdick. While Burdick is famous for creating signature chocolate mice and penguins, its on-site restaurant turns out fine French cuisine, using local ingredients whenever possible. Walpole is also home to Boggy Meadow Farm, which produces high-quality farmstead cheeses, and the Inn at Valley Farms, situated on a 100-acre organic farm. Hillsborough is a little further away, but worth the drive for the Hillsborough Balloon Festival from July 10 through 13. is the most comprehensive and easy-to-use online resource around for visiting Keene and the Monadnock region.

Read more of the 50 Affordable Stateside Escapes.

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