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Friday, October 5, 2018

Hilton Garden Inn Hanover Lebanon Strikes Perfect Balance Between Boutique Hotel and Corporate Retreat

A strong positive impression from a (too short) two-night stay at the Hilton Garden Inn (HGI) Hanover Lebanon near Dartmouth College in rural New Hampshire relates to a horrific experience with the far-less congenial ownership of a far-less nice property. That nightmare stay is the genesis of the phrase "shabby broom closet" that provides context in some Inn Credible New England posts on this site. 

The HGI, which opened in May 2018 and still is pristine, successfully provides vacation travelers an upscale place to rest and recreate while also allowing folks who are there on the company dime use of some or all of the well-designed 7,600 SF of meeting space that accommodates up to 315 people. The HGI getting EVERY aspect of hospitality right and equally embracing EVERY demographic sharply contrasts with the purveyors of the broom closet turning scary psychotic in response to my referring to their establishment as a corporate hotel. In other words, the good ones like HGI owner Cowen Hotels realize that sheep ranchers (i.e., leisure travelers) and cattlemen (i.e., business travelers) can happily co-exist and that calling a property a corporate hotel is not insulting. 

Inn Credible Welcome

The developers of the HGI property deserve a gold star; placing the building in the middle of a huge lot and having abundant green space surround it and the more-than-ample parking lots provides the tranquil sense associated with the area. The layout also is a treat for Dartmouth parents there to drop off students or business folks attending a meeting.

The large and mid-sized carts in the vestibule are convenient for getting the abundant luggage for which car trips allow; the mid-sized cart was great for the perpetually packed duffel that I always bring on these trips. The power strip, extra toiletries, charging cables, snacks, etc. get put to good use on every trip. 

The hotel has van service to the bus station next door, the municipal airport 5 miles away, and other area hot spots for folks who do not bring a car. This van additionally is available for chauffeuring gusts during their stay. Leaving my car in the lot my entire visit and getting a ride into downtown Hanover (a.k.a. Hangover) was a nice bonus; parking in that small city was limited during this move-in period for Dartmouth. 

it also is highly likely that one of the strapping young men who work at the HGI can help with physical baggage. These guys (and their female co-workers) additionally offer great hospitality.

A bartender showed INCREDIBLE restraint with a (seemingly sober) orifice who repeatedly asked for "special ice" that did not absorb bourbon. This idiot additionally made several requests for free bourbon to compensate for the absorbed amount. A highlight of the exchange was the bartender subtly and politely inviting that guy to take his drink to his room. 

Front Desk Supervisor Sarah Tillotson and her team literally will greet you a smile and be on top of your reservation; they additionally provide Hilton Honors members with a gift that is welcome at any hotel.

Right Said Fred

A chance to speak with Director of Sales & Catering Director Fred Dole provided good insight. He validated the emphasis of the HGI on equally catering to vacation and business travelers. His response to my expression of pleasant surprise regarding a Garden Inn being so upscale was that "Hilton is stepping up its game" as to that category of property. It is HIGHLY likely that the HGI not having every amenity of a full-fledged Hilton is the ONLY reason for the Garden Inn designation. 

My attending grad. school in the area was a primary impetus for the trip, and I noted that many new hotels had been built in the area since my graduation. Dole responded that "supply has caught up with demand." He added that Dartmouth and the Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, which was near the HGI, required this growth. 

No Room for Improvement

The guidelines in the  "Avoiding Getting Inn Trouble" article on this site state that spending a little more to upgrade a room often is worth the additional expense. This definitely is so regarding the HGI. Either way, you can count on a very clean room, a comfy bed, and perfect WiFi. The latter even supports a great deal of streaming that may include watching kitten cams on YouTube, 

Every category of room also has a refrigerator (but no freezer ) and a microwave. Although the fare at the 24-hour pantry in the lobby includes frozen pizza that tastes just like the delivered variety, shut-ins are encouraged to bring in food from any of the numerous local options. The Hanover Co-op five miles away has a wide variety of reasonably priced prepared foods AND does not lapse memberships even after many years of inactivity. A large cookie from the famous Lou's Bakery in Hanover nicely warms up in the microwave. 

The below photos show the bedroom area of every king room and the sitting area in a premium room. The sitting area particularly is good for wallflowers such as your not-so-humble reviewer who opt to lounge in the room in the evening after a full day enjoying the local attractions. Easily connecting a personal DVD or Blu-ray player (do not forget an HDMI cable) allows for an evening watching a movie or television program while resting up for another active day. You can do this in the bedroom area, but having the couch is nice, 

This upgrade also can avoid tension when travelling as a couple. One person being in bed while the other is doing his or her thing in the living area both provides a little alone time and prevents annoying each other. This is from the perspective of a guy who typically watches the Disney Channel on trips. The logic is that the tween sitcoms are amusing, and the only ads are promos for Disney fare.

On a larger level, the soundproofing is amazing. I did not hear any hallway noise. It is more incredible that you can see the relatively busy secondary highway roughly 1/4 mile away but will not hear ANY traffic noise. Folks concerned about this can request a room on the other side of the building, 

Towns For All Seasons

Although the current foliage season is a peak tourism period for the area, you can enjoy yourself year-round. The numerous quaint villages offer folk-art galleries, tasteful gift shops, restaurants featuring farm-to-table fare, etc. Further, the Miracle Mile shopping area of West Lebanon, NH has most of the big box stores and a Gap outlet with good bargains.

One hint is that the local markets sell the same maple syrup and maple treats as the gift stores but charge roughly 50-percent less. The same is true regarding the Cabot cheese. A related note is that a low-income grad. student can get at least two weeks worth of meals from a five-pound block of the very tasty Cabot sharp cheddar. 

Woodstock, Vermont arguably is the primary town with all of the above. A centerpiece is FH Gillingham and Sons, which maintains an old-timey feel while still seemingly going on forever. You can all of the aforementioned Vermont items (as well as some not-so-tasteful gifts). 

The Yankee Bookshop in Woodstock has a solid variety of books; going on a day that the Bernese Mountain dogs are working allows for a fun and raucous play date. They will leave you alone if you do not engage them. 

Hanover is a bit larger and offers more variety. Further, the students provide ample people-watching opportunities. You will see everything from the nicest kids in town to herds of arrogant WASPy frat boys who literally plow their way down the street. The makers of "Animal House" get theses guys exactly right regarding this and every other aspect of this Dartmouth-inspired film. It also reminds me of a joke from my college era that states "fraternities, only $20 a friend." 

The Dartmouth Bookstore has evolved into a Barnes and Noble that sells textbooks; the two stores that sell Dartmouth clothing and gifts remain locally owned. 

The aptly named International DVD and Poster has a wonderful selection of new and used DVDs; the latter can be purchased for 5 for $20 and come with a full guarantee. The variety ranges from art-house rarities to blockbuster hits. 

One of the nicer Hanover stores exclusively sells the wide variety of hand-blown glass products, pottery, and other wares of Simon Pearce in nearby Quechee, Vermont. Your not-so-humble reviewer owns (and loves) many of these items.

This recent trip to the Hanover store resulted in purchasing a Christmas present that comes ready to give in a stylish gift box tied with a tasteful white ribbon. Seeing such a box under the tree is not quite as exciting as finding a robin-egg blue one but comes close.

Vermont virgins are encouraged to visit the mill from which Simon Pearce operates; the store there is large and beautiful, and the casual chic restaurant offers very tasty fare. You additionally can watch the artisans at work. 

Hanover offers several dining options; a local secret is eating at the cafeteria that Dartmouth operates at the Hopkins Center for the Arts, which allows anyone to attend the numerous art-house films and live performances there. The food is as good as any of the lunch places in town and is less expensive; further, you have the option of an adequately comfortable table for four. The cool kids have lunch or dinner at this eatery before attending a performance. 

There also is the Nugget Theater, which offers an alternative to cineplexes in fare and style. However, some blockbusters find their way onto the screens of this art house, 

Beyond this, you have the standard kitchen and gift shops of any small and/or college town. 

Having It All

This discussion of the HGI and the surrounding area nicely shows that you can have a trip that meets every need and reasonable desire. You will be comfortable and have most luxuries of a chain hotel while still feeling as if you are staying in at a boutique property.

Further, the area allows everything from literally getting lost in the woods to hunting for rollback bargains at WalMart and buying a $230 hand-blown glass pumpkin; sorry, Simon Pearce does not sell glass slippers. 

The bigger picture this time is that the locals who can help make or break a trip of this nature so awesomely reflect living in a beautiful and uncrowded area that preaches (and practices) peace, love, and understanding that they  greatly enhance coming here.

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