By Paul E. Kandarian
What they lack in size and attractions, small towns make up for in character. Exeter, population 6,000, is a town as unique as it is small. The site of the state’s only ski area, it’s also home to two notable cemeteries, the windswept and gorgeous Rhode Island Veterans Memorial Cemetery, and the Chestnut Hill Baptist Church Cemetery - where lies the body of Mercy Brown, accused posthumously of being a vampire in the late 19th century. The town has many places to enjoy the great outdoors, including the state’s biggest recreational property, and there are a number of down-home dining options. Like to shop? Did we mention the alpaca farm?
There’s no lodging in Exeter, but nearby is the Stagecoach House Inn (1136 Main St., Hopkinton, 401-539-9600, www.stagecoachhouse.com, rates from $100), a historic building on the Wood River that was originally a stopover for passing stagecoaches. The six-room inn has two fireplaces dating to the late 1700s, original beams and granite throughout, and a cozy lobby with shops and a massage facility. The Fezziwig B&B (15 Old Blitzkreig Trail, Hopkinton, 401-539-7994, www.fezziwigbedandbreakfast.com, rates from $80) named for a character in Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol,’’ one of innkeeper Linda Perra’s favorite reads, is right next to the Arcadia Wildlife Management Area in a rural setting ideal for winter star gazing. In good weather, visitors from New York will stay outside, often for hours, Perra said, transfixed by stars they cannot see back in their light-drenched city.
Eat where the locals do at the Middle of Nowhere Diner (222 Nooseneck Hill Road, 401-397-8855, www.themiddleofnowherediner.com, entrees from $6.45), a classic roadside restaurant serving comfort food such as a belly-busting omelet stuffed with breakfast meats, veggies, and cheeses for $8.75 and the Steak a la Nowhere, a 12-ounce rib eye pressed with garlic and smothered in sautéed mushrooms and onions for $14.25. Another local favorite is the Corner Tavern (20 South County Trail, North Kingstown, 401-294-9897, www.cornertavernri.com, entrees from $9.95), on the Exeter town line and a popular spot for seafood, steaks, burgers, and other classic American fare. The Celestial Cafe (567 South County Trail, 401-295-5559, www.celestialcaferi.com, entrees from $9) is where chef Branden Read creates monthly special dinners using all locally sourced food paired with wine from nearby vineyards. The kids will love Walt’s Dogs (900 Ten Rod Road), a bright blue hot dog stand that’s hard to miss. A popular spot for folks grabbing a quick bite on a bun, $5 gets you two dogs with the works, a cup of coffee, and free opinions from Walt or anyone else hanging around the tiny shack.
DURING THE DAY
Hard to believe Rhode Island once had four ski areas, but the last one standing is Yawgoo Valley Ski and Sports Park (160 Yawgoo Valley Road, 401-295-5366, www.yagoo.com, lift tickets from $20), a popular spot with locals and a great place to learn to ski, run by Pati and Max deWardener since 1981. In summer younger visitors will get a thrill out of Yagoo’s water park. Nature enthusiasts should head to the 14,000-acre Arcadia Wildlife Management Area (headquarters at 260 Arcadia Road, Richmond, 401-539-2356, www.riparks.com/arcadia.htm), which stretches over four towns and is home to winter camping, hiking, biking, hunting, and fishing. For hiking writ smaller, check out the Fisherville Brook Wildlife Refuge (Pardon Joslin Road, 401-949-5454, www.asri.org/refuges/fisherville-brook-wildlife-refuge.html), a 937-acre Rhode Island Audubon Society holding at the bottom of a long dirt road, a place with diverse forest habitats, pond, streams, a waterfall, fields, and a historic cemetery. If you’re looking for a different, more meditative stroll, consider the R hode Island Veterans Memorial Cemetery (301 South County Trail, 401-268-3088, www.dhs.ri.gov), a beautifully landscaped 268-acre site honoring the state’s veterans with nearly 30 monuments and memorials to veterans of wars, including one slated to be completed in the spring honoring Medal of Honor recipients. In the mood to shop? Cookie Shop (331 Nooseneck Hill Road, 401-397-7059) is a wonderful mess of antiques, blankets, paintings, cabinets, and golf clubs, not to mention a portrait of Pope John Paul II atop a window frame staring down on it all. Ask Rhoda Cook where anything is in the chaotic consignment collection, which takes up the bulk of the floor space, and she will know. Cook also runs a pretty cool little gift shop with mostly jewelry - and some great stories about running the place for 35 years with her late husband. Winter warmth can be found in the sweaters, hats, mittens, and gloves at the Shadow Pines Alpaca Farm (181 Purgatory Road, 401-295-7859, www.alpacanation.com/farmsandbreeders/03_viewfarm.asp?name=133), where you can usually see the curious beasts poking their faces through the fence to see who’s looking at them.
Night life can be found in nearby establishments such as Dan’s Place (880 Victory Highway, West Greenwich, 401-392-3092, www.danspizzaplace.com), where live music reigns Thursday through Saturday, including karaoke and open-mic nights. Dan’s also serves up some pretty interesting eats: for instance, pasta-and-meatballs pizza. If you love country, check out Mishnock Barn (200 Mishnock Road, West Greenwich, 401-397-3505, www.mishnockbarn.com, $8 cover), a big old barn that rocks with country music on three large dance floors covering nearly 3,000-square-feet, the website says, “of foot-stompin’ hardwood floor.’’ The cover charge includes not just music and dancing, but on many nights, lessons for beginners eager to learn how to stomp.