Come March, receding snow transforms the landscape into a soft, sloppy mess. New Englanders call this metamorphosis “mud season,” the period of recovery between the long, brutal winter and the warm summer ahead.
But with no banner activity to ac-company it — think leaf-peeping in the fall or skiing in winter — mud season brings a serious lull in tourism.
A group of inns and hotels thinks that’s the perfect excuse to design a vacation package. The result? Getaways that focus on food, drink and activities inspired by mud season. Add greater room availability and discount prices, and all that muck seems a little more bearable.
For guests who are hungry after a winter in hibernation, the Inn at Crys-tal Lake — a 12-room bed and breakfast in the tiny town of Eaton — offers “Swine in the Mud,” smoky, thick pork chops topped with honey-chipotle barbecue sauce. To round out the meal, co-owner and bartender Tim Ostendorf whips up a “Here’s Mud in Your Eye,’’ vodka shaken with Kahlua liqueur and Hershey’s syrup.
Crystal Lake isn’t the only establishment with a mud-themed menu. The Inn by the Sea in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, serves warm raspberry scones drizzled with “Maine Mud’’ chocolate sauce for breakfast.
Devising such recipes can be taxing, says owner Maureen McQuade.
But someone has to do it. Visits to the region between ski season and sum-mertime drop sharply, as statistics from the New Hampshire tourism office bear out.
In the White Mountains, where Eaton is located, tourists spent around $176 million in the winter of 2002. That spring they dished out just $77 million. In the Lakes Region, popular for boating and fishing, visitors spent almost $276 million in summer 2001. That spring, spending was around $65 million.
“We don’t have the crowds like we have in fall or summer,’’ says Osten-dorf. “It’s a quieter time.’’
For vacationers in need of post-winter rejuvenation, The Wayside Inn in Bethlehem, N.H., includes a mud wrap — with a choice of three kinds of mud – in its mud season package.
“You tend to want a quiet weekend, not to do much, get away from the hustle,’’ says Wayside co-owner Kathe Hofmann.
Lower prices are another incentive. For participating inns, costs for a two-night stay with some meals and activities included range from $295 to $899, down as much as $200 compared to peak season.
For those who like a little testosterone mixed in with their dirt, The Equinox Resort & Spa in Manchester Village, Vt., offers an off-road driving course in one of its eight Land Rovers or Hummer H2s.
But don’t expect any television-style heroics in the lesson: Speeds on the 80-acre course are 3 to 5 mph, says Courtney Lowe, the resort’s director of sales and marketing.
If the weather’s right, the terrain will ensure at least some mud gets on the windshield. The course features steep hills and dramatic pitches that cause the SUVs to lean sharply to one side.
In the market for something a little less dizzying? Crystal Lake’s vacation package includes wildlife and bird-watching trips to four nearby Audubon Society sanctuaries. Adventurous guests get guides to spot birds and animal tracks, maps of the areas and locally made soap to clean up after a day of traipsing through the muck.