LACONIA, N.H.—Rounding the last curve before the Weirs Channel Bridge, I glimpse the welcoming lights of the NASWA Resort up ahead. It’s the eve of Laconia Motorcycle Week, and a chilling rain has followed me all the way from my home in New Jersey. After parking the bike, I check in, find my room, peel off my wet clothes and warm up in the shower, finally able to relax after more than eight hours battling the wrath of Tropical Storm Andrea. What made her so angry, I can’t begin to guess, but it doesn’t matter anymore because I’ve finally arrived at my Laconia home.
The NASWA’s Blue Bistro restaurant, adjoining the resort’s Blue Bar, is just up the stairs from my room, and as I near the entrance proprietor Cynthia Makris gives me a warm welcome — or, rather, welcome back, as it’s the third time I’ve stayed here. The NASWA is a family-owned and operated concern, and Cynthia, president and general manager, is the third generation of the family to run the resort.
How the NASWA came to be is a true American success story, right out of a Horatio Alger novel. In 1935, Jim and Fannie Saltis, immigrants from Greece, were on vacation at Weirs Beach when they found a natural hillside spring on the shore of Lake Winnipesaukee. The water was deemed pure and fit to drink, so they bought property around the spring and began their new business, the Natural Spring and Water Company. Then Jim and Fannie built some cottages and named them the NASWA (NAtural Spring WAter) Cabins.
Since then, more cabins and a lot of new rooms were added, along with the restaurant, beach bar and other amenities. Peter Makris married the Saltis’ daughter, Hope, and eventually the second generation assumed proprietorship of the resort. Peter and Hope’s daughters Cynthia, Karen and Victoria all take part in running the business, and now the fourth generation is involved. Sadly, Peter passed away in 2007.
The restaurant underwent a complete renovation last year and was renamed the Blue Bistro, and a new executive chef was brought in, although Yia Yia (Greek for grandmother) Hope still makes the fabulous desserts. My table next to the picture windows was the perfect spot to watch the sun set over the lake as I enjoyed my seafood feast and rich dessert, made all the tastier by the 15-percent dinner discount offered guests staying at the resort.
At another table were members of the Brotherhood MC from Montreal, who told me they stay at the NASWA every year during Motorcycle Week. After dinner, I saw 22 drenched riders stream into the lobby. They’d come from Minnesota! The next morning I met two guys who had just ridden in from Chicago for their first visit here. It seems that word about this premier resort has spread among riders from all over North America and beyond. Besides the numerous amenities, the NASWA is only a five-minute walk to Weirs Beach, which sure beats sitting in Motorcycle Week traffic and searching for a parking spot on Lakeside Avenue.
The NazBar Beach Bar and Grill, where I spent a good amount of my time, evokes a Caribbean feel and, during my stay, featured live music every afternoon, as well as evenings later in the week. In fact, one truly never has to leave the resort… and when the rain poured all day Tuesday, I just kicked back for the day. Breakfast was in the Blue Bistro and I enjoyed a leisurely lunch at the NazBar, lounging there well into the afternoon. Dinner was again in the Blue Bistro, followed by hanging out at the Blue Bar and enjoying the live music and camaraderie.
In the resort’s weekly newsletter I saw that a complimentary boat ride on the M/V NASWA was offered, so I signed up for Sunday morning at 11:00. Seven of us appeared on the dock at the appointed time to be greeted by Captain Denis Finnerty and deckhand Christian. It turns out that until a few years ago when he passed away, Peter would take NASWA guests for a complimentary boat ride every day, and as Cynthia says, “We wanted to continue that for our guests. Captain Denis used to captain the M/S Mount Washington cruise ship, and it’s our fortune that he’s now the captain of the M/V NASWA.”
The M/V NASWA is a 34’ Sea Ray Sundancer, and Cap’n Denis plans to take guests on cruises three or four days a week for the rest of the season. The cruises generally last 45 minutes to an hour, and the Captain is a great tour guide thanks to his familiarity with the lake and its environs. Sunday turned out to be a beautiful day, and our tour took us out to Spindle Point, around Governor’s Island and back, while throughout the cruise Cap’n Denis pointed out many of the local landmarks and related the history behind each.
The NASWA has won numerous awards. The resort was recommended as Editor’s Choice in 2009 by Yankee Magazine’s Annual Travel Guide to New England. It was also named 2011 Best of New Hampshire, and Cynthia earned the 2011 Innkeeper of the Year award from the New Hampshire Lodging and Restaurant Association. She is the president of the Laconia Motorcycle Week Association and, as such, is extremely active in rally activities including the annual Peter Makris Run, the Miss Laconia Bike Week Contest and, this year, a Laconia Motorcycle Week 90th Anniversary party.
But there’s more to the NASWA story. Cynthia says, “My parents were always philanthropists and believed in giving back to the community, so I learned from them.” Every year in July, the NASWA hosts the post-event festivities for the Land & Lake Poker Run to benefit Easter Seals New Hampshire. Cynthia tells me, “The poker run started 13 years ago and involves bikes, boats, cars, personal watercraft and even seaplanes. There are four stops around the lake for the five-stud poker game, and $500 each is awarded to the top land and lake participants.” $700,000 has been raised over the last 13 years for Easter Seals New Hampshire, an organization for which Cynthia serves as a board member. She is very passionate about ESNH and says, “Peter was always the biggest ticket seller, and now the NASWA crew members have really embraced the cause, becoming top ticket sellers in their own right. When we hit $1 million, we’re having one huge party!”
Cynthia goes on to say, “When you think about it, the NASWA has participated in 78 years of the rally’s 90 years. We’ve been blessed. The Lake Region is a wonderful area and I think it’s important to give back to the community that’s been so good to us. It’s woven into the Makris family DNA.”