of real estate offices along Route 100, hardly the typical Vermont village you might have come for, but it isn't far from Weston, Grafton, and great foliage spots—and the inn, after all, is the reason everyone's here.
After a knockout breakfast, I sat beside the hearth sipping cider and watching a storm roll in. For the rest of the morning the wind blew leaves into the pool and branches against the windows, while the old barn creaked and moaned. There before the fire I couldn't have been more content.
Crosstown Rd., West Dover; 800/493-1133 or 802/464-8131, fax 802/464-1130; doubles from $320, including dinner and breakfast; closed April 1 to mid-May.
The Quiet Country Life
Inn on the Common
Here's the first thing that made me swoon at the Inn on the Common: walking up the path and hearing the crunch of dry leaves under my shoes. (Note to Vermont innkeepers: Always rake leaves onto front walk so that they crackle underfoot. Arriving guests will swear allegiance forever.)
The Northeast Kingdom, on the border of Quebec, is a few decades behind even New England's calendar—the town of Granby, 25 miles east of the inn, didn't get electricity until 1963. I bounced happily over gravel roads, listening to French-Canadian radio; past hillsides as wrinkled as a shar-pei, past satellite dishes perched like broken toadstools in pastures, past friendly signs for llama farms (llet llamas into your llife!). On the porch of the Lake Parker Country Store was a bulletin board covered with homemade business cards:
NEED A SEPTIC SYSTEM IN YOUR PIT?
CALL ME AT HOME
In the middle of all this is Craftsbury Common, one of those ur-Vermont villages with more fence posts than people, one main road, and tyke-league soccer games on the town green. Innkeepers Penny and Michael Schmitt moved here in 1974 from Manhattan. (It's true that many Vermont inns are run by former New Yorkers—what you might call the Newhart Contingency.)
The Schmitts' number one rule of innkeeping: It's Vermont, stupid. Visitors come for the rural life, not for a lot of contemporary distractions. It took several requests before Penny put clocks in the rooms; she's still opposed to telephones, and don't even mention TVs. ("For those who enjoy it," there's a television in the inn's living room, with a VCR and a movie library.)
What the Schmitts have created is a wonderfully sleepy inn in a wonderfully sleepy hamlet. I'd nearly forgotten what the REM stage was until my first night here—I woke up feeling as if I'd spent a week at a spa.
There are 16 guest rooms in three Federal-style buildings, one of which overlooks the common and its soccer games. I stayed in No. 3, a sunny, sea green spot that was converted from a second-story porch; it now has the airy simplicity of a beach house, with clapboard walls and wraparound windows. The view was of a Palladian landscape—a row of cypress trees marching down the lawn, which stretches toward the hills in a series of terraces. Gravel paths lead to the clay tennis courts and to a lovely pergola surrounded by white roses, white irises, white wisteria. The inn held four wedding ceremonies here last year.
Meals are served family-style at a long communal table. During my visit the only other guests were an amiable couple in their seventies, who were quietly cooing at each other before the hostess sat me down beside them. I felt like a chaperon at a school dance. Luckily the escargots in garlic butter came right away, followed by a salad topped with artichoke hearts and sevruga caviar. All three of us ordered the very good pan-blackened red snapper, with roasted peppers and feta.
The last thing that made me swoon at the Inn on the Common: a long walk I took around the dew-smacked grounds, eating raspberries the breakfast chef had given me. And, finally, the receding image of the maple tree out front. It's an apt focal point for the inn, which, while supplying just the right man-made comforts, knows to step aside and let Vermont show its best profile.
Main St., Craftsbury Common; 800/521-2233 or 802/586-9619, fax 802/586-2249; doubles $200- $280, including dinner and breakfast; open year-round.
Bring the Family
People had been saying to me, "I know about romantic getaways, but where would a family feel at home?" The answer: Barrows House, a nine-building inn on 12 acres in the historic resort town of Dorset. In Dorset you can have Vermont any way you want it—village scenes in the town, with its summer playhouse and white-fenced lawns; hiking and skiing in the Green Mountains; outlet shopping at Donna Karan and Armani in nearby Manchester. Those who want Vermont to be all things to all people, this is your place.
And Barrows House is your inn. Among the 28 rooms, you can find one to suit your tastes—in the 19th-century main house, which has cozy dollhouse-like rooms with flowered wallpaper; or the Stable House, with its pitched ceilings and gas fireplaces (Robert Redford felt at home here, they'll tell you); or the modern Schubert House, whose ground-floor suite has digital thermostats, a TV-VCR (a first for me in Vermont), a shared kitchen, and a sunroom with a daybed. Barrows House is ideal for groups of friends or for family reunions; several cottages have adjoining rooms with sofa beds. And while your suite may be equipped with all mod cons, you need only step outside to find an old New England setting.
I was happy to see children romping across the lawn when I arrived. So many inns cater exclusively to couples, I'd forgotten how much fun it is to watch five-year-olds play in a pile of leaves. Barrows House will arrange for a sitter while parents enjoy a quiet dinner or a play. There are plenty of games and videos to keep the children busy. Nor is there a shortage of adult distractions: tennis courts, an outdoor pool, bicycles, a sauna, and, of course, all those outlets down the road. Each afternoon, exhausted guests return in their rental cars, back seats filled with shoe boxes and fishing rods. They eventually turn up at the inn's pub, where stories of giant trout compete with tales of 50 percent discounts at Cole-Haan. It's all very convivial, as befits a pub whose entrance is crowned by a stuffed moose head—stuffed like a teddy bear, that is.
I had a fine meal in the dual-personality dining room, one-half grandmotherly with rose stenciling, the other a sleek solarium. The menu has a lot of Pacific Rim and Southwestern touches, as well as old standbys like tournedos of beef. Pheasant consommé was a terrific first course; the pan-roasted salmon with ginger was equally good.
My suite in Schubert House was nice enough, though I'd have preferred one in the more traditional cottages, such as Halstead or Hemlock. But mine had plenty of space, and I loved the view from my sunroom onto the garden's cupola. After breakfast my last morning I took a nap on the daybed, basking in the brilliant sunshine. I didn't wake up until long after the checkout hour. Don't feel embarrassed, they told me. Apparently it happens all the time.
Rte. 30, Dorset; 800/639-1620 or 802/867-4455, fax 802/867-0132; doubles from $190, including dinner and breakfast; open year-round.
Inn at Weathersfield Rte. 106, Weathersfield; 802/263-9217; doubles from $195, including breakfast, afternoon tea, and dinner. A 1790 farmhouse with a cattail-lined pond and a splendid old dining room (with actual candles in the chandeliers!)—not far from Woodstock's shops and restaurants, but enticingly quiet and unpretentious.
1811 House Rte. 7A, Manchester; 802/362-1811; doubles from $110, including breakfast. Across from the Equinox, the town's splashiest hotel, this gracious 14-room B&B with beautiful grounds is within easy reach of Manchester's outlet stores. The inn is smaller and a bit more polished than the nearby Barrows House (see ), but it doesn't serve dinner.
Jackson House Inn 37 Old Rte. 4 West, Woodstock; 802/457-2065; doubles from $160, including breakfast. This longtime favorite was undergoing a renovation during my visit. The new innkeepers are adding four suites (opening this month) and a French restaurant (slated for early fall). Could be the ideal place for watching the trees turn.
Great country stores
Fact No. 1:There are more salsa makers in Vermont than in all of New Mexico.
Fact No. 2: Vermonters can make salsa from just about anything.
Fact No. 3: Maple-flavored salsa actually isn't bad.
You can't know Vermont without knowing its country stores. Besides the expanding shelves of salsa (apple, pear, ginger, dill), there's always a selection of allegedly utilitarian items, such as the Squirrel Baffler, a wobbly 20-inch disk that fits over your bird feeder and sends curious rodents plummeting. You'll also find battery-heated socks, six-foot licorice twists, and Rubik's Cubes. (Yes! They're still out there!) Among the more interesting places:
Vermont Country Store Rte. 100, Weston; 802/ 824-3184. The great-granddaddy of them all. Wool sweaters, smoked Gouda, bird-watcher's guides, jigsaw puzzles (you'll need one of these), griddles. . . . It has become a bit like L. L. Bean—overcrowded, overbig—but still could teach Wal-Mart something about running a megastore.
Grafton Village Store Main St., Grafton; 802/843-2348. Like the town's Old Tavern, this small shop fits almost too well, down to the clerk who might have been in a Pepperidge Farm commercial. But this is the real deal, and everyone passes through at some point.
Warren Store Main St., Warren Village; 802/496-3864. A twist on tradition: here you'll find the expected penny candy and pickle barrels of lore, but upstairs are Japanese teapots worthy of a ceremony, Day of the Dead diablos, Burmese rice bowls, and some very chic suede jackets. There's also a great café serving coq au vin, cold sesame noodles, and IBC root beer.