Monday, July 21
A week of rain, misadventures and unexpected kindnesses in Southern Vermont
The rain began the minute I pulled into The Vermont Welcome Center on I-91 in Vermon. It poured buckets, then petered out but hit again the moment I stopped in Brattleboro at the Chamber of Commerce. This pattern of letting up while I was inside or driving and pouring the moment I stepped out pretty much held all week.
In East Jamaica Laura Howe, one of my adopted mothers and
The Vermonter to whom several editions of the guide have been dedicated, fed me
Tuna fish, lettuce from her garden and her ginger and oatmeal cookies.
Up the road in Jamaica 9 (Vt.), the town hall
has been restored, fitted with an authentic painted curtain from Bellows Falls. Muzzie has sold his hardware store and the building is now an outlet for a local glass-blower.
Elaine Beckwith’s gallery continues to be one of the best in Vermont and Skip Woodruff (a Howe relative) is thriving, making and selling his rustic lodge furniture. Margie’s Muse weaving shop, the Three Mountain Inn and Asti’s (authentic Swiss dining) plus Jamaica State Park—right there with trails and a swimming hole—all make for an exceptional village that you can drive through in seconds but is good for a couple pleasant days. I was there until almost 4pm.
Route 30 snakes on west, up and up through woods to Bondville. I turned at the deceptively modest “Stratton” sign. The access road, long and steep, climbs by the golf clubhouse and course, ending at a mammoth development. The small Chapel of the Snows – which stood all alone on that day (ok: 40 years ago?) when my friend Mary was married there, is now dwarfed by condo complexes. According to the Welcome Center clerk, just 250 condos are in the rental pool but that’s hard to believe. The good news is that cell phones work here.
Back down on Route 30 I stopped at “Out Back” and was glad I did. Its dining room and deck are right on Winhall River and all signs point to a find, especially for families, with Thursday night bbqs at picnic tables and live blues or other music.
North on Route 100 pottery was set out in the field and open door at D. Lasser Ceramics.
Years ago I bought a pair of crooked purple and blue candlesticks here and, although current pieces look more sophisticated, it’s nice to see that they are still not afraid to set them out so trustingly.
I’d been tipped off that The New American Grill in the Londonderry Shopping Center is outstanding and I’m sure it is. Unfortunately it was the chef owner’s birthday and so he wasn’t cooking, but I would return in a minute—booths, a great menu, friendly service, decent prices. Jake’s, also in the shopping center and formerly the local favorite, was empty but I understand the food is still okay.
It stopped raining and I ventured east along Route 11, past Magic Mt. to Lowell Lake, off up a side road and a quiet backwater that’s recently become at state park. Fishermen were drifting in but I didn’t see any places to swim.
The Colonial House is a small, homey inn and motel surrounded by meadows, south of Weston village. Kim and Jeff Seymour are the second generation innkeepers here and there’s a casual, friendly feel to the place. Given all the day’s collection of flyers, etc., I was grateful to be able to pull right into a rear motel unit and to begin sorting.
Tuesday, July 22
Breakfast is big at The Colonial House, with a menu to choose from, homemade breads. I fit right in at a breakfast table of half a dozen women, several here by themselves, drawn by services at the nearby Weston Priory, a Benedictine monastery known for its music and expansive peace.
Weston itself was a disappointment this time around.
The Inn at Weston is lovelier than ever , in part because innkeeper Bob Aldrich, a doctor in his previous life, is a passionate gardener. Perhaps I’m just sour grapes because the Vermont Country Store wasn’t carrying my guide and in the past they have been a big outlet. A new Gallery on the Green has opened with WiFi, good coffee, teas and art but the museums are closed weekdays and the general feel is tacky.
After a false start, I found the Landrgrove Road and the Landgrove Inn, seemingly as lovely as ever, a great woods retreat with pool, pond, walking trails and dining room.
Unfortunately I had a 2pm appointment with the chamber in Manchester so had to scoot through Peru and the less said about that meeting, the better.
Manchester is a bit overwhelming for a travel writer who needs to get it all straight and hasn’t been there for the ten years I had left it to my co-authors. The Barnstead Inn was perfect for me needs—a tasteful room with all the comforts but not fussy, plus a pool.
Dinner at The Perfect Wife with Chris and Ted Sprague, innkeepers at the far more luxurious Inn at Ormsby Hill, was a delight and tuned me inn.
Wednesday, July 23
Scurried around Manchester and checked out both Dorset and Pawlet
but it’s a no brainer I should have allowed another day herer. The Gourmet Café and Deli, back behind Riteway, was a great find for lunch and I was chugging along despite the rain when I walked in The Equinox inh Manchester Center, Vermont’s only surviving 19th century spa resort. It’s recently changed hands, yet again. Current owners, a New Jersey-based conglomerate, have lavished it with millions in excruciatingly bad, insensitive taste. Theoretically “Art Deco”because the resort prospered in 20s era of “auto touring”, the public rooms are attractive but each of the guest rooms is dominated by a huge flat-screen TV and outsized contemporary furnishings that would look fine in am urban boutique hotel but are totally bizarre here.
Shouldn’t there be a law, or at least guidelines, when owners acquire a historic property on the National Register? The spa area is lovely and the amenities—golf, archery, falconry, off-road driving—are still there but the hotel itself is now a shell with
An anywheresville feel.
Too bad the decorator didn’t seem to know about Susan Sargent’s bright fabrics, showcased next door in the old Johnny Appleseed. They would have been far more sophisticated and appropriate.
Whew! I got that out of my system. Unfortunately I was still filled with negaztive vibes when I left the hotel and managed to slip on the marble steps in front of the North Shire Court House across the street. I hit my chin and a car stopped. Two nice guys offered to take me back into the Equinox, where they worked, and give me some ice.
“No way!” I croaked. “I’m not going back in that hotel.” I’m sure thay thought I was crazy. Luckily at the Historic Hildene Visitors center, my next stop, Paul Maynard (who remembered me from years past at the Inn at West Hill in Arlington) gave me plenty of sympathy and an ice pack. Paula sent me over to Southern Vermont Arts Center, which now hosts major seasonal exhibitions—at present featuring Janet Fish and her amazing renditions of glass.
Enough! I drove through the rain to Arlington and the Country Willows where Anne and Ron Webber, longtime are innkeepers, gave me a warm reception and we dined well at the reasonably priced South Arlington Café.
Thursday, Arlington & Bennignton
One of the best breakfast’s ever! An omelet concocted from Anne’s herb and veggie garden with French press coffee. I prowled the local antiques shops and inns happily but fell behind schedule as usual, finally snagging lunch at 2:45 in a general store—during a downpour—in North Bennington, home of the Park McCullough House, one of Vermont’s truly hidden gems. I remember walking into the parlor there one day (40 years ago probably) and finding Aaron Copland at the grand piano there and no one else in the house. I had forgotten that until I heard a musician practicing in the carriage house when I entered.
Finding the middle of Bennington – and then the chamber—took much more doing than I’d anticipated. Since my last visit by-passes have looped like spaghetti around the old Rte.7 and 9 junctions, where the traffic backup seems worse than ever. JP at the chamber couldn’t have been more helpful but it’s obvious I have to come back to do Bennington justice. At least I found the Bennington Arts Center with its Covered Bridge Museum and managed to stop at the Bennington Monument.
The former Walloomsuc Inn, which was here during the Battle of Bennington (which wasn’t here) is the most picturesque ruin in the state—it was Vermont’s oldest inn forever but the owners refused to paint or upgrade it. Now it would be the perfect venue for murder mysteries. It was already past 6pm and I fled east, down Route 9 and up out of the Battenkill Valley through wooded Woodford—said the be the highest village in Vermont—then down into the Deerfield Valley and Wilmington to the White House, a former mansion that’s been an inn, under the same ownership, forever.
Or so I thought. Turns out it changed hands on Wednesday. Stan Smith, the new owner, is a former Beverly Hills realtor. I supped at The Maple Leaf Brewery in the middle of Wilmington, which is no longer a brewpub because it had just changed hands.
Friday, Mt. Snow Valley
Mt. Snow is now owned by a Missouri –based company and, according to the C of C, is pouring money into snowmaking and other improvements. Hard to tell anything about a ski area in summer but local lodging actually seems on an upswing. The Inn at Sawmill Farm, celebrating its 40th anniversary this summer—is still the standout place to stay and eat here and seems more inviting than ever, with traditionally luxurious rooms and a blue heron (no clipped wings) cavorting around the pond beyond the pool.
Niche inns are the thing here. The Grey Ghost now caters to motorcyclists, Trail’s End is all about herbal spa treatments, Austin Hill is about murder mysteries and “Paws” in the middle of Dover will be opening soon with, I’m told, dog runs for every room. While The White House will no longer maintain x-country trails (it’s still a great places for weddings), The Hermitage, currently being totally rebuilt with an eye to energy efficiency and “green construction” will reopen by winter with its great trail system.
Again I feel like a bit of a ghost in this Valley. I have not only skied Haystack Mt. (now a private community with just its golf course open) but Carinthia, once owned by a college classmate, now a “frontal face” reserved for free-style skiing, part of Mount Snow. Soon too, no one will remember the lake with its distinctive floodlit fountain in front of Snow Lake Lodge. It’s being drained, despite its fish and otters. Seems someone died there five years ago, falling out of a paddle boat after hours.
My final find of the day was Cooper Hill Inn up in east Dover, arguably the inn with the best view in Vermont—this afternoon it was all the way west (70 miles?) to Mount Monadnock. Formerly this was an informal, groups-geared place but present owners Lee and Charles Wheeler have created a very special place, reserving one wing of the lodge for families and tailoring the other wing to romantic getaways. There’s an informal rec room but also a gracious living room in the original 18th century core of the house. The setting for a wedding is in a sheltered hollow below an exceptionally flowery rock garden and everywhere is that amazing view.