New England's Best Historic Inns
These are the moody weeks between foliage color and holiday glitz, a lull best captured with a night or two away. An old inn, one with the patina and the stories that come with age, seems particularly suited to this reflective time. We traveled many hundreds of miles in our search for the best of New England’s oldest inns and B&Bs–those that still evoke the 18th century but are cushioned in contemporary comforts. The following historic and restful places emerged as our favorites.
THE OLD INN ON THE GREEN
New Marlborough, Massachusetts
Late one afternoon we arrived at The Old Inn on the Green in New Marlborough, Massachusetts. This classic 1760s stagecoach inn stands in the southern Berkshires on the far side of a green along Route 57, now a quiet byway but once a bustling road heading west toward New York State. It’s a long, low-slung building faced with columned first- and second-story porches; it’s flanked by a gold-domed meetinghouse and a sprinkling of early homes in matching white clapboard.
We were greeted by delicious aromas and a cheerful staffer who ushered us out the door and across the green to a ground-floor room, furnished with antiques, in the nearby Thayer House, a vintage 1820s home. Would we like our hearth lit? Of course.
We sank into the wing chairs on either side of the shallow Rumford fireplace. The logs blazed, then settled into shifting patterns. Finally we stirred as far as the sitting room across the hall and checked out our bathroom with its full-headed shower and a separate Jacuzzi; also robes and bath salts. Ah yes …
By 6:30, one of the inn’s three dining rooms had already filled; patrons were taking advantage of acclaimed chef/owner Peter Platt’s reasonably priced midweek menu. The low-ceilinged dining rooms were lit by candles that blazed in iron chandeliers as well as on tables. Roasted-red-pepper soup came studded with tempura shrimp and a tender veal scaloppine, with seasonal veggies polenta. A series of amuse-bouches included risotto with onions and mushrooms and a lobster pate.
“It’s like unpacking a Christmas stocking,” my companion observed. “You have no idea what will come next, even with what’s on the menu.”
Next morning, after a breakfast of French-press coffee, juice, and the flakiest, most buttery of fresh croissants, we looked into the five light-filled upstairs rooms, all successfully preserving a 1700s feel–with style and comfort.
THE FRANCIS MALBONE HOUSE
Newport, Rhode Island
What you don’t expect to find in 1760s New England is an inn that looks as though it could be in London. The Francis Malbone House, in Newport, Rhode Island, is a three-story brick Georgian mansion, said to be designed by famed Colonial architect Peter Harrison. Colonel Malbone was a shipping merchant during Newport’s heyday of seafaring glory, an era in which its gentry wore powdered wigs and high-heeled, gold-buckled shoes. During the Revolution, the British occupied Newport, and, so the story goes, an English officer fell in love with Colonel Malbone’s daughter Peggy, risking capture to visit her. After the war they married and returned to England. Newport, however, never regained its prominence, luckily for the preservation of its old port area. Meticulously restored in the 1960s, the original mansion has acquired additions and an adjacent property in the years since, and is now a 20-room inn.
Entry is through this addition, and from there guests step back in time, into the broad central hall with its high dividing arch and four flanking parlors, each with intricately detailed original paneling. In one of these rooms, said to be the former kitchen, a table is piled high with an extravagant afternoon “tea,” substantial enough to preclude any need for dinner.
We settled into a third-floor room but were lured from our crackling hearth by the bright lights below us, along Thames Street and the neighboring wharves–and into a Newport that turns December into a monthlong celebration filled with glimmer and greenery (details at christmasinnewport.org).
THE DORSET INN
Set above marble steps, the three-story, pillared Dorset Inn anchors the village green. Opened in 1796, this is Vermont’s oldest continuously operating inn. The low-ceilinged lobby and parlors have slightly slanted, wide-planked floors, and there’s a cheery tavern and a graceful, deep-rose-colored dining room. The 25 recently renovated guestrooms wander off in several directions.
Please Note: This information was accurate at the time of publication. When planning a trip, please confirm details by directly contacting any company or establishment you intend to visit.