Five Favorite New England Inns
Finest Summer “Cottage”
Inn at Shelburne Farms
1611 Harbor Road
As I drive directly into the setting sun, the entry posts appear as two shimmering blurs. My vision clears, but the illusion of passing through the pearly gates persists.
“Welcome to Shelburne Farms,” the gatekeeper says, advising that it’s still two miles to the inn. The road snakes through parklike woods and meadows suggesting an English estate — but the herds are cows, not deer. Vermont’s largest house bursts into view as I emerge from a tunnel of maples. Multichimneyed and turreted, it’s set above lawns and against the sweep of Lake Champlain. Children play tag in formal gardens while, inside, guests gather around baronial hearths and in the velvet depths of the Main Hall and library. Others play billiards in a richly paneled game room hung with deer and buffalo heads. It’s like stepping into a Gilded Era house party.
In the 1890s, this mansion, built for Dr. W. Seward Webb and Lila Vanderbilt Webb, was far from New England’s only opulent summer “cottage.” Today, however, it’s the only one in which paying guests still feel as though they’ve been invited, perhaps because the transition from home to inn has come without a bill of sale. In 1972, Seward and Lila’s six great-grandchildren incorporated the estate’s 1,400 surviving acres and historic buildings as a nonprofit environmental center open to the public.
Shelburne’s real centerpiece is the five-story, tower-topped Farm Barn, larger and more imposing than the mansion. It’s here that the estate’s award-winning farmhouse cheddar cheese is produced, made from the milk of its grass-fed, purebred Brown Swiss cows. Here too, in the Children’s Farmyard, kids can milk a cow, collect eggs, brush down a donkey, and much more.
Shelburne Farms is now a public place with a visitors’ center, guided tours, special programs, and events. The inn, however, retains its unusually private feel. The 24 highly individualized rooms vary from cozy to palatial, and four cottages are sequestered by the lake, looking out to the purplish peaks of the Adirondacks beyond.
Warmth of a Family Farm
Liberty Hill Farm
511 Liberty Hill Road
Liberty Hill’s red cupola-topped barn is so picture-perfect that Vermont artist Woody Jackson has silk-screened this Rochester landmark onto T-shirts that sell well in Japan. Better yet, this is the real thing: a working family farm.
Beth and Bob Kennett milk 110 of their 240 Holsteins. Grown sons Tom and Dave help run the farm, and Tom’s 5-year-old twins, Tucker and Calvin, will start their chores this summer. Guests may help as little or as much as they wish. Children may collect eggs and hang out with the pigs, goats, and kittens.