By Marjorie Kean
With the rest of the country in the deep freeze, southern Florida remains as balmy as ever. So where would we Floridians go for a January getaway—to the cold and snow of Vermont, of course.
About a week ago, my husband and I spent a long weekend in Woodstock, Vermont, an artsy New England town influenced by the conservationist movement. We wanted to stay in a B&B and after doing research found the Village Inn of Woodstock. We were looking for something quaint and when we arrived found it right on the mark.
It wasn’t anything like the more mass-market 142-room Woodstock Inn and Resort down the street, but rather a beautiful old Victorian Mansion with eight rooms, all beautifully appointed. This was my first experience in a B&B and I wasn’t sure what to expect but I immediately fell in love with the place, including the canopied four-poster bed in our room.
The walls were covered with art, some obviously family painted, which is how we learned that David – co-owner and our co-host with his wife Evelyn – was originally an artist who brought his work to the inn. There were also early American-type pieces scattered throughout the house.
At check-in, a rather casual event, David told us there was a Happy Hour in the inn’s small bar at 5:00pm every day, and that turned out to be the gathering place where everyone shared information about restaurants all over town. The bar was cozy, had a black binder filled with menus from local restaurants, and was filled with top liquors since, as David said, he didn’t have room to stock the cheap stuff.
The Village Inn’s breakfast, the differentiator of many B&Bs, was delicious. Although in many B&Bs breakfast never varies, each morning we were offered a different daily special, in addition to eggs, yogurt and homemade granola, all along with fresh-squeezed orange juice and an assortment of homemade breads. All the ingredients were locally grown except the coffee, we were told, which came from New Orleans “because they take coffee seriously.”
It quickly became obvious that Evelyn and David took their breakfast seriously. Soon after we sat down the first morning Evelyn offered us waffles, something I have never liked, but which turned out to be the lightest, tastiest I’ve ever had. The second morning the special was a quiche with Vermont cheddar cheese, and the third incredible blueberry pancakes. Moreover, Evelyn was amazing about sharing her secrets in the kitchen…she told me that to keep things light she whips the egg whites before mixing them into the dry ingredients.
Our long weekend soon began to focus on eating, even though after our breakfast we really didn’t need to eat again until dinner. Nevertheless, every evening during Happy Hour we began planning our next nightly foray with the little black binder.
During the day we found a number of things to do in Woodstock. Though we aren’t skiers any longer, we saw some lovely slopes, as well as snowshoeing and other outdoor sports. But since the snow was poor we set off for other places and options.
The most memorable was Billings Farm & Museum, a wonderful state museum and old farmstead once owned by Laurance Rockefeller and his wife, both conservationists. It’s famous as a museum of Vermont’s rural past, and is still a working farm with champion Jersey cows, as well as sheep, and they produce and sell their milk. An exhibit at the farm highlights the conservationist movement that revived Vermont farming after erosion had ruined the land for farming.
What we found the most fun were the sleigh rides (there was enough snow for a ten-minute sleigh ride in the fields), the barn where we petted new-born calves and the late 19th-century farm house that had, amazingly, hot running water, an indoor bathroom and electricity. Guides explained how they made butter (they had a large operation in the basement), and cooked macaroni and cheese, a staple winter meal at the time, on a wood burning stove in the kitchen. It was all fascinating.
Other interesting attractions in Woodstock and the surrounding area were the varied shops and antique stores. Of course there were the usual “junk shops,” which advertised themselves as selling “collectibles,” but also some really good antique shops with furniture, art and knickknacks. Woodstock was started as an art colony and still has a good collection of artists who exhibit at local art galleries.
Since serious shopping can work up an appetite, thankfully there were plenty of restaurants in Woodstock – ranging from an Asian fusion restaurant to a new and supposedly excellent Caribbean restaurant, as well as many local New England eateries – to keep us busy in the evening. Since both my husband and I are fans of tasting local foods, we opted for three New England-style restaurants.
The first, the Prince and the Pauper, was located on a side alley, always a good sign, and was decorated with lots of wood, ceiling beams and pew-like high-back benches, which gave us additional privacy. Each of us chose smoked-duck ravioli and lamb Wellington, both of which were delicious. Adding a dollop of fun to the evening was our waitress who had the right combination of spunk and attentiveness.
After we forgot to make reservations for the second night, we were relegated to try Max’s Tavern, a “locals hangout” up the mountain about 15 minutes outside of Woodstock. Unfortunately, since we hadn’t been given good directions, it took us 45 minutes to find the place, which turned out to be in the back of the Barnard Inn, another restaurant.
Max’s wasn’t very elegant and it lacked the right ambiance for us, but the food was excellent. My husband’s filet and my mussels were exceptional, but the staff was overwhelmed by the influx of patrons on the Martin Luther King holiday-weekend so the service suffered greatly.
For our last night we chose Simon Pearce’s Restaurant, located at his glass factory and store. For those who don’t know Pearce – and neither of us did – he is a renowned high-end glassblower and pottery maker, whose wineglasses sell for $60, or more, apiece.
I found it interesting that anyone would have a restaurant located in a factory, which is on the lower level, but it worked. The building, a beautiful warehouse-style structure with old wood floors and beams, was bought by Pearce about 25 years ago, and today is filled with light wood furniture which sets off the glass and other tableware.
The menu was typical of a fine-dining restaurant, one dish from each protein (fish, duck, beef, chicken) and well presented, but was still somewhat disappointing, especially after our experiences the previous two nights.
The next morning, while driving back to the airport, my husband and I got into a discussion as to what each of us enjoyed most about the weekend. The typical guy, he raved about the farmhouse at the Billings Farm because of all the hardware and devices.
For me, though, it was our three breakfasts, sitting by the fireplace in that comfortable room, with Evelyn sharing her secret formulae for those never-to-be-forgotten pancakes and waffles…
If you go:
The Village Inn of Woodstock
41 Pleasant Street
Woodstock, VT 05091
Tel: (800) 722-4571
Billings Farm & Museum
Route 12 & River Road
Woodstock, VT 05091-0489
Prince And The Pauper
24 Elm Street
Woodstock, VT 05091
Tel: (802) 457-1818
(in the Barnard Inn)
5518 Route 12
Barnard, VT 05031
Tel: (802) 234.9961
760 Quechee Main Street
Quechee, VT 05059
Tel: (802) 295-1470