MENDON, Vt. - Mary Strelecki speaks with a soft Texas drawl as she shows us around the inn she and her husband, Dave, have owned since 2001. The 1840s farmhouse, later enlarged into a summer retreat, sits along a country road almost in the shadow of Pico Peak.
The 14-acre property may be small by Texas standards, but it's big on New England charm. On a fall afternoon, ducks glide on a pond and fruit hangs heavily on apple trees lining the road. "Deer browse under the trees," Strelecki says, "and there are moose in the area, but I've never seen them on the property."
In winter, guests can ski the nearby Pico or Killington slopes, or tramp the even-closer Long Trail on snowshoes. "But a lot of people just come to relax," Strelecki says.
Our room, number 11 in the carriage house, seemed to have been designed for relaxing. We entered through a private door (shaded by an awning) into a large, almost square space. White walls and four big windows made the room seem even bigger. Milky blue-green paint on the doors and moldings reminded us of the period colors you might find at Old Sturbridge Village. And the country pine headboard, low pine dressers serving as night tables, and wrought iron reading lamps bespoke classic country decor.
But early country folk didn't enjoy king-size beds, TVs, VCRs, and DVD players - or gas fireplaces. Two dusty rose-colored padded armchairs sat before the fireplace and swiveled for optimal television viewing. The room came with a coffeemaker, iron and ironing board, luxurious robes, and in a nod to Yankee practicality, a fly swatter.
The bathroom featured a large vanity sink and combination tub-shower. The walls were faux-painted in vibrant shades of red, one of the property's more dramatic decorative painting schemes.
In the main inn's Keeping Room, subtle shades of taupe on the walls complemented chair-rail height wainscoting and the sloping beam ceiling. Guests staying in the main inn or carriage house tend to gravitate here to chat in front of the wood-burning fieldstone fireplace, pull chairs around a table to play games, or watch the television tucked into a corner by the bar. Early in the evening, visitors relax with a drink before heading into the dining room.
That easy sociability was what we enjoyed most about the place. As we ate dinner, two local couples at a nearby table discussed a new business venture and traded stories about odd encounters with wildlife. When we couldn't help but laugh at a bizarre story about a deer in the passenger seat of a truck (don't ask), we were quickly welcomed into the conversation.
The foursome were fans of chef Stephen "Reddz" Dickinson's contemporary Vermont cuisine, presented in a three-course fixed-price menu. The salad of mesclun with shallots, pine nuts, pancetta, feta, and balsamic vinaigrette was almost a meal in itself, while a goulash of mushrooms, raisins, and truffle oil proved a perfect fall complement for scallops. Autumn and summer collided in the vegetarian ravioli with pesto cream sauce and early fall vegetables, while seared halibut with horseradish cream sauce and red pepper coulis hinted at cold weather to come. Such desserts as the Swedish apple tart with cinnamon ice cream advanced the country theme.
We thought we'd return to the dining room - where pink and blue morning glories were stenciled across pale yellow walls - for breakfast. Instead, service was in the bright sun porch where three walls of windows flooded the space with morning light. As we ate grapefruit, baked eggs, bacon, and English muffins, we chatted with a solicitor and his wife from England who were on an inn-to-inn driving tour of northern New England. "Our travel agent planned the route for us," he said "and the food has been fantastic."
We were feeling lazy as we watched a landscape crew mow the big front lawn. Soon a more ambitious guest headed out for a mountain bike ride along the dirt road leading from the inn. "Don't worry, I'll just hang out here," his wife told him.
She had the right idea.
Patricia Harris & David Lyon, freelance writers from Cambridge, can be reached at email@example.com.
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