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Checking In

Mid-state, 4 guest rooms on 33 forested acres

Email|Print| Text size + By Rich Barlow
Globe Correspondent / December 24, 2006

PETERSHAM -- As a tourist stop, Central Massachusetts is something of a soft-focus blur. Unless you're catching an event at the DCU Center in Worcester, the Commonwealth's geographic bull ' s - eye doesn't beckon a visitor like historic Boston and Cape Cod to the east or the woods and waterways of the Berkshires to the west.

But the hill country surrounding the Quabbin Reservoir boasts diversions to please everyone , from the outdoorsman to seekers of creature comforts. Falling squarely in the second camp, we spent two mid-autumn nights at the Inn at Clamber Hill.

Let's see: French doors leading to the bedroom, their glass exposing the ample queen bed and evoking Louis XIV and Versailles. Check. Decanter of brandy on the table just off the sitting room fireplace, suggesting English after-dinner gentility. Check. An easel with a print of a cathedral, channeling medieval architectural magnificence. Check.

It's settled. The inn's European Suite lives up to its name, impressing us just minutes into our stay.

Owners Mark and Deni Ellis alternately refer to their establishment as an inn or a bed-and-breakfast. The latter is on the sign at the driveway entrance and one of us who doesn't particularly like B&B s expressed displeasure. But once inside, we were reassured. Though the place technically qualifies as a B&B , with just four guest rooms, those who prefer the more spacious and elegant accommodations of an inn need not scratch Clamber Hill from their to-visit list.

Built in the Roaring Twenties as a summer mansion by a Springfield couple, the Inn at Clamber Hill is the oversized kid in the B&B class. Its 9,600 -square -feet sprawl in a squared-off "U" flanked by two arched roofs as crisp as a Marine's trouser crease, reflecting Mark Ellis's former life as a member of the corps.

Our four-footed welcoming committee included Sam and Shamrock, a golden retriever and a chow, respectively, as friendly as they were furry. There was also a house cat for feline admirers, and, to the delight of our toddler, two horses who could be admired up close and from a distance when they're set loose in the field down from the inn. There are 33 forested acres surrounding the estate that are laced with trails, and depending on the season, the property is a hiker's or cross-country skier's dream.

The inn's literature said our suite was especially popular with honeymooners, and it's easy to see why a couple craving privacy wouldn't want to leave. Besides those glass doors and brandy, there was a working fireplace fronted by a sofa, several original oil paintings, an antique desk, and a bedroom easy chair with ottoman for reading.

We dined at the inn's tiny restaurant, where Mark Ellis does double duty as chef, on one of our two nights. Accommodating the family vegetarian, he prepared a pasta with vegetables. The sauceless dish could have used something to flavor it , but the inclusion of artichokes was an inspired complement to the noodles. Our carnivore rated as excellent the Chicken Clamber Hill, a take-off on chicken Cordon Bleu that could have easily turned greasy in less competent hands.

Before checking in, we puttered around Petersham's green, where we found a library with Internet access and a well-stocked general store carrying its own label of tasty, modestly priced wine. On our way home, we uncovered more of the area's charms. We spent an hour at an alpaca farm, where the animals -- cousins to the llama, but minus that creature's capability for crabbiness -- timidly approached us. We knew their disposition was as soft as their luxuriant fur when the entire herd fled en masse from the eminently un frightening pursuit of our exuberant 1 1/2 -year-old.

We also stopped to enjoy the annual Thanksgiving harvest festival at Red Apple Farm in nearby Phillipston. From the catchy country-music tribute to the farm performed by a guitarist in the barn to the delicious pies and other farm products, the festival was an apt coda to our pleasant stay at Clamber Hill. For a traveler seeking rest or fun, the middle of Massachusetts has plenty to offer.

Contact Rich Barlow, a freelance writer in Cambridge, at rich.barlow@valley.net.

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