BARNARD, Vt. -- When couples stay at the Maple Leaf Inn, they fall in love again. They renew their wedding vows. They celebrate anniversaries. They pretend it's 1976, that they're in a log cabin, that's it's the first day of their honeymoon and of the rest of their lives.
Or at least that's what they say. One of the many charming details at the Maple Leaf Inn -- and in the end there are many -- is the simple black journals that innkeepers Gary and Janet Robison leave in the rooms for their guests to describe their romantic epiphanies (minus the sex).
Actually, it was my girlfriend who found them charming. I found them alarming. This was my first trip to a bed-and-breakfast, and what I knew about them was what I had learned on television. And so besides what I assumed to be the obvious pressures of staying in a big old house with a bunch of people I didn't know, under the watchful eyes of innkeepers doubling as spies from Scotland Yard, and being served a fairly large breakfast by cheery people at an ungodly hour, now I had to fall in love again with my girlfriend.
In retrospect, our arrival could not have been more romantic. We drove in from Woodstock, about 10 miles away, along a curvy road that doubled as a highway into the heart of quintessential Vermont: the rolling hills, the lonely cow, the mountaintops painted in snow. We turned off the road when we saw the inn's sign, and then we drove a little farther down a gravel road, and suddenly there was the Maple Leaf Inn, a monstrous Victorian farmhouse nestled among 16 acres of birch and maple trees. Gary Robison, stout, funny man straight out of central casting, greeted us on the wraparound porch. He took our luggage up to our room and directed us to a parlor area, where we had hot cider and chocolate chip cookies baked by Janet, who produces the inn's renowned muffins, sweet rolls, and breads right in the inn. Gary refers to his wife as "my Janet" -- as in, "My Janet is out of town at a family wedding and she apologizes and wishes she could meet you."
I have to admit that my girlfriend and I were a little disappointed to learn Janet wouldn't be there, given everything Gary (and those little journals) said about her: that she doted on her guests' every wish, that she blew people away with her breakfasts, that she pays such close attention to detail that she decorated the walls in each of the seven rooms with stenciling that appeared so original and beautiful that when I learned it took a week to do each room I was surprised it wasn't a month.
Turns out we had nothing to worry about. Gary was the perfect host. He took us up to our room, the Summer Retreat, and showed us the wood-burning fireplace he had prepared for us to light, the satellite TV system, the heated floors in the bathroom, the hallway closet the Robisons call a "pillow library." He gave us what turned out to be a wonderfully romantic dinner suggestion at the nearby Barnard Inn, a place he said he takes "my Janet when I'm in the doghouse."
Gary and Janet describe the Summer Retreat as being "as blue as a summer sky," and it turns out they chose the right words. Everything was a different shade of calming blue: the plush carpet, the spread on the white iron (king size) bed, the two comfy chairs in front of the television. We were immediately happy. At one point, upon emerging from the bathroom, my girlfriend looked at me, before we had even tested the bed to see if it was comfortable, and said, "We're coming back here."
The bed was indeed comfortable; we settled in for a little nap before heading to dinner. When we returned later that night, we discovered a bottle of Vermont maple syrup on our pillow, with a personally inscribed note from Janet thanking us for staying at the inn. When we looked on top of the TV -- Gary must have gotten some sense of our excitement about the satellite TV and the possibilities of watching college football games by the dozen (me) and romantic movies (her) -- we discovered a bottle of champagne and a birthday card addressed to me. Apparently the Robisons had remembered my girlfriend's mentioning several weeks earlier that my birthday was coming up. I said, "We're definitely staying here again." She said, "Thank you."
And then there was breakfast. I had imagined sitting down to the biggest omelet I had ever seen, with potatoes and bacon and bread and sausage piled high in the center of the table. What we got, even in Janet's absence, was something very different: a three-course meal that had all the elegance and simplicity of a Newbury Street eatery. We had buttermilk scones that didn't so much melt in our mouths as immediately become a part of them, a delicious concoction of bananas coated with lemon and caramel sauce, and French toast stuffed with cream cheese and peach preserves. We didn't want to leave.
The other day I got Janet on the phone. She told me that one of the great joys of running the inn is seeing couples come for their one-year wedding anniversary, then not seeing them for a few years until they come back to say they were busy having kids. I believed her.
Michael Rosenwald can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.