WOODSTOCK, Vt. -- OK, the thought of a quiet romantic weekend without the children at a rustic inn in this beautiful state is certainly appealing. But the offerings for little ones in this area have increased recently, and you'll kick yourself if you don't bring the kids along. This town and its surroundings present too many opportunities for fun not to make it a family trip.
The children will be thrilled, for example, to visit JhoJho, the resident water buffalo stud at Star Hill Dairy, which opened a little more than a year ago. Mom and dad, while also enjoying the visit to JhoJho and all the little water buffalo babies, may appreciate even more the fact that this is the only place in the country that makes the delicious buffalo mozzarella. David Muller, the owner of Star Hill, was so enamored of the cheese that he brought an Italian artisan to Woodstock to teach him how to make it.
He also brought equipment from Italy, and now, in addition to the mozzarella, he makes buffalo yogurt such exotic flavors as chai and white chocolate (with 17 percent fat content). The treat is so dense it tastes like ice cream. Muller is so solicitous of his buffaloes -- not used to the winters of Vermont -- that he gave them water beds. (It seems that they're more comfortable that way and produce more milk.)
Star Hill isn't the only unusual farm here. The Billings Farm & Museum, a pristine working dairy farm that dates to 1871, has been preserved by the Woodstock Foundation, Inc., and is far more than a mere petting zoo for children from toddlers on up. Almost every day from May 1 to Halloween, the farm provides activities from sheep shearing to butter churning to milking the Jersey cows. Each July, the farm celebrates Cow Appreciation Day.
The theater in the visitor center continually shows the Academy Award-nominated short film "A Place in the Land," which depicts the story of how Mary French Rockefeller and her husband, Laurance, helped the farm that her grandfather owned preserve its heritage.
Mary Rockefeller, granddaughter of Frederick Billings, the farm's founder and developer of a massive reforestation program in Vermont, brought her husband to Woodstock to show him the town that she loved. Townspeople still credit the Rockefellers for the resulting turn toward preservation and conservation.
In addition to buying the 1793 Woodstock Inn and building and preserving the new facility, the Rockefellers encouraged the underground burying of telephone and electrical wires and discouraged the erecting of billboards and distracting signs throughout the state. One of the main draws for visitors to Woodstock, which Conde Nast Traveler calls "the perfect New England village," is the resulting unspoiled rural beauty of the town, which has the same population today -- 3,000 -- that it had in 1860. There are no chain stores in the village, and most of the art galleries and shops are one of a kind.
Jeffrey Kahn, owner of Unicorn, at 15 Central St., which is jammed with "ingenious presents," as he calls them, resembles Art Garfunkel and is still a child at heart. He delights in showing shoppers his funky collection of gadgets and toys for every age, including a drinking glass with a built-in mixer to whip one's milk into a chocolate shake, or, for parents, the $5 "Lawyer's Book of Ethics," which, it turns out after leafing through the pages, is totally blank. When we last saw Kahn he was showing 10-year-olds a favorite trick glass.
Children could easily settle in for an afternoon exploring the joke gifts, jewelry, and greeting cards in Kahn's shop, but the outdoors beckons. With the help of a cyclist's map from the Woodstock Inn, you could take the kids on a bike ride to find the covered bridges and swimming holes. Or, if your children are 6 or older, you can all hike a part of the Appalachian Trail. The trailhead is about 2 miles north on Route 12, and the trail takes about 90 minutes to complete.
We hiked the Quechee Gorge, off Route 4. Quechee is an Abenaki Indian word for "a swift mountain stream," and the Ottaquechee River is certainly that. It was formed 13,000 years ago when Quechee was covered by a glacier that slowly and steadily ate away at the bedrock ridge as it melted. Now the gorge, nicknamed "Vermont's Little Grand Canyon," has beautiful vistas 162 feet above the river that the whole family will enjoy. We followed the path to the bottom of the gorge. The hike took about a half-hour.
While we were in Quechee we stopped in the restored wool mill, now the Simon Pearce glassware center. Simon Pearce allows visitors to the shop and restaurant to venture downstairs to see glassblowers making the pitchers, bowls, and vases that are sold upstairs. There also is a potter at work, a small table and child-size chairs, and a ball of wet clay ready for any young visitor who fancies fashioning his own animal or bowl.
There are many activities for children going on seemingly all the time in Woodstock. We passed a poster near the village green that announced a celebration of Dr. Seuss, with a free one-hour public reading of the children's stories. Most of these activities are posted along the main street on "The Town Crier" blackboard and are constantly updated.
If you stay at the Woodstock Inn, the Kids Cook program offers a children's cooking demonstration in the kitchen with executive chef Daniel Jackson; parents can take a walking tour of the town. There is also a Vermont Toy and Train Museum on Woodstock Road that houses, among other treasures, more than 400 lunch boxes that can bring a baby boomer back to the third grade.
As Sunday afternoon rolls around, the children may remind you that you didn't get to Sugarbush Farm to learn why each grade of Vermont maple syrup tastes different. You didn't get to the Vermont Institute of Natural Science, which opened last month and which serves as a home for owls, hawks, falcons, and eagles. You didn't go fishing in the trout stream. You didn't go . . . well, you get the picture. Prepare yourself for the inevitable question from the back seat: "When can we go back?" You might reply, "In September" for the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historic Park's free Forest Celebration Weekend, with its treasure hunts and forest management and junior ranger programs.
Julie Hatfield is a freelance writer who lives in Duxbury.