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In distant Vermont, delicious fare of calm and coziness

Email|Print| Text size + By Beth Daley
Globe Staff / February 20, 2005

CRAFTSBURY COMMON, VT. -- Two of the main claims to fame in this speck of a town include the smallest four-year college in the country and the use of its common in the 1955 Alfred Hitchcock film "The Trouble with Harry."

These sights, we discovered on a recent visit, can be blissfully experienced by sprawling across a queen-size bed in Room 16 in the Chandler House of the Inn on the Common and peering out the window. There, through the glass, we saw the handsome town common and adjacent to it, Sterling College with its roughly 100 enrolled students.

Once this frenetic tourism pace slowed, we lighted a fire in the fireplace in our room, curled up with books in the common area in the inn's main house, and later had dinner at the inn's spectacular Trellis Restaurant. The Inn on the Common is a charming, quirky place, owned by the professional and personable Jim and Judi Lamberti, who bought the property about two years ago. The place had fallen into disrepair in recent years, and the two experienced innkeepers have painstakingly brought it back into glory.

We arrived after dark one frigid Friday night, elated to know that Vermont's Northeast Kingdom was one of the few places in New England that had enough snow on the ground to go cross-country skiing the next day. The inn's main building, one of three, holds the library, living room, dining room, and five rooms. Across the street, the South House hosts the reception area, a fireplace parlor, and six rooms. About a four-minute walk down the street is the Chandler House, also with five rooms.

Shivering, we opened the Chandler's door and were greeted by a blast of warmth. A common area on the first floor has a TV, coffeemaker, and books and magazines. Our room was spacious with a queen-size four-poster bed, two large comfortable chairs, and a wood stove that needed only a match to start roaring. A small but charming bathroom was complete with bathrobes and all the needed amenities, including a wondrous tube of toothpaste (we had forgotten ours).

Starving, we set out for dinner. Our feet crunched in the snow as we walked and the only other sound was a few creaking tree branches. At the main house, we were greeted by Jim Lamberti -- in knickers no less -- and it wasn't until we were served dinner by a waitress dressed in Colonial garb that we realized we had stumbled on "period week" at the inn. It was an effort to draw locals into the restaurant, and judging by the full house, it had worked.

We had a cocktail from a bar in the library and perused the wonderfully stocked bookcases until a candlelit corner table opened up. While Trellis normally serves meals à la carte, the inn's Christmas in Craftsbury special offered a prix fixe that included mulled red wine and dessert for $29.

We munched on crackers and a sweet, delicious cheese dip and chatted with the couple at the next table and our waitress, a college student and fledgling children's book artist. For appetizers we shared a mixed green salad with cranberries and walnuts and butternut squash soup -- both tasty and welcome after our chilly walk.

I had Cornish game hen for dinner, accompanied by acorn squash and mashed potatoes -- a hearty, fresh meal that was reminiscent more of Manhattan than the outer reaches of Vermont. I also attempted to eat as much as I could of my husband's meal of wild boar ragout, spaetzle (a German noodle), and Brussels sprouts until he shooed my hand away. The boar, the first I've ever eaten, was tender. For dessert, we nibbled at an enormous piece of eggnog pie.

There isn't much to do after a meal like that but trudge home, light the fire, and read for two minutes before falling into a deep sleep. The next day, we drove past the white-drenched town common to the main house for a hearty breakfast of French toast and discussions about the day's events. Lamberti directed us to the Craftsbury Outdoor Center, which has miles of cross-country trails. The thermometer read 5 below but after three hours on skis, we were steamy enough to take off our coats. A bit tired, we were tempted to go back to our room and read the pile of books we had brought, but instead headed on a sightseeing tour to Barre about 45 miles away. It was 4:30 by the time we lighted our room fire again, and after a blissful nap, began talking about dinner plans. Where to go?

Craftsbury is remote -- really remote -- and after calling some restaurants that were each a good 25 minutes away, we figured why mess with perfection? We drove to the main house, Lamberti greeted us in his knickers, and we sat down to a meal as fabulous as the one the night before.

The next morning we had to leave before breakfast. Lamberti, however, had prepared a take-out breakfast of coffee and muffins for us, a welcome meal on the long ride home.

We're eager to go back to the inn in summer to take advantage of its extensive gardens, swimming pool, and terrace dining. By that time, we'll be ready for what we called on the way home a surefire recipe for relaxation: a sleepy town, a warm fire, excellent accommodations, and delicious food.

Beth Daley can be reached at bdaley@globe.com.

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