Vermont: Where to Stay: Value: Inn at Shelburne Farms
Inn at Shelburne Farms
On the last day of our visit to Shelburne Farms, a historic estate in Vermont, my young son, Andrew, and I decided to take a walk along the shore of Lake Champlain. It was a sultry August afternoon, and sailboats glinted in the distance. We hopped over a stone wall edged with wild mint and onto the beach of a sheltered cove. Behind us, round hay bales dotted the farm’s emerald pastures. For three days, we had delighted in exploring the gorgeous 1,400-acre property. I had known we would relish time alone, but I hadn’t expected to find a place where two people of very different ages and tastes would be equally in heaven.
The former estate of Lila Vanderbilt Webb (daughter of William Henry Vanderbilt) and her husband, William Seward Webb, Shelburne Farms has been a working farm since the late 1800s. In the late 19th century, architect Robert H. Robertson designed a series of extraordinary buildings for the property, including the main house, set on a cliff above the lake; the enormous Breeding Barn, which has a cathedral ceiling and gabled dormers; and the five-story Farm Barn. Over the years, many of these buildings have been restored.
Today the Webbs’ great-grandchildren run the property as a nonprofit environmental education center with an emphasis on sustainable farming. In the 1980s, they turned the impressive 110-room main house, with its bay windows and carved marble panels, into the Inn at Shelburne Farms. A National Historic Landmark, the house retains most of its original furnishings, including rare books, Persian rugs and Empire sofas. The twenty-four guest rooms are simple and old-fashioned, with minimal amenities (and no air-conditioning) but marvelous charm. When Andrew and I were there, all of them were occupied, many of them with families, but it often felt as if we had the run of the place. We had breakfast on the terrace, played games in the hammock by the garden and lounged in Adirondack chairs overlooking the lake.
Because the landscape is so open, it was impossible to resist taking long walks along the property’s many trails. Our favorite spot, however, was the Farm Barn, which has tractors to climb on, baby animals to feed and a regular schedule of activities for children. Andrew was thrilled to learn how to catch a chicken, milk a cow and gather eggs. (Throughout the summer, the farm also operates a series of camps and programs for kids of all ages.) In another wing of the barn, we watched the farm’s award-winning cheddar cheese being made.
On our last night, we had dinner together in the inn’s excellent restaurant. Andrew ordered grilled cheese from the kid’s menu, while I enjoyed the pepper-crusted rib eye with truffled spinach and pickled-red-onion gremolata. Once again, two divergent tastes perfectly satisfied. Rooms from $140.
When to Go: The inn is open from mid-May through mid-October. Late September and early October, when the leaves turn, are quite popular, but I’m very partial to August.
Getting There: There’s an airport in Burlington, Vermont, which is seven miles north of the town of Shelburne.
Rooms to Get: The best views of the lake are from Overlook (Lila’s quarters) and the White Room (her husband’s), both in the main house. Be warned: rooms tend to be booked months in advance.
Where to Eat: In the town of Shelburne, Bistro Sauce (97 Falls Rd.; 802-985-2830; www.bistrosauce.com) features such dishes as roasted butternut squash soup with maple crème fraîche; lamb osso bucco with mascarpone polenta; and wild mushroom lasagna. Café Shelburne (5573 Shelburne Rd.; 802-985-3939; www.cafeshelburne.com), across from the Shelburne Museum, offers contemporary French cuisine and a solid wine list in a cozy setting (for dinner only). I found the homemade fettuccine in a buttery lobster sauce delicious.
What to Do: The Shelburne Museum (802-985-3348; www.shelburnemuseum.org), just down the road from, but unrelated to, the farm, is so vast and extraordinary that you should set aside a full afternoon or two to see it properly. Dedicated to Americana, it has dozens of historic structures, including a lighthouse, a covered bridge, a blacksmith shop and a 19th-century apothecary stocked with all sorts of potions. Andrew adored exploring the Ticonderoga, a 220-foot side-wheel steamboat built in 1906.
Day Trip: In nearby Burlington, the Echo Lake Aquarium and Science Center (One College St.; 802-864-1848; www.echovermont.org) hosts wonderful interactive exhibits for kids. Afterward, stroll along the pedestrians-only section of Church Street, which is lined with shops and restaurants. Stop at Lake Champlain Chocolates (65 Church St.; 802-862-5185; www.lakechamplainchocolates.com) for delectable truffles that are made by hand a few blocks away.
What to Bring Home: Vermont is famous for gourmet treats. The gift shop at Shelburne Farms carries fresh bread, jams and cheddar, all of which are made on the property. In the town of Shelburne, Harrington’s of Vermont (5597 Shelburne Rd.; 802-985-2000; www.harringtonham.com) is known for its smoked ham. Dakin Farm (100 Dorset St.; 802-658-9560; www.dakinfarm.com), in South Burlington, has sublime cob-smoked bacon, pork sausages sweetened with maple syrup and buttermilk pancake mix.
Read about Family Weeks at Twin Farms
Read about more Indagare Family Trips
Read about the best villas for families on St. Barth’s
Read advice about visiting Washington, D.C. with kids
Read tips about visiting Charlottesville, Virginia
For family advice or to learn about special trips or preferred rates at hotels, contact our booking department by calling 212-988-2611 or by sending an inquiry— Eliza Scott Harris 05/23/2007