Snowbound in Paradise: Rabbit Hill Inn
We awoke to a sound New Englanders recognize before their eyes are open – or rather the lack of sound. It’s an all-encompassing stillness broken by only one of two things: a snowplow or shovels. This morning it was the scrape, scrape of snow shovels, as innkeepers Brian and Leslie, mittened and muffled in scarves, cleared the front steps of Rabbit Hill Inn.
We looked out the window to see nothing but white, a happy sight for skiers like us, who’d driven to this spot in northern Vermont that overlooks New Hampshire’s White Mountains, so we could choose from a selection of New England’s best slopes and trails.
By the time we’d dressed and headed into the dining room to begin breakfast with a bowl of the inn’s own pecan-rich granola, Leslie and Brian were back inside, topping off coffee cups and talking with guests about – the weather, of course. The expected storm had come earlier and bigger than predicted. Two feet of new snow already covered the landscape and it was still falling hard. The wind was picking up, blowing the snow across already-plowed roads and building high drift for plows – and cars — to fight through.
We’re enthusiastic skiers, but we’re not crazy. And New England snow is rarely like Utah’s celebrated champagne powder. More like powdered cement.
The notion of shoveling our car out of a drifted parking lot at the end of a day’s skiing was equally unappealing. We reached for another hot-from-the-oven muffin bursting with wild blueberries, and re-thought our day. The verdict was that we’d ski tomorrow, in the day-after-the-storm brilliance of what skiers term a blue-bird day.
But hanging around an inn, even one as comfortable and luxurious as this one, is just not our style. We are active travelers, and for us an inn means a good dinner and comfortable bed, with breakfast to fuel a day of exploring or skiing or hiking or whatever the season suggests. It does not include staying there all day. Leslie, who knows us from past visits, laughed: “You’ll get used to it quickly,” she told us. “It might even change your whole perspective on how to spend a weekend!”
So we left our ski boots and parkas in the closet and settled into the comfortable wing chairs beside the fireplace in our room to browse through the magazines we found there. To our surprise these were not the usual collection of three-year-old Coastal Living and National Geographic. Each one of the half-dozen was the current month’s issue, and they kept us engrossed until we began thinking how nice a cup of hot tea would taste.
In the inn’s roomy common areas, we discovered — along with tea and coffee — a hand-crafted Vermont Stave puzzle begun by previous guests. Brian describes these as “the Rolls Royce of puzzles” and we wonder if he refers to their price or to the pure pleasure in handling one. We browse through their large collection, choose a snow-covered landscape like the one out the window, and settle at a table in the parlor. A scattering of other guests are reading by the fireplace, bent over a chess game in the adjoining pub area or discussing local attractions with Leslie. She and Brian seem to be everywhere, and enjoying every minute of it.
By mid-afternoon, the snow had slowed to a leisurely flurry, and we couldn’t resist playing in it. Booted and enveloped in down jackets, we stepped out into a marshmallow world to walk through the little village of Lower Waterford. A couple of people leaned on their shovels to discuss the storm with us, glad of a moment’s break from their work, and we wondered how much snow was waiting for us on our own walkway. But that was for another day. Round shrubs on the lawn looked top-heavy, like cupcakes that an eager kid had piled too high with frosting — which reminded us that it was almost tea time. We were beginning to feel peckish even after that enormous breakfast.
Sure enough, as we returned, Leslie was just bringing out trays of cookies and tea cakes, and we stomped the snow off our boots to join other guests in the parlor. Another couple joined us at the puzzle, and not being compulsive puzzle-finishers, we left them to it and returned to our room with a couple of books from the inn’s library.
The room was worth spending time in, spacious enough for the canopied king-sized bed, a pair of roomy wing chairs, a bureau and plenty of places to set open luggage. Thoughtful in-room details include a pincushion stocked with sewing needs, a silent heating system, coffee maker and CD player with a good variety of music. The bathroom was amply sized, too, with a lighted vanity mirror and a large bathtub that would feel really nice after skiing tomorrow. One of the many things we like about Rabbit Hill is that there are never sounds of the tv in the next room – first, the walls are thick and second, there are no tvs.
We knew from previous stays that however we spent our day, its highlight would be dinner. It’s a testament to Brian and Leslie that they have been able to attract and keep outstanding chefs. Brian poured us glasses of wine in the little pub, where we stopped before dinner, and Leslie welcomed us to the dining room (they are everywhere).
We began with potted pork – a savory pate served with toasted brioche bread from their own ovens – and littleneck clams steamed with garlic and herbs. The wintry day called for hearty, warming entrées, so we chose a stew of veal with seasonable root vegetables, and seared pork loin with beets and glazed salsify – the first time I’ve ever been offered this old fashioned (and delicious) New England favorite. Despite the homey nature of these dishes, they were presented artfully (not easy to accomplish with a stew). We watched desserts as they passed on their way to surrounding tables, and they looked delicious, but we opted instead for a sampler of four cheeses, two of which were from nearby Vermont dairies. They were served with crispy house-made crackers. Life was good.
I can’t promise that you’ll be snowbound at Rabbit Hill Inn, but if you are, I can promise you’ll love every minute of it.
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