My wife and I enjoyed a wonderful extended stay at the Brass Lantern Inn last October to celebrate my ‘special’ birthday amid the splendours of the Vermont Fall. Wow! What a welcome from owners Mary Anne and George: from the minute we arrived (Union Jack proudly unfurled beside the Stars and Stripes) to when they waved us off on our way back to Montreal, we were cosseted, entertained, informed and fed to Five Star Plus levels.
Where to begin? In a nutshell, this is high-end inn accommodation where every detail has been thought about, and where the proprietors give unerringly expert, unfailingly constant attention to guests. Yet it is refreshingly homely: we were struck by their genuine friendliness – and indeed that of the other guests, hailing as they did from all over the States (yet with a steady flow of fellow Brits and a goodly smattering of mainland Europeans). Conversations with fellow travellers were readily struck up, everyone swopping holiday stories and offering tips - reminding us of the old adage, that strangers are simply friends you haven’t met yet.
Mary Anne has an encyclopaedic grasp of the locality, and is happy to dispense advice, suggestions, maps and guide books to suit all tastes and activities, often spending time after breakfast to brief guests on their chosen outing that day. She’ll even book a restaurant for you. And speaking of breakfast… Forget the diet! George cooks everything fresh: pancakes, waffles, omelettes, the best quiche we’ve ever eaten, pumpkin bread, maple-cured (what else?) bacon – the list goes on. Our taste buds exploded with shock and awe, and our waistlines ballooned in the nicest possible way. It was all so good we ate it twice - as we were there for two weeks! (An interesting byline… The average stay was shorter than ours, most Americans seeming to keep on the move, perhaps because their holidays were shorter, whereas we wanted a reliable base from which to tour – and of course sample the delights of the nearby Von Trapp Lodge (more of which later!)). Self-service drinks are available from 7 am, with breakfast from 8.30, and an Afternoon Tea at 4.00, again self-service and featuring Mary Anne’s delicious home-bakes. If you wanted to stay in, she was more than happy for you to picnic in the dining room or games room, complete with fridge and coffee-maker (Shaw’s supermarket is conveniently situated just along the road and caters for all but the most eclectic tastes and thirsts).
The public rooms are elegant and plush, two of them, in fact: a beautiful, scrumptious
lounge and the afore-mentioned games room. On top of this, there’s a sun terrace overlooking a huge meadow and the distant Mount Mansfield (a must-do trip, either on foot for the hail and hearty, or via the scenic toll road for the more sedentary, but also enjoyable from the comforts of the Inn’s hot tub). The bedrooms are extremely spacious and comfortable. We had a week in Spruce Peak, followed by a week in Mt Mansfield, where I had my first viewing of The Sound of Music in high-definition Blu-Ray on the room’s system.
Stowe itself –a fifteen-minute walk away - is a pretty village: like so much of the States, it’s exactly like what you see in the movies. It’s perfectly placed for tours, visits and activities nearby and farther afield. It has three or four good restaurants and a similar number of cafes. If there was one slight drawback, we found the shopping experience somewhat limited (as throughout northern Vermont), not that that was high on our list of priorities. On Columbus weekend there was a superb arts and crafts fair high up on the Mountain Road, itself bristling with hotels, inns, bars and restaurants. Some guidebooks give the impression that it’s a bit on the tacky side, but that is exaggerated. Nor did we find the oft-mentioned traffic too much of a problem – but watch out for the infamous three-way junctions, which tend to be something of a free-for-all. For exercise, walk the Stowe Recreation Path, about 5-6 miles up and down the valley, running parallel to the Mountain Road.
We arrived to a weekend of dismal rain – and worryingly green foliage! Then (maybe it was our Sunday morning attendance at the Stowe Community Church, complete with bronzed preacher-man that did it) a glorious Indian summer set in, enticing us out to the meadow to sunbathe most afternoons for over a week. Hot days and cool nights worked their magic on the trees, which changed colour daily and fulfilled their promise of kaleidoscopic treasures, reaching a peak just before we left for home. We enjoyed many ‘leaf-peeping’drives along the highways and byways: Route 100 was wonderful for colour, so was Jay Peak. Basically, the Fall begins in the north and works it way down through the State; generally, the first two weeks in October are more or less guaranteed to be good, though with the world’s weather seemingly on its ear, who can tell? Two other locations stand out: Burlington (the biggest city) with a stunning waterfront, and the diminutive capital, Montpelier, little more than a glorified village – but with the best crafts shop we encountered anywhere slap bang in the main street (and a great diner nearby).
Sound of Music fans will inevitably want to head for the Von Trapp Lodge, a huge Alpine-style chalet hotel set in acres of forest with stunning views, owned and run by the famous von Trapps. We took the history tour – well worth it – which starts with a talk, takes in the family cemetery where Maria and Georg and other family members are buried, continues with an absorbing film about Maria, and ends with a Q & A session with a real von Trapp. We were lucky to have Johannes, the youngest of the three children Maria and Georg had together (i.e. in addition to the seven to which Maria was governess). After the tour your ticket entitles you to roam free around the estate. They also have a great bakery down the road, where you can sample the newly-created von Trapp beers either indoors or on a small terrace overlooking the valley below, and enjoy some lightish snacks and of course, cakes!
Now to the only bad bit of the trip… We had booked a birthday meal in the main restaurant at the von Trapp Lodge, billed on their website as offering fine dining, a wonderful culinary experience. We duly arrived sporting our glad rags, only to be told by the maitre d’ that the restaurant was offering buffet service only that night. What a letdown! The said buffet was all that one expects – and dreads – from the concept. I made the mistake of opting for Wienerschnitzel. Without boasting, I do know my Wienerschnitzels, from Bavaria and throughout Austria, and truly, it was the worst I’d ever tasted anywhere. Others may have had a different experience, but I certainly wouldn’t recommend it for that special meal: far too risky!
We flew with Swiss via Zurich into Montreal, our first time with the carrier, and were seriously impressed, even in economy: flying like it used to be thirty years ago. Good seats, reasonably good food, good service, clean and punctual aircraft. We had pre-booked a hire car with Hertz – excellent value at under £200 for the fortnight, a medium-sized car (automatic, of course) which came with a full tank of petrol included. The border crossing into the US was straightforward and took less than half-an-hour. One point which isn’t generally known: the ESTA is only required for arrivals by air and sea, but not overland, so we’d actually purchased it unnecessarily. Still, it holds good for two years, so we’ll hopefully be able to use it before it expires (California here we come!).
All-in-all, an unforgettable trip. Thank-you George and Mary Anne for making it so!
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- We welcome you to our ca. 1810 brick farmhouse that has been respectfully and warmly renovated into a nine guest room Bed & Breakfast. All of our guest rooms include private bathrooms. Most have gas fired fireplaces, cozy sitting areas and spectacular views of Mt. Mansfield and the Sterling Mountain Range. We understand how important and precious your time away is and we work diligently to meet those expectations. See our reviews then see for yourself. ... more less
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- Also Known As:
- Brass Lantern Hotel Stowe
- Brass Lantern Inn Stowe, Vermont