We recently spent a weekend at the Inn to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary. As first-timers, we had few expectations, leaving our three teenagers in charge at home (another first) and aiming for the Shenandoah Valley. Upon arrival, Neil greeted us in a low key, yet familiar way that made us feel as if we were long-time guests. Neil informed us that dinner was at 7:00, but that it was a tradition for guests to have a bit of social time just before at 6:30. Neither of us were really in the mood for that, and it was of course optional, but we overcame our need to hibernate and showed up to enjoy some excellent mulled wine and chat with fellow guests.
The first three couples we met had been to the Inn several times over the past decade or more. One couple from the Philadelphia area drove 4 hours to come to the Inn. I asked them why they came here when there were certainly nice places much closer to where they live. He looked at me earnestly and said" "I can't seem to relax anywhere else like I can here." Another couple had brought with them old friends, to introduce them to the Inn at Vaclause Spring.
I thought to myself: "You can't buy this kind of advertising." What is going on here? A secret society? Funny hats after hours? Code signs?
Barry then appeared and proposed a series of toasts. Our group gathered around, while Barry welcomed old guests and new, and made a series of brief eloquent toasts, honoring the season, our country and those who serve in its defense. Barry was straight out of a Currier and Ives print that might = be called - "The Inn Keeper." l looked at the circle of faces, at Barry, all with glasses raised high, and a genuine warmth, a community of guests in place and time grounded the moment.
Neil had informed us when we made our reservation by phone that she would be cooking the night we were there because Adam, the regular chef was off. She said the theme would be "comfort food," and mentioned a beef stew with corn bread. After enjoying Neil's creation, I can only say this was not comfort food. Cracker Barrel is comfort food. Neil's offering was high cuisine, delightful, comforting yes, but very nuanced. She is a gifted, sophisticated chef.
We had hoped for the log cabin but this was booked. We ended up in the Gallery, and found it very comfortable. A fireplace upstairs, a fireplace downstairs. No TV - a Godsend to the video addicted. Quiet. A roaring fire, wind in the eves, mid-winter ink out the evening window. Yes, tranquil.
We will be back.