For $45 per adult per night, and $10 to $35 more for children (including a giant American breakfast), you and the kids can enjoy a short vacation of a mind-bending kind
Two children skim stones across the still surface of a pond on their way to feed the calves in a red barn. Their parents rock quietly on a farmhouse porch, reading and listening to the children's laughter. It is the autumn of 2003 at a farm bed-and-breakfast in Vermont. For a very modest price, our model family is enjoying a priceless interlude together. To move from the fast pace of today's society to slower rhythms and country pleasures is like taking a step back in time. As evidenced by countless American Christmas cards, a cultural memory still exists of white steepled churches, snow-covered stone walls, and big, red barns. For many, the word Vermont evokes this image, which includes peaceful pastures with cows, colorful autumn trees, gentle green hills, and most of all, farms.
To supplement their farming incomes, 18 Vermont farms are now offering farmstays, long popular in Europe. A great variety of accommodations and settings are available, at an average cost (double room) of about $45 per adult per day, including 9 percent tax and a delicious home-cooked breakfast. (Most charge $10 to $35 per child.) Travelers' costs are kept low not only because breakfast is included, but also because farms often offer microwave or barbecue possibilities for guests. If you do decide to go out to a restaurant, prices are exceptionally modest throughout Vermont.
The outstanding feature of each farm B&B is the warm, hospitable farm family who will welcome you-they are what make this vacation truly unique. Motels don't offer you hugs and homemade maple syrup! These hosts have been farming for many years, though maybe running a B&B for only a few. You will leave with a glimpse of a way of life linked to our heritage and insight into the lives of those who produce our food and milk.
A sampling of Vermont's farm stays
The average farm in the five we've listed has more than 200 acres and a history of well over a hundred years. Many have been in the same family for generations. The farmhouses were built in the 1800s but are charming, comfortable, and with modern conveniences. The big dairy barns range from a unique three-story round barn to a picturesque red one built in 1787.
Many different kinds of farms welcome guests, from dairy farms to vegetable or fruit farms to those raising llamas or sheep. Even among the five farms mentioned below there are many differences in accommodations. At Marge's B&B, the farm couple lives next door and the other entire house is for guests, including the kitchen, which is well stocked with breakfast foods for guests to fix their own. Liberty Hill includes in its higher price a sumptuous dinner, which was written up in Gourmet magazine! Most offer a big, home-cooked breakfast with bacon and syrup from their own farms. All are authentic working farms, not just farmhouses on former farms. Each is unique, there being no such thing as chain "farm hotels" in Vermont!
At Hollister Hill Farm, each room has either a working fireplace or a sauna, as well as a private bath. At others, guests share a bathroom. Most have around three rooms, while some are larger or smaller. Some have a suite or apartment. Couture's is on a paved road, while Marge's is four miles down a country lane. At Liberty Hill you eat with the farm family, and at others you are served with other B&B guests, which offers an opportunity to meet interesting people, sometimes from as far away as Australia, Germany, or South Africa! The important thing is for travelers to inquire carefully about the particular setup to find the farm that suits them best.
Your average day
Every Vermont farm B&B is within easy reach of restaurants for lunch or dinner, as well as many local attractions and activities. In summer and fall there are festivals, fairs, concerts, and craft shows. There are museums, art shows, and a Ben & Jerry's factory! Hiking, canoeing, and biking opportunities abound. Antiques shops are hidden along the back roads. In winter there are all the outdoor sports, as well as sleigh rides.
Many guests never leave the farm during their stay, taking advantage of activities right there, from feeding the animals to hayrides, helping milk the cows, swimming, fishing, snowshoeing, sledding, or cross-country skiing. Sometimes just a walk along a quiet country road is all one seeks. Watching the stars or sitting around a bonfire are among the evening possibilities. Many farms boil maple syrup from their own trees, a fascinating process to watch. (Couture's has its own shop on-site and does a big mail-order business in syrup; see box.) For rainy days there are board and card games, puzzles, or reading. Best of all, these fun activities don't cost a thing! (Note: TVs usually are not in rooms but available in the common living areas. Think of this as an escape from our crazy world!)
The vital details
You probably have questions: When is the best time to come to Vermont? These farms are generally open all year and busiest from mid-June until the end of October. Spring is when the maple syrup is being tapped and boiled (but late March and April can be dreary). May is lovely, with dandelions blooming in the meadows. Winter has its own special beauties. Most (but not all) B&Bs prefer you stay at least two nights, and to get any feel for farm life you need at least that long. Many people stay three to 10 days. Always reserve ahead of time.
What about transportation? You'll need a car. If you plan to fly, Burlington, Vermont, and Manchester, New Hampshire, are the closest airports, although some people fly into Boston, Albany, Hartford, or Montreal and rent a car there. Vermont also has limited bus and train service.
What special things do you need to bring? An old pair of boots or sneakers that you don't mind getting muddy is a good idea. Dress comfortably and casually, for the season (layers in winter). Most of all, bring an open attitude and come eager to reach out to new people and experiences. As someone said, "Vermont is America with the volume turned down."
How do you learn more? Specific addresses and other information about farmstays in Vermont can be found at vtfarms.org or by calling 802/767-3926; some of the farms have their own individual Web sites. For general information about Vermont, go to vtliving.com and 1-800-vermont.com.
five of Vermont's 18 Farm B&Bs