Traditional innkeeping in cozy Vermont community; Rabbit Hill Inn has become a media darling

CanWest News Service
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LOWER WATERFORD, Vt. - After more than 200 years of hospitality, Rabbit Hill Inn has emerged as a refined and gracious getaway, with all the classic accoutrements of a historic New England hideaway.
Originally the Samuel Hodby Tavern, it opened in the late 1700s to accommodate weary merchants at the halfway point of the lucrative trade route between Boston and Montreal, a trip that took 18 days by horse and carriage. The wayfarer's inn served tankards of ale and coarse comfort food, and provided rather rough accommodations.
The tavern eventually became Rabbit Hill Inn and, after many owners and changes in styles, Brian and Leslie Mulcahy took over in 1997. They had visited as guests and fell for the lifestyle, the landscape and the venerable hostelry. They now are among the 68 people in the tiny community of Lower Waterford, which has one church, a handful of farmhouses and what's believed to be one of the few honour-system libraries in the U.S.
"We practise 'traditional innkeeping,' " said Leslie Mulcahy. "To us, it's an old-fashioned, very personal approach to hospitality."
Rabbit Hill is on a wooded estate, with a spring-fed swimming pond and a gazebo overlooking a waterfall. Guests can hike on private trails or gaze at the gardens - now blooming - from a comfy chair on the porch.
The Mulcahys start everyone's visit with a brief tour of the common rooms. Right from the get-go, you're deciding where to settle in for a cozy afternoon. The living room is filled with antiques, vintage books, plaid wingback chairs and tables of Scrabble and mind-bending Stave jigsaw puzzles. Afternoon tea and pastries are served in a formal parlour. The Snooty Fox Pub has an equestrian theme, well-chosen wines by the glass, and signature drinks such as the Fuzzy Bunny.
Rabbit Hill is secluded, but somehow it has managed to become the darling of the media recently. Restaurant-rater Zagat has said: "This might be the most romantic place on the planet." NBC's Wheel of Fortune offered a weekend at Rabbit Hill as a prize, thereby bringing this peaceful Vermont haven to the attention of 44 million viewers in 28 countries. And the inn's cooking classes have been featured on CNN. The next class, included in a vacation with take-home kitchen skills and seafood recipes, will take place June 7 and 8.
Chef Matthew Secich, sous-chef Daniel Boutin and pastry chef Phyllis Grech supervise with a blend of philosophy, artistry and a touch of theatre. Asked to describe his style, Secich says: "The essence of cuisine is walking hand in hand with Mother Nature. You can order food from all over the world, but really, you want to have it from right outside the door, so we work closely with local farmers.
"Our Angus beef is hay-fed and grass-fed at Hallowood Farm in Danville, pork comes from Waterford Farm, lamb and poultry are raised at Winding Brook Farm and the fish comes from Maine, two states over."
Rabbit Hill is comfy and intimate, but it's also a substantial operation, with about 30 employees working on food, housekeeping, maintenance and landscaping. Fifteen of its 19 guest rooms have fireplaces, and most have romantic four-poster canopy beds draped in fancy quilts. The inn is outstanding for its collection of fine vintage furniture and country Americana, plus scores of rabbit figurines that guests have sent from the world over. The Jonathan Cummings Suite is the grandest space, a luxurious top-floor sanctuary with two fireplaces and a screened porch with splendid mountain views.
The Mulcahys know everything about special occasions, and their Romance Package with wine and chocolates is their most popular getaway. Guests can add such extras as aromatherapy and massages. One cost-conscious deal is the Hot Deal Package, available Tuesday to May 21, June 2 to 4 and June 9 to 11, when there will be a 20 per cent discount on lodging.

If You Go
Lower Waterford, Vt., is a two-hour, 45-minute drive from Montreal. From the South Shore, take Highway 10 east to Route 55 south. At the U.S. border, follow Interstate 91 to 93 south and Exit 1.
Rabbit Hill Inn: Route 18 and Lower Waterford Rd., Lower Waterford, Vt., 800-762-8669 (that's 800-76-BUNNY), 802-748-5168,
Welcomes children age 14 and older.
Price: With breakfast, afternoon tea and gratuity: $199-$335 US for two people, per night. Jonathan Cummings Suite, $359 US. Three-course dinner costs $49. Prices are $40 per night higher Sept. 18-Oct. 18.
Romance Package: sparkling wine, chocolates, breakfast on both mornings, dinner on one evening, afternoon tea, tips and a gift CD, $530-$840 US for two, for two nights.
Cooking Package: June 7 and 8, $760-$1,060 US, for two people, two nights, including breakfast, dinner, tea, recipes, gifts and lesson. Packages available with golf, zip-line adventure or mountaintop picnic.

Organizations: Rabbit Hill Inn, Hallowood Farm

Geographic location: LOWER WATERFORD, Vermont, U.S. Rabbit Hill Montreal New England Boston Danville Maine South Shore

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