Boston Globe Travel Website
By Kathleen Burge and Rich Barlow
BROWNSVILLE, Vt. -- We've come for a weekend at the Pond House Bed & Breakfast just in time to catch Cow Appreciation Day at a nearby farming museum. It's a testament to Vermont's pastoral history that cows outnumbered people here until the 1960s. Yet in recent years, the state has become a cultural hermaphrodite, a rural throwback battling creeping urbanization and development.
The two facets of its personality don't always fit together. We spot a ''Don't Jersey Vermont" bumper sticker on an all-terrain vehicle. But there are times when the mix of country and city work magic, as at the Pond House, where the tonic of bucolic tranquillity comes with a splash of urbanity.
Your first impression is of rustic intimacy. The operative word in Pond House is ''house," and this one is not huge. When we arrive, innkeeper Gretel Schuck suggests we keep our voices down so as not to disturb a napping guest upstairs.
There are just three guest rooms; 10 acres of field, stone walls, and a flyspeck of a pond; a chicken coop, and a barn with five goats; and a commendable willingness to accept guests with ''polite" dogs. (Walking ours, we stumbled across a wonderful rural scene of a fawn frolicking in a field under the eye of its mother.) The house and barn sit in a web of country roads along which bikers swarm like just-hatched spiders. The owner, an elfin blonde of 58, greets us in denim overalls that will be her uniform for most of the weekend.
''The goats don't care if I wear Armani," Schuck says.
Still, she's no Daisy Mae. She may be an avid cyclist who takes her dog Jackson along when she competes in triathlons (''It's hard getting him on the bike," she says.), but Schuck is also well traveled by air. We spent part of our Italian honeymoon in Cinque Terra, so Kathy immediately notices the photos of that seaside resort hanging in the living room. Schuck visits Italy as often as possible, and she drizzles her house with European frills. Our bathroom soap dish says ''Hotel Metropole/Monte Carlo"; a copy of Renoir's ''Sur la Terrasse" is on our wall.
If staying here is like being invited into someone's home, few hosts lay out such a cosmopolitan spread for dinner. When we called to book the room, Schuck seemed mildly distressed to hear one of us is a vegetarian, since she cooks one meal for all guests. Fortunately, our dinner-mates, a congenial California couple cruising cross-continent, were game for a meatless menu, and we dined on polenta with sauted mushrooms.
The entree is bracketed by an arugula salad appetizer (Schuck grows the arugula in her garden) and a lemon mousse dessert, all washed down with selections from a small but refined wine list. Dinner is included with the room if you stay at least two nights; a one-night stay means paying a $25-per-person dinner charge, not counting wine.
Dog owners should know that this is one of those houses where Rover is restricted to certain quarters. The living room, which doubles as a cozy dining room, is off limits, which our retriever discovered when she wormed her way out of our bedroom while we were eating. As she stood expectantly in the doorway, Schuck gently but firmly warded her off.
The meal negotiations demonstrate something else to bear in mind if you're considering a small B&B like the Pond House: Be flexible, and pray that your fellow guests are compatible. Determined carnivores or picky eaters would have meant a dinnertime standoff. If you're unwilling to bend or chance having someone facing you over a meal, the Pond House is not for you.
Otherwise, this is a wonderful destination for a relaxed country stay.
''It's nice to wake up smelling the fields of Vermont," Kathy says on a sunny Sunday morning. For fun, you can swim in the refreshingly cold pond. We wondered why such a tiny body of water had a dock until Jackson came along and used it as his diving board. The destination town of Woodstock, with its excellent restaurants, boutique stores, and a Town Hall movie theater on weekends, is a pleasant half-hour drive away.
Of course, there are always those biking roads, which is where we last glimpse our hostess, clad in Lycra, pedaling down Route 44 and waving goodbye as we drive out of town.
Rich Barlow can be reached at email@example.com. Kathleen Burge can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.© Copyright 2008 Globe Newspaper Company.
We had such a good time and wonderful first time fly fishing experience thanks to Gretel's superb arrangements. Gretel is a wonderful cook and the setting, food and accommodations were lovely, delicious and very comfortable. Jackson only adds to the charm and coziness.
Posted By Margaret - London, UK
We were touring New England and stayed here for a few days. We were really comfortable here, breakfasts were good and the dinner we had was excellent, as was the wine! Gretel was very helpful and gave us good advice re eating out and places to visit.The situation was peaceful, set in beautfiul countryside. Advice - take Gretel's advice re directions!
Posted By W.D. Cambridge, Ma
The Pond House Inn is a Vermont country inn the way you imagine it! 10 beautiful acres that include a pond (of course) fed by a gently trickling, cool mountain stream...wild flowers, spectacular mountain vistas (with comfortable, well-placed chairs for enjoying the view) a rustic Vermont backroad. Peaceful perfection!The Inn is Vermont all the way. No pretense. Simple, attractive country furnishings with a few well-placed antiques. The cast iron wood stove was very inviting on one of the cool Green Mountain evenings we were there. Our room was spacious, and very comfortable. Best part...the food is as good as any fine restaurant cuisine you'll find. Gretel is a first-rate gourmet cook! Breakfast and dinner are included...you can't go hungry. When we return to Vermont, and we hope that will be soon, we will certainly stay at the Pond House Inn.
Posted By Cynthia - Boston, Ma
This lovely 1830's farmhouse is in the beautiful Vermont countryside about 15 miles from Woodstock. Filled with antiques but with modern plumbing, it is very comfortable, and beautifully decorated. A gourmet dinner with wine, as well as breakfast, is part of the very reasonable price. The garden and fields are for wandering, with wicker or Adirondack chairs here and there for lazing.The piece de resistance is Jackson, the dog. Jackson will race you to the pond, and demonstrate, in case you don't understand, that you are to throw the stick into the water for him to retrieve with a splash! The night sky is full of thousands of stars, not usually seen by city dwellers, and tiny frogs sing you to sleep.The experience was only punctuated by the smell of newly mown hay when awakening. It was a great experience and I would recommend it heartily.
Posted By Lucy NY,NY
Wonderful - very charming and relaxed. Great surroundings and great dog! Amazing pancakes for breakfast.
Posted By Marti - Santa Monica, Ca
We have just returned from a trip to the NE. Unfortunately, the weather was grey and rainy but, in spite of that, we especially enjoyed our stay at The Pond House Inn in Brownsville, Vermont.The inn is small with three guest rooms. Our room was large and beautifully appointed with an oversized marble shower, thick fluffy towels, feather beds and two comfy reading chairs. They even had wireless and an iPod dock. We had our laptop with us and took advantage of the great inventory of DVDs offered by Gretel, the owner. Even though it was August, the mornings were wet and chilly. Gretel prepared a wood fire in the dining room and lit candles to cheer and warm us. Cooking at The Pond House is straightforward and wonderful. One rainy morning, while we enjoyed ourselves by the fireplace, Gretel prepared an Orange French Toast. It was, by far, the best French toast we have ever had. It came with locally smoked bacon, organic yogurt with fresh peaches and blueberries and freshly ground coffee.We met other guests at the inn who had brought their horses-Gretel can provide stabling, a lovely idea. In better weather the property has Adirondack chairs, a patio with one of the best country-side views we know, and a spring fed pond that is very inviting on a warm summer day.This was our third visit and each time we have been delighted with the location, the accommodations, the food and the hospitality. We will definitely return.
More reviews can be found on : Trip Advisor and Yelp