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The Parsonage at Grafton, Vermont

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From the New York Times 1.26.03

36 Hours in Grafton, Vermont


ON a snowy dayin Grafton, fires are stoked and soft chairs beckon in a cozy country inn.

Nearby, snow enthusiasts strap on snowshoes and cross-country skis. On Main Street, women in

pleated wool slacks and men in heavy boots quickly drop their taciturn veneer for a visitor who asks

a question or starts a friendly conversation. Grafton is a town of 600, smaller than it was in a long-ago

heyday of mills, quarries and sheep farms. But largely thanks to the Windham Foundation, which is

based in Grafton and has preserved dozens of its lovely old buildings, the town, set in an alpine valley,

still looks like a Currier & Ives print. On a leisurely weekend, it is a pleasant place for discovering

winter's quiet side.


1) A Walk at Dusk

In the remaining sliver of daylight, amble through town to get oriented. From Grafton's major

intersection, Main Street and Townshend Road, turn west onto Main and walk one long block

to a fork in the road. Bear left onto Hinkley Brook Road to find the well-marked Village Park,

50 acres of trails and thick groves of hemlock, birch and beech. Sit for a spell on the bench

near the entrance or at a picnic table at the top of the hill to gaze at the first stars, listen to the

night sounds and unwind.


 Friday, 7 p.m.

 2) Feast at the Tavern

In 1867 Ulysses S. Grant, on a New England trip before he ran for president, stayed at the

Old Tavern at Grafton (92 Main Street, 800-843-1801), and it was already an old tavern then.

It has been in continuous operation since 1801 as an inn and dining place, catering at first to

passengers traveling by stagecoach between Boston and Montreal. Show up early to explore

the dining room, pub and sitting rooms, and admire the antique furniture. Find a spot near a

fireplace to enjoy a cocktail and conversation or read a newspaper. For dinner, try mussels in

prosciutto cream sauce with pesto croutons ($8) followed by Beaujolais-braised lamb shank

with celeriac mashed potatoes, root vegetables, rosemary and lamb demi-glace ($27). Finish

with tiramisu ($6.50). After dinner, the attached pub is the place for a hot toddy and some

live fiddle or piano music.  If asked to sing, just shout out. Guests aren't required to carry a tune.


 3) Coffee and History

Join the locals starting the day at the 161-year-old Grafton Village Store

(162 Main Street, 802-843-2348). Pick up a pastry and coffee and munch at a picnic table,

or keep your parka on and sit outside on the front porch. Look over the store's stock of

hand-knitted sweaters, quilts, and Vermont maple syrup and jams, and browse for reading

material in the book swap box. In one corner, find the Old Palmer Cash Storedisplay, with

weathered oak showcases, Boston Krakajak Coffee crates and a bulky metal safe. For a more

comprehensive look at Grafton's history, cross the street and drop by the Grafton Historical

Society Museum (147 Main Street, 802-843-2584). The friendly curator is Elisha Prouty, a

retired textile designer who, true to his Yankee name, is a born and bred Vermonter.

"The joke is, `I'm real, go ahead, touch me,' " he said. Mr. Prouty will show you old photos

and antique tools, furniture and clothing. The building itself, from 1840, is a fine example of

plank construction, in which two-by-fours are piled horizontally one atop the other for a costly

but well-insulated structure. (Open by appointment; 802-843-1010 in advance. The suggested

donation is $3 for adults.)

Saturday 10 a.m.

4) Yes, There's a Covered Bridge

Continue up Main Street past the White Church, built in 1858, and the Brick Church, built in 1833;

both are still active as interdenominational Protestant churches. Bear right onto Middletown Road

and turn right onto Cemetery Road to see a burial ground with slate headstones marking the graves

of early settlers and Revolutionary War veterans. Back on Townshend Road pass the heated outdoor

tennis courts (open to all, even in winter) and turn onto Pleasant Street for the Rusty Moose Gallery

(802-843-1151), which features metal sculpture. Take a right at Kidder Hill Road to find the Kidder Hill

covered bridge, built around 1869. On Townshend Road again, pop into Gallery North Star

(151 Townshend Road, 802-843-2465), have a look at the sheep farming exhibit (with real sheep) in a

barn behind the Windham Foundation building (225 Townshend Road), and watch Cheddar-making

at the Grafton Village Cheese Company (533 Townshend Road, 800-472-3866).


5) Nature and a Bowl of Soup

Before lunch, take a quick peek at dioramas and interactive exhibits at the Nature Museum

(186 Townshend Road, 802-843-2111), which concentrates on the flora and fauna native to

New England. You will also find good maps and self-guided tour brochures for the village

and nearby area. (Admission: adults $3, children $1. Open Saturday and Sunday and by

appointment, Then head to the Daniels House

(802-843-2255) — its main building dates from 1820 — at 56 Townshend Road, next to the

Old Tavern. This bright but Spartan self-serve cafe has homemade soups ($4.50),

sandwiches ($6.75) and melt-in-your-mouth pastries ($3.75). There are also a pretty standard

gift shop and a good information center with maps, guides and local weekly newspapers.


Saturday1 p.m.

6) Go Play in the Snow

Surrender to the pull of the mountain scenery and crisp, rejuvenating air with an active afternoon

at the Grafton Ponds Nordic Ski and Mountain Bike Center (783 Townshend Road, 802-843-2400).

A snow-making system guarantees good conditions all winter for cross-country skiing or snow tubing

down a 600-foot run. There are also snowshoeing over miles of trails and ice skating on natural ponds.

Equipment for any of these activities can be rented at the center's office in an immaculate log cabin.

And when you need a break, you can head back to the cabin for a hot chocolate or some chili.

Saturday 6 p.m.

7) Dinner in Chester

Take the car and head out Route 35 North for seven bucolic miles to Chester, a larger town with ample

shopping and restaurants. On the Town Green is Raspberries and Tyme (90 On the Green, 802-875-4486),

where you can count on a creative menu and a casual meal. Start with Danish baby Brie cheese, baked

and topped with fresh strawberry Grand Marnier sauce and toasted walnuts ($7.95) or wild mushroom soup

laced with Madeira wine and white truffle oil ($5). For your entree, try filet mignon wrapped in Vermont

smoked bacon with an eight-ounce grilled lobster tail ($27.95) or Wiener schnitzel with Austrian mushroom

sauce, sour cream and dill ($19.95). Dessert is decidedly dangerous, with selections like raspberry whipped c

ream truffle cake filled with chocolate ganache ($4.50).

Saturday 8 p.m.

8) Hang Out With the Ski Crowd

From the Chester Town Green, take Route 11 West about a mile to the Stone Hearth Inn (802-875-2525),

below, a refurbished farmhouse built in 1810 overlooking the Williams River. With its wooden wainscoting

bar and a recreation room outfitted with a fireplace, board games and a pool table, the inn is a meeting place

for snowmobilers and for skiers who have spent the day at nearby slopes. The inn is rustic but alluring, as

Christopher Clay, the owner, learned two years ago when he found it while on vacation from his home in

Minnesota. "A trip to New England became an inn-buying experience," he said.


9) The Place for Brunch

Savor a last taste of rural Vermont before you get back on the Interstate for your trip home.

About five miles from Grafton on Route 121, on the way east to I-91, stop for brunch at the

Inn at Saxtons River (27 Main Street in Saxtons River, 802-869-2110). The brunch buffet ($12.95)

includes a choice of eggs Benedict or omelet of the day, along with pancakes and maple syrup,

meats and salads, and what Judi Gunnip, the assistant manager, calls "a mean mimosa."