The stars perfectly aligning for a visit to the beautifully restored Rabbit Hill Inn (RHI) outside St. Johnsbury, Vermont awesomely shows that some things are meant to be.
On the broadest level, innkeepers/soulmates Leslie and Brian Mulchay purposefully not putting telephones or televisions in the 19 guestrooms achieves the goal of providing a oh-so-rejuvenating break from the 24-hour-a-day seven-days-a-week barrage of news (fake) and otherwise about the horribly combative state of the world.
Your not-so-humble reviewer recommending putting your iPhone and your iPad in your suitcase on checking in until you check out is a textbook example of do as I say, not as I partially do.
Creating this luxurious environment that facilitates letting the toxic real world ooze along without you for a couple of days alone warrants the numerous accolades for this 1795 inn with strong WiFi and copious charging options; Bedandbreakfast.com ranks RHI in the Top 10 B&Bs in America, and Travel + Leisure rates the inn as Number 6 hotel in the country and Number 30 in the world. It seems that Numbers 1 through 5 must actually tuck you in and serve breakfast in bed.
History Awesomely Repeating Itself
The genesis of a recent birthday visit to RHI goes back 12 years; a significant other of that time was planning a getaway to mark a milestone birthday. Your not-so-humble reviewer loving three years spent living in Vermont and exclaiming 'BUNNY!" on various occasions made this future ex finding RHI online an immediate (and enthusiastic) success. The next bit of fun related to choosing which individually themed rooms to book. We chose the Samuel Hodby Suite for the combination of the whirlpool bath, the sitting area, and the particular decor.
The stay made that visit the best-ever birthday to date even without the Mulchays knowing that it was an event celebration. The room was clean, playing the game of moving the bunny dolls into G-rated amusing positions with the housekeepers was fun, and the breakfast was filling and delicious.
The below photos from the trip last week show that the tradition of hide the bunny remains strong. The first one additionally shows the thoughtful bonus of evening gifts that the detailed turn-down service includes. Bugs and Babs are aptly enjoying a box of gourmet Bunn chocolate.
Memories of that wonderful time surfaced a week before the aforementioned recent (non-milestone) birth anniversary. This prompted emailing the inn with thanks for the spectacular prior birthday, mentioning the pending birthday, and inquiring about a visit later in the year. Leslie quickly replied that I and my currently highly significant long-time companion were welcome to come for the birthday itself. We rapidly accepted this kind invitation.
Before sharing the details of the recent trip that exceeded the perfection of the previous one, it is worth mentioning that the same "art v. commerce" issue that is central to Unreal TV applies to historic B&Bs.
The great potential to profit from providing this type of experience has prompted large and small corporations to purchase these properties and to operate them in the same manner as a Best Western by folks whose heart is not in the game. This is HIGHLY incompatible with the personal touches and hospitality that make staying at an inn special. Take it from a (TV DVD) guy who booked a quaint and charming room for a particularly milestone birthday two years ago only to get a room literally the dimensions of a mid-sized walk-in closet and to get threatened with intensely dire consequences if I did not remove a negative Trip Advisor review.
Georgia-born and New Hampshire raised assistant innkeeper Don displayed his southern hospitality and country boy manners in greeting us on our arrival. This quickly led to sitting down for the inn-made from scratch gourmet baked goods and the lemonade that the inn serves guests from 2-to-5 every afternoon.
The strong sense that I was not in Marriott anymore related to craving a third indescribably good bite-size chocolate and peanut butter cake; I justified taking the second one on my highly significant other passing on that treat. Hesitancy to eat a third mostly related to not wanting to take more than my fair share and depriving a future arrival of his or her treat.
Don broadly smiled and stated that he just kept replenishing the treats; this was in strong contrast to a prior stay at a corporate-owned five-star Vermont inn at which the afternoon tea is a feeding frenzy at a table of cookies that is not replenished.
Having full faith in the Mulchays on booking the room, I did not know where they were putting us. Don told us that we would be staying in the spectacularly California chic Tavern's Secret room but that he would first provide a requested look at the Jonathon Cummings Suite that was the best room in this inn that does not have a bad one. He proceeded to show us around this Vermont-style penthouse complete with completely private screened-in porch.
A thrill that exceeded having three (perhaps four) of the chocolate-peanut butter treats came when I thanked Jonathon and headed for the door when he beamed his huge smile and stated that we were staying there.
The interest in checking out the Cummings suite related to a secondary purpose for the trip. General disdain regarding the expense and inconveniences of air travel and recently having a LAX TSA agent follow up a no-choice-in-the-matter intense groping (after a scan that was taken before having a chance to stand still in the machine) with a non-consensual strong and humiliating grabbing that could be felt an hour later has made spending money that otherwise would go to flying on luxury accommodations within driving distance an excellent choice. The highly significant other of your not-so-humble reviewer stated this more concisely regarding this trip in stating "everyone from all over the world comes to New England in the summer."
The Cummings Suite more than lives up to its status as the showcase of the inn. Guests enjoy a spacious bedroom with a beautiful and comfy canopy bed and a gas fireplace, a large sitting room with a desk and a comfy chair, an alcove with two great reading chairs, and the aforementioned porch that looks out over the Vermont greenery. Sleeping out there is very tempting but for the greater comfort inside.
The large whirlpool tub with the jets that go from rippling to pounding is a wonderful bonus that many other rooms share. (Seymour the rubber duck makes a great tub companion but needs a racing partner.)
Providing two spa robes when many other fine properties limit them to one was another example of the RHI rocking. The carefully chosen robes having a terry lining and silky dark maroon outside reflected the attention to detail at the inn and the perfect balance between spa and vintage elegance that sets top B&Bs apart from merely nice ones. A second case of doing as I say and not as I do relates to suggesting that you treat yo self by buying a robe.
Dine Without Dashing
The quality and the presentation of the dinner, which non-guests can make a reservation to enjoy, in the casually stylish dining room prompted asking Leslie how she got a world-class chef and equally good pastry chef to work in rural Vermont; she laughed and shared that she was very fortunate.
The policy that cell phones be turned off in the dining room enhanced the mood that the decor and the soft music created. The only negative aspect of this was that the perfect setting and phenomenal food quelled a desire to run out to play with the neighbor Great Pyrenees and Golden Retriever dogs who were romping on the lawn outside the dining room. (Nearby Dog Mountain provided substitute canine playtime.)
The meal commenced with a small square of fried gourmet cheese on a bed of an inn-made ranch dressing; choosing the potato leek soup over the very tasty local greens comparably made the choice of Sophie a non-brainer. The inn-made bread made me want to request a few loaves to bring home (and the Mulchacys likely would have provided it with a smile.)
My chosen entree was perfectly spiced and cooked short ribs with the smoothest grits ever. This dish on top of the other food required a break before requesting dessert. The chosen sweet was hard-to-describe sweet and flaky graham crackers with inn-made cracker jacks and equally local ice cream. Your not-so-humble reviewer who delights in burning Starbucks rewards on Venti Frappuccinos with everything but the kitchen sink could not finish the desert. (Every other day use of an elliptical machine helps burn the calories from these treats.)
The below photos are of the aforementioned feast. Please note the bunny-shaped butter with the bread and the Happy Birthday chocolate with the dessert.
Innsight of Leslie
This ideal stay ended with Leslie taking tine from her 12-hour-a-day 7-days-a-week schedule to discuss how she and Brian provide every guest a fantasy experience.
This chat began with the story of Leslie and Brian working together for a Providence, Rhode Island corporation in 1994 when the stress of that life led to seeking a Vermont getaway; Leslie reminded me that the sales material of that pre-Internet era largely were limited to brochures and the personality of the innkeeper. When asked why she selected the RHI, Leslie replied that it was because of the warmth and the friendliness of the then-innkeeper on the telephone.
That visit led to a nontraditional form of love at first sight that a coincidental vacancy for a two assistant innkeepers facilitated. The Mulchays jumped on that opportunity and took the next logical step when the inn was for sale in 1997.
The pattern of urban couples gleefully buying a B and B to operate together only to have the intense stress related to such an undertaking transform them from the Bradys to the Bundys within five years prompted asking Leslie how she and Brian have avoided that trap in their near 25 years at the RHI.
This woman whose honeymoon period has lasted 34 years and counting replied that "we can't even imagine a day not working together." She added that Brian independently working in the areas for which he was responsible and her doing the same helped maintain their exceptional personal and professional relationships.
Another shared element of the secret of that enviable success was that "it's not that one likes it more than the other; we are equally passionate about what we do here."
The conversation soon turned to what brought me to the RHI in 2005 and to the experience with the corporate property that contributed to the recent return. The always gracious Leslie commented that corporate-owned properties created a different (but not worse) product that changes the personality of an inn.
Leslie next discussed her parental feelings toward the RHI. Her response when asked if she would consider selling the inn to a corporation when she decided to retire was "it always has been in loving hands; it must stay in loving hands." She further praised her offspring by commenting that "it always has been premium for its day," which included a 50s-era life as a motor lodge.
The subject of corporations literally and figuratively changing the landscape of Vermont makes this once-and-future RHI guest (with equal loves of alliteration and classic television) strongly hope that either Brian or Leslie does not awaken one morning to discover that their ownership of the inn was a very long dream.