Imagine staying at a working farm, where your kids learn how to make cheese (prepping them for plan B when you flee conventional urban life). . . but also where there is just the right dose of luxury for it to feel like a getaway (read: decent thread count and no crocheted water cooler cozies).
In the late 19th century, Lila Vanderbilt Webb and her husband, William Seward Webb, dreamed of creating the finest farm in America. With Lila’s Vanderbilt inheritance of $10 million, they set out to do just that, enlisting Frederick Law Olmsted, the famed landscaper and designer of New York City’s Central Park, to develop the 3,800-acre country estate. Together with Gifford Pinchot, a forest-conservation visionary, and architect Robert Robertson, they created a monument to American agriculture.
Today Shelburne Farms is a nonprofit educational center, a working farm, and a national historic landmark. The Children’s Farmyard, the main educational center, is located in the Farm Barn, which also houses a bakery, a private school, and Shelburne’s famous cheesemaking operation. Children learn how to milk cows, make cheese, and work with wool, and (perhaps most interesting to them) get to see what kind of poop comes from which kind of animal. Shelburne is committed to educating kids in the hopes of creating a healthier future for them and for the planet. Offerings range from visits (no reservation needed) to scheduled workshops and programs for local schools.
Guests can stay at the Inn. Humble in name, this 72-room mansion is the former main residence of the Vanderbilt Webbs. Every space, from Lila’s grand bedroom to smaller rooms first used by bachelor guests, is charming and true to the original turn-of-the-century decor. Breakfast and dinner are served in the elegant yet warm Marble Dining Room, where returning guests welcome one another, and the menu reflects the changing seasons, with local purveyors and the farm’s own garden providing a good deal of the ingredients.
When you want to take a break from watching the cheesemakers separate curds from whey or learning about the life cycle of a farm, beautiful trails around the property will take you by Lake Champlain. With a heavy-duty stroller and a picnic prepared by the Inn, it’s an easy day of hiking. If it’s a rainy day, there’s an amazing playroom with huge wooden dollhouses and trains.
The Inn at Shelburne Farms
1611 Harbor Road, Shelburne, Vermont
(about seven miles south of Burlington.)
Open from mid-May through mid-October.
Photos: Matthew Hranek