Just off a hilly dirt and road winding through some of Vermont's most old-fashioned countryside lies part of a very recent trend in American travel. On one side of the road is a sign with black and white cows and the words "Mills Hill Dairy Farm" painted on it; on the other is one that reads "American Bed and Breakfast."
The Lafonts have been milking cows and mowing hay for five generations on this farm in northeastern Vermont, but it is only since the summer of 1980 that they have been putting up travelers in their comfortable white farmhouse with its spectacular view of rolling pasture and pointed blue hills beyond. After reading about the American Bed and Breakfast Program in a local paper, Rachel Lafont decided to put the empty rooms of her grown children to good use.
"I also decided that if I couldn't see the world, I would have the world come to me," Mrs. Lafont told me shortly after a friend and I arrived for a night's stay. "Since July I've had guests from Sweden, Germany, and Oklahoma -- all people that I've enjoyed very much."
One reason that Mrs. Lafont has little time for level of her own was apparent even as I drove up and parked beside the barn. On the grassy slope across the road. Richard and Rachel Lafont and their son, Raymond, and daughter, Margaret, were loading bales of new-mown hay, the food staple for the herd of Holsteins that provide their livelihood. The cows are another reason the family' travel is limited -- they must be milked each day at 6a.m and 6p.m.
Shortly after my friend and I followed her direction to "go into the house and make yourselves comfortable," Rachel Lafont came in and offered to take us on a hike to a vantage point from which we could see most of the farm's lush 300 acres and the mountains across the nearby Canadian border. Flanked by wildflowers and wild raspberry bushes, the trail leads past the Lafonts' sugarhouse, where they boil down sap into maple syrup during early spring.
It is a leisurely 20-minute walk to the trail's end, where a small cabin looks out over the thick meadows and hardwood forests below. A sweet, fresh fragrance from the windflowers, grass, and pure country air encourages hikers at each step.
Back at the house that evening Mrs. Lafont showed us the stack of blue ribbons she had recently won at the country fair for her baking. After sampling some of her award-winning pumpkin and apple pies with some neighbors who dropped in that evening, we could only agree that the judges had made a wise choice. Perfectly content, we retired upstairs to cozy, spacious rooms under the eaves for a sleep unbroken by the complete silence outside.
In the morning we discovered that the term "American Bed and Breakfast" means that the breakfast included with the night's lodging is truly a traditional American one -- not continental. Accompanying the bacon and eggs was plenty of Mrs. Lafont's toasted homemade bread and her equally good strawberry-rhubarb jam.
By the time we waved goodbye to the Lafonts we felt we had left behind some new friends and brought with us knowledged of a life style quite different from our own. It was a feeling that a night's stay at a hotel or even an inn could not offer.
Consulting the little red brochure published by the Americn Bed and Breakfast Program, we found there were host homes to choose from all over central and northern Vermont. That day we headed southwest down Route 100 toward Waterbury to the Ballshneiders' Tyrolean-style chalet, which cleaves into a gentle contour of the thickly forested Green Mountains.
Turning into the road that sets Schneider Haus well back from the highway, we came to a beautifully detailed home that bore an uncanny resemblance to an Austrian hideaway. As she showed us to our beamed and exquisitely painted room, Mrs. Ballschneider explained that her husband had built the house himself, taking 2 1/2 years to achieve its almost handcrafted quality.
Unlike the Lafonts, the Ballschneiders had been providing bed and breakfast for several years before joining the American Bed and Breakfast Program, which is just a year old. Each of their five guest rooms is furnished with charming painted antiques, such as one with a child's bed cozily built into a niche is the wall. Part of the European style also means that they don't come with a private bathroom; most share one placed between two rooms.
Our own room featured puffy eyelet quilts, wicker chairs, and a stack of magazines tucked inside the blue night stand. A side door led out onto a terrace that encircles the entire house, at the back of which is a wide, geranium-decked patio overlooking the verdant hills. Visible from the front of the house are secluded tennis courts on which guests are invited to play.
After guests have finished a day of foliage touring, poking through the nearby quaint villages, or skiing (the Ballschneiders are near some of Vermont's best winter sports areas), there is living room full of comfortable chairs to relax in. While nibbling on some fruit that Mrs. Ballschneider thoughtfully leaves in a bowl, guests can scan a stack of menus for ideas on where to dine.
The next morning, seated around an oak dining table with two friendly Canadian couples, we had a chance to sample some of Mrs. Ballschneider's own fare. To augment the choice of French toast or bacon and eggs, we passed around a loaf of her delicious zucchini bread studded with pineapple and cracked wheat. Eveyone agreed that "American" and "bed and breakfast" is a happy, economical marriage that should have been made long ago.
The Ballschneiders and the Lafonts are only two of the many American families who have joined the ever-growing bed-and-breakfast networks across the Unite States. Their own particular network, the American Bed and Breakfast Programs, is a group of 40 Vermont homes that charge between $14 and $17 a night for one person and $18 and 26 for two. Coordinator Bob Precoda says he plans to expand the program into other states. To obtain a list of the homes or information on becoming a host home, send a stamped, self-addressed envelope to American Bed and Breakfast Program, PO Box 983, St. Albans, Vt. 05478.
Another new bed-and-breakfast program in the northeast is detailed in Edmund Tobin's Bed and Breakfast Directory, which lists homes in New england and upstate New York. Each listing includes the host's own description as well as Mr. Tobin's own recommendations of what to see in the area.
Of their spacious home on the banks of the Hudson in Rhinecliff, N.Y., Bob and Pat Loeber write, "There's always a projects in progress. Though the house is 120 years old, it's not finished yet. Guests may be asked for a consultation." They also mention their "cozy would stove," beautiful swimming pool overlooking the Hudson," and "every night a different sunset." A double room for two at the Loebers costs $25, with $5 charged for an extra cot.
Rene and Barbara Delannoy at Narragansett, R. I., bill their accommodations as a "Victorian house which enjoys people. Its living rooms are open to all guests, and include a comfy den and cook veranda." Bed and a "hearty" breakfast here cost $35 for two, with $6 per child. To obtain Mr. Tobin's directory, send
One of the most sophisticated bed-and-breakfast programs has recently emerged on the West Coast Bed and Breakfast International, which has host homes in Phoenix, Ariz.; Seattle; Spokane, Wash.; Denver; San Diego; Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Sacramento, Calif.; Portland, Ore.; Salt Lake City; Las Vegas, Nev.; Vancouver, British Columbia; and Honolulu. With Accommodations ranging from private homes to vacation condominiums to dude ranches, lodging averages around $33 a night for two.
Last spring Bed and Breakfast International teamed up with Amtrak to be a part of rail tours to the Western cities served by Amtrak. At least until the end of this year travelers can book into a bed-and-breakfast home when making their transportation arrangements with Amtrak.
Information on becoming a host home is available by writing to Bed and Breakfast International, 1318 Southwest Troy Street, Portland, Ore. 97219. Information on places to stay is available through travel agents.