Seven generations of the same ownership.
Not too much has changed in the 242 years since Thomas Gallup received a grant from King George III for the Connecticut River Valley land upon which Home Hill stands. Following his death in 1777, Gallup's oldest son Thomas inherited the property and in 1818 built the present Federal-style, brick home after the original had burned to the ground. The property remained with Gallup descendants until 1912 when it was finally sold to an outsider ending a remarkable seven generations of family ownership.
Nearly seven more decades passed in private residence until 1981 when Home Hill opened as an inn and restaurant. Fifteen years later in 1996 the current owners, a New England born chef and her French born husband, purchased the property. In the ensuing years Victoria and Stephane have transformed Home Hill into a refined country French retreat earning a prestigious Relais & Chateaux designation in 2003, the only North American property to receive the distinction that year.
Flower power in every room.
Rooms in the Main House are named for famous local artists while those in the Carriage House are taken from a town or village in southern France. We stay in Saint-Gaudens, a charming corner room decorated in a French toile of rich earth tones, named for Augustus Saint-Gaudens, the area's most famous resident who lived and worked in nearby Cornish, namesake of the colony, from 1885 until his death in 1907.
Saint-Gaudens: The only US National Park dedicated to an artist.
Today, Aspet is a National Historic Site and the only U.S. National Park dedicated to an artist. Learn of the artist's evolution while viewing some of his most famous works, including renditions of Diana, the Shaw Memorial, models of the General Sherman and Farragut Monuments, along with many cameos, medals and coins, including the Double Eagle 10 and 20 dollar gold pieces commissioned by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1904. Open from May through late October. Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site, 139 Saint-Gaudens Rd., Cornish, NH 03745, 603/675-2175, www.nps.gov/saga
Day trip to nearby Windsor, Hanover, or Woodstock.
Head back to Interstate Highways 91 and 89 for trips to Hanover, New Hampshire, home of Dartmouth College, Hopkins Center for the Arts, the Hood Museum, and many fine shops and restaurants, or Woodstock, Vermont, the quintessential Vermont village also known for its artists and eateries. In 1981 Irish glass maker Simon Pearce established his glass-blowing center in a renovated linen mill beside the Ottauquechee River in the adjacent town of Queechee, Vermont. Pop in to Pearce's restaurant and retail shop after watching the artists at work beside the fiery furnaces.
Sometimes you just need to hang out.
For an even less lively activity retreat to one of the hammocks that hang quietly amidst the natural nooks on the property or lie about with a novel on the north or south terrace depending on your need for sun or shade. Be assured, the inn's staff is always nearby with a style of service best described as subtle but complete. You should never want for refreshment or a bite to tide you over, but the courteous crew will not hover or appear unnecessarily in your view.
How two travelers found love and a home on the hill.
Saturday night begins in the small bar just off the dining room with Pernod over ice and the (love) story, as told by Stephane du Roure, of how a son of Provence and a daughter of New England came to meet in California and settle in New Hampshire. At mid-career he was the owner of several California patisseries having taken up the baking business to capitalize on the growing American love affair with the croissant. A skier and outdoorsman he eventually made his way from San Diego to live at Lake Tahoe.
Before long their Northern California paths crossed and soon they headed east for a visit with Victoria's dad who has a home in neighboring Cornish. (Stephane describes Victoria as a marathoner and triathlon competitor which may explain her being in somewhat of a hurry.) As fate would have it they discovered Home Hill, at the time ten years into its life as a somewhat low-key inn and restaurant, and the rest, as they say, is history. As co-owners and husband and wife team Victoria is Executive Chef while Stephane oversees management of the inn.
Unraveling an art mystery.
But at the time of V-Dad's purchase of the old Parrish homestead, Stephen was less than well known and certainly not one of the revered members of the Cornish Colony like his son or Saint-Gaudens. While fishing through curiosities in the attic of the old house, V-Dad came across a small batch of Stephen Parrish's paintings and etchings beautiful landscapes of the New England coast and countryside. To the previous owners they had no discernable value, so they gladly let them go to V-Dad as a part of the sale of the property.
This opportune discovery led him to an increased recognition of the value of Stephen Parrish's art and over time he has purchased several more works, some located at still low prices gathering dust in antique shops. Beautiful 19th century art they include the paintings we first saw in the lounge during tea as well as those that grace the walls of the (Stephen) Parrish Room where V-Dad's daughter Victoria now creates her own masterpieces.
At 7:45 Stephane seats us for dinner in the Parrish Room. Mystery solved, we can enjoy the newly constructed addition to the inn with its architectural treatment, atmosphere and ambiance reminiscent of a Provencal Chateau all brought together by the exclusive collection of art by Stephen Parrish.
Our Chef's Tasting Menu opens with chilled foie gras cooked au torchon with brioche toast, cress salad, and five spice cherry chutney paired with a 2001 Barton et Guestier Sauterne. Moments earlier we stuck our heads into the kitchen to wish bon chance to Chef Victoria as she prepared to serve the expectations of fifty discerning diners. Now, our palates tell us her six-course culinary tour is off to an impressive start.
Hmmm! We savor every bite as the servers keep perfect pace, timing the delivery of each course to a natural clock that follows the rhythm of our palates. The centerpiece of Chef du Roure's presentation is a tender, yogurt marinated rack of lamb, creamy chickpeas, dried fruit and nut turnovers in phyllo. She pairs the lamb with a red wine favorite, 1999 St. Emilion Chateaux Pay Blanquet.
We slow our tempo even more trying to make every morsel matter. The cheese is a pairing of Red Cow parmesan, honeydew melon, and sun dried strawberries macerated in port and combined with a Sandeman Founder's Reserve Port. Finally, we savor pistachio financier crowned with ripe raspberries and creamy pistachio ice cream. It all appears so effortless we conclude just as it should when a Master presents her art.
Every Wednesday thru Sunday, Chef du Roure offers diners a choice of menus including the Gourmet Tasting Menu just reviewed, US$89 or US$154, with wine pairings, a potager (vegetarian) menu, and an a la carte menu US$54 US$68. Home Hills' Parrish Room is open to the public year-round for dinner only.
A bit of Provence in New England awaits your stay at Home Hill French Inn & Restaurant, 703 River Road, Plainfield, NH 03781. Deluxe Double/Single US$295, Suite US$425, continental breakfast included. No smoking in guests rooms. For reservations and information call 603/675-6165, Fax. 603675-5220, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.homehillinn.com
Feature by Jim Hollister, Jetsetters Magazine Luxury Editor. Photos by Jim Hollister and Home Hill.