Linda

I love traveling to Western Maine during any season, but the rolling hills covered in snow make a particularly impressive sight. I wasn’t sure where the town of Waterford was, but it turns out to be only about 15 minutes west of Norway.

We turned onto Chadbourne Road and started the climb up the steep hill until we reached the Waterford Inn’s breathtakingly beautiful property. This 1800’s farmhouse, which has stayed in the Chadbourne family for generations, has been lovingly turned into a Registry Select Inn by Barbara Vanderzanden.

Barbara and her mother, now deceased, started this inn back in 1978. She and her mom were avid travelers, eventually visiting all of the continents. The inn is now chockablock full of memorabilia from around the world. The scale of attention to detail in decorating is hard to imagine. In every corner, in every room, you are drawn in by beautiful things. Art comes in a variety of forms here — from books and carvings to prints and paintings. Clearly Barbara has exquisite taste and a keen eye. You will find yourself constantly discovering something you overlooked before.

We were met at the door by Barbara — on crutches. She had traveled to ski in France about a month earlier and broken her leg on the very first day! But we were soon to find out through visiting with her and her partner, Jan Beckwermert, that very little can slow this woman down. We had wonderful conversations before and after dinner, and again at breakfast the next morning. They are clearly suited for the hospitality business. By the end of breakfast, with laughter and conversation still easily flowing, I felt as if I’d known them my whole life!

There are eight rooms at the inn, each with its own theme and personality. They have a wonderful website which I encourage you to visit. My words alone are not going to give this stunning inn the justice it deserves. It sits on 25 acres of wooded property and Jan told me she mows four acres of lawns!

We were the only guests at the inn on a Monday in late February. So to say we were feeling a bit pampered as we stepped into the great room to see our candlelit table readied for dinner, with a fire crackling in the fireplace, would be an understatement. Jan served us our four-course dinner while Barbara helped cook in the kitchen. (Yes, of course she had figured out how to stand at the stove and work on crutches.) Weathered barn boards and exposed beams combine with subtle blue woodwork and pops of color in the many artifacts on display.

Warm rolls and a bowl of incredible Watercress and Walnut Soup began our meal. Jan told us this is a new soup they are trying. It was one of the best soups I have eaten in a very long time. It is a definite keeper, and the perfect antidote to a blustery evening outside.

The next course was a salad of fruits on a bed of baby spinach. The flavors of kiwi, watermelon, strawberry and banana were delicious when topped with poppy seed dressing.

The main course that night was Rack of Lamb. The mild and tender lamb became extraordinary with a crusty rosemary rub. Golden roasted potatoes, a baked version of baby zucchini with tarragon and steamed cauliflower rounded out the meal. The food is very good, and you will not go away hungry when you dine here.

We moved to a settle in front of the fire to enjoy conversation and dessert — a raspberry crumble with a shortbread topping. What a very fine meal.

Guests are free to bring their own bottle of wine for dinner. Reservations are required, and the restaurant is open to the public — not just reserved for guests. But when you stay there, it’s only about 10 steps from dinner to your room!

George

I had to jam on the brakes to avoid a flock of turkeys just crossing the inn’s driveway when we arrived. So, of course, I later asked Barbara if turkey was on the dinner menu that night. Jan offered me a gun if I wanted to shoot my own dinner but I demurred, considering turkey season won’t begin for three more months! Maybe on our next visit.

Entering the Chesapeake Room — focused on waterfowl paintings and carvings — I felt right at home, immediately spying a state of Maine duck print by one of my favorite painters, Jeanine Staples. The room has a huge bed, wooden chest, two very comfy chairs where I spent some time reading, a gorgeous chest of drawers, a large and well-lit bathroom and a woodstove all ready to light. Even the tray holding wine and other glasses had a painting of a duck on it.

Wandering through the inn, I took about a hundred photos. The art and collectibles are stunning. I was particularly captivated by Ted Hanks’ tiny carved geese, purchased at L.L. Bean, on the fireplace mantle in the living room.

Our dinner was one I shall never forget. It defined elegance with cloth napkins, colorful cloth coasters, even a beautiful bread basket. While the soup was very tasty, hearty without being filling and perfect on this wintry evening, my attention wandered the room. Overhead, carved birds and woven baskets hang from the old rafters. More photos! Even the light on the wall above our table was inside a carved tomato.

The fruit salad included all my favorites: watermelon, banana, strawberries, Kiwi and a variety of greens with a sweet dressing. Yum.

The lamb, with potatoes and zucchini, was beautifully arranged and delicious. Surprisingly, I loved the zucchini. Jan said they baked it for 25 minutes then dipped it in butter. It had a licorice taste, which caused Lin to note, as I was raving about it, “You always say you don’t like licorice!”

The ice cream dessert provided a very nice finish as we gathered around the fire. Throughout our visit, the opportunity to talk with Barbara and Jan really made our stay something special. Barbara regaled us with stories about her worldwide trips with her mother, and both ladies shared stories about their recent travel adventures.

We skipped around the world, stopping for a while in Barbara’s favorite place, South Africa (she is fascinated by nature and animals — giving the two of us a lot to talk about). Her last adventure with her mother was to Antarctica.

On our way to the inn, as we left Norway and passed the “Waterford” sign, Linda asked, “Have I ever been here?”

“Probably not,” I answered. But here’s the thing: The inn is just 15 minutes from another one of our very favorite restaurants, 76 Pleasant in Norway; 30 minutes from our favorite place to listen to music, Stone Mountain Arts Center in Brownfield; and close to North Conway’s shopping Mecca. It’s in the midst of a major recreational area of lakes, mountains, skiing, great fishing and a lot more. I wish we’d had time to try the snowshoe trail that begins right at the inn, but a snowstorm Tuesday morning sent us scurrying home.

And, speaking of home, you’ll feel at home here. Many guests return year after year, including a couple from Maryland who visit in winter and summer. Barbara told us about two guests from New York who helped serve dinner on Valentine’s Day because they had such a big crowd. And she had another story about sending a key to a frequent guest who arrived the night before Barbara and Jan returned from Tuscany. The guest let herself and her dog in, settled into “her” room, and prepared her own dinner!

Visit George’s website — georgesmithmaine.com — for book reviews, outdoor news and all Travelin’ Maine(rs) columns, found listed in the “Best of Maine” section.