A classic fanlight brightens the entrance
to the historic 19th Century edifice.

Provence is a place both real and imagined and the Home Hill French Inn & Restaurant in Plainfield, New Hampshire easily embraces this idea. A real dream-come-true for owners Victoria and Stephane du Roure, it's a feast for the imagination of their international clientele. Inspired by inns found in the south of France, Home Hill is a lovingly restored 19th century house situated on twenty-five secluded and superbly kept acres overlooking the Connecticut River in an area known for the Cornish Colony of artists — which includes sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens and painter Maxfield Parrish — who first came to the region at the turn of the 20th century.

Afternoon tea is served in the
warmly decorated lounge.

On a sunny day in August we arrive in time for afternoon tea. GM Sebastien Dube, a Montreal native taken into service both for his hotel expertise and his language skills, whisks us to the lounge where we choose from a menu of imported blends all designed to settle our spirits after the 2 ½ hour drive from Boston. The décor is an appealing mix of French country fabrics and early American antiques with cozy couches and comfortable wing chairs gathered around a classic colonial fireplace. French doors take you to a terrace that overlooks impressive paddocks and the owner's stable of horses across the nearby field. Later on in the weekend we will discover a surprising story about the paintings that hang here and in the dining room.

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.

Saint-Gaudens is the guest room named
for the area's most renowned resident.

The inn's accommodations consist of three rooms and one suite in the Main House, six newly renovated rooms in the expanded Carriage House plus La Piscine, a private cottage behind the pool, featuring a brass and porcelain queen size bed and a cozy sitting room with white wicker furniture. Each of the eleven rooms is individually decorated with the warm hues and fabrics of Provence. Following a centuries-old Provencal tradition, the linens are sprayed with lavender water and the scent of freshly picked lavender from the inn's gardens courses throughout.

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.

A visit to nearby Aspet, Saint-Gaudens' home named after his father's birthplace in France, chronicles the colony's history. An informal gathering of successful painters, sculptors, writers, actors, singers and statesman, members of The Cornish Colony lived in three contiguous towns: Plainfield and Cornish in New Hampshire and Windsor in Vermont. The colony was begun by Saint-Gaudens who moved to Aspet in 1885.

Soon, he began to attract friends and associates to the area's natural beauty and relative seclusion from Boston, New York, and Philadelphia. An influential group of some eighty men and women they created a dynamic intellectual and social environment whose center was Augustus Saint-Gaudens. Over several decades they engaged and entertained each other until the colony dissipated in the years after Saint-Gauden's death.

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.

When you venture beyond Home Hill's Plainfield locale start with a tour of Saint-Gaudens and then drive a couple miles farther down Route 12A to the Cornish Covered Bridge, the longest covered bridge in the country. Travel through the bridge and across the Connecticut River to Windsor, the "birthplace" of Vermont and site of the signing of the Vermont Constitution. Windsor is home to the small, but intriguing Cornish Colony Museum with a book and print store that specializes in the art of Maxfield Parrish. The museum is upstairs in the old firehouse, 147 Main Street, Windsor, VT, 802/674-6008.

The Cornish bridge is the longest 
covered bridge in the country.

A popular activity is canoeing the Connecticut River and at North Star Canoe they provide a free shuttle to Sumner Falls where you'll put in for a leisurely two-hour paddle down river to the Cornish Covered Bridge and along a wooded island perfect for picnics, wading and swimming fun. Canoe rentals from US$15 to US$35. North Star Livery, Route 12A, Cornish, NH 03745, 603/542-5802.

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.

The Maxfield Parrish room
recognizes one of the Cornish
Colony's best-known artists.

Might you feel like staying closer to home? Enjoy a dip in the inn's outdoor swimming pool – a small, but stylish plunge made private by a picket fence and very tall trees. The close by red-clay tennis court is well maintained and ready for your best game, unless you prefer the traditional French Petanque court, a relative of the somewhat better known Bocce ball. For those in the grip of golf, a small putting green with two flagged holes will temporarily satisfy your obsession. The inn provides bicycles for exploring the lovely country roads which can include a ride down River Road to the picturesque Edgewater and Riverview Farms where, depending on the season, you can buy fresh flowers and vegetables or pick strawberries, apples, or pumpkins.

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.

Innkeepers Victoria & Stephane du Roure.

Victoria had completed her formal training at the renowned Ritz-Escoffier Culinary School in Paris. She returned to the states to work in two of the West coast's most celebrated restaurants, Auberge du Soleil (a Relais & Chateaux property) in Napa Valley and One Market in San Francisco.

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.

This Stephen Parrish painting
is one of a large collection 
from the artist on display.

An account of our evening is only complete by explaining how the new dining room got its Parrish moniker. Like rookie gumshoes we at first misread the evidence and assumed the dining room was named for Maxfield Parrish. However, the first chapter of the whodunit was actually written a quarter century ago when the aforementioned dad (Victoria's father wishes anonymity so we'll just call him V-Dad!) came to New Hampshire with a calling to purchase and restore the old Stephen Parrish house. Stephen Parrish may best be recognized as the father of illustrator and painter Maxfield Parrish, but he was an accomplished etcher and painter in his own right.

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.

Dourade — Featured in-season are
fresh seafood from nearby
New England rivers and streams.

Tasting Chef Victoria du Roure's AAA Four Diamond delights.

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.

The new Stephen Parrish dining room
is the latest addition to the historic inn.

She continues to amaze us with chilled sweet local corn and lobster soup dressed with chives and crème fraiche paired with a 2003 Reserve Perrin Cotes du Rhone. We love the portions of a gourmet tasting menu, small and delicate, and how each course is a mini artistic statement. And we really enjoy the anticipation that builds through the meal, especially when a dish like marinated baby octopus with seasoned red peppers and hand-rolled saffron-ricotta gnocchi and 2003 Chateaux de Maligny Chablis follows on.

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 dish prepared by
Chef du Roure reflects
her Parisian training and 
her passion for husband
Stephane's native
Provence-style cuisine.

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 homehill@www.relaischateaux.com or visit www.homehillinn.com

The exclusive Montcalm
Golf Club is open
to guests of Home Hill.

NEW: Guests can now play at Montcalm Golf Club during their stay by using Home Hill's special membership. The recently completed and very private Montcalm Golf Club is a beautiful, 6,800 yard layout designed in a spectacular, mountainside setting just off Rt.89 in Enfield, New Hampshire.

— Feature by Jim Hollister, Jetsetters Magazine Luxury Editor. Photos by Jim Hollister and Home Hill.