Let's get something straight: I'm not talking about designer-logo-sporting, designer-martini-swilling, "Dynasty"-style rich. (Those people wouldn't be caught dead at a country inn sans air conditioning.) To stroll the grounds of this grand estate with a Vanderbilt pedigree is to step back into the world of Jane Austen or Edith Wharton, where the landed gentry had taste and ideals to go along with their paternalism.
For $6, the grounds are yours for a day. Walk the looping Farm Trail to the spot where Frederick Law Olmsted arranged for a narrow vista of Camel's Hump to open in the forest while the lake glimmers to the west, and understand why people used to rave about dramatic landscaping the way they do now about cinematic special effects. Or shell out some special-occasion cash for dinner or brunch at the Inn, and carry your cocktail into the gardens to lean on Lila Vanderbilt Webb's stone parapets. Stay at the Inn, and you can sleep in her bed (for a price) and read the Times on her sumptuous green sofa.
When you're done wallowing in nostalgia for a lost Gilded Age, you can admire the place for what it is now: a nonprofit model of a modern-day sustainable farm.
- Margot Harrison