So I waffled over posting this review of my recent Jane Austen-themed weekend at The Governor’s House in Hyde Park, because while the event was disappointing overall it did have some good parts. It may just be that I’m a particularly picky customer, but in the end I decided that a thorough and accurate review couldn’t cause any undue harm, so here we go:
The Governor’s House in Hyde Park, Vermont (a small inn) hosts Jane Austen-themed weekends throughout the year. Some are themed around a particular book (like the one I attended), and one is an “in-character” weekend where guests are expected to adopt a particular character and stick to it as much as possible. When a friend and I heard about an upcoming Sense and Sensibility weekend in February, we thought it would be fun to check out.
The website promised a dessert gathering on Friday night with a talk on Regency life, breakfast on Saturday, Regency card games, a sleigh ride, afternoon tea, plus dinner and dancing on Saturday night and a Sunday breakfast to finish things off. The site also generally talked about various other activities available to guests, including horseback riding, archery, cooking lessons, fishing, and crafts. We did notice that these claims were more specifically repeated in the context of the in-character weekend, but we hoped that there would be similarly-interesting activities available indoors for our event. In retrospect this was probably where we went wrong.
We arrived Friday night with high hopes– the building was lovely inside and out, our rooms were cozy, and there was a huge collection of movies (with multiple versions of all the Jane Austen television and movie adaptations) available for viewing. We changed into Regency gowns and headed down to the library for dessert and our first activity– a talk about various aspects of Regency life.
None of the other guests chose to wear Regency garb for this one– not the three who were staying at the inn, nor the other three ladies who had apparently driven up just for the dessert and lecture. That was too bad, but not the fault of our hostess. We were somewhat disappointed by the food on offer– small squares of plain gingerbread cake with apple cider, plus a cheese plate: not a bad snack but not really enough to warrant being a featured “dessert” in my opinion– and even more disappointed by the lecture (it was definitely a lecture, not a discussion). While our hostess was clearly knowledgeable on the topics at hand she mostly read from her notes, jumping from subject to random subject and at times spending an inordinately long time on seemingly obscure issues. I think we spent a good 15 minutes hearing about the different types of carriages people used back then, and far more time than necessary reiterating how many pennies made a shilling and how many shillings a pound. To be fair, the other guests seemed to be enjoying the lecture, but even our relatively rudimentary knowledge of Regency life was enough to make us bored.
Saturday morning we had a nice breakfast (again, no one else dressed up) and were hoping to participate in some fun daytime activities. Sadly, the only two activities on offer were 1) writing with a goose-quill pen and 2) playing whist. Our hostess gave basic instructions on how to use the pens, pointed out the decks of cards and directions for whist, and left us on our own for the next several hours. The writing part was fun but could only take up so much time, and since there weren’t enough players to make up more than one whist table there wasn’t much to do after that besides take photos around the inn– nothing we couldn’t have done in any historic inn on any other weekend. The promised sleigh ride unfortunately was cancelled because it was too cold for the horses, and there was apparently nothing planned to take its place.
Our next activity was afternoon tea (more Victorian than Regency style, but that was intentional), which was more enjoyable than the dessert lecture since 1) the food was excellent, varied, and plentiful, and 2) the lecture was significantly shorter and was about the importation and use of tea, which I found more interesting than carriages. However, afterwards we were on our own again until dinner.
Dinner itself was excellent– everyone dressed up, making for a better atmosphere, and we had a spread of homemade, period-appropriate foods to enjoy. Afterwards we were joined by a group of English country dancers who did an admirable job teaching dances to our group for two hours. They were fantastic and a good time was had by all. It was really the high point of the weekend.
Sunday morning we were (again) left to our own devices for the most part– brunch was served at 10:30, we had a written quiz on Sense and Sensibility while we ate, and once we’d finished eating the weekend was basically over.
All in all, I got the feeling that the event was geared less towards Regency buffs and more towards people who might have read a few of Jane Austen’s books and decided on a whim to try a themed weekend. Even so, I thought that additional activities would’ve gone a long way towards making the weekend more immersive and interesting for everyone– as it was, we were alone for the majority of the weekend with not much to do. (I will note that use of smartphones was highly discouraged in the common areas, which I thought was unnecessary given the lack of a “period” atmosphere generally and the lack of much else to occupy our time.)
If I’d been visiting the inn for a normal weekend, planning to visit local attractions or go skiing, I would have been extremely satisfied with it– the rooms were nice*, the food was freshly homemade and mostly excellent, and the hostess was welcoming. However, as far as themed weekends go this one was severely lacking, and I can’t really recommend it to anyone looking for an immersive experience. I’ve heard that the in-character weekends are much better (which would make sense since the activities on offer are apparently more varied), but given my experience with this one I don’t see myself making the effort to try again in the future.
*Well, our rooms were nice. The other guests weren’t so lucky– apparently the water pipes leading to their bathroom would regularly stop working in particularly cold temperatures, so they had to use our shower and actually get a bucket of water to flush their toilet with!