New England may be the poster child for fall foliage, but the autumnal beauty of the Adirondacks is — no offense, Vermont — second to none. A great place to set up camp is an exquisite B&B in the tiny village of Lake Luzerne, just 10 miles south of Lake George. It’s called the Lamplight Inn; and as Steve, a 60-something tourist, said just before he climbed aboard his Harley and thundered off, “This is a gem, isn’t it?”
It is indeed. When owners Gene and Linda Merino bought the place in 1984, however, it was a gem in the rough. But then again, so were they. Both are from northern Jersey, and both worked in the textile business. He ran an engraving plant, she was a textile artist. That year, they decided to get married, quit their well-paying jobs, move far away from their families, and turn an abandoned home into a B&B. “Our parents thought we were crazy,” Linda says. “We really did it on a whim.”
With his construction skills, her sense of design, and the enlisted labor of family and friends, the couple turned the crumbling 1890 Victorian — built as the summer home of a wealthy lawyer and member of the New York State Assembly — into a charming three-bedroom getaway. “We opened our doors in 1985 — and nobody came,” says Gene. “We ran out of money in three months.”
The romantic ideal of running a quaint B&B quickly gave way to the hard economic reality. Undaunted, they knew they needed more space, so Gene spent the next couple of years adding more bedrooms and a new dining room onto the main house, renovating the Brookside Cottage on the grounds, and building a new Carriage House. Now, with 15 guest rooms, the place hums with activity year-round.
Gene and Linda are fully hands-on, running the place with their trusted lieutenant of 18 years, Sally Wintersteiner — “I call her my work wife,” Gene says. They pride themselves on two things: cleanliness and good food. And they deliver. More on the food later; the place is so immaculate it gave my wife guilt pangs about our dusty home.
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The main house is Victorian through and through. The spacious great room boasts a 12-foot beamed ceiling, chestnut wainscoting, and keyhole staircases. It’s divided into three sitting areas. One is the game room, with puzzles, games, and books to enjoy by the wood-burning fireplace. My wife and daughter played Scrabble while Gene, Linda, and I chatted in another area furnished with an antique brocade sofa and wing chairs. The third section has a TV discreetly hidden in a Queen Anne cabinet near Gene’s mom’s overstuffed period sofa. Linda’s extensive collection of curios — she especially likes turtles and dolls — are displayed in antique cabinets in various corners of the room.
The original bedrooms are small and cozy, the newer ones larger (some are suites), and all are done up with antiques, artwork, and fine touches befitting Linda’s artistic sensibilities. Most have fireplaces; some have hot tubs. All have air conditioning, phones, free Wi-Fi, and other modern amenities.
On warm afternoons you can rock the day away on the wraparound porch or stroll through the beautiful grounds. A series of original wooded trails — the locals call it the old Indian Trail — begins behind the Carriage House and overlooks the Hudson River. Adirondack chairs are scattered about the property and near the perennial garden for reading and relaxing.
Don’t relax too much, though. You’ll want a hearty appetite for breakfast. While some B&Bs are all bed, no breakfast, the Lamplight is an exception. “Stuffed again,” said the couple at the table next to us when Sally asked about their meal.
Linda always loved baking. “I even took classes with Martha Stewart, before she became famous,” she says. And each morning a fresh basket of her creations starts your meal. We had Orange Blossom muffins. They were as moist and fluffy as could be, with sublime orange essence and a dusting of sweet powdered sugar.
The buffet features fresh fruit and Linda’s homemade granola, which she also sells by the pound. After you try it, you won’t leave without a bag or two. But there’s more to this breakfast than the typical Continental offerings. While Linda and Sally serve and schmooze — “We all like to talk a lot,” Linda admits — Gene mans the kitchen. You can get eggs, thick-cut bacon, his signature home fries, Linda’s homemade bread, and the day’s special off the griddle. My wife had a veggie omelet. I had two farm-fresh scrambled eggs, bacon, and blueberry pancakes, with just-picked summer blueberries. They were so delicious I forgot my disappointment at missing the opportunity to try Gene’s famous Belgian waffle. Check out the picture on their Web site. “That picture alone has sold rooms,” Linda tells me.
The Merlinos, and the ramshackle house they bought, have come a long way in 27 years. “We have learned as we’ve gone,” says Gene, who is now such a pillar of the community he was elected town supervisor. “I think the town is proud of what we’ve done,” Linda says. “We took an eyesore and we did something really good here. It’s like our baby, and we love it.”
Rates range from $139 to $259 depending on the season.
Fall, of course, is a particularly busy season at the Lamplight. “It’s stunning up here,” Gene says. Drive anywhere, and you’ll be pleased. I recommend the drive to Lake Placid, in the heart of the Adirondacks. Take the Adirondack Northway (Rte. 87), once voted America’s most scenic highway, to Exit 30. Pick up Rte. 9 north and follow it for two miles to Rte. 73. Continue on Rte. 73 for 28 miles to Lake Placid. But try to keep your eyes on the twisty mountain roads.
Staying closer to the inn, drive 10 miles north on Rte. 9N to Lake George Village. No less than Thomas Jefferson called Lake George “without comparison the most beautiful water I ever saw; formed by a contour of mountains… finely interspersed with islands, its water limpid as crystal and the mountain-sides covered with rich groves of silver fir, white pine, aspen and paper birch down to the water.” (The guy could write.) Take a cruise on the Minne-Ha-Ha, an old-fashioned steamboat (www.lakegeorgesteamboat.com), or hike up nearby Prospect or Hadley mountains for postcard-worthy views.
Gene and Linda will help you tour the Adirondacks with their Picnic for Two special ($55, weather permitting), a picnic basket filled with two deli sandwiches, a half bottle of red or white wine, two bottled waters, a choice of salad, plus fresh fruit and four of Linda’s cookies.