overnight success

In Vermont, Kipling's Bedtime Stories

Sunday, February 1, 2004

WHAT: Naulakha, Rudyard Kipling's American home, available for overnight accommodations.

WHERE: Just outside Brattleboro, Vt., 2½ hours north of Boston.

WHY: Because the author of "The Jungle Book" and "Kim" searched the world for the perfect home -- and found it here.

Perched along a meadow and overlooking the gentle hills of the Connecticut River Valley, Rudyard Kipling's American home enjoys a setting little changed from when the British writer resided here more than 100 years ago.

Kipling, who was wildly popular in the early 1900s for his stories of Indian and African life, named the estate Naulakha after one of his early novels, and today travelers can venture the three miles out of Brattleboro and rent it for short-term stays.

There's no kitchen staff, no turndown service, no concierge. When I arrived on a sunny afternoon, there was only David Tansey, the amiable caretaker of the property, to greet me and show me around.

Tansey, an architectural historian, is the director of the Landmark Trust USA, an offshoot of the British charity that specializes in restoring historical buildings and renting them to the public. It was largely his work that restored Naulakha in the early 1990s, after the 11-room, 3,600-square-foot home sat largely ramshackle for more than 50 years.

He led me around with the friendly fussiness of a proud homeowner, apologizing for anything out of place and pointing out the home's splendors."I can actually talk about this place for 10 hours or a half an hour, whatever you want," Tansey said.

Kipling had Naulakha built in 1892 after returning from his honeymoon and moved into the home in August 1893. While the author is more closely associated with England and India, it was here that he wanted to stay for the rest of his life, and likely would have had a family squabble not driven him back to England in 1896.

To read his letters from his days at Naulakha is to see the great pleasure Kipling got from his rural hideaway. He wrote about sleigh rides and climbing stonewalls, jumping headfirst into snow banks and tending his small English garden. He described the place as a "joy and a delight."

Today, it still fits that description.

During my visit, the lingering smell of varnish and wood smoke was strong throughout the house. Both the first floor and second floor hallways were long and narrow and lined with pictures -- animal drawings, British soldiers -- I could easily envision hanging in Kipling's day.

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