he first thing you notice upon arriving in Stowe is the intense green. Not only are the mountains, forests and meadows green, but the very air smells green. Welcome to Vermont, where the air is clean and suitable for drinking in deeply. When you take in a lungful, it's akin to a deep religious experience or a seven-course gourmet meal in a five-star Paris bistro. Environmentalists will feel as if they've landed in the Garden of Eden.
In wintertime, the mountains are topped with white frosting, and skiing is in full swing. If you're not an avid skier, snowboarding and horse-drawn carriage rides (think sleigh bells jingling while you're dashing through the snow, and steaming mugs of hot chocolate afterward by the fireside) are attractive options. Who knew that cold weather could be so much fun?
Come springtime, visitors to Stowe will find blue skies, blooming flowers, "low season" lift and lodging prices, and the sunniest days of the ski season. The warm days and cold nights of spring start the sap running in Vermont's famous maple trees, kicking off maple sugaring time. Kids will get a real kick out of visiting a sugar house to see first-hand how sap is boiled off to make Vermont's best-known local product: maple syrup. And the fragrance of the spring flowers budding in the valley is enough to make you swoon.
Stoweflake Mountain Resort and Spa is a great base for exploring both Stowe (a picturesque "ski resort" town with Austrian-style chalets) and the neighboring countryside. Not only does the spa offer a kids' menu along with its more than 120 spa treatments, but Stoweflake also serves afternoon tea and cookies. On a recent visit, I loved the mineral bath, hot tubs and waterfall in the Spa, and the Aqua Solarium Therapy Room has to be seen to be believed.
You'll know you're in Vermont when you get the Vermont Maple Sugar Body Polish. Or let yourself be wrapped in an Organic Roses All Over cocoon to feel the ultimate in luxury. Aprés ski relaxation never felt so good.
After your spa treatment, you can visit the 10,000-square-foot meditative garden to continue the feeling of tranquility. Most rooms at the Stoweflake Mountain Resort and Spa include a wet bar and a fireplace, so you can retreat to your room to drink a glass of wine by a big, cozy gas fire, the chills and spills of a day on the slopes forgotten. Don't be surprised if you find yourself humming "Moonlight in Vermont."
Topnotch at Stowe Resort and Spa offers both guest rooms and suites in the hotel, and luxurious resort homes. Situated at the base of Mount Mansfield, Vermont's highest peak at just shy of 5,000 feet, Topnotch is a ski fanatic's playground. If the slopes don't appeal, the Spa at Topnotch specializes in treatments for the whole family, including young adults ages 16 and older. If there is a budding prima donna in your tribe, the Spa will cater to her with its teen package, which includes a facial, a scrub using maple sugar from nearby farms, a citrus Swedish massage and lunch - burgers and fries allowed. Topnotch also offers a "teen tune-up" with a personal trainer.
If you're in the mood for romance, you can't do better than a room at the Stone Hill Inn, a luxury inn for couples, where you'll be thoroughly pampered. Each of the nine rooms in this intimate bed-and-breakfast is individually decorated, and each bathroom sports a two-person Jacuzzi whirlpool tub, with a fireplace directly across from it. Massages are offered right in your room, and the ample breakfasts are not hurried affairs, but leisurely served by candlelight with soft classical music playing in the background. You'll never want to leave.
You'll think you walked into a "Sound of Music" setting when you check into the Trapp Family Lodge. Although the surrounding hills may not be alive, this 96-room historic Alpine lodge - along with the Guest House Chalets and Villas - looks so much like an Austrian ski resort because it's actually operated by the von Trapp family-yes, those von Trapps, who yodeled along with the lonely goatherd. When the musical family left Austria and traveled to Stowe, it was love at first sight. They immediately felt right at home in the mountains of Stowe. This past winter, three members of the family led nordic skiing and snowshoe tours of their property. Even if you aren't staying at the lodge, be sure to try the European-style cuisine in one of the three restaurants. The chef uses only the season's freshest local produce, game and fish, along with herbs and vegetables grown in the von Trapps' own garden.
Another good place to eat in Stowe is the Partridge Inn. If you like fresh seafood, you'll be in heaven. The Partridge Inn uses regional products whenever possible. When I dined there, I enjoyed sautéed shrimp scampi over linguini, and my dining companions raved about the lobster and blue crab cakes. The wine list is also substantial, and the décor is outstanding. Once a grand Victorian home, built in the late 1800s, the Partridge Inn has been a restaurant for more than 30 years. They must be doing something right.
For casual dining in Stowe, Gracie's is a dog lover's delight. The name of the restaurant comes from the owner's beloved dog, who is now deceased, and the walls are "graced" with lots of dog photos, some supplied by loyal customers. According to their menu, their food is "gourmutt," and I found the soup of the day to be consistently good. Gracie's is extremely kid-friendly.
A nightlife hot spot - even in cold weather - in Stowe is the Rusty Nail Bar and Grill, which includes dining, live music and other entertainment, and dancing. The restaurant menu features sandwiches, including Black Angus beef burgers, and wraps, as well as home-style dinners, such as meatloaf (served "the way Mom used to make it") with mashed potatoes and homemade mushroom gravy. The signature drink at the Black Diamond Martini Bar is made with Blavod Black Vodka and Dry Vermouth Mist, served with a twist. Shaken, not stirred.
Stowe is home to a bustling arts and crafts scene, and you could spend a whole day just browsing in the galleries. Don't miss the Green Mountain Fine Art Gallery - diagonally across from the Vermont Ski Museum - the Cotswold Furniture Makers Gallery, which features John Lomas' furniture designs, as well as hand-knotted wool rugs, hand-blown glass and pottery; Stowe Craft Gallery and Design Center, which stocks handmade contemporary art, including fanciful kaleidoscopes; West Branch Gallery and Sculpture Park, which hugs the west branch of the Little River; and Little River Hotglass Studio and Gallery, where you can step onto the blowing floor, hear the roar of the furnaces and watch as molten glass takes shape.
Worth a look - or a long, leisurely browse - is the local shopping Mecca, Stowe Mercantile, with an old-time general store feel. You'll find a hodgepodge of homespun goodies. Often, you'll find someone playing the piano, or even a heated game of checkers going on. Be sure to treat yourself to the candy table (especially the yummy licorice), as well as the free samples of delicious Vermont specialty foods.
Who would have ever thought that Stowe could be a foodies' paradise? The nearby surrounding area is ripe for grazing. Start at the Cold Hollow Cider Mill in Waterbury, which presses apples year-round and is open to public viewing. After you've seen cider being made, you can wander through the store and sample plenty of jellies, mustards, applesauce and fudge. In the summer, you can watch real bees - don't worry, they're behind glass - make honey in the honey corner.
The Cabot Creamery in Waterbury, a farm family-owned cooperative that makes cheddar cheese, is a samplers' heaven. Lake Champlain Chocolates, which boasts a hot chocolate café, and Green Mountain Coffee Roasters share the same roof with Cabot, for easier noshing. Just follow your nose.
Of course, no visit to Vermont is complete without a visit to Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream Factory. It was certainly a highlight for me. Nestled in the heart of the Green Mountains, the factory sits on a rolling pasture heading north from the town of Waterbury. Ben & Jerry's offers guided tours, which begin in the Cow over the Moon theater with a company history "moo-vie." From the theater, you'll head to a glassed-in mezzanine, where you'll get a bird's-eye view of the production room - and I have to admit that I've never seen any factory employees look quite so happy. Then it's off to - where else? - the "Flavorroom" to indulge in a sample flavor of the day! The tour is fun for all ages, plus it has a tasty ending.
How to get there?
You can fly Southwest Airlines from St. Louis to Manchester, N.H., and then rent a car. Take either Interstate 293 or Route 28 to Concord, then take Interestate 89 into Vermont. Take Exit 10, Waterbury/Stowe, then follow Route 100 North for 11 miles to the scenic village of Stowe. Once in the Green Mountains, inhale deeply. Exhale. Repeat.
Story published Friday, March 5, 2010 ( Volume 5, Number 2 )