Beach weather is long gone, alas, and there are flakes in the air; still, that’s no reason to hibernate for the next three months. There are plenty of ways to spend a fun weekend close to home, and you don’t even have to hit the slopes. From dog sledding beneath a canopy of pine trees to snowshoeing by dusk to dining in a candlelit cabin, we’ve found a great New England winter destination for every personality.
Ideal for The Outdoor Lover
Round Barn Farm
You know it’s Vermont when the postman used to deliver by bicycle. That neighborly feel is epitomized by the Round Barn Inn, where guests are welcome to a basket of slippers by the front door. Unlike those who like the anonymity of a big resort, Round Barn visitors want low-key luxury and personal touches. From the note on the door and cookie jar for those who arrive late at night, the innkeepers manage to be the paradigm of hospitality without being cloying.
The property was a former dairy barn until the late 1960s. When the farmer’s wife hit seventy, she told her husband, “Either the cows go or I go.” Rumor has it that the farmer considered her ultimatum for three weeks before deciding to sell. Jack and Doreen Simko bought the place and spent years restoring the barn and converting the house to an inn where some of the twelve bedrooms have the original cathedral roof rafters and barn board ceilings, along with canopied beds with Tempurpedic mattresses, steam showers, Jacuzzi tubs and gas fireplaces.
Of the original twenty-five round barns built in Vermont, only four remain. Twelve-sided barns were built so a farmer could drive a wagon and turn it around without having to back it out. The barns originated with the Shakers who liked to say they built round barns “so the devil can’t corner the farmer.”
The Simkos’ daughter, AnnMarie DeFreest, now runs the operation with her partner, Tim Piper. (Their black lab, Cooper, can be booked for guests’ snowshoeing romps.) With the inn’s catering business and onsite event coordinator, the barn has been the setting for hundreds of weddings in the past two decades. It’s cedar-shingled, insulated and heated with maple floors, oak beams and birch trees strung with white lights. Iron candelabras are suspended from a forty-foot high ceiling.
In the summer, a farmer leases the property and the inn’s food is grown 120 yards from the barn. The complimentary breakfasts are legendary (maple pork sausage and homemade cranberry oatmeal scones, for example). In the fall, guests press cider from Empire and Cortland apples on the property and the fresh cider is served at breakfast the next morning.
A number of inn weddings began with someone uncorking the question there. “Guys will call and say ‘I need a really nice place because I’m planning to propose,’ ” says Piper. His response? “Relax, we’ve been making romantic heroes for decades.” One gallant option, guaranteed to prime a yes reply, is a cabin dinner.
Each winter, the inn hosts moonlit snowshoe tours to a remote cabin for a fireside meal. It’s a group tour, so it’s not the most private spot to pop the question, but the mood will be cast. The founders of Vermont Canoe, Rob and Amy Scharges, run the trips. Around dusk, everyone straps on snowshoes as Rob leads a low-key hike through the woods, past one of the oldest sugar shacks in the valley. The sun has sunk into night by the time guests reach the 1970s hunting cabin owned by the Simkos. The rustic structure is a beacon. Votives flicker in the windows and outside, candles stand in a snow sculpture that chills guests’ beer and wine. Inside, flames blaze in a fieldstone fireplace and the table is laden with Vermont cheeses, melted brie with fig sauce, grapes and strawberries before a meal of salmon or beef bourguignon is served.
After dinner, guests don headlamps and Rob leads a more direct route to the inn, knowing that a cocktail of moonlight, wine, great food and company can be intoxicating.
Also suitable for: You may want to leave the kids with a sitter; the inn is sublimely romantic (as the proposal count evidences).
Unique time to visit: A December Christmas package includes a sleigh ride and a gingerbread cookie making class.
The details: 802-496-2276, roundbarn farm.com. Rooms start at $165.
Ideal for The Spa Lover
Stowe Mountain Lodge
If you’ve skied hard, Stowe Mountain Lodge is the apres-ski antidote. Glamorous guests step into what feels like an Architectural Digest layout, to live the high life at peak altitude. Enter the lobby and you’ve landed in Aspen or Jackson Hole: distressed leather chairs, lamps lighting the base of birch trees that stretch to the ceiling, three-tiered candelabras and a baby grand piano.
Surrounded by 2,000 acres of conservation land and part of the $400 million renovation of Spruce Peak village, the tagline of this woven timber Alpine-style lodge is “in the midst of nature and the height of luxury.” The decor weaves the outside into an elegant inside. A local designer carved a host stand for the restaurant using a maple tree that had succumbed to time on the roadside; restaurant tables are constructed from trees on the premises.
Rooms have goose-down feather beds, stone-framed fireplaces, private balconies and sunken relaxation tubs set in marble bathrooms. In eco-spirit, there are low-flow toilets and showerheads, bamboo sheets and eco-friendly cleaning products. Guests can select from a pillow menu that includes maternity, goose down, hypoallergenic foam, memory foam or buckwheat pillows. A bar customized with their favorite snacks and drinks can be arranged. Private jet transport is also on tap.
A ski valet can have boots warmed and skis tuned, and brought to the chairlift when guests are ready to hit the slopes. A personal shopper will run errands, stock the room with groceries or fetch the proper gear or clothing that a guest forgot to pack. Pet owners can enroll their dog in camp K9 so their dog gets mountain hikes while owners ski. There is also an adventure center for adults (with clinics on ice climbing and backcountry skiing), an adventure camp for children and naturalist tours that include moose and bear tracking, snowshoeing, hiking, dog sledding and mountain picnics.
The 21,000-square-foot spa has a herbal steam chamber, mosaic tile Jacuzzi and sauna. Treatments incorporate the elements, such as a scalp massage with white pine, balsam fir and silver fir extracts. Hairstylist Mario Russo, whose salon is at Louis, Boston’s chic department store, opened his second salon at the lodge. Lodge bathrooms are stocked with olive oil-based products made near Russo’s Vermont home.
Those who want an off-powder day can opt for a “Farm to Table” cooking class offered by Sean Buchanan, chef at the Lodge’s Solstice restaurant. Buchanan created and hosted “Feast in the Making,” a public television series that introduced viewers to the state’s meat, dairy and vegetable farmers, artisan cheesemakers and the chefs who support them.
In the morning, participants meet with farmers and purchase Vermont-grown vegetables, meat and wine. They eat a picnic lunch at the farm or a scenic location before returning to the lodge for a two-hour cooking class in the lodge’s kitchen. The experience culminates in a four-course wine pairing dinner at Solstice, prepared by Buchanan using ingredients found at the farm earlier in the day, and incorporating a few items that participants helped him cook in the class. During winter, the meal might be truffled beef tartare with local mushroom aioli and shoestring mushroom fries or maple-braised pork rib with bacon-wrapped pork tenderloin and tagliatelle with flowering kale.
Also suitable for: Families and couples; caters to those who prefer customized service.
Unique time to visit: The Stowe winter carnival is January 18 to 24. Play snow golf or snow volleyball, watch a professional ice carving competition; the festivities end with a nighttime block party with music and dancing.
The details: 802-253-3560, stowemoun tainlodge.com. Rates start at $359.
Ideal for The Adventurer
History reinvented is the Equinox theme. Resort windows frame the Manchester green and its 200-year-old Congregational Church. In a regal Barbour jacket, Harry the doorman has ushered guests for two decades. Its recent multi-million dollar revitalization enlisted Geoffrey Bradfield, whose “millennium modern” decorating is inspired by contemporary art and designs of the 1930s and forties.
Overlooking the hotel is Mount Equinox; at 3,816 feet, it’s the tallest mountain in the Taconic range. Inside, nature provides sculpture.
Visitors enter via the Great Room, where tree branches are wreathed by delicate Christmas lights. Pine cones are art beneath glass in the library, which is decorated in shades of moss green and khaki. A grand marble fireplace anchors the room, which invites guests to mingle with game tables and playing cards. Sepia-toned vintage photographs of Colonel Roosevelt leaving the Equinox and President Taft in Manchester illustrate the inn’s illustrious past.
William Marsh was the original owner. In 1769, Marsh Tavern was where Ethan Allen’s younger brother Ira proposed confiscating Tory property to raise money for the Green Mountain boys during the American Revolution. William decided the Brits would win the war and pledged his allegiance to them; in a cruel twist of fate, his was the first property to be expropriated.
Franklin Orvis later took ownership and opened the Equinox house in 1853. The north wing was the original Orvis homestead (Franklin’s brother founded the sporting goods company). Guests wanted to escape city industrial fumes for a mountain respite, so lawn tennis, archery, croquet, billiards and bowling were popular. They ate hearty meals four times a day: smoked beef in cream and chicken liver omelets so they might gain weight and “a return to the bloom on their cheek.” The scale used to prove that guests had gained weight is now a vintage prop in the spa.
Because contemporary guests want the scale to dip downward, a 13,000 square-foot spa caters to that desire. Its steamy 90-degree, seventy-five-foot indoor pool is framed by the Green and Taconic mountains with teak chaises for catching your breath between laps. Yoga and other fitness classes are offered, as well as spa treatments that incorporate native products such as maple sugar, wildflowers and mineral clay (husbands like the Mountain Man facial). For those who prefer stress relief in a glass, the Falcon bar serves more than thirty wines and twenty styles of Vermont cheeses as well as Knipschidt chocolates (their hot chocolate with marshmallows tastes best fireside on the heated deck).
Bromley and Stratton ski resorts are close by, and Equinox has an extensive menu of activities for off-powder days and non- skiers. Anglophiles flock to its Orvis wingshooting school, based on the Churchill method of upland hunting, waterfowling and sporting clays, as well as a British school of falconry.
Equinox also hosts the first U.S. Land Rover Experience driving school. Participants learn to properly navigate ascents, descents, side-tilts and rocky terrain with lessons that can be applied to pavement driving. The eighty-acre course was built for this purpose, so guests aren’t mucking up pristine land (more advanced sessions tackle Green Mountain logging roads). With some Range Rover models, participants are in the driver’s seat of an $80,000 vehicle, which can be intimidating, but the SUV’s computer is their co-pilot.
As the Land Rover ad promises, the hand turns the wheel, the car fixes it. Drivers push a button and the vehicle’s independent suspension reacts so that each wheel responds differently for maneuvering on snow, ice and gravel. Drivers ascend a boulder and then release the brake — a leap of faith until the automatic brake system activates. At a junior school, five to twelve-year-olds can steer an electrically driven mini Land Rover (with limited speeds and instant shut-off) through a customized jungle skills course. The biggest hazard? They may snub that tricycle at home.
Also suitable for: Families and couples who enjoy eclectic, sophisticated activities.
Unique time to visit: On December 5, the Equinox hosts a biannual Scottish Winter Ball fundraiser that pays homage to the hotel’s Victorian past. The evening begins with cocktails in the Rockwell Room followed by a parade of kilted bagpipers who lead the guests to the Colonnade Ballroom and the ceremonial “Salute to the Haggis.” Revelers arrive in their favorite ball gowns, tuxedoes and kilts to enjoy a traditional Scottish feast followed by dancing into the wee hours.
The details: 3567 Main Street, Manchester, 802-362-4700, equinoxresort.com. Rooms start at $149 a night.
Ideal for Family Time
Mount Washington Hotel
Bretton Woods, New Hampshire
This Grande Dame spoils her grandchildren. From family movie nights to mountain tubing, there is a plethora of kid-friendly activities on tap every day. With its rich past, simply staying at Mount Washington is a history lesson for children.
In the late nineteenth century, Joseph Stickney made his fortune in the Pennsylvania coal and railroad industries and dreamed of building the grandest of all hotels. His Mount Washington Hotel was the epitome of civilization, yet wild because it was surrounded by a national forest. Mount Washington and the Balsams Resort in the White Mountains of New Hampshire are the only surviving grand resorts from the turn of the century.
The structure was designed in the Spanish Renaissance style with 200 guest rooms and at least 350 staff (until recently, it was the only hotel post office with its own zip code). The opening ball in 1902 was attended by nearly 600 guests and culminated with a Virginia reel led by Stickney. At its grand opening, he exclaimed, “Look at me, gentlemen…for I am the poor fool who built all this!”
The grandeur remains: The buttercream and brown lobby glints with chandeliers and a fieldstone fireplace guarded by a moosehead. The dining room doesn’t allow guests to wear jeans, tennis shoes, ball caps or winter caps. With its Tiffany stained glass windows, marble tiling, crystal chandeliers and linen tablecloths, it conjures turn-of-the-century elegance, when staff were called to their tables by a board of electric push buttons.
At the other end of the floor is the Conservatory. Its dome ceiling resembles a hollow sugared Easter egg with pastel plate Tiffany glass. The high dome and half circle-shaped parlor provides natural acoustics for chamber music, lectures and poetry readings. White wicker furniture surrounds an 1881 rosewood Steinway from Stickney’s home. Still tuned and used, the piano is now worth a few hundred thousand dollars; a note requests that people refrain from using it as a table. On winter afternoons, mulled cider and oven-warm chocolate chip cookies are served. From the conservatory or a rocking chair on the veranda, you see the ridgeline’s silhouette at night.
At 6,288 feet, Mount Washington is the highest peak in the northeastern United States . The Presidential range averages a mere sixty clear days a year. It can snow in summer at the top and boasts a record wind speed of 231 mph. Hotel guests were once ferried to the summit via the cog railway; completed in 1869, it was the world’s first coal-fired mountain climbing steam railway.
Florence Clark became the first and only woman to drive a dog team solo to the summit of Mount Washington in 1932, when hounds were strapped into a zip line and lowered over a cliff. Today, guests can dogsled through Bretton Woods’ Nordic trails as huskies race through woods of spruce and fir, past beaver ponds and mountain streams. Muddy Paw Sled Dog Kennels may send red-bearded Chase, who became a musher after reading too many Jack London books. Many of the kennel’s eighty canines are rescue dogs, mixes of husky or malamute, with names like “Snuggles” and “Thor.” The five-foot toboggan style sled is made of ash and hand-tied, and Chase might let you mush on the straightaway. But the pack of eight can run a mile in 2.5 minutes; usually a couple of them have competed in the Iditarod, so remember that “Whoa” means brake.
Those who prefer an aerial view choose a canopy tour. The three and-a-half-hour tour comprises ten cable zip lines, two sky bridges, hiking and rappelling in forests of hemlocks, spruce and white pines. Naturalist guides discuss the area’s history, flora and fauna, so you get some edification with your adrenaline.
After zipping along at thirty miles an hour, guests slow down at the spa. Opened last year, the 25,000-square-foot space includes relaxation lounges, a pool, sauna, steam rooms and treatment rooms with windows facing the Presidential Range. Products incorporate local alpine botanicals such as Iberis, a high-altitude plant that relieves sore muscles, and nettles, which contain antioxidant rich vitamin E. There is an outdoor pool and a Jacuzzi where guests can stare at the White Mountains from the best seat in the house.
Also suitable for: Couples; there are various activities onsite every day, from afternoon tea socials to movie nights.
Unique time to visit: On February 16, 2010, Fat Tuesday, Mount Washington hosts a Mardi Gras party with masks at its authentic speakeasy, The Cave.
The details: 800-258-0330, mountwashingtonresort.com. Winter rates start at $199.