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Kid-Friendly Zones: the Mountain Resorts of Vermont and New Hampshire
When New England’s mountain resorts come to mind, we often equate them with two seasons: ski season and leaf-peeping season. And yet, these environs are equally appealing in the spring, summer and fall. Even better, you can have fun indoors or out, and be as active or restful as you’d like.
The Stowe Mountain Lodge in Stowe, Vermont is keen to become the Vail of the East. In other words, a family-friendly, full-service, four-season resort. The charms of this mountain town are quickly revealed on visits to three singular food emporiums off Route 100. At the Cabot Creamery, you can sample over 25 cheeses including cheddars redolent of tomato and basil, smoky bacon, and hot buffalo wings. Next door at Lake Champlain Chocolates, make your way to a wall proclaiming “Factory Seconds” for small bites of milk chocolate, chocolate-peanut butter, and a 55% dark chocolate confection that will linger in memory. Wrap up the mini-food tour at Cold Hollow Cider Mill, where palm-sized apple cider donuts fly out the door as soon as they’re plucked from the fryer. Have your snack at benches and swings dotting the grounds of this working cider mill.
The dark brown Nordic facade of the Lodge, all peaks and timber, echoes the Green Mountains surrounding the property. At this certified green resort, the lobby is awash in natural light thanks to soaring panes of glass that afford a spectacular mountain view. It’s really all the décor that’s needed yet the Lodge graciously adds in soft leather couches and rough-hewn rockers; red and gold predominates in U-shaped nooks offering privacy and a quiet place to read. Back outdoors, a meandering indoor-outdoor pool surrounded by trees is backdrop for a sun-drenched lunch that may feature a smoked turkey wrap stuffed with avocado and bacon or a cooling Caprese sandwich composed of mozzarella and bright red tomatoes. As expected, it goes down easy in the fresh mountain air. At the Spa and Wellness Center, a full menu of treatments will pamper and active parents should seriously consider revitalizing 25-minute scalp and foot rituals. Equally appealing are his-and-hers healing lodges where you can detoxify via a dry sauna, Jacuzzi, herbal steam room and cooling rain shower, a journey akin to that experienced in Native American sweat lodges. On tap for kids is a “Chillax” session that answered a burning question for my ten-year-old, Steven: “Mom, what do you DO at a spa?” The custom 30-minute session is designed to teach kids how to relax and incorporates deep breathing techniques, aromatherapy, hand and foot rubs, and cooling cucumber slices for tired eyes.
A miles-long recreation path that zigzags through the woods is just down the road and well suited to joggers, bikers, even moms with strollers. You’ll see a stream here, a horse path there and everywhere ample green and wildflowers amid mountain vistas. Surely the journey that will captivate kids most is an easy hike to Bingham Falls. From a trail head a mile away, hike in to an ol’ time watering hole at the base of a 25-foot waterfall. The natural pool is clean, cold and surrounded by massive rocks from which intrepid boys dive, while a mellower swimming hole is 25 yards away.
Our one-bedroom suite is topped by knotty pine beams while clean lines and green-gold tones combine for a modern yet cozy look. A king bed in the master sports the softest of sheets and a cavalcade of pillows whereas the living room’s burgundy suede sofa pulls double duty with its tucked-away queen bed. A sleek kitchenette is convenient and a fireplace warms on cool evenings, though it’s sweeter to bundle up and repair to one of two balconies with a view to Mt. Mansfield, Vermont’s highest peak. Downstairs, dinner at Hourglass is a casual meal at tables and discrete seating areas scattered around a horseshoe bar. High-quality pub grub meets inventive fare in potato skins draped with artisanal Vermont cheeses, meaty bacon and local sour cream as well as a wedge of Iceberg topped with thick chunks of blue cheese, shaved radish and more husky bacon, the whole napped in a Green Goddess dressing. Mains include a he-man sized burger served with thick-cut fries (our son embraced the challenge, as did I) and a tuna melt that’s a slab o’yellowfin tuna paired with yellow and red peppers. Tennis-ball sized profiteroles served with a trio of ice creams may feel like overkill but they’re impossible to resist. Both breakfast and dinner are a winner at Solstice, the resort’s fine dining table, and Wednesdays bring a Mexican fiesta replete with make-your-own nacho platters and specialty margaritas. http://www.stowemountainlodge.com/
The Omni Mt. Washington Resort in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire was built in 1902 by coal and railroad magnate Joseph Stickney and presidents and kings have been enjoying its many offerings in the shadow of the Presidential Range ever since. The property is a creamy white fantasy, a grande dame crowned by bright red turrets in the Spanish Renaissance style that can be seen for miles. Interiors straddle the line between classic and modern, and creature comforts abound. A soaring lobby is filled with plump couches forming seating areas prime for reading or conversation. You can have afternoon tea in the Princess Room, a circular jewel box of a room that will make modern-day princesses swoon, and where the manager’s wine hour is hosted later in the afternoon. Yet, it’s the hotel’s veranda that captures the imagination and won’t let go. Wrapping around the back of the resort, the veranda is awash in white wicker love seats and gleaming wood rockers that invite you to take in the cascading hills and imposing peaks surrounding Mt. Washington. The air is clean and there’s a gentle breeze as you sip a cool drink or graze on small plates. The space is made for lingering, and you’ll find yourself returning time and again during your visit.
There’s plenty to do within, and around, the resort. Four pools allow you to swim indoors or out and the manicured grounds are prime for a game of badminton or a go at a giant chess board. Play a game of tennis or disc golf close by, then take a chairlift to the top for a zip line tour that is the longest canopy tour in New England. Thrill-seekers will revel in the zip line’s 1,000-foot descent and magnificent vistas. There’s mountain biking and fly fishing, an Equestrian Center for riders, and many a trout to be snagged in the Ammonoosuc River; the Donald Ross-designed golf course is continually singled out as one of the best in New England. And yet, there’s no denying the simple pleasures of a mountain hike in the surrounding area. Thankfully, the options are plentiful and you could do a different hike every day of your visit that would feel nothing like the previous day’s adventure. The hike to Arethusa Falls is among the most popular for families, a two-hour round trip over a gentle incline where the sun plays hide and seek with the lush canopy. The payoff is Arethusa Falls, washing over a granite cliff as kids hopscotch their way across the many rocks dotting a placid stream. Pack in a lunch and linger longer.
The resort is the beneficiary of a recent $60 million renovation that upgraded guest rooms, public areas and dining venues. A three-bedroom family suite has a spacious living room at its center, with a green velour couch facing a tall fireplace. It’s here where you’ll take a morning service of coffee, juice and hot chocolate. Twin bedrooms at either side of the entryway harken to a simpler time with whimsical wallpaper and fanciful bedside lamps. Once the kids have horse-traded for their respective accommodations, step into the master suite, a high-ceilinged room where an inviting king bed is the focal point and competes for your attention with the view through wide panes of glass (nature prints on the walls mimic the outdoor offerings). It’s a sweet suite that families won’t soon forget. Equally memorable is a meal at Stickney’s, where whitewashed wood beams, high-backed chairs and striped banquettes confirm the heft of the steak-heavy menu. Begin with a mound of P.E.I. mussels swimming with lamb sausage, red peppers and onions in a garlicky broth, then segue to a center-cut filet mignon that is so tender, it nearly melts in the mouth. A 16-ounce rib eye is juicier and full of flavor, and our server kindly asked us to check the temperature of our meat before he left the table (we sent the steaks back for an extra 30 seconds of heat and they returned to our exact specification). Kids will find the Summit Burger to be meaty goodness while sides like Yukon smashed potatoes and crunchy asparagus help set the table. Find room somehow, somewhere for a dish of singular chocolate ice cream. Another amazing meal can be had at the dining room at the Bretton Arms Inn, a resort lodging that’s a short stroll from the hotel. This time it’s breakfast in an intimate setting where cream-colored leather banquettes pair with lime green velvet chairs snug against white-napped tables. A jumbo lump crab hash with chive hollandaise is delicate yet flavorful, and a frittata with hot Italian sausage, peppers, onions and Vermont aged cheddar comes to the table in its own baking dish. French toast made with Italian bread dipped in vanilla batter benefit from New Hampshire maple syrup and a pairing of maple-infused sausage. Don coat and tie for a meal in The Dining Room under twinkling chandeliers and to the strains of a three-piece combo, though you can dress down for the breakfast buffet served daily. http://www.omnihotels.com/FindAHotel/BrettonWoodsMountWashington.aspx
Elaine Labalme is a food and travel writer based in Pittsburgh, PA. When she's not busy as a domestic goddess she's out traveling with husband Fen and ten-year-old son Steven. She hopes to be the next Charles Kuralt.