This scenic, mountainous state offers year-round outdoor activities and plenty of excellent hotels and meeting facilities. By Sandra Eagle, November/December 2008
Just a little over two hours drive south of downtown Montreal, the village of Stowe, Vt., offers up the quintessential country-life experience nestled in the picturesque folds of the Green Mountains.
Stowe, the American home of the Von Trapp Family singers (yes, Maria, we climbed that mountain), is also a well-known winter playground – once Mother Nature sends down the requisite white stuff.
Located just down the road from Stowe’s famed downhill runs is Topnotch Resort and Spa, a member of the Preferred Hotels & Resorts brand. About three years ago, the hotel underwent a $23-million renovation, completely redesigning and enlarging a 35,000-sq.-ft. spa, featuring 120 treatment rooms. In 2006, Topnotch was named one of the Top 10 resort spas in North America. A 60-ft. solarium pool, with cascading waterfall, two new outdoor pools, a whirlpool, fitness and yoga centre round out the guest facilities. Cleverly, the renovation’s natural wood and stone design elements play counterpoint to the rugged mountainside setting.
Accommodations at the resort – 68 guestrooms, seven suites and 35 fully equipped resort homes higher up the mountain – exude a European manor style, with touches of whimsical Vermont folk art. Plans are in the works, but currently on hold, to build an adjoining convention centre.
Small groups would feel at home in the resort’s meeting space. Feeling more like a living room, the common area outside the six meeting rooms is a centralized space that can be used for coffee breaks, reception area or event registration. All six meeting rooms admit some natural outside light. The three largest rooms, when combined, create 2,951 sq. ft. of space, to accommodate up to 180 guests, banquet-style. In total, the meeting space encompasses 11,647 sq. ft. The business facilities, however, could use a makeover: One computer, with printer on a side table, does not a business centre make. The resort does, however, offer complimentary WiFi in all rooms.
But truly the centrepiece of the resort is the ‘million-dollar view’ of Vermont’s signature Mount Mansfield, framed by the floor-to-ceiling sliding patio doors of Norma’s Restaurant. The open-concept kitchen is deftly handled by Mark Timms, the resort’s new chef, an aficionado of molecular cuisine. The food at Topnotch is, well, top notch, and is made with locally and organically grown products, including superlative Vermont cheese, butter, apple cider, maple syrup, buffalo-milk yogurt and lamb. Just down the road, Michael’s on the Hill Restaurant features Swiss-trained chef/owner Michael Kloeti, Vermont’s chef of the year. Smaller groups can take over specific “rooms” in this converted family dwelling, for privacy.
A group that favours outdoor pursuits would find that Topnotch presents no end of opportunities. Through all four seasons, getting outside in Vermont yields up many pleasures. A partnership between Topnotch and the private Country Club of Vermont allows guests to book tee times at the links-style course sprawling among 200 acres of glorious scenery. Other activities include tennis at the renowned Topnotch Tennis Center, kayaking, skiing, snowboarding, horseback riding, cycling and hiking. The resort is 35 miles from Burlington International Airport.