Back in October, my 87-year-old dad, my three-legged dog Baci and I set out to drive to Stowe, Vermont, from southern Connecticut in a Mini Cooper packed to the gills. We left Connecticut on an unusually warm autumn day and drove the five hours to Stowe’s Topnotch Resort, where we were greeted by the most friendly and accommodating bellmen and reception people as if we were well-known guests returning for another year.
Baci was greeted as—and remained—a celebrity the entire time we were there, with offers to keep her at the front desk as my dad and I perused the town for the best restaurants in Stowe. My dad (and Johnny’s dad!) is a party animal, and while I was quite happy to stay at Topnotch and enjoy its bar—The Roost—and restaurant—Flannel—where we had already eaten breakfast, lunch and dinner, he wanted to see what Stowe was all about. The Roost was voted the best aprés ski bar by Seven Days Magazine, a Vermont staple.
The Roost and Flannel are onboard with the farm-to-table movement that has taken over Vermont (and other parts of the country). Flannel’s breakfast of farm-fresh eggs and lunch of a local beef burger with a colorful locally grown salad and fresh cherry ice cream were, well…top-notch!
At The Roost we tasted an extensive selection of Vermont beers and hearty appetizers suggested by our fun reception guys—Jessey, Zeph and lovely Lucinda—as we hung out in the northern California-style lobby and bar. The best part was that we were able to sit in the far corner settee near the reception desk and have Baci with us. Other guests were thrilled that she was there, with one woman even telling her husband, “Now that’s the way to travel!”
One night my dad and I checked out the gorgeous glass-encased indoor pool and hot tub with waterfall. Going at dinner time is a great way to have it to yourself. Turns out you can even order room service to the pool area. Topnotch’s large round jacuzzi faces the mountain and has powerful jets and a massaging waterfall that felt great after my earlier horseback ride at the Topnotch stables (across the street).
In the same area is a sauna, steam room and shower. It was late October and the outdoor heated pool and jacuzzi were still open. From there we had amazing views of purple Mt. Mansfield adorned with the LifeSaver-like colors of the changing leaves. I didn’t realize that Stowe is a world-class destination for viewing the fall foliage, and so meeting people from Germany, England, Ireland and Japan—all seeking the colors—was another bonus.
We met the international folks at the resort and out at two of the restaurants we tried. I think we hit two of the best, both extremely dedicated to farm-to-table cuisine and local Vermont craft beers.
Idyletyme Brewing Company
Crop Bistro at Idyletyme Brewing Company is a popular (maybe even legendary) brewery that also serves other beers besides their own and one of the best spinach salads ever. On rainy days they have a promotion called “when it rains it pours” and sell draughts for only $3.
Doc Ponds on Mountain Road is the newest venture of the Hen of the Wood restaurant group. Doc Ponds is less expensive then “the Hen,” but the food is just as good and the casual atmosphere is fun. I loved the old vinyl records playing on a turntable. My dad and I sat “downstairs,” where the floors were heated (great during ski season). My dad had the half-chicken with mashed potatoes and a Frost Really Pale Ale (from Vermont).
I had the local greens salad and my all-time favorite: Hill Farmstead‘s Edward, an American pale ale on tap. It’s cozy “down the steps” and we engaged in conversation with more leaf-peepers: two separate couples, both from the UK. A great cap to the night came when Jessey the bellman picked us up in one of the Topnotch vehicles reserved for just that purpose.
Stowe Lantern Tours
Stowe Lantern Tours is a something for the whole family to do year round. I’ve even taken Baci with me (you may need to get permission to bring your dog ahead of time). The guide gives historically based ghost anecdotes as you stroll the town holding old-fashioned lanterns. Lots of fun!
Mountain Road in Stowe is a fantastic place to drive around and visit galleries, boutiques and bars and if you happen to be there during fall foliage, there are wonderful vistas. It’s always tricky booking for peak foliage season and we actually lucked out. I was hoping for the first week of October,usually a safe bet, but alas, they were fully booked. So we took mid-week, the week after, and it happened to be peak! The day we arrived it was raining but the next day was one of those incredible autumn days with bluebird skies.
We all (including our aunt Anna) hopped into the Mini and took a right out of the driveway on Mountain Road, which is a tricky steep and narrow traverse (closed in the winter). We hugged the road, carefully avoiding the boulders that seem to be set there as sentinels, guarding the magnificence. The view was unreal at the top, so I encouraged my dad to get out and walk in the woods with us.
The crazy thing is that tourists—American southerners, Japanese and European—were all stopping in the middle of the road to take photos. We continued on our way, towards Jeffersonville, right over “the notch” and had lunch at a sweet country store as the cafe across the street was packed.
Relaxing at the spa
The Spa at Topnotch is one of the best in Vermont. I went with a special treat called the Mount Mansfield Saucha with therapist Margo Hanson. First a scrub with pink Himalayan sea salt mixed with the essential oil blend of your choice (I chose the “muscle release,” a blend of peppermint, lemongrass and arnica).
After being scrubbed with this wonderful aromatic mixture, it was carefully removed with a washcloth. Next an herb-soaked cotton flannel was applied to my damp skin, and on top of that was placed a wool blanket and then, a metallic blanket to keep me warm while my skin was marinating in herb-infused oil. After all of this, there was 50-minute scalp and neck massage! Incredible, and after, my skin really was super soft! With treatments guests have full access to the spa. The spa is available for $20 for Topnotch guests and $50 for for outdoor visitors.
Baci also had a massage—an in-room massage from a caring therapist named Lili! Baci enjoyed it so much. My dad was so impressed by Lili’s gentle nature that he booked one with her the next day. One old dog following another!
If you’re a tennis player, Topnotch Resort is known for their facilities, both indoor and outdoor. A skier? Stowe Mountain Resort is right down the street! A hiker? Lover of nature or craft beers? Boutique shopper or spa-goer? Stowe and Topnotch Resort have it all! But the best thing about Topnotch is its people. It really did feel like “coming home.”
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