Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

November 29, 2021
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Stowe and go

Experience steep thrills in Vermont’s most charming ski town

I know why the Von Trapps stayed. There is something about Stowe that makes you feel welcome. Of course the setting helps. Snuggled into a valley in Vermont’s Green Mountains, it looks like something out of an old Christmas card.

A pretty river runs through town, Victorian clapboard buildings line the main street, and the family owned (since 1895) general store has wooden shelves stocked with goodies designed to harken back to mythical, perfect childhoods. It is charming, but not fey; relaxed and real.

Effortlessly melded into this traditional country town is a distinctly modern, funky, arty layer. Century-old buildings now house artists and galleries. There are glassblowers, potters and jewellery makers. And just up the road is the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream factory (free samples with tours!). But unlike in many resort towns, you get the feeling the artists and businesses aren’t here because this is where the tourists are; they are here because Stowe is a really nice place to live.

It is also a really nice place to visit. Yes, there is the ski hill — a good-sized mountain, for the East, at 1339 metres. But there are also, depending on the season, hundreds of kilometres of cross-country ski trails, bike tracks, walking paths, art workshops, fly fishing and a whole range of other healthy, outdoor activities. For those of us who are a bit more passive in our pursuits, there is also a fine range of restaurants, spas and, er, the ice cream factory.

One of the best spas is at Topnotch Resort. Often ranked one of the top 10 spa resorts in the US, it is 3250 square metres of “I’m worth it” indulgence. It offers an international menu of treatments, including a Japanese body ritual, Thai massage, India Ayurvedic cleansing, and the delightfully local Mount Mansfield Saucha, complete with local herbs and flowers. This treatment involves being anointed with organic lavender buds and locally made sage oil.

Interestingly, there are very differently designed spa lounges for men and women. The women get a fireplace, relaxing music and a quiet zone. The men get loungers and a huge TV.

Topnotch itself is a large, rambling resort, with plenty of little drawing rooms and quiet corners decorated with quality, but comfortable, art and antiques. It is a place to get happily lost in, much like Stowe itself.

Which brings me back to the Von Trapps. Yes, those Von Trapps. Thanks to The Sound of Music (first a Broadway musical, then a movie), the Von Trapp family was once the most famous singing clan this side of the Jackson Five. However, after leaving Austria (and before the 1965 movie made them a household name), they were forced to survive by singing in out of the way places.

In 1939, on one of their singing tours, the family fell in love with Stowe. It reminded them of their hamlet in Austria. They bought a farmhouse with 240 hectares. In 1947, the Baron died, and Maria founded the Trapp Family Music Camp. Eventually a lodge was built to house all the guests.

Over the years, some of the kids got married and left home. In 1957, the family closed the camp, and Maria and some of her younger children went off to the South Pacific to become missionaries. After a few years, they returned and rededicated themselves to the lodge. Maria died in 1987. The lodge is now run by Johannes von Trapp, the youngest of the Trapp children.

It is a 970-hectare, four-season resort. The activities are definitely health and family oriented. There are hundreds of kilometres of cross-country ski trails (the Von Trapps were among the first to bring organized recreational cross-country skiing to North America), sleigh rides, ice-fishing, a proper tea room and just about all the wholesome fun you can manage.

The Austrian-style lodge itself is a large yet comfortable building with loads of family Trapp-ings. There are copious, but cheerful, Trapp family photos (circa 1940s) on most walls. Everywhere you go you can see happy, posed pictures of Johanna von Trapp planting potatoes, Martina and Agathe picking apples, Werner and Rupert polishing family shoes, Rosemarie and Eleanore waking up Johannes — the whole clan in Austrian dress. The tapestry from the family home in Austria hangs in one stairwell.

The lodge provided me with one of the most delightfully surreal moments of my life. Rosemarie von Trapp, there on a visit, was leading a sing-along and flung her arm over my shoulders and together we swayed slightly while belting out a rather ramshackle version of Edelweiss. No, there was no alcohol involved. It was just old-fashioned, clean, good-for-the-whole-family fun. This is the sort of thing that Stowe seems to manufacture effortlessly.

I know why the Von Trapps stayed. It is the same reason I want to go back. And no, it’s not just for the ice cream.

This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.


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