Fall Getaways 2010

Where to go and what to do: Six nearby spots where you can shop, dine, explore — and relax


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equinox resortCast away: Located just a short walk from the resort, the Equinox Pond in Manchester is an ideal place to a fly-fishing lesson — or just admire the beauty of autumn in Vermont

Photograph courtesy of Equinox Resort

Equinox Resort Manchester, VT

From archery to yoga, a historic resort offers loads of unique activities in a bucolic setting
By Polly Sparling

I can think of few places more picturesque — especially during the fall months — than the southern part of Vermont. Obviously, the spectacular foliage is the main draw (peak time for viewing: September 15-October 15). But the daisy chain of small towns along historic Route 7A — with their red barns, church spires, and well-kept 19th-century houses — makes the area picture-postcard quaint.

The Equinox Golf Resort and Spa adds a touch of luxury to Manchester, a quintessential New England village just three hours from Poughkeepsie. Built in 1769 as a tavern, the building was remodeled in the 1850s into the 200-room Equinox House (named for Mount Equinox, the tallest peak of the Taconic range, which stands directly behind it). The hotel hosted high society guests, including several presidents, throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, earning it a spot on the National Register of Historic Places. After a period of decline, it was renovated in the mid-1980s and again in the early 1990s, with much of its former grandeur — including the trademark fluted columns, which stretch more than 280 feet across the hotel’s façade — still intact. Today, it functions as a full-fledged resort, with a golf course, spa with indoor pool, two restaurants, and other amenities available to guests.

Our one-night stay at the Equinox began when Harry — an older gentleman wearing plus-fours and argyle knee socks — met us as we pulled up to the curb, whisked our Honda to the parking area, and hustled our bags into the lobby. At the front desk, the gracious and efficient attendant confirmed our activities schedule and directed us to our room on the third floor.

Newly redecorated in blue and gray geometric patterns, the room was “bigger than the first floor of our house” (or so my husband thought). It had all the bells and whistles that you’d expect: king-sized bed, wide-screen TV, quality sheets and linens, and a fully stocked bath. We especially appreciated the digital thermostat (which kept the temperature uniformly comfortable) and the old-fashioned thick walls, which prevented the comings and goings of the other guests from disturbing our slumber.

After settling in, we went off to explore Manchester. Admiring the foliage, and getting a little exercise in, were among our top priorities. We consulted with the hotel concierge, who provided directions to “the pond.” After a 15-minute walk, we found the carriage road that led to Equinox Pond, which was surrounded by trees exploding with color. Easily accessible by car, the summit of nearby Mount Equinox also offered superb views of the brilliantly hued Green Mountains to the west.

Half a mile south of the Equinox is Hildene, a Georgian Revival mansion built on 400 lush acres by Robert Todd Lincoln, the only child of the 16th president to survive into adulthood. Lincoln’s descendents lived at Hildene until the mid-1970s; now a historic site, the handsome house — which is full of Lincolnalia, including one of Honest Abe’s stovepipe hats — offers tours daily year-round. And just a stone’s throw north of the hotel are the region’s ballyhooed shopping centers, Manchester Designer Outlets and Battenkill & Highridge Outlet Plaza. The fashion-conscious can browse through Giorgio Armani, Michael Kors, Tommy Hilfiger, and many other outlet showrooms, all of which offer designer duds at well below retail prices (and there’s no tax on clothing in Vermont).

But because the Equinox itself offers so much to do, we soon returned to our home base to take advantage of some of the amenities. First it was off to the spa, a 13,000 square-foot facility with a full menu of services, many of which use wildflowers and other indigenous products. My masseuse, Ann, gave me the signature Spirit of Vermont treatment, a combination of massage, Reiki, and reflexology. Well beyond merely relaxing, the 80-minute session was transformative, and worth twice the cost. For a fee, Equinox guests can also play golf and tennis, go fly-fishing, ride off-road in a Land Rover, and take a lesson in archery or falconry (which we did; see sidebar).

The afternoon went by quickly, and it was cocktail hour before we knew it. Savoring a glass of white wine — along with a sumptuous plate of locally made cheeses — on the resort’s outdoor deck, marveling at the view of the mountains in all their fall finery, was definitely a highlight of our stay.

As the sun went down, we headed inside to the Chop House, one of two eateries at the Equinox (the other, the Marsh Tavern, offers a more varied menu). Steak and seafood are the stars at this traditional steakhouse, and our beef — a New York strip for him, filet mignon for me — did not disappoint. A single order of baby iceberg salad easily fed us both (a fact our helpful waiter pointed out before we ordered), the side dish of creamed fresh corn was a rare treat, and chocolate fondue hit the perfect ending note. After a postprandial stroll in the autumn moonlight, it was off to bed.

While my husband and I hardly make a habit of staying in luxury hotels like the Equinox, we have spent the night at a few ritzy places (including the legendary Plaza in New York); the Equinox stood apart from these other hostelries on several counts. For one thing, the laundry list of available activities — all of which can be arranged through the hotel concierge — appealed to us; had we chosen to, we could have filled every waking hour of our stay with a different endeavor. But we were also greatly impressed by the hotel staff. The polar opposite of the stereotypically snooty, condescending workers at some posh hotels, these friendly, helpful-but-never-intrusive people were just plain nice. Just like Vermont itself.

3567 Main St. (Rte. 7A), Manchester Village, VT 802-362-4700, www.equinoxresort.com

falconryPhotograph courtesy of Equinox Resort

Adventures in Birdland

Guests at resort hotels expect a variety of amenities, like golf privileges or spa services. But the opportunity to try my hand (literally) at falconry was more than a little unexpected.

Dating back more than two centuries, falconry uses birds of prey (eagles, falcons, or hawks) for hunting. Popular among the nobles of medieval Europe, the sport is practiced today by a relative handful of people in the U.S. — some of whom staff the British School of Falconry at the Equinox, where my husband and I took an introductory lesson.

Dawn, our affable instructor, met us at the door and introduced us to Elmer, a Harris hawk with whom we would be working. Known for their hunting prowess — as well as their compatibility with humans — Harris hawks have a six-foot wingspan and razor-sharp talons which they use to kill small prey like rabbits; up close, they are a little intimidating. But Dawn tells us that Elmer only weighs about five pounds — less than my house cat. She calls him out from his cage, he flies over and lands on her gloved left hand. Holding him via two leather thongs attached to his legs, she leads us outdoors to put him through his paces.

Once outside, Dawn swings her left arm forward, releasing the leather thongs from her grip. Elmer swoops to the top of a high perch on our right, lands, and waits. Dawn then extends her left arm, makes a fist, and places a very small piece of raw meat on top of her hand. Within seconds, Elmer lands on her wrist, grabs the meat with his beak, and enjoys his treat.

After several repetitions of this drill, it’s time for us to try it. Still nervous about those talons, I let my husband go first. Eventually, though, I summon my nerve and don the glove. Within seconds, Elmer glides from his perch to my arm; even though he’s traveling fast, he lands gently on my wrist. Tossing him back into the air, I watch him gather speed in order to reach the high perch — it’s obviously an effort for him. We do this successfully a dozen times; although it may seem as though I’m controlling the bird’s behavior, I know that it’s actually the other way around. Thanks to Elmer, I end up looking like the star pupil at falconry school.

Where to stay:

The North Shire Lodge
97 Main St., Manchester. 888-339-2336 or www.northshirelodge.com
This lodge — nestled in the foothills of Mount Equinox — has its own private pub with a menu full of fresh, local favorites and a fully stocked bar.

The Wilburton Inn
River Rd., Manchester. 800-648-4944 or www.wilburton.com
This 20-acre Grand Victorian estate is known for its breathtaking views and fine dining. Visitors can stay in the mansion or one of the five on-site villas.

Where to eat:

Up For Breakfast
4935 Main St., Manchester. 802-362-4204
Douse your pancakes in authentic Vermont maple syrup at this downtown eatery.

The Perfect Wife Restaurant & Tavern
2594 Depot St., Manchester Center. 802-362-2817, www.perfectwife.com
Enjoy dinner at the restaurant, with classic fare (filet mignon) as well as more unusual dishes (turkey schnitzel, anyone?), then move to the tavern for drinks and live entertainment.

What to do:

1005 Hildene Rd., Manchester. 802-362-1788
Built by Robert Todd Lincoln, the only child of Honest Abe, this Georgian Revival mansion was called home by the Lincoln family until 1975. Now the house and grounds are open for tours year-round.

Manchester Designer Outlets
97 Depot St., Manchester Center. 802-362-3736

Battenkill & Highridge Outlets
4513-4763 Main St., Manchester
These two malls house high-end designer outlets like Betsey Johnson, Donna Karan, and Anne Klein.

Manchester Hot Glass
79 Elm St., Manchester Center. 802-362-2227
Visitors can browse through the glass showroom, watch master glass-blowers at work, and even take glass-blowing lessons.

» Next stop: Warwick Inn at Stony Creek, Warwick, NY
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