The pool at Topnotch Resort and Spa in VT
The pool at Topnotch Resort and Spa in VT

By Eileen Ogintz

STOWE, VT. (Day 1 of 4) — I’m stretched out with hot stones under my back and on top of the blanket feeling totally relaxed.

AAH… an hour to myself. Thanks, Topnotch.

I’m at the Topnotch Resort Spa, one of the largest in the quintessential New England mountain town of Stowe, Vt. where I’m indulging in the Little River Stone Massage, one of the expansive spa’s signature treatments that uses hot stones, cold stones, massage and aromatherapy. The heat from the stones helps diffuse tension and relieve my sore shoulder, which I separated in a fall on the ski slopes last winter. The stones, the therapist tells me, comes from the Little River right here on the five-plus mile Stowe Recreation Path right near the hotel. The wood spice oil is blended in house with pine, eucalyptus and lavender.

There are also treatments for teens and even younger kids, indoor and outdoor pools and of course sauna and steam. Younger kids can enjoy “spa newbie” treatments like a Scrub-a-Dub Facial and Fizzy Bomb Pedicure (families especially like the “Ice Cream Social” which includes a mini pedi for mom and child.

Teens go for the Total Teen Tune-Up—one-on-one session with personal trainer as well as teen massage and Total Teen Facial. (Prices for teen treatments start at $70.)

There are also modestly priced ($15) classes—Yoga, cardio core, Pilates, aqua aerobics.

And the food is really good at the two restaurants — Flannel and Roost. I love that our dog is welcomed on the patio, complete with bowl of water, and at the resort. Parents love that the kids can play on the grass within eyesight and then come back for s’mores at the fire pit. They can take their pick of well-appointed rooms or townhouses where the family can spread out.

There are freshly baked cookies every afternoon. “We’re small so we want to put our arms around you,” said concierge and long time local Carol Crawford. There’s a free shuttle to take you around town or in my husband’s case, to a trail head when I had the car elsewhere.

It’s nice to find a place that meets everyone’s needs. And I found two in one small town—the second was the family-owned Stoweflake Mountain Resort& Spa that has been run for the Baraw family for more than 50 years. I love their annual balloon festival (the chance for balloon rides any time!), the swing set in the gardens and the complimentary apres-ski kids’ activities so parents can get a break (or maybe a spa treatment!)

“I really don’t think Stowe has changed,” said owner Chuck Baraw, who grew up as a young ski racer here and whose brother, daughter and nephew are now in the business started by their mom as well. “This is a real mountain community. Stowe has a real history well before skiing when people came in summer on the stage coach.”

There are bikes to rent, horseback riding, mountain biking, ziplines and obstacle courses (for kids too), kayaking, canoeing and more hiking trails than you can count here in northern Vermont, about a half hour from Burlington.

“We absolutely love it,” said one mom, who opined her family was sorry to head home.

Trooper loves Topnotch
Trooper loves Topnotch

Topnotch Resort is on 120 acres at the foot of Mt. Mansfield, the state’s tallest peak at 4,393 feet. I like that there are just 68 rooms as well as 23 resort homes within a short walk of the hotel. Our dog loved being able to walk right onto Stowe’s Recreation Path with its swimming holes all along the way.

We loved having dinner on the patio at the new Crop Bistro & Brewery right on the Rec Path where people arrived on their bikes for one of the many brews, burgers and yummy small plates like fried avocado and turkey lettuce wraps.

In winter, of course, there is downhill skiing and riding at Stowe and miles of cross country trails; Smuggler’s Notch in nearby Jeffersonville offers a full range of activities all four seasons including day care for the youngest vacationers in the crowd and programming for those with special challenges.

Our first night, after my massage and a walk for the dog on the Rec Trail, we had dinner at Top Notch at Flannel., the resort’s new restaurant where breakfast is also served . Menus change seasonally and take advantage of local ingredients—New England scallops, Vermont organic chicken. Vermont cheese board and a burger the 15 year old with us pronounced one of the best he’s ever had.

The pooch was at our feet as the dark settled in over the Green Mountains; kids nearby were making s’mores.

Of course we were smiling. If the kids and the dog are happy, the grownups are happy too.