It was one of those weekends when I had to just get out of Dodge. It also happened to be the always highly anticipated opening weekend at the “Ski Capital Of The East,” Stowe, VT. Even though I hadn’t snowboarded in more than a decade, I dusted off my winter play gear, and Stowe-bound I went.
As a how-lucky-am-I? tourist or luxury travel journalist on assignment, I’ve been more than fortunate to experience some of the planet’s most amazing skiing destinations, including St. Moritz, Gstaad, Zurich, Innsbruck, Jackson Hole, Aspen and Lake Tahoe. So, to say I was surprised by the same sort of super-deluxe feeling I get from those A-List winter playgrounds in Stowe, would be a severe understatement. I mean, Stowe? This quaint, must-visit ski mecca also happens to be a stone’s throw from a charming town where you can “crawl” to beautiful boutiques and top-flight restaurants with delicious eats and chic cocktails.
Here’s the sorry-not-sorry upshot from all of these eat, drink and play options: I never made it to the slopes. Not once. Who’s to blame? My perfectly delightful home for the long weekend, Topnotch Resort. A Four-Diamond destination spa resort, Topnotch was, in a word, sublime. Enthusiastically, I even brought my tennis racquets, but never made it out of Topnotch’s amazing spa and (massive) gym facility. It’s that good.
In the mood for a little humble-brag? I’ve experienced most every ultra-luxury/exotic spa treatment known to man, globally. I mean, all of them. And the simple truth is, I was genuinely floored by the professionalism and devotion from Topnotch’s expert spa staff. Neither cocky nor cloying, the friendly team members were knowledgeable and led with a tremendous, infectious healing energy (I’m telling you, it was palpable). The myriad cosmetology practitioner certifications and one-in-a-million specialties each employee had in his or her arsenal was what, to me, truly defines a “destination” spa. In short, my experience at this particular one was, yes, top notch. Here’s a primer to maximizing your experience at this must-see resort.
By all means, do get a pass for the sprawling Club Topnotch, an epic, two-floor workout facility, and take advantage of its carefully curated wellness classes in its chic rooms overlooking the frozen landscape. Just wow. Again, Club Topnotch’s offerings are mind-blowingly extensive.
After being methodical about pumping iron since 1984, I decided that after I hit that magic age of 40, I would shift my fitness routine to center more on stretching and staying limber. So, although I, like most humans on the planet, enjoy a regular massage, my longstanding preference will always fall in the how-hard-can-you-go? deep muscle bodywork camp. I did some cardio and stretching prior to my Thai Massage, and it helped tremendously. Although my masseuse was tiny and affable, this woman had the strength of Goliath and unbelievably, dismantled my formidable stress. I’m telling you, folks, she was nothing short of a real healer with a healthy dash of metaphysical know-how.
On that note, one of my more inspired selections at the spa was Cranio Sacral Therapy, a medically focused lymphatic stress releaser in the osteopathic oeuvre. Sometimes dismissed out of hand by Western medicine (I disagree), the right therapist with intuitive abilities can make this a successful release treatment. One of the treatment’s intentions falls into moving the film coating that lubricates our (lymphatic) spine and nervous system to our skull—or cranium. The focus, then, shifts to releasing coiled-up joints and spine, all with light touch and release. Marilyn was my therapist (with countless relevant accreditations) and, again, her confidence and passion were intoxicating. Marilyn put me back on my path (and how!) so I could continue to be of service to the universe—or, at least that’s how I felt immediately afterwards.
The salon at Topnotch oozed casual professionalism with a stellar list of services and products. I wished I needed a haircut or (shhh!) some highlights! Following my cranial service, I was all too ready to get back in the saddle of rediscovering my youth, face first. Being wayyyy overdue for Botox, I decided to peel back some forehead wrinkles with a frown-focused facial. I was determined that I wasn’t going to leave this property the same way I walked in. And I didn’t, thanks to forehead microdermabrasion, a Vitamin C mask and topical oxygen infusion. My Russian-born facialist, Angela, was a blackbelt cosmetologist and knew exactly where to precisely focus lifting movements and results-oriented products. I also felt heard, which isn’t a given at every spa. And in the end, my skin was, in a word, flawless. The Tata Harper Skincare line for age-rewind skin was, of course, also a huge contributor to my newfound baby face.
Keeping my promise to myself, it was time for me to listen to my own body, crying out for exercise, Pilates and further realignment. I wanted to jump into Thai Chi, but missed the class, twice. However, the Chakra Balancing and Energy Healing was a winning group class led by Rosemary. Remember: The right people can transcend healing to an amazing place. And Rosemary did. Next on my list was Pilates with Donna. So awesome! I instantly started feeling like someone I used to know: Myself—decades ago. Donna’s charm and expertise lured me back to her other class, Barre, a first for me. I tossed around free weights for so many years that I became bored with my workouts. Barre and Pilates are a great way to build muscle, but, more importantly, strengthen your frame and core.
I also made sure to hit the steam room and sauna between treatments and drenched my body in hot water at every turn. Other can’t-miss strengthening classes included Hydro Power (an amazing pool), Awareness Yoga, Fitness Walks with Aqua Intervals, “Ta-Butt-A,” H.I.I.T. Mash Up and Hard Core training. You could literally transform your body and mind in mere days here, whether you prefer Zen, “buff” or meditational; I chose all of the above. You should, too.
Remember, at this point, I was still on holiday, so I kept to my mantra of everything in moderation—and had the mixologist at Roost make me a divine muddled Manhattan on the rocks. I still daydream about it. A beautiful, multi-use bar and restaurant, Roost serves all three meals effortlessly, with a light-as-air ambience that changes with the time of day and crowd. Where else can you enjoy a full chef’s menu, locally sourced berry smoothie, Bloody Mary, breakfast bruschetta and play shuffleboard all in the same place? I’m smiling just thinking about it. Flannel is the more epicurean lofty bistro with tasting menus, sampler plates and exquisitely prepared culinary selections for every palette. As Vermont is famous for cheese (and, of course, maple syrup), Flannel’s Cheese & Charcuterie with champagne was OMG delicious. We gave Executive Chef Dylan Taylor full reign for his please-never-end tasting menu and the plates kept rolling in after he asked for a few likes and dislikes. Each Instagram-worthy entrée was light, tasty and slap-your-mama mouth-watering. The whole experience was joyous and deeply, soul-enrichingly delicious. The Tuna Poke and giant Seared Scallop were next level, to say nothing of the equally fantastical Saffron Seafood Risotto and Togarashi Crusted Seared Rare Tuna. The ambience at Flannel was at once clubby, industrial and chic, with a long, sexy bar and a curved glass walled veranda. It just worked.
Topnotch Resort was an unexpected, one-stop escape in Stowe. I left this low-key property once to meander the quaint town, but found I just really missed being “home.” I couldn’t recall feeling this way for a resort in maybe, well, ever. I now know why this unpretentious slice of resort heaven is called Topnotch. I can’t wait to visit my home in Stowe again and again and again. And again.