Whether it’s a delicate dusting of flakes, autumn’s vibrant palette, or the verdant vistas that give the Green Mountain State its name, the metamorphosing beauty of our treks to Vermont have never failed to take our breath away. But this is the first time my husband Dave and I have taken our infant on the road, and our first vacation since being on Zoom calls nearly 24/7 since spring. Would our sweet baby James sleep through the night away from his crib, we wondered? Would we have separation anxiety from leaving the laptops at home for a few days?
As the miles fly by and stunning mountainscapes come into focus, cell service on the two-lane highway fades. This is the beginning of the type of quiet getaway we prefer—one that’s less about sarongs and sand versus putting on roof racks and snow tires. With a baby, we knew skiing would be impossible, but that can’t squelch the allure of a cozy fairisle sweater, artisanal eats, and soft adventure. We threw our hiking boots (and booties) in the car and headed to dreamy Stowe.
There’s no need to worry about all the modern accoutrements like cell service once you get to Topnotch Resort, a more intimate alpine experience than some of the region’s 300-room-plus mega ski campuses. Nestled in a 120-acre wooded glade at the foothills of Mount Mansfield—the state’s highest peak—the 68-room property is just the right combination of rustic relaxation and refinement.
But before we were able to admire the impressive facade, accessed via a storybook winding path, we were already put into holiday mode thanks to the white draft horses and bright-red sleighs just across the way. The gentle giants are part of the resort’s equestrian center, which offers trail rides, carriage rides, and winter sleigh extravaganzas complete with jingle bells and snuggly blankets. We put the corralled pony rides on our family to-do list for next year (once James can walk) and went to settle in.
It didn’t take the baby long to settle into an executive king room in a secluded nook of the top floor, where a separate living room has a fridge for bottles—what would have been bubbly bottles in a former lifetime. A pullout couch and plenty of space meant room for his crib and crawling, but is also the ideal choice for skiers to keep their gear separated from sleeping quarters.
We wanted to heed the call of the wilderness as quickly as we could with diminishing daylight hours so we took one of the resort’s handy local activity planners and headed for an experience to bring the outdoors in: the stunning heated solarium pool. Soaring 60-foot ceilings and floor-to-ceiling windows afford views of mountains dotted with thousands of trees sure to wet the appetite of adventure seekers.
Thrills are easy to find just across the street thanks to Topnotch’s partnership with a local outfitter whose winter rentals include downhill and cross-country skiing, mountain-biking, and snowshoeing. We opted to get James snuggled into our hiking backpack to explore the Stowe Recreation Path, easily accessible by a five-minute walk down the road. The whole 5.3 miles of the paved trail—which spans all the way from Topnotch to quaint Stowe Village—was a little too ambitious for one day and with a tot in tow, but provided good intel about the restaurants and shops dotting the path.
Several eateries expanded their outdoor dining options this year, including a few with fire pits. Sushi Yoshi’s new patio has festive strung lights and a convenient complimentary shuttle service for those who want to warm up with sake or a spicy cocktail. Local favorite Piecasso Pizzeria & Lounge—named one of Travel + Leisure’s favorite places to grab a slice—brings the feel of a wood oven outside with several circular setups.
There’s no place better than Vermont for artisanal cheeses, but we opted for ours in unmelted form on a charcuterie plate at Roost. Topnotch’s more casual on-site restaurant has high chairs and kid-friendly options while still keeping the feel of a date-night spot thanks to the cozy fireplace and mulled tipples.
Cabot clothbound cheddar and a soft goat cheese from Vermont Creamery were delectable, but the Holy Grail of the trifecta was the Bayley Hazen from Jasper Hill Farm. “I don’t even like blue cheese,” said my husband, “but this is the cheese to which all others should aspire.” We made a plan to hit up The Butchery fromagerie just down the road and treat ourselves with a delicious souvenir.
Of course, no vacation is complete without a little dessert, and the sprawling hills of the Kaffeehaus at Von Trapp Family Lodge provided an ample canvas for James to wiggle and scoot while Mom and Dad sipped the fuel to chase him around. We enjoyed Bavarian confections while an activities director got a roaring fire prepped for a weekly s’mores extravaganza—and even invited us to stay for more sugar despite us not being guests. As a Stowe native, he gave us the intel on family activities like easy waterfall hikes and the Lodge’s maple sugar tour mile-long hike. It’s held year round but is particularly pretty in winter.
The suggestion of a Moss Glen Falls excursion was perfect—low effort provides a high reward and the 40-foot-tall waterfall is only a quarter-mile from the trailhead. Hikers with more time on their hands often explore the whole 2.9-mile path, but we opted to use diminishing daylight hours by doing some Christmas shopping on the stroller-friendly streets of Stowe Village.
Shaw’s General Store yielded cuddly duds and affordable toys while small-batch chocolates from Laughing Moon were flagged for stocking stuffers. We were also able to track down sought-after beers from local brewery The Alchemist at Stowe Public House & Bottle Shop, which doubles as a store and bar with outside seating. While only half of our sugary and hoppy treats managed to make it back home, we put Stowe back on our short list of haunts to return to in any season.