Third in an occasional series.
WOODSTOCK — It was right around 5:30 on a Friday evening, the time of day when the sky pretty much glows, that I felt total bliss. The workweek and its stress had disappeared. From my corner of the deserted outdoor hot tub, the wintry wind was whisking steam off the water, and the underwater light had turned on, making my legs as luminescent as sea creatures.
A baby waterfall poured from an overhead plank protruding from the white brick wall. It was 30 degrees. I could smell wood smoke from the adjacent fireplace and see the surrounding trees and rooftops start to become silhouettes. Then I had an epiphany: Man, I don’t ever want to leave this place.
The spa at the Woodstock Inn & Resort suggests everything is right in this world, and it’s one of several amenities that make this historic destination a winter wonderland. Even when your phone’s GPS misguides you (what “turn at the end of the road”?) and sends you 20 miles astray, the 2½-hour trek from Boston is well worth it.
Befitting a place with “resort” in its name, you don’t really need to leave the inn. It’s a one-stop vacation spree: a spa, two indoor restaurants, various lounge areas with crackling fireplaces and chairs you sink into, a sitting room with chess matches underway, a hair salon, a golf course five minutes away, and concierge services.
A gift shop sells the essence of Vermont, including ice wine, maple sap in nearly every form imaginable, and elegant housewares and artisanal souvenirs from the local Farmhouse Pottery. If skiing or snowshoeing aren’t your bag, a short ride on a shuttle bus gets you free access to a nearby fitness center with a massive pool, courts for tennis and racquetball, a steam room and sauna, and exercise machines. “It’s like I was working out in the middle of the woods,” a friend raved of the scenic view from the treadmill.
Even with a renovation of its 142 rooms that began in 2008, and the debut of the spa in 2010, there’s something delightfully old-fashioned about the Woodstock Inn. It’s vintage New England country charm at its most potent, a place that feels grand because it’s not trying too hard to be that. Pulling into the parking lot — or up to the valet, if you prefer — you might think, This is it? That’s because the inn looks as if it has been preserved from a postcard with a time stamp from the 1950s.
I mean that as high praise. There’s real character here, less about opulence and more about comfort. Guests are obviously aware of that; they congregate in the public spaces, reading newspapers by the fire, catching up on yesterday’s progress at the Suicide Six downhill ski area, making plans for dinner that night.
Our room, one of the less expensive options at $360 a night (including taxes), was spacious and sufficiently no-frills beyond the king-size bed, Keurig coffeemaker, requisite flat-screen TV, and a few pieces of sturdy furniture. It was an ideal place to land after spending most of the day roaming the inn and downtown. Friends who were staying at the inn the same weekend took a more expensive room, smaller than ours but equipped with a wood-burning fireplace.
Even the hospitality has the feel of an inn out of time, courteous but never pushy. A week before our arrival, Courtney from the concierge called to see if I had any questions or concerns. “I hear you can arrange sleigh rides,” I said, realizing right then just how precious that request sounded. Sure enough, Courtney promptly scheduled a sleigh ride operated by the Kedron Valley Stables in South Woodstock.
We were glad she did. On land owned by the Green Mountain Horse Association, the sleigh ride was 45 minutes of a Norman Rockwell painting come to life. With Chip holding the reins, Duke and Dancer led us — slowly, though sometimes at a gentle gallop — along flat trails with clean, clear views of the snow-capped countryside. Draped in heavy blankets with the sun in our eyes, we didn’t feel cold until maybe a half-hour into the ride, but even then it was hard to quibble. (You can also take horse-drawn carriage rides. Reservations are required in advance and you have to pay with cash.)
Back in Woodstock, everything seemed suited for relaxation. Even the quaint downtown was in on the mission to persuade us to unwind. The streets were lined with mom-and-pop shops selling antiques, books, jewelry — nothing too fancy or too high-tech, just simple pleasures.
Of the restaurants, Mountain Creamery is a beloved, diner-like spot for breakfast and lunch. We couldn’t get into Osteria Pane e Salute, a tiny Italian restaurant where reservations are highly advised, but our fellow travelers were successful and later rubbed our noses in it: “That was maybe the best meal of my life,” one remarked.
The night before, we had a reservation at the Red Rooster, the inn’s fine-dining establishment that’s cast in candlelight and serves farm-to-table entrees such as braised lamb shoulder, crab cakes, oysters Rockefeller, and an impressive selection of Vermont cheeses. They also do breakfast and lunch.
For a more informal setting, try the inn’s Richardson’s Tavern, which shares a kitchen with the Red Rooster but whose menu leans more toward comfort food (Vermont cheddar mac ’n’ cheese, anyone?). It’s an intimate setting, dimly lighted and abuzz with closing-time chatter, perfect for a nightcap and chocolate cake for dessert.
You could spend your entire trip here, but there are plenty of attractions to lure beyond the town’s cozy confines. The Long Trail Brewing Co. is a 15-minute drive west — and typically a much longer wait for a table at the popular pub serving pints and basic grub. If you get shut out, on your way back into Woodstock, have lunch at Ramunto’s Brick & Brew Pizza, a laidback restaurant inside the Bridgewater Mill, whose handful of stores are also worth a visit.
We dropped into nearby Bentleys Restaurant, a local favorite open since 1976 with the friendly feel of a neighborhood haunt, stiff cocktails, and a long menu of sandwiches and burgers.
As we walked back from rambling around downtown, going to fetch our car from the inn, my mind drifted back to my spa moment the day before. We were driving away when I realized we had made just one mistake on this trip: We should have stayed the weekend.