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with julie james

Manchester, Vermont

Most of us have experienced enough rugged weather this winter to last us into our next lifetime, and still Mother Nature brings us more. That’s why my husband Josh and I adopted a “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” attitude, donned our boots and down jackets, and became snowbirds in the quaint town of Manchester, Vermont.

Any plucky adventure seeker can find assorted humble small towns with requisite antique stores, local restaurants, art galleries, charming bed-and-breakfasts and curvy, scenic roads. But stately, sedate Manchester, VT combines rural charm and rich history with upscale amenities galore.  Lay your head down on the most splendid of pillows here, dine at fine inns, treat yourself to a Spa, do the Outlets, and ensconce yourself amongst a cultured, civilized populace while taking in the splendid and many specialty shops in town.

The town is Mayberry-calm, but action is available as well.  In winter, the undeniable star of the Manchester vicinity is snow. Alps-like mountains abound and skiing, snowboarding, snowmobiling, snowshoeing and all manner of fun with white stuff is encouraged. In summer, an archery school, a “Falconing” class---where a live Falcon descends from a tree and lands on your gloved hand---hiking, fly-fishing and other unique activities are yours, made more pleasurable by their proximity to the acres of forest always nearby.  Bring your camera! 

There isn’t any finer place to stay than the regal Equinox Resort and Spa, right in the center of town (3567 Main Street, Route 7A, 866-346-ROCK, http://www.equinox.rockresorts.com).  Established in 1769, it’s situated on 2,300 manicured acres between the Green and Taconic Mountains and features 183 rooms and suites.  You’ll lodge at the Equinox Hotel with its first class service, spacious, comfy rooms, brand new spa with a delightful assortment of treatments and fine dining.   The five-star accommodations and service don’t compromise the cozy atmosphere, the resort will wrap you in luxury while still maintaining its small town charm.

The roots of the resort reach back to as early as 1769, when only a solitary tavern stood on the grounds. During the Revolutionary War, the tavern's owner, William Marsh, was sympathetic to the British cause, and as a result, his two-story establishment was the first Tory property to be seized in an act of American independence. Still standing today, The Marsh Tavern serves as one of the three fine restaurants at The Equinox today.

Equinox Resort and Spa

Since before the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the resort property has been held by a series of owners and visited by many celebrities. In 1863, for example, The Equinox solidified its reputation as "the premier summer resort" when it was visited by Mrs. Abraham Lincoln and her two sons. Continuing a tradition of fame and excellence, the resort eventually qualified to be listed on The National Register of Historic Places in 1972. Only two years later, Francesco Galesi took charge of the hotel, and after more than a decade of careful planning and extensive restoration, the resort re-opened to year-round vacationers in 1985. The resort was purchased yet again 1991, submitting it to further revitalization and modernization so that, today, The Equinox surpasses the expectations of even the most seasoned travelers. All in all, the resort has endured a total of 17 major architectural changes, but in spite of the many changes, it has spanned the centuries as an incomparable place of leisure.

The most recent change the resort has enjoyed is the addition of its 13,000 square foot Avanyu Spa. You’ll find a sanctuary to escape the pressures of life and, at the same time, enjoy the pleasures of total relaxation and rejuvenation in the picturesque Vermont countryside. Avanyu, the ancient Tewa Native American name for a mythical water serpent, evokes the restorative and life-giving power of water.

Avanyu Spa Fittingly, the centerpiece of the facility is a 75-foot, heated indoor swimming pool. The spa is also home to a fitness center, steam and sauna rooms, a movement studio for classes, and a cozy relaxation room with a fireplace. Grab a book and curl up among the pillows in the window seats or in front of the fire. Your senses will be awakened and your soul soothed with a full menu of massage therapies, facials, and body treatments, including the signature Maple Leaf Scrub and Red Clover Treatments.

Finding something to do won’t be found among your topics of conversation. Nearby you have Stratton Mountain, which SKI Magazine ranked its #1 Northeast destination, and Bromley Mountain, one of Vermont’s most popular family slopes. Antique shops pepper the scenic countryside, museums and art galleries abound, and you can bliss out on Designer Outlet shopping right in the heart of town for goodies from Coach, Movado, Burberry, Brooks Brothers, Ralph Lauren and many others. Take a historic home tour of Hildene, Robert Todd Lincoln's 24-room Georgian revival estate. The Equinox itself offers an abundant menu of activities like indoor Tennis, Ice Skating, an Off Road Driving School, Archery, Falconry, the Orvis Shooting and Fly Fishing School and a wealth of others in warmer weather months, such as golf and mountain biking and hiking.

Of course, no winter retreat would be complete without comfort food. For lunch, The Little Rooster is constantly busy, and with good reason.  Located just on the edge of town in a schoolhouse-type building, serving breakfast and lunch, their service brisk and friendly and their creative food scrumptious.  Try the amazing Oriental Chicken Salad, (grilled chicken breast marinated in pineapple, soy and honey over cold sesame noodles) or the Open Faced Broccoli Mushroom Sandwich, sautéed with fresh herbs and red onions and served on rye with melted provolone and walnuts. Don’t let the rural road and quaint atmosphere fool you, fine dining fit for the big city can be found at Chantecleer (Route 7A, 802-362-1616). Originally hailing from Switzerland, Chef Michel Baumann together with his wife Melanie have wowed visitors and locals alike with their inventive menu for over 20 years. You may have trouble deciding among mouthwatering choices like Pumpkin Raviolis, tossed with sage butter and Parmesan Cheese, topped with carmelized apples, or the Apple Wood Smoked Trout Plate garnished with petite potato salad, grilled apples and horseradish mousseline, or Coconut Shrimp drizzled with Thai curry sauce and cilantro oil and served with an Asian Slaw…and those are just the first course offerings! Old favorites get a dazzling new spin, like Black Angus Filet Mignon that’s topped with carmelized apples and calvados and a Stilton cheese demi glaze, served alongside walnut and Gorgonzola raviolis, or you can choose one of their creative specials like Almond Crusted Halibut with fresh peach and mango chutney and Rubio balsamic vinegar drizzle with an Orzo pilaf. If you stay long enough, not hard to do with an attentive waitstaff that makes you feel right at home, you may just have room for dessert, like Profiteroles, cream puffs stuffed with vanilla ice cream and drizzled with warm chocolate sauce.

But whatever you do, don’t leave Manchester without a stop to Up For Breakfast (710 Main Street, 802-362-4204). This hidden gem is located on a 2nd floor walk up, and feels like having a gourmet breakfast in your Mom’s kitchen. Vermont’s own Green Mountain coffee, strong and aromatic, is offered in regular and azelnut. Have a raisin scone that’s as big as your plate or try a banana-nut and chocolate chip muffin. Heaven on a plate is the Metropolitan omelette, made from the fluffiest eggs stuffed with fresh Atlantic salmon and cream cheese with dill, or you might choose a Cajun Fritatta with Andouille sausage, fresh tomatoes and pepper jack cheese. Fresh, warm maple syrup accompanies the amazing array of pancakes, which can be buttermilk, buckwheat, blueberry, or maybe even strawberry if your timing is right. This cozy nook has about a dozen tables and a counter, but the neighborly staff keeps things hopping and will likely offer you a cup of Joe for your short wait.

Well worth a trip no matter the season, you can play the snowbird, take in glorious fall foliage, or frolic among blooming gardens and lush green forests in warmer months. Manchester Village will charm you with its stately, historical elegance that still manages to welcome you like a friend. A scenic destination of choice for centuries of travelers, count yourself among the many who have fallen in love with this idyllic favorite.

Getting there:

Manchester, Vermont is easily accessible by car from most of the Northeast. Four hours from New York City, Montreal, and Portland, ME; Boston will take you about 3 ½ hours, from Hartford, CT 2 ½. If you’ll be making your way by air travel, most airlines now service the Albany airport, which is a scenic 1 ½ hour drive from there. Specific directions available at http://www.equinox.rockresorts.com/info/htl.gh.asp.

Photos courtesy of the Equinox Resort and Spa

about julie james

Julie is not only a performer and talk show host, but has been actively promoting diverse body types in national media since 1995. She was one of several Fashion Retail Editors for MODE magazine as well as the exclusive host for the launch of the Tommy Hilfiger Woman Fashion line.  

She has performed in opera and musical theater productions across the country and with her husband, Josh Max, formed Josh Max’s Outfit, now called “The Maxes”. You can also catch Julie weeknights during her own show on SIRIUS Satellite Radio, 9 PM PT/12 mid ET on SIRIUS Channel 85.

She and Josh, also a writer, enjoy exploring new and exotic destinations in the U.S.A. When not making music together, they journey to such places as Maui, West Palm Beach, Santa Cruz, Boston, Nashville, Memphis as well as dozens of getaways on the East Coast.

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