Before the invention of air conditioning and frozen margaritas, people from the smoggy, septic cities of the Northeast would pack up their top hats and parasols and set off into the Taconics. Wending through the high country in railcars instead of Lexus SUVs, these pioneering vacationers sought the salubrious effects of mountain air, clean water and gigantic meals of mutton, succotash and “Croustade of Chicken a la Reine.” They sheltered in fine colonnaded hotels like the Equinox House in Manchester, Vermont, which was one of the finest (and most colonnaded). There, guests feasted on hominy and codfish balls, guzzled sparkling water by the quart and frolicked on the golf course until the luncheon bell at 12:30 (saving room for coconut pie). The Equinox was a place to go for your health, so it was important to pack on weight.
That’s not the goal for most visitors to the Equinox Resort today, although it may be an unintended consequence of indulging in the cheese board. Since 1769, the property has hosted visitors according to the styles of the times, and with its full-service spa, luxurious indoor pool and admirable roster of single-malt scotches, it has certainly kept pace with them. But the Equinox is mindful of its history. In the hallways and guest rooms, you can admire enlargements of sepia photographs showing horse-drawn carriages and mustachioed Victorians in funny hats, looking like they just stepped out of a natural foods store in Jamaica Plain.
The main hotel is rambling, with fireplace nooks and unexpected game rooms or kids’ arcades. As befits a hotel with a long history of gluttony, the dining is exceptional. The first-floor Marsh Tavern, once a hangout for the Green Mountain Boys and other revolutionaries, is ideal for a midday pint of Switchback and a grilled herb flatbread at the bar. It’s even better for a romantic dinner. Standouts include the house charcuterie, featuring smoked duck breast, and a venison loin with juniper lingonberry sauce. For more formal fare, the Chop House offers steakhouse classics like prime rib-eye and lobster thermidor. Nor should you miss breakfast under the chandelier in the grand Colonnade room—ask for a table by the window with a view of the mountains.
The resort spans a cluster of buildings bunched around the marble sidewalks of Main Street. These include the Charles Orvis Inn, named for the proprietor of the property in the booming 1880s. He founded the eponymous fishing supply company you see in upscale shopping centers around the country (the firm’s flagship store and fly-fishing school is just up the street, next to the American Museum of Fly Fishing). There’s also a par-71 golf course, three plexi-cushion tennis courts and—rather unexpectedly—a Land Rover Experience Driving School. There, guests can choose a variety of vehicles to grind through a purpose-built offroad course. Be sure to set aside at least half a day for the spa: The massage therapists are first-rate, and afterward you can curl up in one of the plush chairs in the relaxation room or order lunch by the pool. Then plunge into the outdoor hot tub where, through the steam, you can rest your gaze on the wooded slopes and ridges of the nearly 4,000-foot Mount Equinox.
Affluent New Yorkers have been making the pilgrimage to Manchester for more than 100 years. They still do, judging by the accents and the Giants caps in the Equinox’s lobby. What’s curious is that more Bostonians don’t forgo the long northern haul to Stowe or the lurching traffic on Route 4 to Killington. Manchester is an ideal base for skiing Bromley Mountain, a mere 15-minute drive, or the excellent Stratton Mountain, about a half-hour away.
But Manchester’s biggest attraction is shopping—it’s the outlet capitol of Vermont. A mile from the resort, you’ll find more stores than could cram in a mall directory. Suffice to say, if you throw a snowball, you’re likely to hit shopping bags from Marimekko, Coach and Kate Spade. It’s also well stocked with attractions like glass-blowing, art galleries and stately homes like Hildene, which belonged to Abraham Lincoln’s descendants but is now home to tour groups and a collection of Nubian goats.
In astronomy, an equinox is a day of perfect balance. That’s exactly what you can create in Manchester with a tight itinerary of fine dining, shopping and outdoor activities. Or you could just completely wreck yourself on cheese boards. Go ahead—the mountain air, after all, has a salubrious effect.
-Another nearby lodging option is the charming Inn at Manchester, a luxury B&B with a “Celebration Barn” for destination weddings.
-Just outside Stratton, make a mandatory stop at Honeypie, an outstanding “burger joint” that serves gourmet flat patties, homemade sausages and killer fries with unusual microbrews.
The Equinox Golf Resort & Spa 3567 Main St., Manchester Village, Vermont (802-362-4700)