Vermont is beautiful year-round, but autumn, with leaves richly gilded and inflamed by nature's paintbrush, attracts the most visitors.
Woodstock, Vt., once named one of the prettiest towns in America by Ladies Home Journal, felt Hurricane Irene's wrath – the storm swept roads, backs of homes, livestock and propane tanks down roiling rivers.
But the Woodstock Inn, where water poured through its basement-level conference facility, vows that hotel rooms will be ready for occupancy by Oct. 1. The spa and restaurants, which were not damaged, are back in business, in time for guests in search of fall colours.
Woodstock is so “Vermonty” you might mistake it for a Hollywood set. Wrought-iron lampposts replace overhead utility wires, granite curbs surround a pristine historic district and charming town green, a Romanesque Revival library beams free Wi-Fi from a breathtaking setting at the base of timeless hills, and four Paul Revere steeple bells cast a special tone.
Rockefeller money helps. The inn, which traces its origin to 1793, was completely rebuilt by Mary and Laurance Rockefeller in 1969 and was once part of the RockResorts chain. In recent years, the inn has been charmingly renovated and features the high-quality craftsmanship of nearby artisans, including renowned glass-blower Simon Pearce in Quechee, and bespoke cabinet maker Thomas Shackleton in Bridgewater.
Inspired by the inn's decor, guests have trod a well-beaten path to their workshops to bring a little Vermont style home. Simon Pearce established his glass-blowing factory in a former woollen mill beside a roaring, man-made waterfall and dam on the Ottauquechee River.
Just before the storm I visited the Quechee glassworks. After a memorable lunch in the restaurant, which is cantilevered out over the falls, we visited the factory. Burly workers, with the grace of ballerinas, move around each other twirling molten glass on poles as if holding a baton. We watched a glass-blower prick a glass blob with a four-prong punch and blow a piece of the iconic Stratton wineglass design that encases four twined strands of air into the stem. The next stop for most visitors? Upstairs to the well-stocked gift shop.
But Irene damaged the glassworks, and left the nearby Quechee Covered Bridge dangling. In the meantime, visitors are being redirected to Pearce's Windsor, Vt., workshop.
With some roads washed out from the storm, visitors may prefer to use their feet to see the foliage. Middle Bridge, right out the inn's front door, leads directly to the Faulkner trail up Mount Tom. More intensive hiking options are available – just ask the concierge or park rangers at the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park for directions.
Cyclists can drop by the Start House Ski and Bike for rentals and advice on the best routes.
For golfers, the inn's scenic course, the oldest in Vermont, redesigned by Robert Trent Jones Sr. in the 1960s, has nine holes open. The rest – especially holes that cross the serpentine, ball-eating Kedron Brook – have cart bridges under repair and may be closed until spring.
Woodstock Inn guests receive complimentary admission to Billings Farm, another Rockefeller family legacy. Its popular Pumpkin and Apple Celebration is Oct. 1 and 2. On a recent tour, visitors were told to help themselves to heritage apples right off the trees.
Last year, Woodstock Inn opened a 10,000-square-foot, $10-million LEED-designed spa. Signature treatments change with the seasons but always feature organic skin-care products. And, while many spas want to cocoon you and dim the lights, the Spa at Woodstock Inn is flooded with natural light.
We enjoyed an aromatherapy massage and sampled every last detail of the spa experience – from the heated stone courtyard and outdoor hot tub to the tiny, perfect macarons they proffer at the end of each treatment, to a short rest in a room where the woven sunshades made the light dance, a view that, after an active day, made us happy to simply sit and stare in wonder.