Saratoga Springs vs. Stowe: A Tale of Two Weekend Escapes
Above image: Spa City Motor Lodge
Despite the cliches – and sometimes pretty good jokes – involving pumpkin spiced anything, deliberate earth tones, and the annual re-emergence of one’s sweater collection, it’s hard not to get a kick out of fall. All that sweating has finally ceased, for one. But autumn arrives in many forms from coast to coast – in Northern California for instance, it’s often marked by a few days of rain after a scorchingly dry summer; in the Southeast, well…there’s less hurricanes. For us Northeasterners, we have bragging rights to the accumulation of massive snowdrift sized piles of leaves, otherwise known as the fall foliage season. (Actual snowdrifts are still a few months away, but we’re in denial about that for now.)
Certainly, the transformation of trees from green to golden elicits warm appreciation when traversing Central Park – but for authentic cliches you have to get out of town. And so, we did, gassing up the automobile and setting off for a long weekend in Vermont, with a stop in horse country, Saratoga Springs, NY. As we were to find out, by mid-October we’d missed “peak foliage” by five days (Vermonters are a precise lot) – but that didn’t dull our joy in zooming up an empty Taconic Parkway surrounded on all sides by an explosion of color; any immersion in nature gives our urban bones a jolt.
By the time we got to Saratoga Springs we were ready to break out the rust-colored scarf and down a few spiced ciders.
We’d discovered a couple of chic/boutique roadside motels/lodges from Bluebird by Lark, and checked in at the Spa City Motor Lodge in Saratoga for a night. Once a run of the mill motel, with courtyard pool, it now exudes a bit of hipster cred, with a friendly millennial staff, cold craft brew on tap, and charming décor, located right on the main drag (Broadway). We headed straight out to hit up the town’s plethora of independent shops (essential oils at Menges & Curtis Apothecary, artisan home goods at Collective 131, the Lyrical Ballad Bookstore), as well as Caffé Lena, the longest running coffee venue in the country, where Bob Dylan played in 1961. Dinner at the surprisingly epicurean Mexican restaurant Cantina meant crispy, spicy Brussels sprouts and delicious fish tacos.
Up and out the following morning, we had an equally picturesque motor through winding hills to our final destination of Stowe, Vermont. There we checked into another of the Lark properties, the Talta Lodge which, with its black exterior, had a similar look and feel as Spa City, and is also a reimagining of an old-school motel. We were happy for the upgrades, especially when it came to the bed, linens, and shower products; and having just opened a week prior, it still had that new hotel smell. But as the allure of Stowe and its environs really exists out of doors, the lodge’s raison d’etre is that it’s a stopping off point on the way to the wilds of Vermont.
We actually didn’t make it too far the first night, as Idletyme Brewing was a scant mile-and-a-half into town from the lodge; we feasted on grilled salmon and flights of on-site brewed suds (Zog’s Pale Ale, Helles Brook Lager, Fest Maerzen) before heading back to the Talta to sit by the backyard bonfire and, yes, make our own S’mores. The cliches were accumulating, but our most Vermonty activity was to come the following morning, when we put our lives in the capable hands of Sunrise Mountain Guides for a muscle busting, err, vigorous walk (they wouldn’t let us say hike), along the trails of Mt Mansfield a couple of miles up the hill. It was possibly the most picturesque non-hike we’ve ever been on. (N.B. Not a lot of data was available to be crunched in this study.) Our lack of experience non-withstanding, the chaps at Sunrise seemed way overqualified for our excursion, regaling us with tales of ice climbing, and daring mountain rescues; we were humbled.
We continued, driving, up Mountain Road to the summit of Stowe peak to check out the, again, humbling vistas and enormous rock foundations that provide the spectacular setting for Stowe Mountain Resort. Undoubtably the throngs of shutterbugs taking in the scene will be back in force when ski season kicks off in mid-November. By mid-afternoon, however, it was time for another VT staple, cider, and what better place to go than Stowe Cider? We quaffed a few their most inventive creations, including the Peach Habanero, while being serenaded by one of the better “bar bands” we’ve ever seen, Alison Turner, who managed to pull off Metallica and Madonna covers in the same set.
For or last dinner we hit the happening place, Doc Ponds, which combines food, music (in the form of an extensive vinyl collection), and cool outdoorsy merchandise, under one roof. We were there to eat and drink, and the old school calamari and roasted cauliflower, with a couple of excellent Moscow Mules, were more than satisfying.
Back at the Talta we were forced indoors because of rain, but still got our nightly fix of S’mores around the cozy lobby fire, until they asked us to quiet down. It was getting late and we were happy to retire to our stylish cocoon of a room, and start dreaming of ski excursions to come…