At first, it sounded like something out of Brigadoon. On a New Year’s Eve holiday several years ago in Barnard, Vermont, a one-general-store town about 10 miles northwest of Woodstock, a friend told me he’d heard about a semisecret resort on the lake — one so luxurious and private that few people knew it was there, other than a handful of celebrities. “Like who?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” he said. “Oprah?” My friend went on: Each room was filled with original art. It had a private ski mountain and private lake frontage. When I suggested we pay a visit, my friend shook his head. “It’s gated,” he said. “You can’t get in without a reservation.”
Here, in Vermont?
Over the next few days, we made several attempts to case this mystery hideaway. We trudged around the frozen lake to catch a glimpse from the shore. No luck. In town, we found proof. The inn operated a tiny boutique next to the post office. We had a name — Twin Farms. The inn was real, though not of this world. The most expensive room (actually a cottage) was $2,750. Per night. The bargain room (a suite): $1,100.
As a travel writer, I have stayed in fine hotels. But really, how could any place, no matter how swank, be worth those prices? There was only one way to find out.
In the weeks before my husband and I pay a visit (a celebration of five years together as a couple), Twin Farms retains its mysterious allure. I hear a rumor of summer dinners served at formal tables in secret meadows. I notice that the inn’s address isn’t advertised, and directions are sent only after our room is booked. I receive a questionnaire about our food preferences, privacy needs, allergies, sleep schedule. Once we check in, there will be no menus, no tipping. Everything will be arranged.
Even the inn’s history has glamour. Though the original 300-acre farm dates back to 1793, it gained prominence in the 1930s as the country retreat of novelist Sinclair Lewis and his wife, famed journalist Dorothy Thompson. They named it Twin Farms for the two farmhouses that once stood on the property (one later burned down). The main house is now home to guest suites named Dorothy’s Room and Red’s Room (Lewis’s nickname) in their honor. For the past two decades, Twin Farms has been owned by Thurston Twigg-Smith, whose mother’s family was a founding Anglo-Hawaiian clan with vast real estate and coffee holdings and a museum-worthy contemporary art collection.
We announce our visit at a call box at the main gate and are met at the end of the drive by a staffer named Rick, who relieves us of our car and luggage. Good-bye keys, wallet, laptop, and cell phone. We are being freed of the currency of everyday life, and I sense we’re being ushered into something entirely new.
By the time we get to The Perch cottage, where we will be staying, the car is tucked safely into the carport and our luggage has been put away. The 1,100-square-foot stone cottage is decorated in an English fishing theme, with large windows overlooking a stream in the woods and antique fish decoys placed here and there. It’s a soothing place, with its sleeping alcove and moss-green paneling.
A William Wegman watercolor hangs on one wall; off the back hall are the screened porch and an enormous bathroom anchored by a copper-lined tub. A television and a mini Sub-Zero refrigerator are hidden discreetly behind the custom cabinetry, and an alarm clock is filed away in a closet as if to say, “Well, if you must.” The fireplace is stocked and ready to be lit; there is a tray of homemade crackers and cheddar, and Simon Pearce decanters filled with port and sherry. There will be no daily accounting of what we consume here. This, along with our choices from the self-service wine cellar in the main house, is all included.
I settle in with a glass of port and an early edition of Lewis’s Babbitt and wait for my in-room massage. At this moment, I have to admit, it has become difficult to remain skeptical.
The interior of the perch, like many of the cottages, was designed by the late Jed Johnson, a rotégé of Andy Warhol’s. Johnson’s trademark was his ability to integrate fine art and antiques into comfortable spaces, and that philosophy extends to the rest of the inn. The decor can be exuberantly luxe — behind the walls of the staid cottages lie interiors inspired by Moroccan desert palaces, Japanese ryokans, Scandinavian country estates, and Appalachian log cabins — but the common areas express a more rustic, Federalist dialect, and you needn’t tiptoe about or fear putting a glass down on a table.
Still, though we have been informed that the atmosphere at Twin Farms is casual, we are nervous as we make our way up to the main house for our first cocktail hour. Are we underdressed? How does one behave at such a place? We need not have worried. We find the four other guests, the chairman of one recently merged banking colossus and his family, are casually dressed and friendly. Staff offer us drinks and hors d’oeuvres and chat easily as they lead us to our private dinner in the wine cellar downstairs.
Midweek winter nights aren’t crowded, which is why we have the wine cellar to ourselves. During the busy summer and fall seasons, most guests eat in the dining room, which means that the dinner-in-a-meadow rumor is an exaggeration. But it’s not unusual to stumble across a picnic lunch waiting for hikers atop the ski hill, and the kitchen can accommodate any dietary preference. One legendary regular guest subsists entirely on quail eggs and sashimi, weighed to the ounce and ready for her arrival.
Our first dinner is a Vermont-inspired five-course feast. The bread, butter, squash, game, mushrooms — even our plates and some of the wines — are local. We sit, rosy-cheeked and happy, on a banquette lined with down cushions, surrounded by 2,200 bottles of wine under a vaulted brick ceiling. This display is a small sampling of the inn’s 26,000-bottle collection; if we want to grab a bottle and take it back to our room, we’re welcome to do so. We end the meal with a sampler of eight Vermont cheeses and some more port, and when we step out into the cold night, the full moon is shining so brightly off the snow that, but for the call of our king-size featherbed, we nearly set off on a moonlit walk through the woods.
Mornings at twin farms can begin in one of two ways: in your room, where a breakfast of fresh fruit, muesli, yogurt, croissants, muffins, scones, grapefruit, broiled oranges, coffee, and freshly squeezed orange juice is delivered on fine china; or up in the main house, where an even more sumptuous display awaits. When a nearby guest jokes, “No Pop-Tarts, huh?” the waitress answers brightly, “No, but we can have them for you tomorrow, if you’d like.” The British chef, Neil Wigglesworth, was lured to Twin Farms from the famed Point in the Adirondacks.
Once we’ve breakfasted, we opt for a snowshoeing trek, followed by some cross-country skiing. With few guests to care for, our rec staffer, Josh, acts as a private guide for the day. All of the equipment we need is kept on-site, and we pass a happy day along the marked trails. We don’t have to worry over maps, mind the trail blazes, or keep track of time — Josh has it covered. As we circle the property, I realize that there is something deeply soothing about confining your existence to just a few hundred acres. I also realize that I haven’t felt this cared for since I was a child.
We end the day at the furo, a deep Japanese soaking pool kept at exactly 104 degrees. It’s enclosed in its own little house, with sliding windows that open out on the dimming woods. Our fellow guest the bank chairman has already alerted us to the secret furo code: If you want privacy, leave your car parked out front. And so we have the place to ourselves until it’s time to dress for dinner.
All day we have been hearing news of an approaching blizzard, and as we walk up to the dining room, big puffy flakes are slowly drifting down from the sky. It’s the kind of snow that clings to pine boughs, crunches underfoot, and softens the edges of buildings. The whole world has gone soft and white, and we’re giddy as we sit down to dinner, this time an eight-course Tuscan feast that begins with crusty semolina rolls and continues on through Chef Wigglesworth’s interpretation of “spaghetti and meatballs” — truffled noodles topped with Cornish sausage balls, everything rich and deeply woodsy. With each course comes a different wine and a gentle coaxing. “You’re almost there!” our waiter, Eric, says. “Just three more courses to go.” By the time we reach the buttermilk panna cotta, we are nearly paralyzed with pleasure, and we sit in front of the enormous fireplace in the Barn Room giggling helplessly as we try to contrive ways to return here every fifth anniversary. Surely, the promise of that alone could sustain a marriage through a lifetime.
Morning sun, our last hours in Eden. I peer out the front door to see that the paths have already been shoveled, the car swept off. Of one thing, I am sure: More than a thousand dollars per night is surely excess, yet for all the luxury resorts I have visited before this one, I haven’t met any that left me so at ease. If the cost of two nights here equals a week’s vacation for two in Florida, I’m not sure I’d pick the latter.
We take breakfast in our room, and I head out for one last cross-country ski. On the fresh powder, my usually timid legs easily follow the hill’s terrain, and I coast downhill at a speed that would typically send me jerking back in terror. The ground passes underneath, the sun shines off the snow, lunch is waiting at the bottom of the hill, and here, I know, any fall will end in a soft landing.
Stage Rd., Barnard, VT