THE MOUNTAIN TREK: Stowe, VT
It’s really rather savvy of you to head to a tourist destination like Stowe — famous for its snowy mountains and ski slopes — in its off-season. You breeze right in at typically crowded hot spots. You practically get your own private hiking trails in the peaceful Green Mountains (and don’t have to share the view at the top). You feel more like a local than a tourist. And best of all, you pay low off-season rates. By day, Vermont and all its summertime nature is so freeing … and also so free. After the skiers and boarders clear out, the peaks and valleys are left green and blooming for days filled with hiking, biking, kayaking and horseback-riding. By night, you can reward so much sporty enthusiasm by bunking down at the acclaimed Topnotch Resort & Spa, a luxury hotel brimming with New England charm — see the huge moose and fireplace in the “living room,” and butter churns and barrels scattered decoratively about — but with the amenities of five-star city lodgings, like cozy robes and turndown service in your room, along with stunning mountain views, a nationally top-ranked spa, and an adorable tennis pro. 4000 Mountain Road, Stowe, Vermont, 800-451-8686, topnotchresort.com.
Expect to pay: A direct flight from Philly to Burlington generally runs in the $350 range, and a rental car for the weekend, about $100. Rates are reduced at Topnotch in May and June, and start at $195 per night on weekdays ($300 weekends) for a deluxe king room. Activities and meals vary (see below).
Be sure to: Rent bikes from Topnotch’s Nordic Barn and pedal a leisurely five and a half miles along the Stowe Recreation Path into town ($8.95/hour for adults; 802-253-6433, nordicbarnvt.com). Once you get into the village of Stowe, prop up your bike near the community church — no Kryptonite required in these parts — and walk about the quaint village, with its kitschy souvenir shops. Topnotch also offers a guided two-hour morning hike, gratis, on the Sterling Pond Trail, which tops out with a silvery lake perched at 3,000 feet — a climb just hard enough to make you feel you’ve earned your afternoon 50-minute massage ($135) back at the resort. You might also opt for a different perspective on Vermont’s peaks and get your obligatory covered-bridges photos via a self-guided four-hour kayak trip ($45 per person) down the Lamoille River. (Make reservations in advance with Umiak Outdoor Outfitters, 802-253-2317, umiak.com.)
Eat at: Topnotch’s restaurant, Norma’s, doesn’t just shovel out typical hotel fare. Eat there alfresco with a view of Mount Mansfield, and don’t miss the fruit-smothered pancakes with locally tapped maple syrup for breakfast, or the super-fresh Chopped Mediterranean Salad (mmm … Vermont feta) at lunch. Even Craig LaBan splurged at the romantic Hen of the Wood in Waterbury, where chef Eric Warnstedt — named one of Food & Wine’s best new chefs in 2008 — whips up dishes using seasonal local ingredients like lamb and pork loin from area farms, and wild Vermont mushrooms (802-244-7300, henofthewood.com). For a meal that’s a tad more casual and cost-conscious, try the Whip Bar & Grille, a bustling local pub with food a notch above average bar fare, like the roast duck-and-brie quesadilla (802-253-7301, greenmountaininn.com).
Take this advice: Lure your favorite nature-averse fashionista to Stowe with the promise of serious shoe shopping at Well Heeled, a chic, so-not-country boutique with brands like French Sole, Diego di Lucca and Salpy — and don’t miss the barn behind the shop where they keep the sale racks (2850 Mountain Road, Stowe, 802-253-6077, wellheeledstowe.com).
Into scaling even greater heights? Try this! Hop a plane for the White Mountains in New Hampshire, where Mount Washington towers over New England at 6,288 feet. There’s a new spa to try at the venerable Mount Washington Hotel, a National Historic Landmark in Bretton Woods where room rates in June start at about $229 per night (603-278-1000, mountwashingtonresort.com). And you can get great hiking without the flying time in the Catskills, where a three-hour drive lands you in fresh air and the chic, peaceful Emerson Resort and Spa (877-688-2828, emersonresort.com) in scenic Mount Tremper. Rates start at about $169 a night in June.