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The Equinox, Manchester Vermont

A New England Experience

In late autumn if you stand in the lobby of The Equinox and overhear other guests in conversation with the concierge, chances are you'll find them trying to book a ride in Karl Pfister's old-fashioned horse-drawn sleigh. The 50-minute drive in a wooden vehicle seating 10 goes "over the river and through the woods'' traversing covered bridges, snow-filled fields and Manchester's back roads.

"It's truly a Vermont experience," said Carmen Martin Kingery, head concierge, as she made a reservation for a large family group. The space in the sleigh fills up quickly on chilly weekends, but as an alternative Kingery might suggest a tour of the historic town in an antique buggy, courtesy of Village Carriage Company. A top-hatted coachman, who picks you up at the front door, seems like an anachronism in a New England village. But it defines The Equinox, both grand and hospitable.

The Equinox (credit: Edwin Fancher)

Taverns and lodgings have existed on this tract since 1769. Presidents and their families visited the hotel as far back as Lincoln's time. The resort has had many reincarnations and the last one represents a remarkable feat. After being vacant for more than a decade the property was reopened in 1985 following a $20 million make-over. In 1991 hundreds of craftspeople worked double shifts to redo the entire interior in three months.

S. Lee Bowden, general manager, explained the latest changes as an attempt to improve upon an improvement. The goal is to make The Equinox the premier property in the region. Management is now attempting to establish a private ownership Equinox Club comparable to other country clubs, including reciprocity and exchange rights at several similar resorts worldwide.

The 1100-acre Equinox has enough sports facilities, such as tennis and paddle tennis courts and indoor and outdoor pools, to rival a country club. The 18-hole golf course was designed by architect Rees Jones and is named The Gleneagles after its Scottish affiliate; both are owned and managed by Guiness. A full-service spa offers classes, treatments and a well-equipped gym. A new state-of the-art fitness facility is in the planning stages. Mountain biking, canoeing and horseback riding in the neighboring area can be arranged through the hotel.

From the end of November through March most of the guests are skiers. Stratton is nearby. The hotel runs a shuttle bus to Bromley, another ski center. The world-famous Orvis Fly Fishing and Shooting Schools have tie-ins with the resort. However, you need not be a student to hook the prized Battenkill River trout or aim for the birds and deer at Tinmouth Hunting Preserves, which double as outdoor classrooms.

One of the best things about The Equinox is the friendly and helpful staff. Susan Thorne-Thompsen has been the spa director since its inception in 1987. In an industry notorious for its turnover, seven years is like the millennium. Thorne-Thompsen may be the only head of a full-sized spa who doubles as a masseuse. Carmen Kingery's professionalism gained her membership in the prestigious Les Clefs d'Or, an organization open only to those who show distinctive achievement in concierge service.

High marks are also given to the Marsh Tavern where the ambiance is so authentically "tavernish" –a cluster of intimate rooms lit by fire and sconces–that you can imagine Ethan Allen's Green Mountain Boys dropping by for a drink. Back in the 1770s they drank on this very site at the original Marsh Tavern as they plotted the American Revolution. The food was tasty and imaginative with good homey selections like cedar-planked salmon and peppered sirloin. However, dinner in the more formal restaurant, The Colonnade, was disappointing. The faux-elegant selections didn't make the mark. In the evening the cavernous, near empty room was cheerless. In the morning when the sun lit up the many windowed room and a bountiful buffet filled the space, The Colonnade perked up and was a pleasant enough place in which to breakfast. There are 163 guest rooms in categories ranging from standard, superior and deluxe to premium suites. Some of them are duplexes. The rooms are spacious and beautifully decorated.

The Equinox, 3567 Main Street, Manchester Village, VT 05254. Tel. (800) 362 4747, (802) 362-4700. Rates start at $135 and go up to $550 for a three-bedroom townhouse. Ski, sport and spa packages are attractively priced. MAP adds another $55 a day per person, which generally works out to about what you'd spend without the plan if you took all your meals in-house. www.equinox.rockresorts.com

Fall 1994