More Than A Bucket List: Four Vermont Hotels that Are All About the Experience

At these four Vermont hotels, you can do more than check off a bucket list. You can cook, hit the water, visit an Aqua Solarium, and travel to mini-Austria.

I’m in The Essex hotel’s kitchen classroom for a Cook Academy class on the finer techniques of proper cooking. What’s on the three-course menu? A bowl of flavorful French onion soup with toasted bread and Gruyere cheese, a pan-roasted steak fillet with a demi-glace and mash potatoes, and for dessert, a luscious maple crème brûlée. After all, this is Vermont, and maple syrup is bound to be one of the ingredients.

With aprons donned, a glass of wine poured, and the ingredients set before us, the instruction begins. Throughout the next two-hours, Chef Adam shares tips on how to roast bones before you make a stock for a demi-glace, the importance of thoroughly drying meat before you season and pan roast, and how much salt really goes into the pot when boiling mash potatoes (half a cup of salt for one gallon of water). During this process, we get as hands-on as we like, slicing, stirring, and pan searing.

The Green Mountain state is full of unique hotel experiences. Besides cooking, you can go for a paddle in Lake Champlain, hear the von Trapp family’s Sound of Music story firsthand or even try an Aqua Solarium during a wellness retreat. If you crave more than ticking items off a bucket list, check out these four hotels that are all about the experience.

Vermont’s Culinary Resort & Spa


Located on a former campus for the New England Culinary Institute, The Essex, Vermont’s Culinary Resort & Spa starts the culinary experience right at check-in at the Lobby Café. Select complimentary treats are available to sample, or you can order one of their tarts with bright fruits, airy cakes with velvety butter icing, a glass of wine or beer, or peruse the made in Vermont gift shop to fill up your shopping bag with some Lake Champlain handcrafted truffles and Vermont maple syrup.

The first floor is garden themed and room decor features fresh garden grown veggie art. On the second floor, swaths of blue blend the rooms baking theme together alongside wall art of baking ingredients and utensils. On the third floor, the culinary theme is spices. Beds are draped with red blankets along with images of herbs in art and decorative pillows.

Guests will enjoy the selection of in-room Green Mountain coffee, Keurig coffee makers, and the ease of saving their leftovers in the retro-style Igloo mini-fridges. Other amenities include iHome dock stations, room safes, flat screen televisions, electric fireplaces for those snowy nights, and hand-made Vermont soaps in the bathroom. If you’re traveling with a group or want to stay longer, there are suites and extended stay lodging rooms outside of the main complex

“You will live, breathe and sleep all things culinary during a stay at The Essex,” said Keith McManis, Director of Sales & Marketing. “From cooking classes to wandering the gardens and sleeping amidst culinary decor, all five senses will be delighted. It’s likely travelers will return home with new cooking skills, favorite dishes, and inspiration to start a mini-garden of their own.”

The Essex Resort & Spa

Top rated
8.8 Excellent (2220 reviews)

The Sound Of Vermont


Nestled on 2,500 wooded acres in Stowe, the Trapp Family Lodge boasts forested vistas that reminded the von Trapp family of Austria. You might be familiar with some of the von Trapp story from The Sound of Music. What you might not know is that the von Trapp’s arrived in the United States with only four dollars. To earn a living, they turned their love of song into a family business and created the Trapp Family Singers. With their earnings, they purchased acreage with a small farmhouse, and in 1950, welcomed their first guests. Today, at almost three times the size, it’s one of Vermont’s most beloved resorts.

Owned and managed by the von Trapp family, the lodge features Austrian-inspired architecture with touches of European furnishings and décor. Guests can choose main lodge rooms, a variety of one and two-bedroom suites, two and three-bedroom villas, and guest house chalets. Many feature mountain views and have a private or shared balcony. For on-site dining, the lodge’s restaurant serves European-style cuisine made with seasonal items, like Wiener Schnitzel vom Schwein with breaded pork loin, spaetzle, garden dill creme Fraiche, cucumber salad, and lingonberry jam, Trapp pork loin and belly with chestnut puree, baby beets and carrots and honey-ginger jus, and spiced duck breast with toasted caraway honey, braised red cabbage and broccolini rapini.

The resort boasts a plethora of activities with summer concerts, carriage rides, hiking, and skiing on the resort’s trails. Lovers of the von Trapp story will want to join a von Trapp talk to learn more family stories and go on one of their many property tours like touring Maria’s Gardens, the lodge, and the von Trapp Brewery. There are also tours that require a little hike, such as walking to the pasture to meet the herd of Scottish Highland cattle, maple sugaring, and visiting the chapel that Wener von Trapp built. Tours almost always end with a member of the von Trapp family for photo opts and questions. Afterward, enjoy a pint at the Bierhall and savor the deep green forested mountain view of Vermont countryside.

Trapp Family Lodge

9.0 Excellent (1583 reviews)

Float Your Boat


Tucked along the banks of the sixth largest lake in the United States, guests of Basin Harbor can dip their toes in Lake Champlain’s inviting waters the moment they arrive. This fourth generation, 700-acre resort is registered with Historic Hotels of America and is one of the few full-service resorts along the lake. Its idyllic setting draws you away from your phone to relish kayaking along the rocky shores of the lake and romantic evenings where you can soak up the pink and yellow hues of the sunset as they ripple across the lake in front of your private porch.

For lodging, guests have a choice of rooms in the main lodge, suites, houses, and one-bedroom, two-bedroom, and three-bedroom cottages. Some rooms include wet bars, and all have refrigerators, coffeemakers and are decked out in upscale Adirondack-style décor.

To make a serious splash, the Float Your Boat Package includes two tickets on the narrated history cruise, two hours on the water with a kayak as well as a standup paddleboard or outboard motor boating, and breakfast to energize your day. There’s also a swimming beach, water trampoline, waterfront rentals, and a heated swimming pool.

Once your water-soaked skin starts to prune, head to one of the resorts four restaurants for dining and drinks or stretch your sea legs at the fitness center, on the 18-hole golf course, or during a game of tennis or badminton. If you’d like to stay closer to the water, hit some of the rugged trails for mountain biking and hiking or stick to the paved paths for a light bike ride.

Basin Harbor

8.2 Very good (334 reviews)

Try An Aqua Solarium


Stoweflake Mountain Resort & Spa is all about wellness stretched across 50 acres in the town of Stowe. The family-run and operated resort features a spa with 30 treatment rooms and over 150 signature healing and anti-aging remedies. Guest rooms include standard, luxury premier, one-bedroom suites as well as townhouses and a ski house. Room amenities include spa robes, Keurig coffeemakers, and flatscreen TVs. If you’re looking for more ways to relax, choose a room with a fireplace or Jacuzzi tub.

For a weekend of serious self-care, choose the Ayurvedic Lifestyle Immersion Retreat package, which includes three nights accommodation, and an appointment with a certified practitioner who will identify imbalances and restore them through a mix of natural treatments. Another option is a relaxing spa day package. The Best of Stoweflake package includes breakfast and dinner at Charlie B’s Restaurant, a 50-minute spa treatment, and access to the wellness facilities.

One of the highlights of the spa facilities is the Aqua Solarium. Here, you can massage your muscles in a heated pool with two cascading waterfalls or soak in a Hungarian mineral bath. Men and women also have private spa areas with a hot tub, spa, and steam room.

If you’re looking for a bit of fresh air, meander over to the 10,000 square foot meditative garden and work your way through the seven-circuit Zen Labyrinth. Or, for a mix of relaxation and activity, the sports and wellness facilities have a CYBEX fitness center, a women’s only workout center, a spin studio, a dedicated stretching room, indoor and outdoor pools, and classes such as yoga and Pilates.

“Our Resort & Spa, is a place to truly relax, rejuvenate, and restore, and we want each guest to experience each aspect from a treatment, a Hungarian mineral bath, waterfalls, mountain views and a glass of local wine,” said Scot Baraw, Family Owner & VP of Sales, Stoweflake Mountain Resort & Spa. “Even if it’s just for a night or two it’s a way to be transported.”

Stoweflake Mountain Resort & Spa

8.0 Very good (1647 reviews)

Feature image courtesy of Dennis and Ellen Curran, Vermont Dept. of Tourism & Marketing