Snowshoeing in Vermont, and a stay at the sublime Twin Farms luxury lodge...
An Autumnal view of the Twin Farms lake, 'pub' and main building. Photo Twin Farms
Three days of snow-shoeing in subzero temperatures through wintry Vermont, followed by a stay at the superluxurious Twin Farms.
It was midday, I was about to trek into the forest and the mercury was pinned to a breathtaking -22C. With night-time and wind-chill factored in, -52C was forecast, and incessant weather advisories urged keeping all pets and relatives indoors. I was well prepared, though, with a tin of Fisherman’s Friends, a biography of Shackleton, appropriate clothing and Brent, my local guide.
While Brent locked up his 4WD and I tried some manoeuvring in the shoes, two snow-mobiles appeared. One of the riders removed his helmet and said in a drawl: “Hi, fella, you one of the rescue party out lookin’ for those two guys missin’ on the mountain?” “No,” I said, “I’m a tourist from the UK trying out snowshoeing for the first time. Would you like a Fisherman’s Friend?” But before I could open the lid, they had sped away, shaking their heads.
Snowshoeing and cross country skiing by the lodge. Photo Twin Farms
Unlike clown boots and flippers (the other comedy footwear greats), snowshoes have evolved: no longer tied-on tennis rackets, they’re ultralight and fiercely cramponned. That said, it still feels like your feet are fixed to tea trays. Surprisingly soon, though, I was striding out quite comfortably.
The only sounds were the swish-tharumph of our footsteps and the eerie crack of frozen trees being snapped by gusts of wind. But it was the extreme cold that screamed the loudest. A cold so brutal that it gave me ice-cream headaches, and smacked my ears like I’d been Tango’d by a giant sorbet. Snowshoes let you tramp off trail over any terrain, but they’re not swift, and after what seemed like an ice age, we’d only made five miles. Eventually, we reached the cosy- looking hut, but were soon sapped of exertion’s warmth in the ferocious cold. A frying pan of snow on top of the log-fuelled stove took 45 minutes just to melt, and all that for a boil-in-the-bag spaghetti the texture of regurgitated baby food. I “slept” fully clothed, cocooned in a sleeping bag and blankets, and was disturbed through the night by crying coyotes and longing dreams of Christmas jumpers past.
The sumptuously comfortable 'Log Cabin', one of 11 themed cottages. Photos Twin Farms
It was a 20-minute drive from snowshoes to no shoes, and within minutes of entering my chalet, I was bathrobed and barefoot. It was the most super-sumptuous interior I’ve ever seen — a delightful balance of furnishings, art and lighting, with an oversized log fire already lit. And everything, from hearth rug to bath tap, as warm as a New England muffin.
Typical bathtub and fine-bathing accessories. Photo Twin Farms
Gliding into the giant tub of hot water through cliffs of foam, I immersed myself in the ultimate bathe. As the Bose boomed out the soul-soaring soundtrack from The Mission, I traced spirals in the air with my hand-blown Simon Pearce goblet of vintage port, periodically popping morsels of Vermont cheddar into my mouth.
Relais & Chateaux assure only exquisite cuisine. Photo Twin Farms
The view of the sun-streaked, snowy forest perfectly capped the sublime sensation. I’d been out there, in the grip of nature’s frozen vice, and as the aches dissolved, I had the urge to repeat my survival mantra one last time. I plucked up the rubber duck and asked: “Would you like a Fisherman’s Friend?” Twin Farms is a revelation — the 11 cottages and four rooms are each exquisitely themed, the food and wines are outstanding, and the staff are there for your every need (when I went ice-skating on the pond, a bonfire was lit and a tray of piping-hot chocolate and cookies magically appeared).
The miracle hot chocolate man. Photo Twin Farms
I wondered how deep the snow would need to be before I was stranded here for another night, or two or three ...
Perhaps the most comfy bed I've ever slept in, in the 'Log Cabin'. Photo Twin Farms
I travelled as a guest of British Airways and Twin Farms
Reasons to be cheerful: The 20 rooms are spaced out across several old farm buildings - the main one dating from 1795 - and ten cottages, themselves in 300 acres of meadows, forest, and ponds.
You can't always get what you want: Twin Farms doesn’t come cheap, from £790 for a suite, or from £1,220 for a cottage, but does include three gourmet meals per day (and wines from the 26,000 bottle cellar), an open public bar, games room, fitness centre, spa treatments, and Japanese-style Furo.
How to fit Twin Farms into a trip: the wonderful Winvian is 145 miles southwest of Boston, in sleepy northern Connecticut. Fifteen architects were let loose on 18 cottages, which range from elegant to extraordinary – including a restored 1968 Sikorsky Sea King helicopter, or huge Stone Cottage with a Flintstone inspired fireplace, or a Beaver Lodge with a stick-and-twig dam effect hanging over the bed. If on a budget you can hunker down for a lot less at Blueberry Hill Inn - a lovely timber framed mansion in the Green Mountain National Forest with a sunny conservatory and cosy doubles from £79. Or in north Vermont is the luxurious Stowe Mountain Lodge, with doubles from £139.
Getting there: Twin Farms is 140 miles northwest of Boston near the little town of Woodstock, Vermont. Boston Logan Airport handled 33 million passengers in 2015 and has flights across the USA, and to Canada, Mexico and Europe. Flights to London are operated by British Airways, Delta and Virgin Atlantic. Air France flies from Paris, Lufthansa from Frankfurt and Munich, Swiss International from Zurich, and Alitalia from Rome. JetBlue, Southwest and Spirit fly to many domestic destinations.
Visa and safety: Always check your government's travel advice before booking, and check that your travel insurance is valid in this country. See here for the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office advice