Let’s be honest. Sometimes, you just want to pamper yourself, or that someone special. I’m totally on board with this philosophy. In this crazy world, we all need an escape from time to time. If your travels take you to the Mad River Valley in central Vermont, you can’t find a better diversion than the luxurious Pitcher Inn in Warren, just a short 3 miles down the hill from Sugarbush Resort.
There is so much “right” about this property, and this town, it’s difficult to know where to start. One of my favorite T-shirts, since “borrowed” by my youngest daughter, is a slate green model that proclaims: “Warren, VT —A small drinking town with a big skiing problem.” Perfect. Warren, with a number of Civil Warera structures that have withstood the test of time and a litany of harsh Vermont winters, is a quintessential New England village, the epitome of Yankee charm.
Nothing defines that ephemeral sense of rough-cut elegance more than the luxurious Pitcher Inn. Nestled in the heart of Warren, this sturdy, stately white clapboard structure has a long history, much like the village itself. The town was first established in 1789, named after Dr. Joseph Warren, a Revolutionary War hero. For almost 180 years, the main occupations were farming the fertile valley lands or working the grist mills that dotted the river.
Today, the town is home to almost 2,000 year-round residents and houses the eclectic Warren Store (where I bought my aforementioned T-shirt), Mad River Distillers and the Warren-Sugarbush Airport (for a special treat, check out the glider rides with Sugarbush Soaring during warmer months).
The Pitcher Inn got a new lease on life in 1997, when the family of Sugarbush Resort partner Win Smith bought the property. That purchase made good business sense, given the inn’s location near, but not adjacent, to Sugarbush and Mad River Glen. Owned by Smith’s ex-wife and daughter — Maggie and Heather Smith — the inn is still a member of the high-end global Relais & Chateaux firm, an association of “more than 550 landmark hotels and restaurants operated by independent innkeepers, chefs and owners who share a passion for their businesses.”
The inn features 11 exceptionally appointed rooms (two suites and nine guest rooms), each reflecting a delightful chapter of Vermont’s past and favorite pastimes, highlighted by handmade furniture, local artwork and antiques and whimsical touches. All rooms come with a full country breakfast, outrageously comfy beds fitted with linens from France, and bathrooms stocked with thick towels, bathrobes and natural bath products from Whisper Hill of Quechee, Vt.
“Ski” is the room most closely aligned to my personal passions. An ode to the Green Mountain State’s beloved winter activity, the room’s exposed wood ceilings and walls, combined with rich leather furnishings and fireplace, create an unmatched sense of warmth after a day up on the hill or traipsing around town. The room features numerous clever, heartwarming details, including old wooden skis, nostalgic posters, toboggans that serve as the bed’s headboard, vintage trail maps and signs, and even a lift-ticket booth. Of course, such creature comforts make it difficult to leave — I look at it more as a great place to come home to.
Likewise, “Mountain” is a multi-room cabin in the woods, featuring a roughhewn yet well-appointed décor. The suite features a king-size bed in a replicated firetower, a separate sitting area with an impressive slate fireplace that begs for a hot chocolate or a nice port, snowshoes and plush easy chairs that make snuggling up with a good book seem like the ultimate in serenity. You’ll also find a wet bar and a fabulous bathroom — complete with steam shower and jetted soaking tub — that will help alleviate all those après-ski aches.
Bringing the kids? Consider “Hayloft,” a sumptuous two-bedroom suite at the top of the inn’s barn, highlighted by leather club chairs, brick fireplace, a red chimney rising through the roof, farmhouse antiques, king-size beds, two bathrooms with jetted tubs and separate showers. Hayloft is kid-friendly and dogfriendly, making it perfect for families.
Another family friendly option is “Stable,” a two-bedroom suite tucked into the inn’s original livery stables. One bedroom has a splendid king-size bed and lavish private bathroom, while the other has two twin beds and another bathroom. Stable is a welcoming space, with many complimentary activities and amenities, making it just right for a family with children under 12. And, again, the family pooch is welcome.
Meanwhile the “Trout” room celebrates another great New England pastime — fly fishing — filled with antique fishing and paddling paraphernalia, plus a jumbo trout benevolently overlooking it all from its perch on the wall. History buffs will cherish “School,” a “re-imagining” of a one-room schoolhouse, with wall murals depicting a variety of seasons and a library coming alive with fairy-tale figures.
For those who prefer something a little more decadent, check out “Lodge.” This deluxe space honors ancient classical themes, embodied by the eagletopped bed, reminiscent of Cleopatra’s throne, and a magnificent fireplace. Lodge’s striking bathroom, composed of enormous marble slabs, evokes images of the great baths of Rome.
Again, the guest rooms are so inviting, the temptation after a full day on the hill might be to simply slip into your PJs and hunker down. Don’t. Otherwise, you’ll miss out on the inn’s outstanding lounge and dining rooms.
Tracks Lounge is a throwback, with a backcountry décor that practically begs you to sink into the living room-style seating. The bartenders are sociable and skilled. Enjoy a classic Martini, Cosmopolitan or one of several house specialty cocktails. Since winter is bourbon season for me, I’ll order the Tracks Manhattan, featuring the ultra-smooth Woodford Reserve Bourbon, orange bitters and Antica, served with a port-soaked cherry. My wife, Lauri, is partial to the Lemon Waltz, a tasty blend of Green Mountain Organic Lemon Vodka, lemon juice, coconut water, soda and lemon peel, served on the rocks. Yum.
At dinner at 275 Main, oenophiles will delight in the inn’s extensive wine cellar, with more than 500 bottles (during my first visit, 15 years ago, I was introduced to the wonderful Malbec varietals). If you’re uncertain about choosing the appropriate wine, don’t fret. The inn’s knowledgeable wait staff is happy to make recommendations. The menu changes often, due to the inn’s commitment to sourcing locally, but you can always count on the offerings of executive chef Adam Longworth to cover the gamut, from surf to turf to the garden.
For starters, or if you’re dining light, cold dishes like steak tartar, with avocado, yuzu, soy, scallion and toast, or a selection of artisanal Vermont cheeses, featuring Mad River Bleu, Von Trapp Oma, Cabot Clothbound Cheddar, and crackers, may do the trick, though I’m partial to the grilled octopus. But those are strictly appetizers, in my book — the real meal is found in the entrees.
Being a meat-and-potatoes Irishman, I’m usually tempted by the inn’s exceptional red-meat offerings, such as the Wagyu hanger steak, with fingerling potatoes, spinach, thumbelina carrots, cilantro and chimichurri. Lauri is more likely to go the seafood route, with dishes like the porcini-crusted halibut, with cauliflower, leek, red grape, lemon emulsion. It’s hard to make a recommendation, only because we’ve never had a bad meal here.
Now, to be fair, dining at the inn is not an inexpensive proposition. That’s not an issue for some folks. But for the majority of us, the hefty price of dining, and lodging, at the Pitcher Inn is commensurate with the atmosphere, and overall value. In short, it’s money well spent. However, if you don’t have a limitless credit line, there are other terrific dining choices nearby, including Fit To Be Thai’d, Hyde Away Inn & Restaurant, Shepherd’s Pub and American Flatbread.
Adding even more bang for your hard-earned buck, Pitcher Inn guests enjoy complimentary access to the Sugarbush Health and Racquet Club. This well-appointed health and fitness facility, less than 10 minutes away, features cardio equipment, free weights and circuit training, indoor facilities with a pool, Jacuzzi, sauna, squash court, racquetball courts and three covered tennis courts.
Other complimentary activities include the inn’s Maple Games Room, which has a salon-size pool table and tabletop shuffleboard. Outside, grab a pair of snowshoes, or hit the nearby hillsides about a Mad River Rocket sled — just bring your ski helmet, as a precaution (and the Advil if you’re over 35). Feeling really sore? Call the Pitcher Inn’s front desk and schedule a private in-room massage. After all, when you’re going for pure indulgence, you might as well go all in.