Topnotch scores big points for approachable luxury

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Visitors have certain expectations of Stowe, Vt., given the mountain resort's reputation as the Aspen of the East. This is the kind of ski town where affluent visitors mingle with locals, and designer linens sit on shop shelves next to maple sugar candy and hand-knitted mittens.

Topnotch Resort and Spa walks that line between tony and laid-back by creating an ambience well suited to both. The AAA Four Diamond property is ideally suited to avid skiers looking to test their mettle at Stowe Mountain Resort nearby.

While the spa and elegant restaurant are designed to draw adults looking for an upscale experience, the property also pursues families and that most difficult-to-please demographic of all, teens. I paid a visit with my 14-year-old daughter and her friend.

The 68-room hotel shows off both sides of its personality immediately upon arrival. Uniformed bellmen are stationed at the front door, but the formality is mitigated by the informal great room, outfitted with cozy seating and a big, stuffed moose.

Before I had finished checking in, the girls made themselves at home by sampling the cookies and tea served on winter afternoons and putting their feet up by the fire.

Guest rooms were renovated to the tune of $25 million in 2005, and the results are a mix of European and New England charm.

Our rooms had all the high-tech gear a teen's heart could desire, including a DVD player and free Wi-Fi, but it was the spa and pools that got them changed and out the door before I'd set down my suitcase.

The newly renovated 35,000-square-foot Spa at Topnotch makes a splash, thanks to hardwood floors, intricate tile work and fireplaces. Of the 120 treatments, I opted for the Little River Stone massage, a 75-minute hot-stone treatment priced from $160 and designed to stave off winter chills.

The girls experienced the spa with 50-minute Deluxe Hand Renewal treatments, priced at $50 apiece. Older teens can take advantage of a Teen Tune-Up treatment, which includes a session with a certified personal trainer.

Stowe, about five miles away, is chock-full of high-end restaurants, so we expected a lot from hotel eatery Norma's. It delivers the requisite gourmet cuisine, such as coffee-rubbed duck with dried-cherry chutney and gravlax cured with maple syrup and Calvados. But there was plenty of country fare that the girls appreciated, such as gigantic pancakes with fresh fruit. The menu is seasonal, with local, organic ingredients.

The decor is ultramodern, with an open kitchen, but we found it hard to concentrate on our surroundings when faced with views of the surrounding mountains.

While winter visitors will likely focus on skiing, we discovered that the indoor tennis center operates year-round. The girls signed up for a one-hour lesson with a pro for $85. Half-hour lessons also are available for $48, but the most popular lesson for children is the three-hour Academy, priced at $120 per person.

Skiers and snowboarders can hop a free shuttle to and from Stowe Mountain Resort, and ski equipment is available at the hotel's Nordic Barn Recreational Center, open year-round. There, guests can rent equipment for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, mountain biking and canoeing.

A ski concierge is on hand to deliver lift passes to hotel guest rooms and take their skis to the Nordic Barn for a tune up.

A winter deal for two includes deluxe room, guided snowshoe tour, spa treatment and one dinner, without alcohol. The price is $595 per night for two, a savings of 20%. The offer is valid Sundays to Thursdays, excluding holidays and based on availability.

To contact reporter Felicity Long, send e-mail to [email protected].

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