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Essex Culinary Resort and Spa

Savor luxe comfort in the country – The Essex Resort and Spa

By: Jacqueline Church

“Like all great travelers, I have seen more than I remember, and remember more than I have seen.” – Benjamin Disraeli

Return to a familiar place or go someplace new? It’s age-old traveler’s dilemma. For much of my early life, I’d imagined one day filling a passport before it expired. I could not imagine choosing to return to destination over experiencing a new one. While part of me still yearns for the next horizon, I’ve come to appreciate the subtle joys of getting to know a place more deeply.

At the Essex you can do both. As the property continuously reinvents itself, the key strengths remain true. After several visits, the most recent stay proves that returning to the familiar holds surprises of its own. With hospitality at core, the staff is focused on ensuring each visit lives up to, or exceeds, fond memories of the last.

We noticed immediately the renovations, opening the lobby, the baked goods front and center, culinary touches throughout the rooms. Your guest book is reminiscent of a beloved nostalgic cookbook, to culinary prints on the walls, to an in-room fridge that looks like a retro cooler.

Rugged, Casual, Luxury

One year, it was rope ladders, leaps off 100’ pole, swinging through the canopy of pines. Another visit, an ice wall challenge, and another year a hot air balloon adventure silently gliding over the farms and hills that surround Lake Champlain, Montreal in the distance, the sun rising over the green mountains. Snowshoeing across a frozen pond. You can choose your adventure no matter the season. Staff is eager to assist and the Essex is perfect home base for all sorts of activities. Next up for us is more snow-shoeing in winter, or stand-up paddle boarding in summer.

Or you can stay put and choose luxury. Isn’t relaxation a luxury in and of itself? Pick a hammock with all good intentions of reading that book you brought, until the warmth of the sun and the sway lulls you to sleep. Cozy up to the fireplace, in a plush bathrobe, sipping tea, admiring the snow-covered trees through giant windows. You could fill days with relaxation, sauna, steam, whirlpool, or if you actually want to work out, there’s a gorgeous and well-maintained pool, where you’re pretty likely to have a lane to yourself.

Hungry for More

Culinary arts are more than a theme here. Foodies know this resort was once home to the New England Culinary Institute. You might have heard of their famous alum, Alton Brown. Since the NECI relocated to Montpelier in 2009, the property was rebranded as The Essex Resort & Spa. While the spa alone is worth the visit, there’s no doubt the heart of this resort is culinary.

Food is literally front and center here. At the new check-in desk only those with superhuman willpower can resist buying some delicious baked goods.

Two on site restaurants, Junction and Tavern, showcase local foods and craft beers and distilleries. Both are abundant. At Junction, they put the kitsch in kitchen. Wall art includes a box grater sculpture, and the famous ceiling is adorned with various place settings. Don’t be distracted from the main attraction, the fine food, wine and service you will enjoy. Sit at the counter of the open kitchen and it’s dinner plus a show for one price.

Given the resort’s roots, the stellar food is not a surprise. One might be tempted to dismiss a stop at Junction for the wonderful restaurants a very short drive away. Sometimes on premise dining disappoints. Not so here. Every meal has been a delight. Local products are proudly on display and if you’ve time for stroll through the Burlington Farmers’ Market, you’ll meet many of the growers and producers you’ll see on the chalkboard here. Also featured on the menu are things grown right outside in the garden out back. Go say hello to Stewart and Penelope and the chickens, look over what’s in season.

As a cooking instructor, I lean toward menu choices that meet two criteria: one, those safe bets given my food allergies; and two, things I don’t often make at home, like special treats that are too time consuming for my normal crazy schedule to accommodate. It’s no small thing to have allergies handled safely and with grace, allowing one to actually relax and enjoy the meal in ways that other diners might take for granted. Each meal here has had one or two standout elements in an all-around wonderful meal whose elegance exceeds expectations.

To go even deeper into the realm of the culinary, take a class with chef Dante in the Cook Academy. Classes run the gamut from simple, even kids’ classes, to more elaborate multi-recipe classes. Part demo, part hands-on, there’s opportunity for the level of engagement you desire. Leave with new skills, recipes, and inspiration. You might choose Cooking with Vermont Beer, or Bistro Classics (including torching your own crème brulee!) Meet and dine with other guests and locals returning to learn something new.

Travel to a new destination or return to an old favorite? The choice is yours, but returning to the Essex Resort & Spa, you’ll always find something new in the comfort of the familiar. As Disraeli observed, you may well remember more than you’ve seen, whether its culinary.