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The Castle was first the residence of a wealthy Vermonter.
The Castle was first the residence of a wealthy Vermonter. (Globe Correspondent photo / Bill Regan)
If you go: Castle Hill Resort and Spa
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Heir to a rich history in Vermont

Email|Print| Text size + By Jane Roy Brown
Globe Correspondent / December 18, 2005

PROCTORSVILLE, Vt. -- F. Scott Fitzgerald opined that the rich are different from you and me. Judging from The Castle, a 1905 faux Cotswolds ''cottage" now serving as an inn, he was right.

For one thing, the rich, at least in those days, had bigger closets, and they were lined with cedar. They had leather wall coverings, floor-to-ceiling windows, velvet curtains, and elaborate, dark woodwork. They had little bells in the hallways to summon maids and butlers, who scurried up back stairways to help fasten necklaces and fetch a spot of sherry. As did Fitzgerald's Jay Gatsby, the rich also had lots of friends who came to stay for weeks or entire months, so there needed to be plenty of guest rooms -- rooms that in a less-lavish future came in handy when they could be rented out. The rich had patios for serving cocktails, tennis courts, formal gardens, swimming pools, and woods.

The Castle still has all those amenities. Built by Allen M. Fletcher (1853-1922), a quarrying and timbering magnate who served one term as governor from 1912 to 1915, the building is a stout stone structure. It reflects the somber colors and high craftsmanship of the late Victorian era.

Still, there is no question The Castle was built to showcase wealth. It is now part of Castle Hill Resort and Spa, which has taken the original old-school luxury into a modern dimension.

My husband and I visited midweek, taking advantage of a special package that included two nights' lodging, chilled champagne, a four-course dinner at The Castle's fine-dining restaurant, continental breakfast, and a 30-minute massage at the spa.

The grand entry drive builds anticipation as it leads to a parking lot adjacent to the gray stone building. Inside The Castle, the spacious entry hall, with sightlines to distant hills, makes a dazzling first impression.

In our third-floor room, two easy chairs stood on either side of an ice bucket with the promised champagne, facing a handsome antique bedstead. The bathroom was one of three in the inn's 10 guest rooms outfitted with a deep whirlpool tub. Windows looked out into the woods behind the building. The walk-in cedar closet included a built-in dresser. Another built-in dresser on the adjoining wall supported a coffeemaker and television. The effect was understated luxury.

As tempting as it was to drop into a chair with a good book, a splendid late-fall day invited exploring outdoors. We began with the grounds. The spa, which is open to the public, occupies a renovated shingle-style carriage house near the parking lot. It houses a small gym, locker rooms, saunas for men and women, and rooms for massages and facials. A hot tub and heated outdoor pool are next to the spa.

A condo development (the ''resort" part of the equation) is rising on the crest of a hill behind the other buildings, screened by a stand of old pines. Designed to woo skiers flocking to Okemo Mountain three miles north, the development -- 80 units on 100 acres -- is in the first phase of construction. The buildings are attractive enough, managing to emulate both the shingle-style exterior of the carriage house and the transected rooflines of The Castle; but over time, their population more than their architecture is likely to dominate the experience here.

We moved off-campus to explore the greater area, curious to see what it holds for nonskiers and off-season visitors. The focus in this part of Vermont east of the Green Mountain National Forest and west of Claremont, N.H., is clearly on outdoor recreation. The nearest movie theater, for instance, is 13 miles away in Springfield. Okemo's campus contains a golf course, and Castle Hill has tennis courts. And of course, there are always hikes and scenic drives. A hotel staff member suggested a walk near a covered bridge off Route 131 on Upper Falls Road, which crosses the Black River.

The Castle dining room feels like a private club of the period, staidly comfortable with dark woodwork and an ornately patterned ceiling. A piano player in the entrance hall warmed up the atmosphere. The room's formality seemed to demand at least some dress-up, but midway through our meal a couple walked in wearing jeans and sweatshirts.

Guests using the special package were offered several choices from the larger menu of French-influenced dishes by chef Alphonsus Harris. An excellent herb-seasoned lobster and clam chowder, followed by salads, got the meal off to a strong start. (On the regular dinner menu, appetizers run $7-$9.) Entree choices featured roast chicken breast stuffed with apple and squash with port wine sauce ($17 on the regular menu), filet mignon with blue cheese ($27), Atlantic salmon filet Wellington with beurre blanc ($21), and a vegetable cassoulet with zucchini, tomato, pinto beans, polenta, asparagus, and red pepper coulis ($20). We picked the beef (succulent), and the vegetable cassoulet (too much tomato).

From the many desserts ($7) we chose crème brûlée and a chocolate fondant, which had a soft melted center similar to a soufflé.

Breakfast the next morning was a self-service feast on elegant silver and china, with dark-roast coffee, scones, granola, yogurt, fresh fruit, hard-boiled eggs, toast, and bagels -- all delicious.

Before the drive home, a massage therapist kneaded any remaining tension out of us, the last treat of a great package deal.

Contact Jane Roy Brown, a freelance writer in Western Massachusetts, at janeroybrown@verizon.net.

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