Come summer, there’s nothing sweeter than kicking back at one of Vermont’s historic, family-run lakefront lodges.
A typical summer day at the Basin Harbor Club begins with stillness. In the hour just after sunrise, mist rises from the waters of Lake Champlain, eventually cloaking the 5,000-foot summits of the Adirondack Mountains that appear on the western horizon.
For Sarah Morris, these early mornings are as familiar as the resort’s 225 acres of gardens, woodlands, coastline and quaint one-room cottages. At age 35, she’s now the fifth generation to run what is one of the oldest family-owned resorts in the United States. And while she’s bringing it into the future, she’s careful about preserving its sacred past.
Tucked away from high winds and nearby towns on 700 acres in Ferrisburgh, the resort’s 74 clapboard cottages sit nestled in the cedar and oak that lines the rocky shores of Lake Champlain. The cabins have no TVs but there is an 18-hole golf course with views of the Adirondacks. The main lodge, built in 1810, is draped with hundred-year-old Dutchman’s Pipe vines.
“It’s a place where people come, year after year, to be together and put down their screens, their busy lives. We’ve watched kids grow up here, seen lifelong guests get married,” says Morris. “There’s a really heartfelt feeling of home and family.”
Endearingly old-fashioned traditions endure: like a strict only-Vermont-maple-syrup policy, and a somewhat less strict recommendation that men wear sports jackets and ties at dinner. That’s when the dining room at the main lodge transforms into Ardelia’s, offering fine dining inspired by produce grown on farms throughout Addison County. From June through October, guests can enjoy more casual dockside dining with live music at the 63-slip marina. Sip a glass of wine while you take in the sunset over the mountains and the lake from an Adirondack chair, strategically placed to help you find the best vantage point on the lawn, or in one of the property’s award-winning gardens.
In Morris’ tenure, the resort has created new state-of-the-art conference spaces, relaxed its dress code (ties and jackets are no longer mandatory at dinner) and added new events like the Basin Harbor Sprint Triathlon series (June 19 and July 6). In addition to classics like croquet, badminton and paddleboats, the resort now offers SUP lessons, mountain biking, water skiing, sailing and even glass-bottom boat tours of the more than 300 shipwrecks that haunt Lake Champlain, some of which date back to the Revolutionary War.
To the north lies another long-standing family establishment: The Inn at Shelburne Farms. Open from mid-May through late October, the Inn sits on the shores of Lake Champlain, in the midst of a 1,400-acre working dairy farm. The 24-room inn is a masterpiece of Victorian architecture, with ornate gardens and paths that lead to the shores of the lake. Originally built in 1888 as the country home of Dr. William Seward and Lila Vanderbilt Webb, it now operates as part of a nonprofit, founded in 1972 by Lila Webb’s great-grandchildren.
You can even spend a night in the elegant Overlook Room, Lila Webb’s corner bedroom on one of the upper floors of the mansion, which offers sweeping views of Lake Champlain and the gardens below. Explore more than 10 miles of trails that wind through pastures and woods to other grand buildings like the Coach, Breeding, and Farm Barns.
For dinner, breakfast or Sunday brunch, enjoy dishes like nettle rigatoni, with free-range sausage made in-house from pork raised at the farm, sunchokes and spinach from the farm garden. The Farm Barn is home to Shelburne Farms’ cheesemaking operations and the children’s farmyard, an education facility where kids can learn to milk a cow or assist with the daily chicken roundup while parents taste cheddar or freshly-baked sourdough loaves and pastries from O-Bread, the onsite artisanal bakery.
As the crow flies, the Champlain Islands are just a few miles from Burlington—and you can easily bike there across the Colchester Causeway. But they feel like they
are a world apart. The North Hero House and Restaurant sits in a sheltered cove, facing the Green Mountains. When the inn was first built in 1891, it welcomed guests to its 26 rooms via steamship. Today, it’s home to one of the best farm-to-table restaurants in the state, two bars, a marina and a sandy beach—a rare treat on the rocky shores of Lake Champlain.
Walter Blasburg, a graduate of the University of Vermont and former investment banker, has owned the Inn since 1997. Under his leadership, it’s become a dining destination, with treats like pan-seared scallops over sweet potato and local pasture-raised pork belly hash, with spring peas and asparagus grown in the islands, topped with toasted pistachios.
The rooms are stylish—with wrought iron four-poster beds and balconies that overlook the lake, wood stoves and even a tiny cottage called the Cove House, which is home to the Cobbler’s Suite. The thick stone walls
date back to 1811 and open onto a private lakeside patio, with a pine log bed and fireplace to retreat to after a day biking the islands’ scenic roads, or sampling wines at Vermont’s oldest winery, Snow Farm Vineyards or at East Shore Vineyard.
If you head inland to the heart of the Northeast Kingdom, you’ll find one of the state’s most pristine lakes: Lake Caspian. Just across the road from the lake’s longest stretch of private beachfront sits the Highland Lodge, an 1860s farmhouse turned inn. In the summer of 2016, Heidi Lauren Duke, an opera director previously based in New York City, purchased the property with three other families. Along with it, they got the 132 acres of woods, which are laced with a network of cross-country ski trails.
Duke has created a chic but homey bar, serving Hill Farmstead beers like the Edward, brewed in nearby Greensboro, and craft cocktails like the Barr Hill Bee’s Knees, flavored with herbs from the kitchen garden. Sip them on the Queen Ann wraparound porch while you enjoy sunset over the water and a steak from nearby Sawmill Brook Farm.
Pete’s Greens provides much of the produce that flows through the kitchen, along with other local proprietors. On Mondays and Tuesdays, Hardwick-based Caja
Madera serves fresh tacos and other fare by the water from their food truck, with house-infused jalapeno margaritas in the twilight.
Canoes, SUPs, sailboats and kayaks are available to guests, who can escape the main house for a night in one of the lakeside 1920s-era cabins. Catch live music every Friday night at the lodge or theater productions like L’Odeur de Moliere: The Doctor and the Dowry (July 12) at Highland Center for the Arts, located nearby in Hardwick.
To the east in Fairlee, Lake Morey Resort graces the shores of a 600-acre tarn that is surrounded by rolling mountains. A quiet, winding road, perfect for walking or biking traces the shoreline, and loons call at dusk. The 130-room inn was built in 1900, as were the first nine holes of the now 18-hole golf course.
Today, it’s operated by the third generation of the Avery-Borden family. In the winter, the inn offers skate rentals for a 4.5-mile skate trail that is groomed annually around Lake Morey. In the summer, it offers beautiful gardens, water skiing, tennis, golf, access to a private beach and SUP among other activities.
Situated on smaller Echo Lake, just north of Ludlow and Okemo Mountain Resort, the Echo Lake Inn is a step back in time. The inn was built in 1840 as a Victorian summer hotel and Calvin Coolidge, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone have all enjoyed meals in the farmhouse-style dining room.
Like Basin Harbor, it’s the sort of place families come back to for generations, as evidenced by the cocktail list, which often features a few drinks named for patrons. Sip a Moorzitz Tom Collins as you try the chevre and spiced apple ravioli with toasted walnuts in alfredo sauce with sun-dried tomatoes, sage pesto and tomato concasse.
If you’re used to visiting Vermont for its mountains, consider that there’s nothing that says summertime more than taking the plunge into one of the state’s pristine lakes. The opportunity to slow down, explore the shore, or fall asleep to the sound of lapping waves is all the more valuable in today’s busy world.
At Basin Harbor, Morris sees that every day. “This is the kind of place where people take the time to write a letter, to take a long walk, and make friends.” That—and family—are what brought her back as an adult. “I’ve still never found anywhere quite like Vermont in the summertime.”
LODGES ON THE LAKE
Basin Harbor Club, Vergennes: $119-$1,700 basinharbor.com
Echo Lake Inn, Ludlow: $229-$500 per night for summer and fall. $215-$720 per night
in winter. Includes breakfast for two. echolakeinn.com
Highland Lodge, Greensboro: $140-$300, highlandlodge.com
Lake Morey Resort, Fairlee: $229-$339 per night for summer. lakemoreyresort.com
North Hero House, North Hero: $140-$350 per night. Includes breakfast for two. northherohouse.com
The Inn at Shelburne Farms, Shelburne: Open seasonally from May to October. $175-$600 shelburnefarms.org
Featured Photo Caption: A guest catches the sunset at one of the 74 lakeside cottages at the Basin Harbor Club. Photo courtesy the Basin Harbor Club.