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January 2, 2011

Castle Hill gives taste of luxury in Vermont

Late last summer, my wife, Marty, and I opted to treat ourselves to a night in a castle.

Summer happens to be off-season for Castle Hill, an impressive inn near Okemo Mountain Resort in Cavendish, Vt. But there's no suboptimal time for staying at such an impressive place.

The castle dates to 1905, when Vermont native Allan M. Fletcher (1853-1922) built it as a retirement home. He'd prospered in banking and as a member of the New York Stock exchange. Idleness didn't suit him, it turned out. By 1902, he had been elected to the state legislature. A decade later he ran a successful campaign to become Vermont's governor.

His accomplishments as governor include establishment of a commission to evaluate schools and colleges in the state, and naming the first woman to the Vermont Board of Education.

ELEGANT INTERIOR

Now, back to the castle.

Modeled after English Cotswold cottages by Boston architectural firm Fehmer and Page, the mansion boasts California redwood and gneiss stone quarried on site for its construction. Perched on a hill outside the village, it offers commanding views of the region. The mid-19th-century carriage house alongside features a spa and fitness center.

Landscaping owes its design to Frederick Law Olmstead Jr., whose firm gained acclaim for developing New York City's Central Park and Montreal's Mount Royal. Gardens on the grounds are scattered amidst rocky outcrops.

European craftsmen brought their skills to bear on the elegant interior. Fine woodworking and ornate molded plaster are apparent in every room. Oak serves as the dominant wood for public spaces, but the impressive oval dining room owes its impact to liberal use of mahogany. Many lighting fixtures are original; Castle Hill claims to have been the first fully electrified home in Vermont. Some of the glasswork came from the Tiffany studios.

We quickly adopted the library as a space for relaxation. Its fireplace and walls of books combine to offer a comfortable contrast to the more formal dining areas.

Our bedroom suite (one of 10 rooms open to travelers) could easily be described as sumptuous. A sitting room and sleeping area flank the old-fashioned (claw-foot tub, anyone?) but smoothly functioning bathroom. Décor includes a four-poster bed and other antique furnishings, tasteful draperies and a functioning fireplace with sconces atop the mantle.

I'm sure that, in his day, Gov. Fletcher would have had his breakfast brought up to his chambers. We found it no great inconvenience, however, to descend the stairs for a continental breakfast heavy on fresh fruits, juices and scones.

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