North & South: elegant inns cater to reunions

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by Jacky Runice

If you can describe your next reunion as “busloads of us” and the sheer size resembles the marines hitting beach, high rise hotels, simple budget inns and rustic cabins are probably the best accommodations for your group. If your bunch is a more intimate size, treat your chums and loved ones to the richness of our glorious past as reflected in a grand old inn.

There’s a reason more folks choose Hawaii and Vermont as destination or out-of-town weddings. Both offer natural beauty, outdoor recreation and a dreamy sense of other-worldliness. Hawaii, however, may be an unrealistic distance and expense for many groups. An easy 75-minute drive from the Albany, New York, airport, consider southern Vermont for your next gathering. With the Green Mountains of Vermont as majestic background, The Equinox Hotel delivers history and old-fashioned elegance today’s travelers rarely see.

Start with lunch at the hotel’s Marsh Tavern, the original structure of the resort, and you’re in for an exhilarating history lesson. Within a few years of it’s 1769 beginning, the tavern became a meeting place for American Revolutionaries like the legendary “Green Mountain Boys.” Today, Marsh Tavern features hardy New England fare (clam chowder and chicken pot pie) and American folk music on weekends and every night during summer. In 1863, Mrs. Abraham Lincoln and her two sons vacationed at The Equinox and liked it so much she made plans to return the following summer with her husband, the president. A special suite was constructed in anticipation of Lincoln’s visit, but he was assassinated before his planned trip. Arrange to attend Sunday brunch in the AAA Four Diamond Colonade dining room. Revel in the high ceilings, deep navy walls, view of the courtyard and pianist accompanying your stroll around the fabulous feast. Open seasonally, the Dormy Grill, at the clubhouse of Gleneagles Golf Course, serves evening Lobsterfests on weekends. There’s always room for private dining for up to 300 throughout the hotel including the Colonade, Marsh Tavern, The Equinox Pond House and ten meeting rooms. The Library is a quiet place to read and have a cup of tea by the crackling fire or pull up a rocking chair outdoors to relax and get a view of Mount Equinox.

Located in Manchester Village on Historic Route 7A, The Equinox actually covers 2,000 acres including the upscale Charles Orvis Inn, a fitness spa that’s being expanded, an 18-hole championship-quality golf course, part of Mount Equinox itself and The Equinox Pond. The world-famous Orvis Fly-Fishing School calls Manchester home and the American Museum of Fly-Fishing is next to the hotel. The resort has 15,000 square-feet of meeting space and the Lincoln garden with blooming peony and crab trees is a popular wedding locale. The Equinox is also breaking ground for a new ballroom.

Activities are seasonal in southern Vermont and at The Equinox. The Equinox golf course was recently selected as a top ten “women friendly” course by Golf for Women readers. Opened in 1927, golf architect Rees Jones renovated the course, bringing it to modern standards. The British School of Falconry is the first of it’s kind in the US that offers hands-on lessons in commanding hawks and falcons. Get your group together to try one of the world’s oldest sports: introductory and advanced programs and hunts are your options.

Cruise mountain trails and a purpose-built course at the Land Rover 4 X 4 Driving School, the first manufacturer-supported, off-road driving school in the nation, open year-round. The school offers group programs and packages including accommodations. Even children as young as six can experience Off-Road Driving thrills. The “Junior Country Pursuits” Adventure (April 15 – October 31, 2002) invites youngsters to drive Land Rovers, fly cast for trout and handle hawks, just like Mom and Dad, on a smaller scale.

Enjoy three tennis courts, two swimming pools and some 900 acres of The Equinox Preservation Trust for hiking, biking and climbing in summer, just a few miles off the Appalachian and Long Trails. Trail rides and horseback riding lessons, canoeing and fishing are other activity ideas. Southern Vermont’s Battenkill River teems with trout from April to October. The hotel’s own 14-acre trout pond is stocked twice each year and 24-inchers aren’t uncommon catches. Of course, your group can learn fly-fishing’s finer points at the world-renowned Orvis Fly-Fishing School. The Orvis Shooting School offers sporting clays year round and upland bird, grouse and deer hunting seasonally.

Imagine hopping aboard the “Green Mountain Flyer,” a restored diesel train that takes a 26-mile scenic journey from nearby Chester and Bellows Falls across covered bridges and farms amid spectacular fall colors. Or, take a drive up Mount Equinox to visit a monastery that sells its own cheese and sausage.

In winter, The Equinox offers alpine ski packages to Bromley and Stratton Mountain The hotel’s own Cross Country Touring Center beckons with Nordic skiing, snowmobiling, snowshoeing and skating.

Not skilled in traditional sports? Manchester is a portal into heaven for the serial shopper. The Village Shops across from The Equinox offer distinctive Vermont clothing, crafts and antiques. Walk a mile down the marbled sidewalk to town for designer outlet shops such as Armani, Dior, Coach, Donna Karan, Timberland, Calvin Klein and more. I found a $49 boy’s shirt, at the Orvis outlet, going for $10 bucks as well as a $98 silk blouse for a remarkable $29. All ages will want to browse the famous Vermont Country Store, in Weston, with its floor to ceiling displays of the practical and the unusual. Consider side trips to Ben & Jerry’s Factory Tours or the Vermont Teddy Bear Factory.

The main building houses 136 rooms, including five Presidential suites. Adjacent townhouses offer nine luxury suites (27 bedrooms in total) with kitchens and fireplaces. For a truly sumptuous experience, consider the Charles Orvis Inn, the renovated home of fly-fishing guru, Charles Orvis.
The Equinox and southern Vermont welcome families and other groups with history, old-fashioned hospitality and novel recreation. For rates and packages, call The Equinox at 800-362-4747 or visit www.equinoxresort.com.

You’ll hear various theories from Maconites about why Union General Sherman bypassed the hilly town and thus saved numerous antebellum homes from destruction. After the war, thankfully, Macon, Georgia, didn’t become a boomtown like Atlanta so it doesn’t suffer from annoying sprawl. Visitors needn’t worry their pretty little heads about why the quaint town remains that way, but instead how and when to get to Macon, a hamlet that boasts thousands of landmarks listed on the National Register of Historic Places, including the piece de resistance, the 1842 Inn. The Greek Revival residence is steeped in history, legend and the winning hospitality of a more kindly time. Get ready to call every gal, from the tiniest babe to women of a certain age, “Miss” plus their first name, as in “Miss Earline” and “Miss Shari.”

Every corner of two parlors is filled with historic furnishings and masculine Southern charm. One of the 22 guestrooms bears the name of the inn’s original owner, John Gresham, an attorney, judge, cotton merchant and mayor of Macon. Imagine Gresham’s son peering out the second floor windows as Union soldiers blast in the distance. Other rooms are named for people and things close to Georgia’s soul: the Dogwood room for the southern tree; Wesleyan is a homage to the first college chartered to grant women degrees; and DeSoto, named for the Spanish explorer who sought gold in Georgia. Everyone will appreciate accommodations with fine linens, period antiques, fresh flowers and portraits. Some rooms boast fireplaces and whirlpool tubs.

Choose whether to have your complimentary continental breakfast in the privacy of your room, the courtyard garden or the sunny parlor. Then, it’s time to pull up a chair on the 17-column, wrap around verandah so your party can contemplate the day’s choices for touring. Set your gaze to the Masse House, right next to the inn. Playwright Tennessee Williams stayed with the Masses and based his “Big Daddy” character, from “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” on the patriarch.

The Georgia Music Hall of Fame is a wonderful intergenerational option entertaining fans of performers as diverse as Lena Horne, Tommy Dorsey, the B-52s and Trisha Yearwood. Thematic exhibits offer plenty of interactive fun, musical artifacts and nostalgia. Hometown boys, the Allman Brothers, have their own shrine here as well as in the magnificent Rosehill Cemetery where Berry Oakley and Duane Allman rest. Make a date with some of the most interesting dead people during one of Phil Comer’s “Rose Hill Rambles” Cemetery Tours (478-742-5001). The native Maconite enchants guests with his breadth of local history knowledge and lore from the Confederate graves to those of the aforementioned rock stars. Halloween ideas, anyone?

Drive a NASCAR simulator, kick the winning field goal and throw the last second TD pass on a football field or shoot hoops at the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame. In the museum’s theater, you can sit in a stadium of yesteryear or be part of the crowd at old Ponce de Leon Park in Atlanta where the historic Crackers played.

The Georgia Music Hall of Fame, Sports Hall of Fame and the Tubman African American Museum are within walking distance of each other. The Tubman features achievements of great American inventors, artists, writers, musicians, military leaders and more. There will be a new larger Tubman Museum in 2003.

History buffs won’t want to miss the Cannonball House where a Union shell remains after it crashed through the parlor and rolled across the floor in an 1864 attack.

A trolley stop across the street from the 1842 Inn, takes visitors to all of the aforementioned attractions for a mere 25 cents, as well as famed poet Sidney Lanier’s cottage and the historic Douglas Theater where Little Richard and Otis Redding performed in the 1950s. The restored theatre now serves as a state-of-the-art film, performance and meeting venue.

The Macon-Bibb County Convention & Visitors Bureau (800-768-3401) or email at maconcvb@maconga.org can inform reunion planners about “Around-Town Tours,” packaged attractions at up to 25% discount including historic homes, interactive museums and trolley transportation. Thousands of Macon’s acres are National Register Historic Districts. You won’t want to miss National Historic Landmark Hay House, an Italian Renaissance Revival Villa, completed in 1859, featured on A&E’s “America’s Castles as the Palace of the South.” Ocmulgee National Monument reaches way back 12,000 years ago to Native American life with great earthen mounds, artifacts and dioramas.

Back at the 1842 Inn, the daily hospitality hour lingers from 5:30 to 7 PM. This is the south, so indulge in one of Miss JoAnne’s persuasive mint juleps while younger travelers nibble freshly baked cheese straws, cold chicken salad on crackers or warm artichoke dip. Emma Williamson, another of the Inn’s fine associates, may get the little hairs on the back of your neck to stand at attention with her ghostly experiences in the AAA Four Diamond property. Williamson and JoAnne Dillard are Macon graciousness experts.

Music fans must have dinner at the Tic Toc Room, where Little Richard held court in the early 1960’s. Remember the singer’s “Long Tall Sally?” She was a daughter of the site’s original owner. Today, the restaurant boasts a young chef who does wild and wonderful things with fried green tomatoes, Macon-style crab cakes and other southern delights. Bert’s, on lively Cherry Street, kicks Southern food up a notch with offerings such as “New Southern Grits Cakes (ladled with roasted pepper cream sauce and grilled portobello mushrooms) and an astonishing wine list. For incredibly cheap and down-home barbecue, townsfolk swear by Fincher’s BBQ. A pig (chopped pork) sandwich or a Brunswick stew will set you back $1.83. The restaurant boasts that it was the first BBQ to go in space in the 1989 space shuttle. (Finally, the government making good choices!) Fincher’s caters, too.

The 1842 Inn is a perfectly delicious retreat for groups who want to experience the kindness of strangers. Call 800-336-1842 or mosey over www.1842inn.com especially if you want to visit during the annual Cherry Blossom Festival. Macon’s 270,000 flowering cherry trees are celebrated in the Cherry Blossom Capital of the World each March. The 1842 Inn has a 25 person meeting space, pets are allowed and it is handicap accessible. Y’all come down now, ya hear?

About the author
Journalist/Editor Jacky Runice has penned a weekly travel column for Chicago’s Daily Herald since 1994 and writes about travel and dining for USAToday.com; CBS Local Chicago; and Examiner.com. She expands her repertoire at Kane, Lake and McHenry County (IL) Magazines with articles about everything from healthy living to technology. A former Chicago radio talk show host, Jacky has three grown children who have inherited her love of sampling new cultures, countries and cuisine.

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