December 27, 2009

We learned about octaves with do-re-mi and fought our fears with a few of our favorite things, but the most important lesson taught by Captain Georg von Trapp and the Baroness Maria von Trapp was the importance of family. The lesson lives on through generations and no where is it more prominent than at the Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, Vermont.

The 1965 movie, “The Sound of Music,” was made famous by Christopher Plummer and Julie Andrews and recounted the voyage of the von Trapp family as they sang their way through Austria to escape Nazi rule. A favorite family film, images of Maria running through the Salzburg hills during the opening credits will forever be burned in our memory. But when the von Trapps moved to America in the 1950s, the hills in Stowe, Vermont, really started to sing.

On a recent trip to the Trapp Family Lodge I had the pleasure of walking the hills with Sam von Trapp, grandson of Maria, and got a first hand look at how the family lodge maintains its family legacy, and welcomes families around the world into their hillside history.

The three-hour drive from Boston winds through some of New England’s most picturesque towns, including a drive through the sleepy town of Stowe. The turn onto Trapp Hill Road takes you up the mountain to the lodge. One step inside and you’re immediately taken by the Austrian-inspired decor and friendly faces eager to welcome you home. Don’t forget to turn around and get a view of the mountains behind you…

The day got underway as we set into our snow-shoes and trekked the hills toward the sugarhouse. Every March, the staff and von Trapp family members start the tradition of maple sugaring, using buckets to collect sap, and using a sled and a team of draft horses to gather sap. The sugar is boiled down in the sugarhouse and used to make the von Trapp’s own maple syrup.

I was scheduled to meet a group at the ski center for a historic tour of the lodge, which one member of the von Trapp family always attends. To my surprise, I was the only one who showed up and the pleasure was truly mine. Nelson, a local actor and Trapp Family Lodge staff member, started the tour with a moving rendition of “Edelweiss”. The words set the tone for what we were about to experience: “Edelweiss, Edelweiss, Every morning you greet me. Small and white, clean and bright; You look happy to meet me. Blossom of snow may you bloom and grow; Bloom and grow forever. Edelweiss, Edelweiss; Bless my homeland forever.”

It’s hard not to imagine Maria and Captain von Trapp reciting those lyrics when they woke each morning to view the snowcapped mountains that graced the Vermont landscape, but there was something even more captivating about the tour – the graveyard. Buried on the hillside is Captain von Trapp, Maria and some of the children, and for those of us who grew up singing their songs it was a privilege to pay respects to the family who kept us singing.

A few things to know about the lodge for your next visit:

1. When you rent skis or snow-shoes you rent for the day. Start in the morning, then break for lunch before hitting the trails again that afternoon.

2. The staff at the ski and snow center are trained professionals and are spectacular with children of all ages. My nephews, ages 12 and 14, had never skied before and were pros by the time they left the mountain (by pros I mean they were having a blast and didn’t want to come inside).

3. There are various trails for various skill sets – ask before you head out and the staff will be sure to point you in the right direction.

4. Request a room on the mountain side – you can ski or snow-shoe directly into your room for a mid-morning retreat before you head back out for afternoon fun.

5.  The lodge is full of ways to get lost. Curl up in one of the reading rooms with a good book by the fireplace and enjoy some quiet time while the kids are on the slopes.

6. The lodge offers a fantastic continental breakfast with hearty fillings to get you going for your day. Don’t miss breakfast, complete with the von Trapp’s own maple syrup! Everything at the lodge is homemade so you can be sure you’re getting the freshest baked breads, corned beef and Linzertorte. Take a walk to the bakery just a few steps down the hill from lodge and treat yourself to a corned beef on rye or the best egg salad in New England.

7. The lodge has its own movie theater and shows kid-friendly shows every night, giving adults some down-time in the lounge with a warm nightcap.

8. Grab at least one evening in the lounge to hear the legendary John Cassel, a jazz musician who has performed with the likes of Bonnie Rait and Gary Burton. His jazz complications and “Sound of Music” medleys will keep you entertained for hours.

9. Rates start at a reasonable $225 for the winter months and spike to around $450 for summer months, but there’s always a deal to be had. Check the website for monthly specials that include free tours, included meals and passes to some of Vermont’s best seasonal events.

10. If you have questions, just ask. The staff at the Trapp Family Lodge – from August at the front door to Andrew at the reservations desk to Jennifer in the back office – are eager to make your visit perfect.

I walked with Sam von Trapp through the lodge as he pointed out significant pieces of his family’s history, from the apple tree on the front yard to cabin at the top of the hill. The story of von Trapps is everywhere throughout the lodge and it’s a powerful statement. The family had wealth, prosperity and safety in Austria but gave it up for their convictions. They fled the country and went to Italy in an effort to escape Hitler’s power and found their way to America with only a knapsack and a few personal belongings per child. Had they not held steadfast to their beliefs, would we have ever heard the sound of music?

It wasn’t until I asked Sam about the future of the lodge that I saw the purpose behind its past and present: it’s not about “The Sound of Music,” the fact and fictions of the story as it was replayed, or the songs that made his family famous. It’s the look Sam gets in his eyes when he speaks so fondly of his grandmother and her memory, and it reminds me that there’s nothing more sacred than family.

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