August 11, 2013

As my husband and I gaze out of the windows across the valley to the mountains beyond, we can almost picture Julie Andrews, arms outstretched, in full song in the meadow.

Yet this is not Austria. The accents are American, the quail is glazed with maple syrup and the pianist is playing Moonlight In Vermont.

This Austrian-inspired New England hotel is run by the Von Trapps, direct descendants of Maria and the Captain, whose life story inspired The Sound Of Music.

In Salzburg in the Thirties, the family with their adorable children were a singing sensation.

When the Nazis took over Austria, Georg von Trapp decided to escape from the Third Reich and took his family across the Atlantic to the US, where they eventually settled in the green hills of Vermont and opened an inn.

The hotel is just outside Stowe, a delightful village with craft galleries, boutiques and a ski museum. Maria and the Captain arrived some 70 years ago but today would still recognise the old-fashioned hardware store, the white-steepled church and the friendliness. No wonder they settled here.

"Fans of the film often come to our hotel with expectations," grandson Sam von Trapp tells me, "but this is not The Sound Of Music Land. We don't have lonely goat herd dolls in the gift shop and don't play the soundtrack in the lobby."

What they do have is the real story. As I discover, fact is markedly different from the Hollywood version. Apparently the real Captain was kind and loving, not stern and strict.

There were nine children and they already knew how to sing so there was no "Do-Re-Mi".

For the film their names and ages were changed but sadly there was no Liesl and no cute little Gretl with her hurt finger.

When it comes to the family's dramatic escape they did not take refuge in the abbey before walking over the mountains. They actually caught the train to Italy.

I join a Sound Of Music aficionados tour run by the hotel to hear more stories of the family's early days in Austria and watch a crackly documentary about their new life in the US.

Granddaughter Kristina regales us with stories about what it was like to grow up in Vermont, building up the lodge and their cross-country ski business.

"As children we were all involved," she says.

Then, she confesses: "I don't sing. Neither does my brother Sam. We got the Austrian skiing genes not the singing genes." They also inherited the hospitality genes and Sam and Kristina are now the third generation to welcome guests.

During the Forties, after their escape, Maria and the Captain bought a farmhouse here and made it their home. They always returned after their singing tours and when the time came to retire they swapped performing for hotel-keeping.

The 96-room lodge with its steep gables and wooden balconies looks very Austrian but rooms are spacious in the all-American way. Ours has wide-open views across 2,500 acres of meadows and mountains. This is a year-round destination.

In summer there's a raft of activities from hiking to carriage rides, autumn brings the shimmering red, gold and orange of Vermont's Fall foliage and winter is great for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.

When "silver white winters melt into spring", it is time for sugaring, or the making of maple syrup.

Although the season is over when I visit, I learn about the production on a Maple Sugar Tour.

"Here we stick to the traditional ways," our guide Chris explains.

"The basics are simple: insert a tap into a maple tree, hang a bucket to catch the sap, collect the liquid and boil it down. Bottle when thick."

The tour is just one of the many activities offered at the hotel. There are also yoga and tennis, wagon rides and spa treatments.

Another highlight is a tour of Ben & Jerry's ice-cream factory, just 20 minutes away. We watch the production line which makes 250,000 pints per day and finish with a tasting.

Today's sample is a delicious lemon raspberry swirl.

Outside in the Flavor Graveyard, headstones commemorate late, not-so-great flavours, including Rainforest Crunch, Cool Britannia and Tennessee Mud consigned to oblivion in 1998.

Vermont's Green Mountains reminded the von Trapps of their beloved Austria and 15 minutes away is 4,393ft Mount Mansfield, the state's tallest peak. Whether you glide up in the gondola or drive up the Auto Road, this is popular for skiing in winter and for hiking in summer and autumn.

Also, for any would-be Julie Andrews, the hillside provides the perfect setting for a quick twirl and a yodel.


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