Thursday, January 17, 2008


Saranac Lake, N.Y.

We are in the Adirondack wilderness driving a winding road, snow covered evergreens forming a narrow passageway. Ahead of us, an intricate gate fashioned from logs and branches and spelling out The Point. After punching in a code, the gate opens very s-l-o-w-l-y as if to say: “Take a deep breath. Relax. Let the wonders of this very special place envelop you.”

We’ve arrived at The Point, the last of the Great Camps of the Adirondacks, considered by many to be the premiere resort in the country and Conde Nast Traveler’s highest rated property. From the end of the Civil War to the beginning of the great depression, Gilded-age magnets built magnificent mansions made of logs and collectively called the Great Camps. The Point was built as a private retreat for the William Avery Rockefeller family between 1930-33 by the prominent Adirondack camp architect William Distin. It is situated on a 75 acre peninsula jutting into Upper Saranac Lake and today consists of a main lodge and 11 distinctive and delightfully decorated rooms for a handful of very lucky guests. The rooms have Adirondack twig furniture, huge stone fireplaces, down beds and each strikes a balance between being grand yet intimate. Here you have the romantic notion of “roughing it” in comfort, elegance and gentility.

Entering the grand log mansion, we were greeted by the General Manager, Mark Stebbings who ushered us into the Great Hall and offered a glass of Champagne. Everything about the Great Hall was great. It evoked the Adirondack camps of old with rough luxe, animal trophies lining the walls, massive native cut stone fireplaces blazing, vast sink-in sofas and a view of the frozen silver lake beyond. Mark took us on a brief walk-about to acquaint us with the property and then we were shown to our room.

All is Calm, the Fire is Bright
All was in readiness – a carafe of wine, a roaring fire in a fieldstone fireplace that reached up to the timbered ceiling, lamps softly glowing, candles flickering. We were delighted by a cloud-soft bed made entirely from branches with tree trunk posts that made it appear to be growing out of the floor. It was amusingly and deliciously grand, and Goldilocks, herself, would have pronounced it “just right!” Icicles four feet long formed a grid over our leaded glass windows like so many pieces of Swarovski crystal and the snow on our roof was deep and sumptuous as vanilla icing on a wedding cake. The warm comfort of our room beckoned us to linger but the experience of dining en famille with our fellow guests was too appealing to pass up.

Rustic Opulence
The Great Hall is where the meals are served. We dined by candlelight flickering over a table laid with fine china, crystal and silver. We had individual menus at each place setting. Turning our menus over, we saw that all of our names were listed – first names only! Quoting Shakespeare, “discretion is the better part of valour,” at The Point. Our meal was enriched by lively conversation, and generous amounts of fine wine. It made for a true house-party atmosphere. The food, prepared by Chef Kevin McCarthy, was extraordinary, from the scallops with parsnip and apple, to celery root ravioli to roasted and braised veal, and ending with a lemon-lime soufflĂ©.

The next day dawned sunny and bright, perfect for snowshoeing. Mark was our guide leading the way over the frozen lake and into the woods, up hills and down dales. Although the trek was somewhat arduous we enjoyed every minute of the silent, white forest that surrounded us, and returned back to the Lodge nearly two hours later, tired but with a sense of accomplishment.

Dinner at Eight
Each evening cocktails are served at seven, dinner at eight, and as this was Saturday, dinner was black-tie, a bow to yesteryear’s Great Camp dining. After dinner, one last experience awaited us: a snow picnic by a bonfire in the woods. Mentioning our interest to one of the staff, we quickly found ourselves being led along a path twinkling with tiny white lights to an all-out, roaring bonfire. Around the fire, twelve Adirondack chairs piled with warm woolen blankets and cushy pillows to sit on. Making this a truly memorable event: a fully-stocked bar, long branches to spear marshmallows for roasting and all the fixings for S’Mores. Who could ask for anything more?

Your Wish is our Command
This phrase defines the level of service offered by the staff. Want breakfast in bed, lunch at a fairytale cottage in the woods, or a sumptuous dinner served by a fire in your room? You have but to ask. In fact, service here is so professional and discreet it seems you just have to wish for something and – presto! As if by magic, it happens.

The Point in winter is, indeed, a magical place with a wealth of activities and diversions: ice skating across the frozen Saranac, miles of cross-country skiing right in the backyard, snow-shoeing in an enchanted forest, even ice fishing. And in summer there’s water skiing, swimming, boating or lake tours in one of The Point’s venerable mahogany cruisers. Here there’s nothing that one has to do but much one can do.

As we prepare to depart, our ever-attentive staff has prepared box lunches for our journey. Nothing left to chance, nothing forgotten. Oh wait, maybe there is one thing they’ve overlooked: a tissue to dab our eyes as we bid The Point adieu.

Planning to go?