Topnotch Resort and Spa
By Roger Cox, Editor
EDITOR'S NOTE: Although the tennis academy and spa are open, the hotel itself has closed to undergo renovations and additions, with an expected reopening in midsummer.
My first clue that things had changed dramatically since my last visit was the missing swimming pool. Not missing, actually, but relocated to be closer to the spa and adjacent to Norma's, a new open-kitchen restaurant. Also gone was the old wing of rooms (no loss), reducing the total to 68, not counting the 30 or so resort homes back up the hill. I'd read about Topnotch's makeover, but this was my first chance to see it and I really liked what I saw.
This rambling 120-acre estate perches on a rise 5 miles from the village of Stowe. I arrived to find a few guests having afternoon tea in the livingroom-like lobby, an expansive space with comfortable sofas and chairs dominated by a central fireplace and walls of glass framing the ski slopes of Mount Mansfield. My check-in formalities took place in a library-like alcove lined with books. From there, I followed a meandering hallway past the casual Buttertub Bistro and a guest with a dog (they're allowed) to my room, a cheerful space with a country manor decor.
That style and intimacy aside, the wonder of Topnotch is the breadth of its facilities. Central to its appeal, at least for tennis players, are its 10 hard and clay courts, four of which are indoors and constitute the largest indoor complex of any resort in the Northeast. No less impressive, however, is the range of other amenities, including a 35,000-square-foot European spa, an equestrian center, summer children's programs, and two restaurants, chief among them Norma's, whose regionally inspired cuisine always includes several low-calorie, low-cholesterol spa options. There are also options to golf, hike, and bike in the area. Tennis is only the beginning.
Pro Shop: 802-253-9649
The resort has a long history of devotion to tennis, including at one time hosting the Head Classic, a men's professional tournament. More recently, it was the site of the 2007 Fed Cup match between the U.S. and Russia. That tennis mystique still contributes to its allure. It is home to a well-run academy, under the direction of Milan Kubala. And it has been one of the earliest to embrace new technology, including Dartfish, digital video software that can be used to analyze strokes.
Tennis Staff. Kubala joined Topnotch as assistant director in August 2004 then moved up to the top spot early in 2005. He had previously been the director at the Midland Community Tennis Center in Midland, Michigan. A ranked junior in his native Czech Republic, he later played for Northwoods University in Midland, where he had a Top 20 ranking in NCAA Division II. He heads a staff of international pros, and there is a sports psychologist on staff for private consultations in mental toughness.
Tennis Programs. After several years of tweaking what was already a solid program, Kubala revamped the curriculum with the avid player in mind. Central to the roster is the Topnotch Tennis Academy, a 3-hour-a-day camp spearheaded by hear professional Shaun Zemanek. Adopting a theme of "Play to Win,", these sessions focus on stroke production, footwork, and strategy as they cycle through three components: Technique to Win, Train to Win, and Think to Win. Each session is structured as an independent module, so you can arrive any day for as many days as you like without feeling that you've missed crucial information. The pros focus on a combination of technique, footwork, and strategy. "We build a game around a player's strengths and make them a better player, not just a better hitter," says Kubala of their approach. Each day's program is independent, so you can arrive any day and book as many days as you want.
Personal attention remains a focus, so the student:pro ratio never exceeds 4:1 and is often less. "I or my head pro call them the night before to verify their playing level and just to make contact," Kubala told me. A half-hour private lesson is bundled into every three days of workshops. And Kubala and his staff are continually experimenting with ways to make use of their high-tech Dartfish software, a computerized videoanalysis system. Its features include a Telustrator and the ability to superimpose images. Campers have the option of going home with a CD-ROM of their strokes and the critique that went with them.
During the busy mid-May to mid-October tennis season, there is also a Saturday evening pro exhibition with hors d'oeuvres, wine, beer, and cheese. "We use it as instruction," Kubala told me. "We also encourage them to heckle the pros." The package also includes morning stretching sessions in the spa, unlimited court time, use of the ball machine, and access to the spa. Tennis teams can either join the regular program or have the staff tailor one to their specific needs. And with 11 USTA league teams of its own, Topnotch can also set up team matches with appropriate levels.
For juniors, Topnotch has introduced a summer junior academy. It emphasizes tennis skill development and runs concurrently with the adult program. At noon, kids who opt for an all-day program go on to a picnic following by a mixture of activities, including more tennis, field game, and hikes. For the 10-and-under set, Topnotch has introduced Quick Start tennis.
Guests who choose not to sign up for the tennis program can opt for a 90-minute clinic scheduled twice a week, Cardio tennis, and drop-in round robins. Game matching, on the other hand, has not been what it once was, not because staff cares less but because they often don't have the available courts.
Courts & Fees. There are two pairs of Har-Tru courts below the swimming pool between the inn and road. The pro shop, fully equipped, has decks on three sides and overlooks one pair of courts. Kubala's dog is often there and eager to make friends. There are another two outdoor hard courts in the trees behind the inn and an additional four in a barnlike building across the road near the equestrian center. Court Fees: $20/hour.
Golf Courses. Topnotch does not have a golf course of its own; however, guest do have privileges at the exclusive Country Club of Vermont and the staff can arrange for guests to play on the 18-hole championship course at the Stowe Country Club nearby.
Spa & Fitness Center. Now expanded to 35,000 square feet, the highly rated spa at Topnotch has become an even more central amenity. It offers 120 rejuvenating and skin-care treatments as well as a full-service salon, indoor pool, a whirlpool with cascading waterfall, and state-of-the-art fitness studios for daily classes, yoga and Pilates instruction, weight training and cardiovascular workouts, and personal training.
Horseback Riding. The equestrian center just across the road from the inn offers guided trail rides, instruction in both English and Western riding, a training ring for experienced riders, and pony rides for kids. It's open from mid-May to November. During the winter months, the equestrian center offers sleigh rides through the Vermont countryside.
Biking & Jogging Trails. Across Rte. 108 from the resort, near the indoor tennis courts and equestrian center, is the trail head for the Stowe Recreation Path. Begun in 1981, this 5.3-mile paved byway parallels Rte. 108 all the way into Stowe, providing bicyclists, joggers, and in-line skaters with their own traffic-free thoroughfare. The winding path crosses the Little River 11 times on the way from Main Street in Stowe to just beyond Topnotch. Along the way it passes century-old trees and affords views of quintessential Vermont village architecture, fields of wildflowers, covered bridges. and Mount Mansfield. And it's free. Bikes and in-line skates can be rented from the Nordic Barn Recreation Center.
And ... In addition to the indoor spa pool, there is a new heated outdoor pool and a outdoor hot tub, both surrounded by flagstone decking and stonework. And in winter, there is skiing at nearby Mt. Mansfield.
The experienced resort staff keeps kids active and engaged throughout their stay, offering a variety of fun things geared specifically to kids. With family activities such as kite-flying, berry picking, arts and crafts, snowshoeing and evening bonfires as part of an ever-changing scheduleâ€¦the kids will find plenty to do. The Junior Tennis Academy is also a favorite with the kids, open every morning for ages 3-14. Babysitting service is also available for younger children through the concierge.
The resort staff offers a variety of activities geared specifically to kids, including kite-flying, berry picking, arts and crafts, snowshoeing, and evening activities. There is also a Junior Tennis Academy every morning for those ages 3 to 14 and the concierge can arrange babysitting services for younger children.
Lodging at Topnotch consists of 68 inn rooms, 8 of them suites, and 30 one-, two- and three-bedroom resort homes. No two rooms are exactly alike except in their fondness for reproduction antiques, white window louvers, and well-chosen country manor furnishings.
Norma's, a bistro with an open kitchen, focuses on locally grown organic ingredients. It is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Its terrace tables have views of Mt. Mansfield. Early risers will find coffee in the livingroom-like lobby, and then in the late afternoon the staff sets out cookies and tea service.
or comparison's sake, also check out:
- Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort/Cliff Drysdale Tennis, Florida
- Bio-Hotel Stanglwirt/PBI Tennis Camp, Austria
- Rancho Valencia, California
- Stratton Mountain Resort/Cliff Drysdale Tennis School, Vermont
- Wintergreen Resort, Virginia
If the dimensions matter but you can forego the tennis clinics, look at:
Rates and Reservations
Topnotch has both rooms and suites in the resort and 30 1-, 2-, and 3-bedroom resort homes. Several tennis packages are offered, all of which include a choice of accommodations, breakfast daily, unlimited court time, access to the fitness center and more.
4000 Mountain Rd.
Stowe, VT 05672
Web Link: Topnotch Resort and Spa
Seasons. The inn is open year-round. The tennis program also operates year-round but attendance reaches its peak during the summer and fall seasons from June through September.
Travel Instructions. By Air: The nearest airport is Burlington, VT, roughly an hour's drive away. By Car: Take Exit 10 off I-89 and follow Route 100 North for 10 miles into Stowe. Turn left at the blinking light onto Mountain Road—a.k.a., Route 108. Topnotch is roughly 5 miles farther along on the right.
General Tourist Information. Visit the Stowe Area Association website or contact them at P.O. Box 1320, Stowe, VT 05672; 802-253-7321 or 800-24-STOWE. Or for general information about travel in Vermont, visit the Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing website or contact them at 6 Baldwin Street, Drawer 33, Montpelier, VT 05633-1301; Phone 800-VERMONT (800-837-6668).