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In recent years, there's been (deserved) scrutiny around the negative effects of tourism, especially with the added risks travel posed during the COVID era. While local economies in destinations like Hawaii have become dependent on the hospitality industry, among the many systemic issues that perpetuates is environmental waste. Rampant consumerism is never good for the land, plain and simple, and overdevelopment is often the death knell for once-thriving ecosystems.
Yet there have always been other models for travel, for sustaining the very soil that so generously hosts you, and staying at a regenerative retreat like Manchester, Vermont's Hill Farm is as mindful as luxury gets. With an on-site team equally well-versed in hospitality and eco-friendly land management, your stay at the farm improves the health of the land it's on, rather than strip it for parts. But if that sounds like more work than vacation, know that's decidedly not the case.
ABUNDANCE OF ALL KINDS
On the contrary, Hill Farm is the airy, open country house dreams are made of. Located in the southwestern corner of the state, renowned for its natural beauty (as well as its cheese-making prowess), the retreat is a tribute to the region's many "hill farms" that struggled throughout the industrial age.
This one, however, is thriving, operating as a dairy for 200 years before opening its picturesque white cottages to the Sagra Farms brand. In addition to cozy, well-appointed rooms, Hill Farm offers walking trails, lawn games, a saltwater pool with a view — and most notably, a fabulous food program centered around the produce grown onsite. Take a guided tour of the vegetable garden with one of the on-staff farmers, and you'll reliably see those same veggies in the next day's breakfast omelette. Slather one of their homemade biscuits in freshly whipped butter, and relish in the perks of staying just steps away from a working dairy farm.
The Restaurant at Hill Farm is a showstopper all to itself, with tasting menu Farm Dinners designed by Chef Austin Poulin, formerly of the world-renowned (and Chef's Table-featured) Blue Hill at Stone Barns. The restaurant acts as a window not just into local seasonality, but onto the verdant Taconic Mountains that dazzle just across the open porch. True to their ethos, meals are decadent without feeling overly indulgent, with stunningly high-quality ingredients that are allowed to speak for themselves.
A SENSE OF PLACE
This idyll comes with plenty of opportunities for exploring offsite as well. In the Manchester area alone, there are several mountains worth visiting for sun, snow or fall foliage. The Mount Equinox Skyline Drive, less than a mile from Hill Farm, offers an unforgettable view from the top of the Taconics' highest peak, while nearby Bromley Mountain offers both skiing and a summertime Adventure Park complete with alpine slide. Hildene, the country home of Abraham Lincoln's eldest son Robert, offers agricultural summer camps, self-guided tours, and maple syrup with a presidential pedigree. While I expected to take a quick, perfunctory tour of the building, I ended up spending hours traversing the grounds, which roam gorgeously over both hill and dene (hence the name).
Take a swim in the Dorset Marble Quarry if you're visiting in the warmer months, or cozy up with a cocktail at Seesaw's Lodge if you're bundled up for winter. Like Hill Farm, upscale dining options such as The Copper Grouse – and even lower-key, on the-go lunch options like Amy's on the Road or Dina's Bakery Cafe – all make a point to showcase similarly local ingredients. (The Copper Grouse even proudly displays the provenance of each protein and vegetable at the entrance.) And CurATE Café at the Southern Vermont Arts Center is perhaps the only museum restaurant I've recommended wholeheartedly, seeing as its equally local bites and drinks are served with the best hillside view in town.
ANOTHER WAY FORWARD
For those who prefer seclusion to a fully-staffed experience, sister property Studio Hill offers individual farm stays just a few minutes away. Their bespoke rental properties, like the Schoolhouse Cottage that's been featured in Country Living and Airbnb Magazine, allow guests to detach even further from the traditional hotel model while retaining a curated design aesthetic and optional add-on excursions. All 350 acres are yours to enjoy, including the hot tub, panoramic barrel sauna and outdoor shower.
And amidst all this natural beauty, there's the bedrock of agriculture that will pay dividends for all of us. Regenerative farming isn't just a buzzword, it's a practice that produced healthier food, healthier livestock and healthier land, which ensures properties like Hill Farm are here to stay for good. As we re-examine our every habit through the lens of a climate-impacted future, it offers a hopeful way forward for how to eat, drink and lodge sustainably.
Enjoying breathtaking vistas and sumptuous meals in a way that leaves our planet better, not poorer, for it? That's more than just a win-win; it's the long-needed future of travel.