The Trapp Family Lodge: room at the inn Essay

If the Trapp Family Singers still sang, they would spread musicalword that their wide-gabled, Alpine-style lodge is once again welcomingguests, following a disastrous pre-Christmas fire in 1980 that leveledthe original inn. The Sound of Music people may be retired from showbusiness, but their beaming faces are ready and willing to welcomeguests to the Green Mountains around Stowe, Vermont.

That frigid December 1980 night, a flash fire forced Baroness Mariavon Trapp and her full house of guests to flee their blazing building.The calamity marked the end of a happy era for the landmark mountainresort. “I lost just plain everything,” recalls Maria, whowas 75 when her annual Austrian Christmas celebration was tragicallypreempted. Along with the quaint, rambling inn that oozed with theTrapp version of gemutlichkeit, Maria lost her home and a lifetime ofmemories. At dawn, the Trapp Family Lodge was a smoking ruin, and theonly salvaged items were the fireplace andirons and an antique chest inthe repair shop. While the embers still smoldered, the von Trapps vowed to rebuildtheir lodge. Today, following a thorny, three-year refinancing,revamping and rebuilding period, the lodge once again stands sentinel onits original site overlooking one of New England’s grandestpanoramas: the Stowe Valley and the Worcester Range of the GreenMountains. The lodge is a four-season resort, from blossoming springsspreading over misty, green hillsides to verdant summers and coloredautumns.

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But winter activities are considered the highlight by legionsof vacationers who wind their way up Trapp Hill Road during the snowseason. This Christmas, the first holiday celebrated since thelodge’s official opening in January, visitors will be greeted witha scene true to the Trapps’ slogan: “A little of Austria, alot of Vermont.” The 1,700 acres of the Trapp estate bustle with the activityassociated with a world-class resort.

But the spot was a remotemountain farm when the home-hunting family visited Stowe in 1941. Thebuildings, Baroness Maria jokes, “couldn’t decide which sideto collapse on.” Her family unanimously agreed that a house theycould build–the spectacular mountain setting they could not. Thoughthey had visited 48 states on singing tours, the Trapps found theVermont mountains most reminiscent of the Austrian countryside they hadleft in 1938 as refugees from Hitler. They bought the property withproceeds from their increasingly popular concert tours and wereintroduced, as Maria recalls, to another new American custom: the downpayment.

Soon after moving to Stowe from Philadelphia, a blizzard blew downmost of the existing farmhouse and forced Baron Georg von Trapp, hiswife, Maria, their seven daughters, three sons and priest-musicaldirector Franz Wasner to learn carpentry and to work togetherconstructing the first version of the Trapp Family Lodge. Betweenperforming schedules, the family operated a dairy farm and amaple-sugaring business and established a summer music camp at the footof their hill. The Trapps had a problem: where to house the nonsinging relativesof their camp participants. First they housed the relatives in theirgrowing farmhouse; from that start evolved the Trapp Family Lodge.

Asvisitors kept returning and skiers asked to use rooms vacated by theTrapps when they were touring, the family found themselves in the lodgebusiness. When the Trapp Family Singers retired from the stage in 1956,they made the official transition from part-time hosts to full-timeinn-keepers. The fame garnered by stage and movie versions of thefamily’s life story in The Sound of Music increased the reputationof the lodge, which featured a homey atmosphere, an Austrian menu andthe convivial hostessing of Baroness von Trapp and any of her childrenwho happened to be in residence. The new, 73-room main lodge, twice as large as its predecessor,faithfully duplicates the features of the converted farmhouse the Trappshad festooned with Austrian gables and porches, balconies, balustrades,a bell tower and a bay window when they arrived on the Vermont hill inthe early 1940s. During the holiday season, the lodge is bedecked withropes of greenery, scores of fresh pine trees and wreaths and thousandsof miniature white lights that glow against the dark-stained pine sidingat dusk. The snowy Green Mountain peaks provide a backdrop and make thescene as Tyrolean as any Austrian glen.

Though the lodge’s exterior suggests that the original wasmerely enlarged and turned clockwise to enjoy a better view of thelandscape, the interior of the new building is a superb improvement overthe low-ceilinged, pine-paneled rooms of the Trapps’ firsthome-cum-hotel. The original lodge was laden with nostalgic remindersof the singing Trapps and full of curiosities gathered by the group oninternational travels, but the narrow guest rooms lacked such comfortsas private baths, telephones and assured silence. A good night’ssleep was uncertain for occupants of rooms near the Tirolerstueberl, andthere was no need for a wake-up call for rooms near the kitchen. Today’s Trapp Family Lodge is designed with mountain viewsfrom windows and balconies in all visitors’ rooms–the five livingrooms, the bay-windowed library, the cocktail lounge, the dining roomand the guest quarters on the second, third and fourth floors.Second-floor rooms all open to individual balconies or to a broad patiooverlooking the courtyard. Because the lodge is virtually built intothe rising hillside, third- and fourth-floor rooms have entrancesopening at ground level and lead to the apple orchard, the pool, hikingand cross-country ski trails and the lush Trapp gardens with the familycemetery.

Guest rooms are spacious and reflect an elegant, Old Worldatmosphere with richly carved oak furnishings. Each corridor of rooms isflanked by a comfortably furnished living room with a Count Rumfordfireplace. Johannes von Trapp, the only one of Maria’s offspring whoremains permanently involved in operating the lodge, is responsible forthe resort’s most popular winter activity: cross-country skiing. Aforester by profession, Johannes recognized the potential of hisfamily’s land as a ski-touring center. In 1968 he pioneered theidea and started with a small ski-rental service in the corner of agarage and a nucleus of trails traversing the wooded hills and mountainmeadows behind the lodge. The ideal terrain at the Trapp estate, alongwith Johannes’ careful nurturing, encouraged cross-country touringas an alternative to the downhill trade at Stowe’s fabled MountMansfield.

Like the lodge, the touring center has experienced an amazingmetamorphosis from a simple start. Sixty miles of tempting woodlandtrails geared for all levels of skiers crisscrosses the Trapp property,and on peak winter days the land is alive with hundreds of houseguestsand daytime skiers. The trails wind past a cluster of newly constructedtime-sharing guesthouses to the Trapps’ Austrian Tea Room; theyclimb steeper ascents approaching Werner von Trapp’s fieldstone chapel and proceed to back country, where skiers learn winter survivaland nature study on daylong trips. At the ski-touring center adjacent to the lodge, 20 instructorsshare the intricacies of cross-country kick and glide and how to handlesome of Trapp’s peskier downhill runs. For die-hard downhillskiers, the slopes of Mount Mansfield (at 4,303 feet, Vermont’shighest peak) are ten minutes from the Trapp Family Lodge. Nonskiingguests can catch a lift with Kate and Nancy, the matched Percherons whotransport an oversized red sleigh across the Trapp meadow and beyond, tothe tearoom and Maria’s gift shop down the hill and back to themain lodge.

Dinner is often accompanied by the mellow music of a classicalguitarist, but for many lodgers the main attraction of the evening mealis the appearance of Maria von Trapp, who uses the dining room as theplace to meet and mingle with her guests. “That’s somethingshe would never give up,” says Johannes of the personal contact hismother maintains with visitors in her home. For Maria herself, the highlight of the year at the lodge isChristmas Eve. “We brought our own Christmas celebration acrossthe Atlantic Ocean,” Maria explains, and that includes an immenseevergreen, placed in the main living room and garbed in the Austrianfashion with candy, cookies, tiny lights and trinkets. After atraditional feast featuring Austrian goose, there is caroling with theTrapps, their staff and guests; Maria tells the story of Christmas inAustria; and her youngest grandchild reads the Christmas story.

Theatmosphere of the gathering is like a huge family, which is exactly howthe Trapps feel about their guests. Christmas–and events all year longat the lodge–has always been a main ingredient in what Maria calls”the very, very beautiful, beautiful story of my life.”

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