With the opening of a sophisticated spa, Vermont's Twin Farms inn takes a personalized approach to luxury pampering
Roger Davies
| Credit: Roger Davies

Frankly, I've always thought that the ideal health spa would be a mental hospital on a sprawling country estate, without the doctors or the stigma. Whenever I'm overwrought with work or family obligations, I fantasize about checking into a tranquil place where caring people will pamper and heal me. They'll feed me heavenly healthful food, provide stress-reducing and rejuvenating massages, and leave me to wander down enlightening garden paths.

Of course, the reality is very different. Each time I've run away to a spa, I've inevitably found myself beside a woman in a Lycra unitard wailing about the calories in a fat-free muffin. She regrets eating it even more than she does her first marriage. I fake concern. Rather than soothed, I return to real life feeling enormous—all I can think about is the cellulite-resistant women in my aerobics class in their thongs.

Given my anxiety, I was skeptical, yet secretly yearning to book a weekend, when I heard that Twin Farms had opened a spa. This luxurious inn, set on 300 acres of rolling hills and expansive meadows in tiny Barnard, Vermont, was the New England home of Sinclair Lewis in the 1930's. Now it's the ultimate rustic gated community, guarded by calorie-conscious chefs and knowing aestheticians. One wonders what the social critic would have made of the Jed Johnson—designed bedrooms with feather beds, VCR's, and eclectic antiques—or the rates, which reach $2,400 a night. Twin Farms promises its 28 guests the ultimate in discreet and elegant country relaxation. I had hallucinatory visions of a Thoreau-like reverie accompanied by facials and the perfect Pinot Noir.

Reserving a room at Twin Farms is not as simple as dialing a toll-free number. Guests are asked to fill out multiple-choice faxes on important subjects such as food allergies and their real feelings about scallops. A spa appointment schedule also requires attention. I didn't know precisely that I'd want a massage at 3 p.m. on Sunday, but I went with my instincts. I scheduled two treatments per day, to allow for digestion and plain laziness.

My assigned quarters, Red's Room—so called not for the color, but for Lewis's nickname—were a bargain at $900. Like other quarters in the main house, it had cozy overstuffed chintz chairs, a dining nook, and a bathroom with Moroccan blue tiles and a claw-foot tub. Immediately upon arrival, my weekend companion, Broadway set designer Heidi Ettinger, and I ordered dinner in, both of us thrilled at the prospect of first-class room service. Sitting in our robes and wearing our facial moisturizer, we ate crisp duck breast and sipped a French red.

After a morning stroll through the gardens and wooded grounds, I realized I was wrong about the ideal spa being like a mental hospital. Twin Farms is much closer to a small New England liberal arts college—but without the classes or exams. In this collegiate atmosphere, 28 resident students seem to have all the time in the world to reflect, have sex, or float in a canoe while carrying on an existential conversation. As in a great liberal arts college, the emphasis at Twin Farms is on individual growth; here, of course, it's fostered by spa treatments.

The spa is just a short walk from the main house, and unlike at most wellness retreats, there are no lines and no chatty guests examining each other's triceps. The treatments are as serene as the landscape. I was so relaxed, I'm afraid, that I slept through most of my first session—the 90-minute Deep Cleansing Facial—and the attendant insisted on whisking me back to my room by car to avoid breaking the healing spell. On the way, he told me more about the other activities at Twin Farms: hiking, canoeing, biking, even skiing. I opted instead for my favorite three R's: reading, rest, and relaxation. Between moments of solitude and shiatsu, Heidi and I spent long hours enjoying a specially prepared picnic lunch of soup and Tuscan goat-cheese flatbread, and an informal, four-course dinner in the dining room.

In the theater world, there are legendary tales of how Clifford Odets wrote Waiting for Lefty in a weekend and Noël Coward knocked out Private Lives in 21 days. Twin Farms, with its pastoral setting and its staff that caters meticulously to every guest's personal needs, seems the ideal place to retreat and create. The problem is, any aspiring Noël or Clifford would go broke in the process.

Perhaps the best approach would be to relish the tranquillity and service at Twin Farms while writing The Mousetrap, which would run for 50 years and finance this fantasy escape. Personally, I didn't get any writing done, but Heidi and I discussed the state of the American theater at length and luxuriated in our 25-year friendship. Isn't that the point of a college/mental hospital/spa—to rejuvenate one's mind and depart calm, with a moist complexion?

Twin Farms, Barnard, Vt.; 802/234-9999; www.twinfarms.com; doubles from $900, including meals and afternoon tea; spa treatments extra.