It’s a little after sunrise on a frigid December morning, and I’m standing on a rocky outcrop overlooking the vast expanse of Upper Saranac Lake. An ethereal mist separates the mirror-still water and cloudless sky, shrouding a dense forest of firs dusted with snow.
I’m rugged up in my L.L. Bean parka, a woolly hat, gloves, scarf and boots, and warmed by a flask of steaming hot chocolate, thoughtfully delivered to my suite just before I headed out.
I’m a long way from the ocean, yet surrounded by an expanse of water that stretches to the horizon. A lone hawk whirls overhead, searching for its first meal of the day, and the silence is deafening.
It’s a far cry from last night’s festivities when 16 animated guests gathered for a special celebration in the Great Hall of The Point – an exclusive 11-suite Relais & Châteaux retreat, tucked away in the vast wilderness of the Adirondacks in Upstate New York.
In what can only be described as excellent timing for a Saturday night, the dinner coincided with a pre-Christmas Moët & Chandon Champagne tasting, which paired each of six gourmet courses with exceptional vintages.
Saturday and Wednesday evenings at The Point are designated formal black-tie affairs, and our fellow guests duly donned tuxedos and cocktail dresses for this singular occasion.
By the light of an enormous Christmas tree, we dined on caviar, squash agnolotti, poached Maine lobster, a Champagne (naturally) and pear sorbet, roasted pork loin and pumpkin pie soufflé, washed down with the best bubbles Moët could muster.
As the Great Hall echoed with amusing banter and laughter for several hours through the evening, I couldn’t help but wonder what The Point’s original owner, William Avery Rockefeller, would have thought of his beloved lodge had he hosted the dinner.
More than 80 years earlier, at the height of America’s Gilded Age, the legendary oil tycoon built The Point as a private vacation home deep in the sanctuary of the Great North Woods for his family and guests to escape the rapidly growing urban jungle of New York City.
Designed in the style of a Great Camp, the magnificent log retreat served as a peaceful hideaway where Rockefeller could live quietly, indulge his love of outdoor pursuits and entertain his guests in royal yet rustic style.
Fast-forward eight decades and The Point remains one of America’s most intimate and unique resorts, catering to a well-heeled clientele wanting the same experience as its former owner.
Cast aside any notions of camping, even glamping – life at The Point offers an exceptional, all-inclusive wilderness adventure wrapped up in a cocoon of comfort, luxury, pampering, gourmet cuisine and fine wines in a monumental natural setting.
The first sense of remote wilderness comes as our Cape Air flight from Boston descends through thick clouds and lands at Adirondack Regional Airport, enveloped in boundless acres of ancient forests.
A 20-minute drive by 4WD luxury sedan leads to the gates of The Point, its name writ large in dark wood lettering over the driveway.
The Rockefeller experience begins as you enter the door of the Main Lodge, with a steward standing by to offer a glass of Champagne and guide us through a delightful wood-paneled vestibule – known as Reindeer Hall – into the Great Hall.
The room is a study in masculine femininity – its cathedral ceiling, solid timber beams, wood paneling and dueling stone fireplaces are softened by plush sofas, colorful cushions, antique rugs and artworks and a Christmas tree plump with decorations.
A couple is having lunch before departing, chatting quietly in front of a crackling fire. The wife looks up and asks: “Just arrived?” We nod. “You’re going to love it; we don’t want to leave,” she says.
But lunch can wait; it’s time to explore. While the entire estate covers 75 acres of wilderness, the lodge is nestled on a peninsula jutting out into Upper Saranac Lake and comprises a gatehouse and four individual log cottages set on romantic landscaped grounds.
In addition to the Great Hall, the Main Lodge houses four of the 11 guest accommodations: Mohawk is the Rockefellers’ former master bedroom and a favorite of guests; Algonquin is the original study, a cozy room lined with books; Iroquois and Morningside are equally inviting, each with views of the lake.
The Guest House has three suites: paneled in fir, Saranac has an almost magical quality; Weatherwatch is one of The Point’s most luxurious rooms with large windows framing the lake; and the delightful Evensong was a favorite of Mrs. Rockefeller.
Eagle’s Nest offers another three suites and a charming pub in what was the original stables and garage. Sentinel is a two-room retreat on the upper level; Trappers feels like a private cabin in the woods; and our suite above, called Lookout, delivers beautiful panoramas of the lake and forest.
Every room has a well-equipped en suite bath, a log fireplace for lighting in cooler months, and is individually themed and decorated in classic rustic-chic fashion. The Point isn’t contemporary luxury, but rather harks back to a golden age of grand travel and style.
The largest and most requested room is The Boathouse, an airy, open suite set above the boats and water with a beautiful en suite bath, wide deck and panoramic lake views.
The ambience of The Point is akin to a weekend house party, where guests do their own thing during the day – as active or relaxed as you like – and then usually come together to dine.
While meals are served most often in the Great Hall, an array of options, from barbecues to lunch on the terrace, island picnics, bar meals in the pub or dining privately in your suite, are available.
Cocktails and dinner are the highlight of each day with talented Executive Chef Loic Leperlier delivering first-rate cuisine and private cellar wines befitting of a Relais & Châteaux.
Leperlier, who hails from Madagascar and has worked at some of the world’s best Michelin-star restaurants and five-star resorts, brings a masterful culinary flair to The Point with a farm-to-table mentality that’s perfect for the wilderness setting.
There’s a certain formality to The Point – dinner attire is recommended during the week, black tie on Wednesdays and Saturdays – but it merely adds to the retreat’s grand sense of occasion, not to mention its Rockefeller heritage.
By day, it’s wilderness casual, with a host of outdoor activities that change with the seasons: breezy lake watersports in spring, summer and fall, along with fishing, tennis, badminton and golf; cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, ice-skating, curling, ice fishing and snow barbecues during winter.
The boathouse is stuffed with crafts, from canoes and kayaks to a sleek 1933 replica Hacker-Craft, a handcrafted mahogany speedboat. Docked just outside, the Elco (Electric Glass Company), a delightful glass-enclosed electric boat, offers summer cocktail cruises.
Our favorite pastime was simply walking around the beautiful lakeside grounds, occasionally stopping at one of four casual outdoor bars and lean-tos scattered around the property for a quiet drink in the sun.
Intriguingly, The Point welcomed new owners last summer: Pierre Lapeyre, cofounder of a private investment firm in New York City, and his wife, Laurie, who are long-time guests.
“We first experienced The Point during an unforgettable Father’s Day weekend 24 years ago, and have been vacationing here with our family and friends ever since,” say the Lapeyres.
“Our intention is to build on the property’s rich traditions and enhance its already extraordinary offerings.”
Like so many others before them, The Point has found its way into the Lapeyres’ hearts. William Avery Rockefeller would be proud.
GETTING TO THE POINT
You can fly or drive to The Point. Cape Air operates three return flights a day from Boston’s Logan International Airport to Saranac Lake year round. Guests are met and driven to The Point, only 20 minutes from the regional airport. capeair.com
Another option is to fly with a major carrier to Burlington, Vt., or Albany, N.Y., and hire a car for the scenic two-and-a-half-hour drive to the resort. By car, The Point is about five hours from New York City and Boston and about two hours from Montreal.
All-inclusive rates start from $1,600 per room per night, based on double occupancy, with full use of sports equipment and facilities as well as all meals, afternoon tea and unlimited wines and spirits.
For more information, visit thepointsaranac.com and relaischateaux.com.