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A Weekend With the Flakes

Most trails loop around the lodge area, weaving through Savage River State Forest, and are well-marked with numbered posts and painted blazes on the trees. The exercise warmed us, but in the dry, staticky air, my hair crackled like a Benjamin Franklin experiment gone awry. Winds periodically roared up the valley, breaking the muffled stillness and setting trees to creaking.

Even with a mountain of discarded jackets, sweaters and scarves piled on the floor, our cabin still seemed huge. The main floor held a sofa and chairs within cheek-warming range of the gas-fired cast iron stove. In the roomy open loft above, the bed beckoned with a down comforter and pillows so big and fluffy they could taunt you into a pillow fight. Judging from entries in our cabin's guest book, many visitors were loath to leave this plush nest, spending their weekend snuggling, snoozing and reading.


In snow, it can take four-wheel drive to reach Maryland's Savage River Lodge (or they can pick you up at the bottom of the hill). (R. Paul Herman)

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Though the cabin decor is comfortable rather than luxe, there are deft touches, such as an extra-wide bathtub and two separate vanity areas with hand-glazed ceramic sinks. A bubble bath, a glass of bubbly and a nap made for perfect pre-dinner activities.

"We get a lot of folks here from D.C.," said Justin, our waiter, in a dining room with a few other couples. "I guess they want to get away from all that stress." At the moment, we were merely stressing over what to order from the interesting but not overly adventurous menu. One surprise was seeing the ingredients of the dish simply described as "meatloaf" on the lunch menu. It's actually a blend of bison, veal, pork, venison, antelope and beef, spiked with local maple syrup and wrapped in bacon. Well, that's meat all right.

We opted for grilled pork tenderloin, which arrived perfectly matched by orange-perfumed sweet potato puree and red cabbage braised with apples. A rubbery duck breast was less impressive, and wasn't helped by the undistinguished wedge of polenta alongside. But the most intriguing dish was a starter of quail, asparagus spears and sliced boar sausage.

Reasonably priced wines are a passion of lodge owner Jan Russell, and the restaurant has snagged a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence the past two years. My husband, a wine aficionado, was impressed with both the selection and the modest markups.

Jan acknowledged the next day that the restaurant walks a fine line between pleasing the locals, who are "meat and potatoes" types, and guests. New chef Todd Zais has been on the job only a few weeks, but it's not likely menus will change much. Since the place opened five years ago, Jan says, she and husband Mike Dreisbach have developed a "pretty good sense for what works."

Walking back in the silver light of a nearly full moon, we had no need of the flashlight attached to the key chain. I spotted Orion's belt in the sky and barely noticed my nose hairs freezing with every breath.

Heat wave! With the mercury pushing 18 degrees the next morning, we weren't quite ready for nude hiking (extolled in the guest book by one uninhibited couple). But we were up for a snowshoe eco-tour, guided by Liz McDowell and Ron Boyer, the owners of Elk Ridge NatureWorks, a local outfitter.

The only creatures we encountered were birds, but the two naturalists were full of information about things I never would have noticed: a row of tiny holes in a tree, made by a yellow-bellied sapsucker to lure insects the birds feed on; big holes banged in another tree by the big pileated woodpecker; native rhododendron bushes that furl their leaves to repel cold; and a hawthorn, the thorny bush where shrike birds like to keep impaled prey handy for future meals.

Windblown and thrilled that I was too large for the shrike to handle, I decided this winter wonderland hadn't been so cruel after all.

Escape Keys

GETTING THERE: Savage River Lodge (301-689-3200, www.savageriverlodge.com) is 139 miles -- about 2 1/2 hours -- from the Beltway, just southwest of Frostburg, Md. Take Interstate 270 north to I-70 west to I-68 west, then the Finzel Exit (No. 29). It's about five miles on local roads to the lodge. Snowy roads may require four-wheel drive or chains, or you can arrange to be picked up at the lodge road entrance.

STAYING THERE: Cabins cost $210 for one night or $390 for two, double occupancy (look for midweek specials on the Web site); the owners advise booking at least two months ahead for weekends and even earlier for holidays. Pets are welcome by advance arrangement for $25 per night. The 18 log cabins, arranged in a U shape, each feature a small fridge, coffeemaker and electric teakettle. A basket of homemade muffins and fresh-squeezed orange juice appears on your doorstep in the morning.

EATING THERE: It's not a destination restaurant, but it is a good restaurant for the destination. The lodge serves dinner nightly (reserve in advance for weekends and holidays). Salads and starters run $4 to $13; entrees, $23 to $32, with an $18 risotto; and for dessert, a bubbling vat of fruit cobbler was $9. Lunch is served Monday through Friday, with main courses in the $8 to $10 range. Brunch, in the $7 to $10 range, is served from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on weekends.

BEING THERE: If you're loath to leave your cabin, peruse the spread of magazines or order up chocolate-dipped strawberries ($25), a bottle of Veuve Cliquot ($65) and an in-room massage ($80 an hour). The lodge is in a snow belt that typically receives 100 inches of snow per year. The lodge ski shop rents cross-country gear (skis, boots, poles) for $20 a day or $15 a half-day ; snowshoes (you need hiking boots) rent for $15 a day or $10 a half-day. The nearby Elk Ridge NatureWorks (301-895-3686, www.elkridgenatureworks.com) offers three-hour eco-tours on foot, skis or snowshoes ($25 per person), skiing lessons ($20 for 1 1/2 hours) and guided moonlight tours on their property, 30 minutes away. For the culinary-inclined, the lodge restaurant offers " Chef for a Day" ($300 for one person, $250 each for two; Mondays to Thursdays only), where you spend a day with the chef, planning and preparing a menu.

INFO: Garrett County Chamber of Commerce, 301-387-4336, www.garrettchamber.com.


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