Whiteface's Adirondack style on Lake Placid sets the scene for camplike friendliness, relaxing recreation and an award-winning restaurant. Jane Ammeson
Lake Placid's smooth surface reflects the Adirondacks surrounding the four-mile-long body of water. Only the dip of my paddle disturbs the image as I kayak along the shoreline while the sharp citrus-like smell of the trees adds a touch of natural aromatherapy.
In the distance I can hear faint sounds of children playing croquet on the lawn of the Canoe Club, the private lakeshore beach owned by the Whiteface Lodge in Lake Placid, N.Y.
It reminds me of summer camps long past, but mixed with luxuries those never had.
The lodge, in keeping with this north woods ambience, is all Adirondack style. An on-site craftsperson creates birch bark mirrors and tree limb tables. Antler chandeliers hang from ceilings, and moose and elk heads along with wooden canoes, oars and snowshoes adorn the walls. Even the spa eschews the typical Asian theme, instead evoking a gentle woodsy feel.
Near the ice skating rink and tennis courts, three-sided lean-tos, luxe versions of the shelters built on mountain trails for weary and stranded travelers, are a place to sip a cocktail.
There's a Girl Scout-camp friendliness I've noticed in the short time here.
On my first night, I was walking on the garden paths and listening to the cicadas and the occasional hoot of an owl when a family making s'mores at the fire pit asked me if I wanted to join in. The next day, a pharmacist who was at the outdoor pool with her three young children offered to bring back some Adirondack Creamery Ice Cream from the lodge's old-fashioned ice cream parlor so I could enjoy it while sitting under the shade of an umbrella and reading my book.
During the lodge's one-hour pontoon cruise on Lake Placid, I might have discovered the root of this gentility: the century-old Grand Camps, compound-like retreats for the wealthy designed in an Adirondack architectural style.
They date back to the 1870s when families like the Vanderbilts first starting coming to the mountains on private railroad cars, bringing with them their friends and, of course, servants. The word "grand" almost doesn't seem superlative enough; some of these compounds boast more than 10 buildings often connected by walkways with boat access.
The Vanderbilts would have approved of Kanu, the lodge's Wine Spectator Award of Excellence-winning, two-story restaurant, with its massive double-sided fireplace, stone walls and timber-beamed ceilings.
The restaurant's menu features items that might, if the hunting and foraging went just right, be served on a backwoods trail, albeit one with a gourmet twist. Wild mushrooms are paired with gnocchi and foie gras, salmon is smoked with pastrami spices, and there's roast rack of boar served with whole grain honey mustard mashed potatoes and duck breast in a New York maple cumin glaze.
Of course, the camping experience demands eating outdoors. I particularly remember, with a shudder even after all these years, a stew made in an old coffee can over an open fire at Camp Potawatomi in Northern Indiana. Thank goodness my outdoor meal at Whiteface Lodge is on the terrace of Kanu with its view of McKenzie Mountain instead of the algae-covered Tippecanoe River.
The service is spectacular, from the extra whipped cream on my berry shortcake to a map brought to me by a helpful waiter showing the way to the ferry for my trip home the next day.
Whiteface Lodge isn't my own private Grand Camp, but really, could the Vanderbilts have had it any better?