The BMW Car Club of America combines the spirit of the best driving machines in the world with the people that make them and this organization so popular—you, the members. And when we travel as a club and descend on a town like ducks on a pond, it is truly something special.
If you hadn’t heard, Rendezvous was conceived as a complement to our more comprehensive national events; it’s meant to focus on intimate destinations with fewer participants for a more personal experience. Last month my wife and I attended the inaugural Rendezvous excursion to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail and Churchill Downs, and immediately booked the sequel.
Rendezvous II (as I call it) was the second and final of this year, held the weekend following the Fourth of July at the Essex, a culinary resort and spa in the Green Mountains of northern Vermont. The Essex is the home of a prominent cooking academy, and since my wife enjoys creating fine cuisine (and I like eating it), we were set for another great trip on the heels of the first.
In the early-morning hours, we took a meandering route north from our home in the suburbs of Philadelphia, deliberately dodging traffic along the New York City corridor. It was a lengthy drive, but why else would we belong to a car club? Arriving at the Essex a day early allowed us to scope out the surrounding area and be refreshed for the weekend activities.
Parked on the horseshoe-shaped drive were a few BMW models that may (or may not) have belonged to our assemblage. But in just 24 hours this crescent was dominated by the BMW marque, with models ranging from the Z3 and Z4 to the more prevalent array of sedans and SUVs in a rainbow of colors.
A reception on Thursday night in the Essex atrium provided an atmosphere for members to get acquainted with each other and review the itinerary. We caught up with a couple we had met on the first Rendezvous, which was a pleasant surprise. Conversations ranged from hometowns to travel, and of course our varying BMW models of present and past.
This casual space was surrounded by a manicured garden, and it became our central meeting point throughout the weekend. As the reception concluded, we transitioned out to the front lawn for a tethered hot-air balloon ride arranged for those members wanting a view of the grounds and surrounding area.
Friday morning offered an early buffet breakfast and a chance to consider several pre-planned driving routes to some of the many sites in the Green Mountain State. My family had camped all over New England when I was younger, so I was familiar with some of the stops along the suggested routes. Our selections were generally places I’d not seen before.
We decided to combine a few of them and set off for Stowe Mountain—not to see the famed ski slopes, but to visit the Trapp Family Lodge. You may remember that the Trapp singers inspired The Sound of Music in the mid-’60s. Upon escaping Nazi rule, the Trapp family settled in Stowe, and subsequently opened and managed this fabulous resort.
The Austrian-inspired lodge and property has experienced several expansions but has kept true to its charm, and has remained in the family. The estate covers about 2,500 acres, and the panoramic views are magnificent. Since the lodge sits near the top of the mountain, traversing the switchbacks and elevations was especially engaging in our 330e.
A bit farther north lies Smugglers Notch, a rugged pass cut through the mountains that was commissioned by Thomas Jefferson in order to move supplies to and from Canada during the War of 1812. It has since been widened to a (very) narrow road that some of our members dared to navigate. Having been there as a child, I opted instead to stop at the Ben & Jerry’s factory and scoop shop.
The Waterbury Village Historic District was next on our tour. Waterbury is a town straight out of Norman Rockwell. Not coincidentally, he lived in Vermont, about two hours south of here. Main Street is (naturally) the town center, with charming shops and eateries. The district covers an area of less than two square miles, with a population not much bigger than our neighborhood back home.
On the last waypoint, we visited the city of Burlington in order to scope out the area before heading back to the hotel.
Friday evening was the main event: a chance for members to hone their culinary skills. Escorted through a maze of corridors reminiscent of the U.S. Capitol building’s tunnel system, we were led to the Essex ballroom, a large multipurpose space where we would plan, create, and consume a four-course meal under the guidance of a master chef and his able staff.
Stations were set up on linen-covered tables, equipped with cutting boards, cutlery, platters, and all the spices and seasonings we could possibly need. Each station crafted distinct parts of the dinner, from prime rib and chicken to side dishes, while the chefs taught preparation techniques along the way. In a separate kitchen area, other members fashioned appetizers and pastries.
Preparing for two is one thing, but creating a multi-course meal for 30-some adults made me appreciate the skills and synchronization that it takes for everything to be completed at its scheduled time. Finally the courses were paraded out one by one, and we ate and drank until content in the company of friends.
Our Saturday-morning schedule was open, so we returned to Burlington, the most populous city in the state. Less than 50 miles south of the Canada-United States border, it is home to the University of Vermont, and is known as the official birthplace of Ben & Jerry’s. Church Street is open only to pedestrian traffic, and we spent most of our time in its many shops.
The afternoon was reserved for our group to partake in a scenic cruise around Lake Champlain on the Spirit of Ethan Allen III, Vermont’s largest cruise ship and floating restaurant. Lake Champlain is 120 miles long and twelve miles across at its widest point—in total about 435 square miles of surface water. It even provides drinking water for more than 200,000 people.
While this is all very impressive, the most significant detail about the lake is its beauty. The views were spectacular as our group cruised along the mountainous coastline. The weather was nearly perfect, but a private enclosed space with panoramic views was also available for snacks and drinks that were served throughout the voyage.
Saturday evening presented a double-edged sword: the farewell dinner was a chance to meet and chat about our adventures, but also a time to say goodbye. In just three days we had toured much of northern Vermont, eaten delicious food, drunk our fill of the guiltiest pleasures, and forged friendships with former strangers.
I’m honestly not sure how you could have dialed up a better trip. The weather was perfect all weekend—about ten degrees less than our summers at home. The hotel property and amenities were ideal, and there was plenty of free time to explore on our own. Vermont has always been one of our favorite places to visit, and the Essex is a relaxed and beautiful destination.
At this point it would be callous not to mention the people behind this excursion—those who planned, attended, and directed the entire weekend. Our collective thanks to Frank, Jason, Tricia, and Rose. And our appreciation is also extended to the many folks at the BMW CCA who are hidden from our view, but who helped in arranging this event nonetheless.
I believe that I speak for all of those who joined us: This was an extraordinary Rendezvous!—David Newton