BRADFORD, PA. - The highway that winds through some pretty Pennsylvania countryside and leads to the entrance of The Lodge at Glendorn is blanketed with a quilt made of Mother Nature’s most vibrant autumn colours.
When the magical road ends, we find ourselves staring at a set of large black iron gates that swing open and invite us inside the fabled retreat on the edge of the enchanting Allegheny National Forest.
We follow a long driveway to reception and pass one of the property’s three lovely lakes where the surrounding fall brilliance is reflected like a painting on the water’s calm surface.
My faithful dog Geordie presses his black Westie nose up against the car window and barks enthusiastically when small creatures dart across our path.
A few minutes later, we pull up in front of the thatched roof main lodge known as “The Big House” and see a chef in apron dropping apples into a wooden box. When he turns a crank, golden liquid pours out of the bottom and into a large pitcher.
“Welcome to Glendorn,” says the man — a chef in the property’s famed Relais & Chateaux restaurant — as he hands me a glass of the freshly-squeezed apple cider. What a sweet surprise. But for those who have been coming to this woodsman’s wonderland for decades, hospitality like this is no surprise.
Even the family pet gets a warm welcome from staff who make guests feel like The Lodge at Glendorn, located about an hour south of Buffalo, is their home away from home. And that continues a tradition started by legendary C.G. Dorn, the man who built Glendorn as a family getaway in 1927.
Dorn, who made his fortune in gas and oil, kept adding to the property as his family expanded — each got their own cabin — and now 12 dot the pristine property that provided the Dorns with so many holiday memories over the years.
Left: Glendorn is a magical holiday retreat that was built by a family for families. Right: The Big House is where the resort
Thankfully, the close-knit Dorns opened their private paradise in 1995 to the public and ever since ordinary folk like us have been experiencing the natural beauty of Glendorn.
One family who especially enjoyed the magic of Glendorn during their many visits was the Forrests — Cliff and Tracey — and when the Dorn family reluctantly put their beloved home on the auction block in 1995, the Forrests outbid everyone to get it.
“I think the Dorns felt comfortable selling to a family whose name was Forrest,” says the cheerful woman at reception, who hands us the keys to our cozy cabin.
After purchasing the vast 1,500-acre retreat, the Forrests spent millions adding to and upgrading the facility and when completed had transformed the “family cottage” into one of America’s most prestigious resorts.
The only thing that hasn’t changed at Glendorn is the family atmosphere.
Geordie bounds from the car when we reach our cabin, known as the Hutch, and heads straight for the wood-burning fireplace where freshly lit logs are crackling.
The cabins at Glendorn fall into the “rustic luxury” category and come with lots of bedrooms that are perfect for family gatherings.
The cabins are filled with furniture and heirlooms accumulated by the original owners and the walls are covered in cypress wood cut from the surrounding forest.
The overstuffed furniture invites guests to curl up with a good book and escape to a simpler time. (For those who can’t completely surrender their modern lifestyle, the cabins are WiFi friendly.) The bathrooms even feature heated floors!
Geordie curls up in front of the fireplace and quickly drifts off into a deep sleep — even a loud knock on the front door doesn’t interrupt his slumber.
“Hello, my name is Damon and I’m here to take you for a Jeep drive around Glendorn,” says the man standing on the opposite side of the old-fashioned screen door.
Glendorn is renowned for its outdoor activities — fly fishing, hunting, skeet shooting, 4x4 rides through the rugged wilderness, and hikes along paths where the Dorn children use to play — and Damon is one of the experienced guides who introduces guests to what’s on offer at the resort.
Damon expertly pilots the Jeep up a steep incline, past pencil-straight cherry trees (the kind you make furniture out of and not the ones that produce fruit) and tells us that the Glendorn forest was actually clear-cut in the 1930s and what we are seeing is relatively new growth.
Left: Freshly churned apple cider is a sweet welcoming surprise at Glendorn. Right: The family pet has plenty of room to roam at Glendorn.
When we reach the highest point at Glendorn known as the Overlook, which affords guests breathtaking views, Damon, who also runs the resort’s skeet shooting operation, explains that during the last Ice Age, the Dorn property did not get the benefit of the rich silt left behind by the glaciers when they receded and thus the land was never used for farming.
At several points on our adventure ride, Damon points out meadows where bear and deer are frequently sighted, where guests hunt for grouse and wild turkey (what they bag is later prepared and served to them at dinner) and where fly fishing enthusiasts cast for the trout that populate the many streams and small rivers that snake through the property.
After the enjoyable ride with Damon, it’s time to sample the resort’s fine dining offerings in the main lodge.
We take a stroll along babbling brooks to reach the Big House, which features four guest rooms of its own, and enjoy a pre-dinner drink in front of a two-storey fireplace before being seated in the Great Room.
The resort earned Relais & Chateaux recognition in 2002 thanks to a state-of-the-art kitchen, ruled by Executive Chef Joe Schafer, which serves up regional favourites and French dishes that would not look out of place in the fine dining establishments of Paris.
Fine linens and crystal adorn the tables and with a roaring fire, soft lighting and classical music playing in the background, the Great Room quickly becomes a romantic oasis.
Everyone quickly falls in love with the cuisine; my pork dish is beautifully presented and comes swimming in a delicate sauce. The whole dish is Michelin-star worthy.
The resort also offers a wine cellar with more than 300 selections that compliments Schafer’s delicate cuisine perfectly.
A walk back to our cabin under a canopy of stars and a full moon just adds to the romance of the dining experience. After lighting the wood burning fireplace in the bedroom, I tuck Geordie into bed and drift off into a deep sleep only to awake to an early morning appointment at the resort’s newest addition, the Forest Spa.
The state of the art spa offers some unique treatments, like the “wine lovers body treatment” and a “pearl and caviar” facial. I opt for a “deep tissue” massage and the expert hands of the therapist administering the treatment tells me why Glendorn’s spa has quickly positioned itself as one of the best in the Northeast.
Glendorn’s greatest feature, though, is its staff. Many, like Judith Crooks, are long-time employees who talk fondly about their years in the “friendly forest.”
“I was hired by the Dorns in 1977 and enjoyed working for them so much,” says the charming Crooks, who is now Director of Lodging at Glendorn.
Crooks also speaks highly of the new owners, the Forrests, and their commitment to keeping the traditions of Glendorn alive.
While much has changed at Glendorn during its transformation into a modern resort, much has remained the same, she says.
One of the favourite gathering spots for families is the ice cream parlour, located oddly enough next to the resort’s small workout area. The parlour is open 24/7 and is always stocked with lots of frozen treats that guests are welcome to sample — for free.
“The ice cream is there for everyone to enjoy and the parlour is a place where our guests get to know their cabin neighbours,” says Crooks.
My few days at Glendorn are filled with long walks with Geordie along the shores of Bondieu and Skipper lakes and on the well-marked and groomed trails that were first carved out for the Dorn children to enjoy.
The coziness of the cabins, the luxuries and fine dining that have become synonymous with this great resort and the friendliness of the staff are the other fond memories I take home from The Lodge at Glendorn.
As we get ready to leave, a car pulls up at the Loft cabin next to ours and a young family jumps out.
Geordie barks at them as if to say “welcome home.”
Glendorn is located just outside Bradford at 1000 Glendorn Drive. It’s an easy drive through Buffalo and Orchid Park where the Bills play their home games to get to Bradford, the home of the Zippo lighter. / The Lodge at Glendorn is a four seasons resort and is only closed just briefly at Christmas. There’s never a bad time to visit Glendorn but in the autumn, when the surrounding forest is flush with bright colours, that’s when the resort looks its loveliest. / For more information on The Lodge at Glendorn and to get exact driving information, go to https://www.glendorn.com