WE’RE TAKING a dip as the sun dips, staring down from a hilltop pool out over a Norfork Lake horizon.
From our perches hugging the pool’s side, arms warmed by the Arkansas-flagstone deck, legs cooled by the water, we can see boats circling the cove below. Without fail, as they approach the property line, they kill their motors, V’s of wake surging up from behind, then settling back into the water’s surface. We’re at too far a remove to see the passengers aboard, but I have a feeling they’re looking up at us as we look down at them. How could they not be? Equani Lodge, ours for the evening, is the kind of place you see from afar and say, Daaang, y’all. Who lives there? Must be nice to be them …
The truth is no one lives at Equani Lodge, per se, though the two-story, 5,000-square-foot house feels very much like a home—albeit an eight-bedroom home that sleeps 30 and has two kitchens, four refrigerators, a game room, a swanky pool, a pool house, egg-shaped soaking tubs and a fleet of mugs emblazoned with the Equani Lodge logo. In that sense, this “home” feels very much like a resort. Let’s call it a resort home.
It’s a resort home with some serious pedigree, dreamed up by a pair of New York City dwellers, Hilary and Michael Altman, who have a soft spot for this slice of the Ozarks and more than 20 years of luxury-travel experience. (They own a travel company that specializes in bespoke trips to Italy and Greece and have done their own share of vacationing in some 42 countries.) When Hilary (who’s British) first emailed me about Equani (which means “set high on the ridge” in Cherokee), she said, “People always ask me why I have a home in Arkansas.” She’d read my mind. “I think the answer is that in all my travels, I have yet to find such a natural, exotic, peaceful and beautiful spot as Lake Norfork. It’s a true escape.”
Huh. This was a woman who was married at Lake Como—someone who’s as familiar with Santorini as I am with Springdale. And though I’d never been to Norfork Lake, I was raised 130-ish miles to its west near the shores of a lake formed by the damming of the same river, so let’s just say I had a hard time taking her at her word.
Sitting in this pool, though, I realize I should have taken her at her word.
Norfork Lake is a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lake, which means the shoreline is left to its own devices, ruggedly unkempt. Halfway down Hilary and Michael’s 11-acre property, there’s a line of demarcation where the manicured lawn gives way to a tangle of spruces and towering oaks whose limbs wave in the wind. Looking out from the pool or the 3,500 square feet of deck or the wall of towering windows in the main living room, you can’t see any other man-made structures—not to the left (trees), to the right (more trees) or ahead (lake for days). It’s natural as hell. Maybe even a little exotic. It’s peaceful and beautiful. And my lordy, do we feel like we’ve escaped.
The sun’s all but gone now, so we pull ourselves from the water, still pinching ourselves over our good fortune. We’re only two hours into our stay, but we’re in full-on vacay mode. Sangria is poured. Carnitas and guac are made in a kitchen that looks like it was yanked from the pages of Architectural Digest. Plates are taken to the lower deck. Stars twinkle. Bullfrogs croak. The lake is still.
It’s nice to be us.
HERE’S THE benefit of staying at a resort home owned and operated by the luxury-travel-minded: They’ve thought of everything. Got kids? Great! There’s a nursery down here, a highchair up there, toys in these drawers, a playground out back. Need a good night’s rest? How about some blackout curtains, downy duvets and your choice of seven—count ’em, seven—boutique-hotel-worthy bedrooms, six of which have a lake view, one of which I’m having a hard time leaving, even though it’s high time to get outta bed. I’ve opened up the curtains, at least. It’s a start.
Equani’s so huge I have a hard time knowing if anyone else is up and around. When it was time to tuck in for the night, we’d all retired to our various wings on opposite sides of the house, both floors. I open the door to my room and listen: nothing.
I take advantage of the quiet and head out onto the covered back deck, plopping down onto an oversized bean bag. As wind chimes jangle overhead, I watch the hummingbirds and gaze down at the lake, which is rippled with whitecaps made as the wind moves the water eastward. The day is warm, but the breeze is cool, the lodge’s treehouselike configuration making it easy to catch. I look down at a boat that’s now looking back up at Equani. I close my eyes. I mentally plan my next visit, envisioning my daughter in the pool, my husband at the grill …
I’d love to stay and daydream, but it’s time to head back home. There’s work to return to, and there are new guests coming to enjoy this place, where they’ll take sunset swims and catch lakeside breezes and live the good—like, really good—life for a while.
Must be nice to be them.
Equani has, like, waaay more than everything you need. (Case in point: Those four refrigerators.) But should you feel the need to emerge from your oasis, here’s where to go nearby
4245 Arkansas Highway 177 S., Jordan
A bone-in filet on the courtyard at this charming lakeview restaurant owned by another British expat and her Swiss husband is one of the only things that could tempt us from that pool. (whisperingwoodsar.com)
White Buffalo Resort
418 White Buffalo Trail, Mountain Home
Equani comes with a pool and a lake, but if it’s river you’re after, head 20 miles southwest to this one-stop shop, where you can rent a kayak or jonboat, cast a line or hire a guide for the day. (whitebuffaloresort.com)
Norfork National Fish Hatchery
1414 Highway 177 S., Mountain Home
Kiddos will love exploring the source of those legendary browns and rainbows swimming in the White and North Fork rivers. The under-16 set can even try their hand at catching one on the fly at the hatchery’s Dry Run Creek.(norforkhatcheryfriends.org)
Tracy Ferry Marina
3438 Tracy Ferry Road, Mountain Home
Located 10 minutes from Equani, this is where the Altmans keep their 24-foot pontoon, which you can rent by the half day, full day or for the week. If speed’s your thing, ski boats are on offer, too, as is a boat with a waterslide. Your choice! (tracyferrymarina.com