Douglas Merriam

Enjoy an insider's guide to the sights, food and drink, art, and history that make the state unique.

August 14, 2008

Though Vermont has one of the smallest populations in thecountry, you wouldn't know it when visiting its popular skiresorts. But not everyone comes here for the slopes. There's muchmore to explore-especially in the northern part of the state wherethe lively city of Burlington meets some of the country's mostpristine wilderness. Scattered throughout the mountains and valleysare historic towns, abundant art, and delicious neighborhoodeateries where locally produced products are highlighted.

Burlington and Beyond

Burlington bustles with art centers and students (it's home tothree colleges plus the University of Vermont). It has a busylakefront and a pedestrian mall, Church Street Marketplace, linedwith shops and restaurants. Artwork and crafts line the walls ofinns and restaurants and are for sale in gift shops, galleries, andmuseums. To sample the best, visit Frog Hollow Vermont State CraftCenter (802-863-6458, www.froghollow.org), home tomore than 200 juried, local artisans.

For breakfast and lunch, look for the crowd outside of PennyCluse (802-651-8834, www.pennycluse.com). Thedishes here are original, including home-baked biscuits served withan herb-cream gravy made with spinach, basil, and parsley. Afterlunch, stop for a sip at the Magic Hat Brewing Company(802-658-2739, www.magichat.net) for a pint ofhandcrafted ale, including Blind Faith, an India pale ale with amalty finish and a hoppy bite.

Just 20 minutes south of Burlington on Route 7 is ShelburneFarms (802-985-8442, www.shelburnefarms.org), a1,400-acre farm that dates to the 1800s. Climb aboard a sleighpulled by a team of draft horses, and traverse a portion of thesnowy grounds. Sleigh rides run every half hour in January,conditions permitting, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily, and thenweekends only through February. Consider driving another 20 minutessouth to Route 22A for a meal at the Black Sheep Bistro inVergennes (802-877-9991), where a heaping bowl of garlic mashedpotatoes is brought to every table.

A few miles farther off Route 7 is the Middlebury College SnowBowl (802-388-4356), a historic ski area founded in 1939. TheMiddlebury College ski team uses it for practice, but it's alsoopen to the public, and lift tickets are half the price of otherski areas. Two miles west is Rikert Touring Center (802-443-2744),with its 42 kilometers of snowshoeing and cross-country trails.

Where to stay:Within walking distance of the waterfront andother downtown Burlington attractions is Lang House (rates from$145; 877-919-9799, www.langhouse.com), a renovated19th-century bed-and-breakfast with 11 guest rooms.

The Mad River Valley

Follow Route 89 east of Burlington (about half an hour's drive),and take Exit 10 to explore the Mad River Valley. Before headingsouth into the valley, travel north a few miles to your first stop:Cold Hollow Cider Mill in Waterbury Center (800-327-7537, www.coldhollow.com).Justifiably known for its cider, it also houses the tasting andretail shop for the Grand View Winery (802-456-7012, www.grandviewwinery.com),which specializes in unusual fruit wines. (The actual winery is inEast Calais, about 40 minutes away.) Favorite sips include anorganically raised rhubarb wine, a pear selection, and a trio ofsweet after-dinner wines-blackberry, blueberry, andelderberry.Head south on Route 100, and you will findWaitsfield and Warren, a pair of pastoral towns with coveredbridges, pottery shops, and general stores. Near Waitsfield, you'llalso discover Mad River Glen (802-496-3551, www.madriverglen.com), anonprofit ski area cooperatively owned by 1,700 shareholders whoaim to protect the terrain for which the mountain is so revered. Ithas a long-established reputation as home to the best expert Nordictrails in New England.

For dinner, expect a worthwhile wait at American Flatbread inWaitsfield (802-496-8856, www.americanflatbread.com).A bakery during the week, it becomes a restaurant showcasinglocally raised fare on weekend nights.

At the center of town is the Warren Store, (802-496-3864, www.warrenstore.com), whichis always abuzz with locals. This is a great place to stock up onpicnic goods, including local Cabot cheese, wine, and a good delisandwich. At the Schoolhouse Market (802-496-4559, www.rootswork.org), a varietyof handcrafted, artisanal cheeses are aged in an unusual strawbale-aging cellar on the premises. A family business, the farmprides itself on having one of the youngest cheesemakers inAmerica. Jackie Faillace, now 18, is a nine-year veteran to thebusiness. With the help of her father, she's developed recipes ofher own, including a King Louis cheese, a pungent, washed rindcow's milk cheese.

Where to stay:
In Waitsfield, the Inn at the Round Barn Farm (rates from$160; 802-496-2276, www.theroundbarn.com) is a19th-century farmhouse bed-and-breakfast with an attached carriageshed that has been converted to guest rooms. It's situated on 245acres that are ideal for snowshoeing.

The Northeast Kingdom

Experience northern Vermont with a four- or five-day visit tosome of the state's most remarkable areas. Fly into Burlington, onthe shore of Lake Champlain in the northwestern corner of thestate, then rent a car for a ride through spectacular scenery.

Follow Route 100 north through Stowe and Morrisville, then easton Route 15 toward Craftsbury Common, a classic Vermont towncomplete with a green surrounded by stately white houses.Craftsbury is right in the heart of the Northeast Kingdom, thelargest stretch of magnificent scenery in the whole state. Untamedevergreen forests, alpine ridges, snow-covered lakes, and icyrivers abound with a rare scattering of tiny rural hubs. Among themis Greensboro, which is home to Willey's Store (802-533-2621), aneverything-but-the-kitchen-sink kind of country shop.

The hub of the kingdom is St. Johnsbury, which is home to theSt. Johnsbury Athenaeum Public Library and Art Gallery(802-748-8291, www.stjathenaeum.org). Builtin 1871, the athenaeum's collection of paintings has remainedunaltered since it opened in 1873, making it the oldest unchangedart gallery in the nation. The collection includes more than 100paintings by famed Hudson River School artists.

Switch gears by heading to the Craftsbury Outdoor Center(802-586-7767, www.craftsbury.com). Itsprawls across 320 rural acres of interconnecting trails that youcan explore on your own or with a guide.

Where to stay: Just outside St. Johnsbury in Lower Waterfordis the romantic Rabbit Hill Inn (rates from $195; 800-762-8669, www.rabbithillinn.com),which provides simple, sensual amenities, including hot tubs,gas-burning fireplaces, and carefully selected music that sets themood in each room.

Back to Burlington

Explore more of the kingdom driving the many small roads thatmeander through the region (a good map is a must). En route toBurlington, consider detouring to Montgomery, an old lumber andtrading center near Jay Peak Resort in the north. Home to sixcovered bridges, it's considered the covered bridge capital ofVermont. After taking a look around, warm yourself with a heartybowl of chili-made extra spicy with a dash of Dave's, a localbarbecue sauce-at Trout River Traders (802-326-3058, www.troutrivertraders.com).

Susan Farewell is the author of Quick Escapes from New YorkCity and Hidden New England.

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