Vermont, An Explorer’s Guide

Vermont, An Explorer’s Guide debuted in 1983 as a primer on the rural state and its sights. In the more-than-30 years since, Vermont has evolved as a travel destination with lively small cities as well as iconic villages, a booming culinary scene and cultural riches to complement the Green Mountains State’s natural beauty.

Published In 2015 the 14th edition the Guide documents Vermont’s own revival as a destination. Since the small state is home to more brewers and cheese-makers per capita than any other, food writer Alice Levitt has joined original co-author Christina Tree to pay due homage to the emerging flavors. As senior food writer at Vermont’s alternative weekly, Seven Days, Levitt’s finger is on the pulse of all things gustatory in the Green Mountains. Her expertise matches Tree’s intimate knowledge of Vermont’s byways, honed over decades working on travel guides and as a regular contributor to publications, including Yankee Magazine and The Boston Globe

Vermont is not an in-your-face kind of place. Most of things residents and frequent travelers alike love best about it are not obvious. That’s why even locals can benefit from this edition’s exploration of everything from well-traveled ski resorts and the Ben & Jerry’s factory to largely undiscovered craft studios, swimming holes and tiny eateries. In this edition, a new emphasis has also been placed on Vermont esoterica, including strange shops, quirky destinations and the best cemeteries.

This information isn’t collected anywhere online. Nowhere on the web can travelers find overviews of each Vermont region filled with all the must-sees, must-stays and must-eats therein. The authors offer the kind of honest guidance derived not just from a single but repeated visits, plus an expertise on the best Vermont

CONTACT: co-authors contacts:  tree.christina@gmail.com/ alicelevitt@gmail.com  /

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Alice Levitt is a well-known food writer/editor

 

         

Chelsea

                  

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White River Junction

Hotel Coolidge

A junction by its very definition is a pass-thru place. Beginning in the mid- 19th century, White River Junction was the place to get off  or change trains and, while Amtrak from NYC still stops, today it’s all about I-91 & I-89 criss-crossing here above and below the old village. Actually coming downtown means a 2-mile detour off I-89. The “Vt. Welcome Center” in the old RR station finding.

Today it was 90 degrees and I didn’t feel like passing on anywhere except out.

The heart of this brick village is the 1920’s Hotel Coolidge, the very last of rural New England’s old railroad hotels. While no one was on the street, its cool, comfortable  lobby was filled with take advantage of the AC and  WiFi. Seventh-generation Vermonter David Briggs an his wife Peggy have done a terrific job of both preserving and modernizing.  Rooms  are simple but tasteful and immaculate with AC,phones, TVs (many flat) and baths @ unusually reasonable prices. Aside from train buffs and savy travelers it’s catering to music lovers drawn at acts at the Tupalo Music Hall down the road, also the Cartoon Museum etc. Northern Stage(northernstage.org) is also next door at the Briggs Opera House and the Tip Top Media & Arts Building (85 North St.) is honeycombed with studios, many of which were open even on the Monday afternoon.

Lampscapes (lampscapes.com)is the other rare gem here , around the corner on Gates St. Formr engineer and serious landscape artist Kenneth Blaisedell can usually be found in his studio/shop creating lampshades from handmade papers with an amazing variety of designs. Hi specialty too these days are floor lamps with stems made from car-brake routers.

The hip reaturants in town, Tip Top Café and Alexir, were both closed but  I stuck my  nose in Tucker Box Café (WiFi) and in The Polka Dot diner, closed for a while but still in the family that’s been running it forever. It’s the real deal with fried tripe, liver & onions, mostly local patrons, a find for diner buffs. The Main Street Museum was closed.

Up Rt. 4 in Quechee stopped at F.H. Clothing Co., another real deal with much of the clothing designed and sewn on the premises. On along through the village of  Quechee, scouting for a swimming hole, but ended up in a deck chair by the pond at Kedron Valley Inn(kedronvalleyinn.com) in South Woodstock. Under new ownership this year, it’s a special place, dating to the 1820s. Met editor/writer  Sara Widness for dinner—same menu in the tavern and dining room—from $14 burgers on up, delicious egglplant & coucous for $20. The new owners are investors who also now own the Reluctant Panther in Manchester. The innkeeper, Wendy Jackson, is the former owner of a popular restaurant in the Champlain Valley.

Kedron Valley Inn

Hit the cooling water of Silver Lake in Barnard after dinner.

July 12

Took another pre-breakfast swim because am staying up the road at Sara’s Fan House (thefanhouse.com) . Guests pick up beach towels and lotion on the porch. This is an exceptional place with many unusual touches. My toom, the fireplace suite, has a cathedral ceiling with a skylight over it, a four-oster king, space (maybe a sleepsofa in a corner/), working fireplace, books, fine linens. Sarah has a thing for fine textiles, which include original Goblens tapestries inherited from her grandfather. Rugs, art, books, a luxuriant flower garden. Yogurt, fruit & granola for breakfast launched another hot day.

Fan House in Barnard

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Stowe through Smugglers Notch to the Champlain Islands

Originally Posted Saturday, September 6, 2008 (http://vermontexplorer.blogspot.com/)

Stowe-bound
Less than two weeks but more than 1000 miles ago, we headed up I-89 for Stowe, stopping first at Vermont’s cool welcoming center in Sharon.

In contrast to the state’s official gateway center on I-91 in Guilford, this was an ordinary highway rest area until then-governor Howard Dean had the bright idea to secure Federal funding to turn it into Vermont’s Vietnam War memorial. In addition to a reminder about the meaning of war to this small state, it’s now includes tropical vegetation recycling its water, rocking chairs and free Green Mountain Coffee, the better to peruse the free handouts and maps covering the entire state.
Exit in Sharon and you can find a choice of places to eat in South Royalton, home of the Vermont Law School. We discovered another handy stop in Middlesex (turn left off Exit 9 and it’s on the right. Red Hen Bakery fills the space that was formerly Camp Mead.
Great breads, salads, deli.

In Stowe we stayed at Fiddlers Green, one of the town’s most reasonably priced and pleasant places to stay if you like genuine old ski lodges. Our room under the eaves was small but cool, with the sound of the brook to lull us to sleep. We tried for dinner reservations at Hen of the Wood in Waterbury, Vermont’s dining sensation of the season. No luck. You need to reserve ten days in advance. Instead, we had a great time with friends at Harrison’s, a true find right there but hidden downstairs in the middle of the village.


The tone of Vermont’s most famous old resort was been in the 1940s by the Stowe Resort Company (it’s changed names but not essential ownership by the insurance company now known as AIG). The rope tow that first hauled skiers up the first 4-mile long ski trail here in 1937 was a Cadillac and the most ski resort’s most recent expansion–which has been a decade in the works and will be completed this coming December with the opening of its new base lodge and village at Spruce Peak–is deluxe to the max. The new condo hotel at Spruce Peak is stunning but the smallest studio room, off season, is $500 per night and that doesn’t even include parking.
Still there are so many sides to Stowe. We can all gawk at the beauty of the new lodge and take advantage of the town’s three elaborate spas, great skiing, exceptional biking, hiking on and around Mt. Mansfield (Vermont’s highest mountain)and wide choice of dining.

The Lamoille River Valley
Most places to stay, eat and shop are strung along Route 108, “The Mountain Road”, which climbs from Stowe Village (down on Route 100) up through Smugglers Notch (Vermont’s highest pass) and down into the Lamoille River Valley. Half way down the other side Smugglers’ Notch Village rises like a mirage out of wooded mountainside–more than 600 condos, accommodating more than 2600 people, more than half of them kids.

Known affectionately as “Smug’s”, this resort is a gift to America’s dwindling middle class, an affordable family vacation based on a week’s stay in well designed and equipped condo units. Kids are heavily scheduled in age appropriate day camps and adults have a choice of programs, most included in the basic price. Condos are clustered in “villages,” each with recreation facilities. Shuttle buses circulate constantly, cutting down on traffic. In summer there are plenty of pools and water slides and variations thereon. In winter there’s skiing.
We spent the night at Smugs and continued on Jeffersonville, good for galleries and eating at 158 Main (formerly Windridge Bakery), one of Vermont’s best rural sources of locally produced ingredients, artfully served as salads, soups and just about anything. The same can be said of Persico’s Pum & Main in Johnson, 9 miles east. Johnson is a small but lively college town, also home of Johnson Woolen Mills, which no longer produces wool but buys it locally and still turns out its iconic jackets and workpants as well as other very Vermont clothing.
The Lamoille River Valley is essentially quiet farm country. We checked out numerous B&Bs and stopped at the Boyden Winery in Cambridge, which we remembered fondly from previous visits but were frustrated with this time around. There were wine tastings but just if you were willing to pay $5 –which entitled you to try 13 wines. Who wants to try 13 wines in a place where you have to drive along narrow, rural roads to get anywhere else? We have never seen a winery that charges for a small sampling or wine so you can see what you might like to buy.
Obviously the place is now geared to groups and functions, not the casual visitors who just wants a sense and maybe a token taste of farmlife and wine?
We dined in St. Albans at Chow Bella — nice atmosphere, good food and wine and found our way to Sampler House B&B in Milton. This turned out to be a real find, a deceptively small cape with spacious rooms featuring beautiful carpentry work by Peter Martin, tastefully decorated by wife Deborah, who also knows how to cook!

Vermont’s Northwest Corner
On up to Vermont’s Northwest Corner–to Swanton and the Tyler Place Famkily Resort in HIghgate Springs, then across through the Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge to Arlburg, the northernmost US town in the Champlain Islands. The Thomas Mott B&B is right on the water, facing across the bay to the Green Mountains and the evening was so perfect, we decided to go get take-out to bring back to dine on the dock here. Unfortunately by the time drive the 10 minutes into the village of Arlburg, both stores had closed down their delis for the night and it was another 20 minutes (each way) down to Hero’s Welcome, the island’s largest general store/stakeout source. Luckily the drive is beautiful and we made it in plenty of time to dine on the dock.
Next day it took more than 4 hours to make the same drive–this time stopping at every B&B and rediscovering Isle La Motte, site of St. Anne’s Shrine-


which happens to mark the spot that Samuel Champlain first stepped ashore in what would be Vermont in 1609–reason for big celebrations in 2009. Near the southern tip of this island there’s also Fisk Farm, formerly a major source of the island’s distinctive black marble but now, thanks to preservationist Linda Fitch, an arts center with and place to explore geological history. Fitch is also responsible for the new hiking paths and interpretive center a few miles away at a site geologists recognize as the world’s oldest reef. A short and fascinating video explains all.
Eventually we made our way to the Burlington home of my Vermont co-author Diane Foulds and her partner, Vermont writer Joe Citro and dined at a great little Vietnamese restaurant (buy the 12th edition of our book!).
Champlain Valley
Traveling on down Route 7 we spent a happy hour in Horsford’s Nursery in Charlotte, buying hydrangea bushes and a clematis. I’m an enthusiastic but untutored gardener and need a place that’s big on informed advice–which Vermont’s oldest and one of it’s biggest nurseries is.
Vergennes is a great little town but it was mobbed so we headed out to the Basin Harbor Club to check out the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum (allow an hour if you are interested in history)

and to lunch at the resort’s informal and pleasant Red Mill. Like Tyler Place, Basin Harbor is a lakeside, family-geared resort with accommodations in cottages and children’s programs so that adults can take their ease. There’s a major golf course here too. Both places are wonderfully traditional old resorts and prices are per person.
Chasing down remote B&Bs proved frustrating enough to make us finally seriously consider buying a GPS. But when do we have time for that? Or money?
Our final stop was Mary’s at Baldwin Creek in Bristol, one of Vermont’s first to emphasize local ingredients and still leading that charge.
Enough! We finally made it home around 9pm and my husband–who was very much a part of this expedition–isn’t ready to go anywhere soon again.

Sunday we did make it to Marblehead to celebrate my birthday with dear friends–again GPS would have come in handy.

Maine Detour
Come Thursday, Sept. 4 we were off again at 6AM, this time heading for The Samoset in Rockland, Maine, site of our annual Northeast Chapter meeting of SATW (Society of American Travel Writers). The professional development session was on blogging but I was too tired to concentrate properly–just got the impression that I’m doing everything wrong but not how to do it right….

Posted by christina Tree at 9:27:00 AM

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Up the Champlain Valley

Originally Posted Friday, August 22, 2008(http://vermontexplorer.blogspot.com/)

Up The Champlain Valley

Monday, August 11
Crossing the Vermont border at Jacksonville is like slipping in Vermont’s back door.
The road from Colrain, Ma. is lined with orchards and cornfields. This swath of hilltowns between Route 2 in Mass. And Route 9 in Vermont is some of the most interesting backcountry in New England. Figuring there would be no place to eat between there and Bennington, I stopped at Pine Hill Orchards (Colrain, Ma.) and had the yummy house chicken salad with apples and walnuts.

Of course it turned out that there’s a new places to eat in Jacksonville. Valbert’s Diner was jammed and, according to Connie Burnell at Stone Soldier Pottery, serves good food. Connie is the widow of Robert Burnell, founder to the pottery 40 years ago. Their daughter carries on the tradition of stone-fierd lamps, vases, mugs, etc., all with deeply colored glazes.
Connie was a font of local gossip, notably about Honora, the winery that’s opening in the wilds of neighboring Halifax. Juicy stuff!

I continued to take the road less traveled, up through Whitingham—where the stone marker still stands on the site of Brigham Young’s birthplace. It’s engraved: “born on this sport in 1801….a man of much courage and superb equipment.”(this Mormon founding father also fathered 56 children).

Readsboro is even deeper into the boonies, a town that boomed in the 1890s as the terminus of the Hoosuc Tunnel & Willmington RR and home of a major “chair factory, the source of folding chairs for innumerable public halla. The story is told in the town historical society, which luckily, Betty Bolognani had opened for locally connected visitors.
Betty’s family had run the Readsboro Inn for 70 years but had recently sold it to two guys. I checked it out and the restaurant looks cheerful while the (separate) bar room is obviously the center of town. Readsboro is one of those low rent places that’s attracted a number of artists who hold occasional open studios. In the one Main Street studio that’s open regularly Mary Angus blows and molds exceptional glass perfume bottles and the like and William LeQuier creates amazing glass sculpture.
I reached Bennington after 3pm and spent a good hour in The Bennington Museum, best known for its collection of Grandma Moses paintings but worthwhile on a number of counts.
Then came a downpour, which I weathered in Bennington Potters, housed in the same picturesque grist mill it began in 60 years ago but with the pottery now set off by extensive furniture and furnishings, candles and other enticing things to buy.

On to North Bennington and The Henry House, an 18th century home in which I was the night’s only guest. It’s a lovely place but was a bit spooky and Kevin’s, the local eatery was so packed that I had to eat at the bar, surrounded by locals and feeling painfully out of it until a regular named Harry started telling me his life’s story. Only too late did I learn that the reasonably priced and attractive “lounge” at Pangea, otherwise the pricy place in town, was open and I looked fabulous. Not that I really want to knock Kevin’s. The salmon was good.Tuesay, August 12
I immediately got bogged down at Taraden, another lovely B&B up the road, then strolled around the village of North Bennington. Powers Store is definitely the place I should have eaten a couple weeks when I ended up here famished and got a sandwich—then was stuck in the rain—at the town’s other (real) general store. Powers offers tables and quiche. Eddington House (next to Kevin’s) seems like a great B&B and the innkeeper was a trove of info, pointing me to Mile Around Woods Trail through field and forest, also to Lake Parlan (swimming and fishing) and telling me about the Moses Farm (as in Grandma Moses) which offers PYO and a gallery showing works by Will Moses.

Back in downtown Bennington I snooped the Main Street shops
between downpours, stopped by the Bean & Leaf to check my email with Chai and a bagel and filled up at Hemmings Sunoco. Unfortunately it was raining too hard to park and explore its museum.I had meant to spend a couple hours in Manchester but it was already 1pm as I zipped up Route 7 and I took the bypass. Checking the map, I was puzzled by why the absence of exits beyond E. Dorset. It turns out that’s where the highway ends, turning back into plain old Route 7. The gracious-looking old inn in this small village turns out to be the birthplace of Bill Wilson, founder of AA. It’s now run by volunteers and geared to members.I was heading for the Someday Café in Danby but turns out that it’s closed on Tuesday. I bought a sandwich at the general store and ate it on the cafe’s terrace,
Danby is a big antiques center with some fine furniture in the 1820 House of Antiques and 25 dealers in The Vermont Wreath Company, among others. I don’t know what to make of The Rooster Man.Next up Route 7 is Wallingford, with crafts shops and galleries. Rout 140 runs west through humped hills to Tinmouth. It began to pour again and my cell didn’t work but I was determined to find Twin Mountains Farm in Middletown Springs. I got directions at the general store and, after a forever ride out a dirt road, it was worth the effort. On to the The Inn at Rutland – which is a very comfortable spot too. For a second night, however, I found how much I hate eating alone. This time it was at Little Harry’s, a great place if you are there with someone.Wednesday, August 13I love sharing a breakfast table with a stranger. This morning it was an “energy consultant” from Houston who works for one for the big Wall Street brokerages and deals in coal and oil. The Northeast, he tells me, is at the wrong end of the pipe line and will be hardest hit this winter. We have no refineries and just a couple nuclear power plants. Coal is his answer…

I walked the downtown Rutland walk but the “visitors center” in the middle of the city is unmanned, the chamber director won’t talk to me and nothing really good here is obvious. The Amtrak station is also unmanned. The Chaffee Art Center is far less of interesting than in the past and clearly hurting (no director). My one interesting discovery was Michael’s, The Vermont Country Toymaker at 64 Merchants Row.Owner Michael (he won’t give his last name) makes all the wooden rocking cows, trains, etc. that fill the place and, best of all, are the locally painted and ingenious small stocking stuffers.

The Vermont Marble Exhibit in Proctor was a very pleasant surprise Housed in one of the old marble sheds on Otter Creek, it’s a delight from the moment you enter under a monolithic marble arch and cross railroad tracks to the front door, then climb marble steps to a grand marble hall. A small sign requests that you to check in at the gift store to pay, but you don’t have to. A film tells the story of the marble boom, bust and current status in Vermont. You learn that one major underground quarry is still worked in Danby. There’s also an amazing “Hall of Presidents” with sculpted impressions by local sculptor Renzo Palmerini. There also plenty of other exhibits and the gift shop is a great source of items made from Vermont—and other—marble. I bought a cheese knife.

Starved as usual in the wrong place (the café at the Exhibit has been replaced with wine tasting) I stopped by the general store in Proctor and picked up a macaroni salad. At the next stop—Wilson’s Castle (otherwise a rip-off at $10 per adult; it’s all about renting the place for weddings) I managed to picnic.
On to Castleton and then south to Poultney where I stopped at the Red Brick Mill, seemingly super destination dining. Then it started to pour. First the sky turned a nasty black and—just as Rte. 221 cut into New York on the way back up to Fairhaven—it let loose with a vengeance. I stopped for a while and watched other vehicles whiz by, finally started up again and found my tires barely connecting with the hardtop. It was scary! The Maplewood, a b&b south of Fairhaven was’nt welcoming but at least it was dry.Fairhaven was interesting with its grand square, but it was still pouring. I valiantly checked out a b&b at which no one was home and gratefully headed east on Rte. 4, which here is a major highway. By the time I exited at Castleton the rain had stopped and I could appreciate the view of Lake Bomoseen from the Lake House Pub & Grill,

already wishing this was my last stop, but on to the Hubbardston Battlefield site of a 1777 battle, the only one of the Revolution actually fought in Vermont. It’s a beautiful place!!
According to the map, I was now almost in Brandon, if only I took the right dirt roads. Unfortunately I got totally turned around and ended back on Route 4, meaning I had to circle all the way back through Rutland and the north on Route 7 to Brandon. When I finally reached The Old Mill, my b&b, mine host sympathetically confided that’s he had made the same mistake the first time he tried to get to Brandon from Hubbardston..Finally the sun appeared and my room was a beauty, with windows and a balcony overlooking surrounding greenery. Back at the Brandon green this was the night of a corn fest, with a band in the gazebo and couples dancing in the street.

I bought the yummiest ear of grilled corn I’ve ever tasted, served on a stick that made it easy to rub in a tub of butter. Dinner was around the corner at the Watershed, overlooking the waterfall in the middle of Brandon. With WiFi I could check my email while sipping ale and waiting for a ham and cheese strudel.Thursday, August 14 Brandon only gets better. I snooped the other inns and b&bs and the morning went quickly.
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After an exceptionally creamy quiche at Gourmet Provence, I headed west to Larabee’s Point, one of narrowest points on Lake Champlain and site of the Fort Ti ferry (to Fort Ticonderoga). This ferry has been in existence, one way or another, since the 18th century
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Finally the sun was shining and it was hot. At neighboring Teachout’s Store, the operations base for Carillon Cruises, I changed into lighter duds.A mile from Larabee’s Point a picturesque red farmhouse overlooks Lake Champain and the “open” flag is usually out, welcoming you to Norton Latourelle’s gallery, a menagerie of appealing wooden dogs, cats, rabbits and much more. Norton’s bread and butter has become commissioned portraits of pets but he still finds plenty of outlets for whimsy.
On the way to Shoreham I was stopped by cows crossing the road. Hooray!
This still happens in Vermont. This is gorgeous country with the Adirondacks to the West and the Green Mountains to the East. The Shoreham Inn looks as great as ever andnow offers an English pub. I checked out another b&b and headed for Fairy Tale Farm in Bridport. What a beauty! Just two rooms but each is about as nice as they can be with windows everywhere, balconies, books and plenty of space, views.On to Chimney Point at the Lake’s other narrows, this one bridged by the Lake Champlain Bridge

— better known as the Crown Point Bridge, confusing because Crown Point is in NY. Too many “points”.

The “Chimney” here, Vermont historian Elsa Gilbertson tells me, alludes to all that was left of the French colony on this site after the British burned it in 1748. One of Vermont’s under-appreciated historic sites, the 1780s brick tavern here houses the state’s largest display of native Indian artifacts (some dating back 7500 years),most found around this site. Elsa shows me how to throw an Atlatle – an ancient arrow launcher that’enjoyed a recent revival in Vermont. In September this is the site of an Atlatl competition.
I love this place (see the opening picture to this blog): the exhibits, the rockers on the porch and the fact it was falsely promoted for a century as the tavern in which Ethan Allen and Seth Warner planned the siege on Fort Ticonderoga. I supped next door at The Bridge restaurant (friendly and good comfort food but I shouldn’t have ordered the stir fry) and headed back to Bridport to watch the weekly auction under the tent. The big attraction was listening to auctioneer Tom Broughton. Back to Fairy Tale Farm for a lovely night.

Friday, August 15, Middlebury
Approaching Middlebury from the West, the buildings of Middlebury College, one of the country’s oldest (founded 1800) and most prestigious, are the first thing you see in this town, which rise ein tiers. The Addison County C of C is sited on the top tier and I narrowly missed a police car on the way into its lot. It stopped and lights flashed but the officer obviously decided I was just a dumb tourist and not worth his trouble.

Lots of help at the C of C, a dizzying amount of information. Again the skies were darkening so I raced to do my walk-a-bout, down along the shops around the State Crafts Center at Frog Hollow

and then across the footbridge to the former marble works on the opposite bank, now filled with restaurants and a great spot from which to see the wide waterfall that once powered many mills. Ialso checked out the Sheldon Museum.
Right off the bat I’d run into a nice guy from California carrying my book and I had to tell him—which made it awkward as I kept running into him all morning.
All the restaurants were crammed because (as my fan informed me) this was graduation day for summer language programs at The College. I tried to sit down at Tully and Marie’s but after a15-minute wait without ordering (I was assured it would be quick) I gave up and moved on, finally trying the bar at Dario’s because no one was in there. More waiting and nerves. When my wrap finally came I asked them to make it to go so I could eat half later—and then forgot it until I pulled out, then couldn’t find a parking another space.The only downside about Middlebury is the parking and it turns out some of the most interesting shopping—Danforth Pewter, Otter Creek Brewer, Beau Ties, Vermont Soap, Gieger and more—are all just out of downtown with plenty of parking. This is also the way to the UVM Morgan Horse Farm in Weybridge.
It was way past 3 and the thought of the 3-hour drive home loomed as I checked stuff south on Route 7, then ended up at a closed road on the far side of Lake Dunmore, finally stopping at Churchill House after 4 and having to forgo Blueberry Hill and other places deeper into Goshen. Over the Brandon Gap and then Roxbury Mt., into Bethel, down I-89 and home. I just \managed it escape up to bed before son Tim and daughter-in-law Yuko arrived with our two grandchildren—4-year old Taiga was wide awake.Saturday was great fun with family but Sunday I was sicker than I’ve ever been.

What a relief to be able to write again but I’m still wiped out from a bout with a viral bug. I can’t ever remember having a headache like that—all day—which with my other symptoms was initially diagnosed over the phone as meningitis but happily turned out to be far less serious! Thank goodness it didn’t happen at a B&B…
Posted by christina Tree at 8:35:00 PM

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Central Vermont Prowl

Originally Posted Sunday, August 3, 2008 (http://vermontexplorer.blogspot.com/)


From Montpelier to Tunbridge

Monday is not a good day to tour Montpelier.
Vermont’s capitol building wlecomes visitors but the fabulous Vermont Historical Society Museum in the reconstructed Pavillion Hotel next door is closed Mondays. Ditto for the T.W. Wood Gallery at Vermont College. Still, there are interesting shops and, although The New England Culinary Institute (NECI) is less of a presence here than formerly, there are good restaurants. I met Erica Housekeeper, Vermont’s travel media person, for lunch at Phoebe’s and scoped out the tpwn’s other hot new places to eat: Kismet and Ariel’s Riverside Café & Bar and That’s Life Soup.

There are a several places to stay in Montpelier but there are also some gloriously sited and comfortable farm B&Bs in nearby Plainfield and Marshfield, just minutes off route 2 but up in the hills.

Maplecroft B&B is my pick in Barre. Its welcoming and convenient, just uphill from Barre’s Main Street. Hosts Marianne Kotch and Paul Heller are longtime librarians (quilters, librarians and magicians all receive a 10% discount) and the house is filled with books you really want to read. Paul is also passionately interested in Barre’s early 19th century role in the history of America’s labor movement. He toured me through the Old Labor Hall which is dire need of restoration.


Barre boomed with the grante industry which here—in contrast to Maine’s big quarry centers– Stonington and the island of Vinalhaven,where schooners carried away the granite blocks—Barre’s operations included–and still do– not only the quarries but–because the huge granite blocks had to be reduced to products tht could be carried away by train– dozens of enterprises dedicated to cutting, polishing and sculpting the stone. A century ago most finishers and sculptors were Italians and most died young, thanks to the stone dust.

Several years ago much money was invested in converting one of the granite sheds into a granite museum but, after a lot of fanfare and public investment, the project has stalled. On the positive side, Millstone Hill Trails in East Barre—70 miles of mountain biking/x-country trails– have been developed on 350 acres pocked with dozens of defunct quarries by Pierre Couture, who inherited the land from his father.

My other Barre discovery was the Hilltop Restaurant, just down Quarry Hill from The Rock of Ages Visitors Center. Owned by the same family for three generations, Hilltop has great pasta, veal dishes, sauces and reasonable prices.

Both Barre and Montpelier are major crossroads (Route 2 and 302 are the major east-west roads across northern New England) and I-89. So many tourists pass through without quite knowing where they are, except that they want to get to Stowe.

What I’m noticing is that not a lot of people seem to know about the Mad River Valley just west of the Montpelier area, south of Stowe. In winter it’s big, thanks to some of the best skiing in the East at both Sugarbush and Mad River Glen. In recent years, however, The Valley seems to have fallen below the summer tourist radar, which is a real shame.

I can’t think of another area in Vermont that combines such gorgeous farmscapes, mountain views, swimming holes and places to stay, eat and shop but that’s as little known. Weddings are big here but The Valley (as it’s locally known) is noticeably less lively in summer than it once was. Not that local residents–if they don’t own shops, inns or restaurants—seem to mind.

What’s new here since my last edition is Claybrook, the 110-room condo hotel at the base of Sugarbush. It’s red with a central silo and an improvement on the current big box hotela at the bottom of most New England ski mountains. It was, however, dead.

Millbrook Inn has become my home away from home in the Mad River Valley. Innkeepers Thom and Joan Gorman are two of the most amazing people I know. Thom is an outstanding chef, known chiefly for his Indian dishes utilizing local ingredients. Joan makes great pastry and waits the tables in the inn’s restaurant, which opens on a garden overlooking a pond. Between winter and summer seasons the couple travel to the world’s little-touristed far corners, walking and paddling as much as possible and picking up new wines and recipes.

It’s interesting to watch The Valley change. I’ve written so many stories about it over the years that I’ve known most of the people who shaped it from the ‘60s until now. However, many of these are no longer here, or leaving. Betsy Pratt, who has shepherded Mad River Glen for more than 30 years and is responsible for its status as a beloved co-op owned mountain sans snow boarding or major snowmaking or , is 80 this year and swears that she is selling her vintage Mad River Barn.

Ann Day, a noted local poet and photographer, has deeded her Knoll Farm—where I’ve stayed repeatedly when it was an inn—to the Vermont Land Trust. It’s now a combination non-profit farm and a retreat center and still one of the most beautiful spots in Vermont. I stopped by and walked a path up through the fields, waiting for Helen Whybrow, who by coincidence is one of my former editors and now lives here and helps run the place.

This week was dogged by the same intermittent thunder storms that kept me wet last week and it poured as I left The Valley behind, climbing up over the Roxbury Gap road and down through Northfield, finally letting up in Brookfield’s Pond Village at Green Trails Inn. Again this is a place with many memories, the place I wrote the proposal for How New England Happened, my first book, and now owned by someone who was a longtime friend before she bought it. Jane Doerfer is a Renaissance women. She was development director for the Massachusetts Art Council when I first met her and went on to author several best selling cookbooks among many other things.

Pond Village itself is magical. The pond is so deep it’s spanned by a floating bridge which, unfortunately, is presently impassable to cars (I spotted a small fish swimming on it ) but still a popular place from which to fish. The small, neighboring park is a great spot from which to swim. Ariel’s Restaurant, destination dining for much of Central Vermont, is here too but we dined at the Three Stallion Inn in nearby Randolph because I’d never eaten there. No complaints!

Perhaps it was because this week has been so relaxing that I slowed way down on Friday, my fifth day on the road again. I stopped in to see Al Floyd at Floyd’s General Store in Randolph Center, browsed through downtown Randloph and revisited the Three Stallion Inn. Big finds for the day: Neighborly Farms (good cheese) in North Randolph, Devil’s Den Farm Homestay in Chelsea and the transformed Village Store in Tunbridge where Frenchman JP DeBeuf makes the croissants, pastas and ice creams he serves as well as sells.

Posted by christina Tree at 5:17:00 PM

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SOUTHERN VERMONT LOOP

Originally Posted Sunday, July 27, 2008 (http://vermontexplorer.blogspot.com/)

Monday, July 21

A week of rain, misadventures and unexpected kindnesses in Southern Vermont
The rain began the minute I pulled into The Vermont Welcome Center on I-91 in Vermon. It poured buckets, then petered out but hit again the moment I stopped in Brattleboro at the Chamber of Commerce. This pattern of letting up while I was inside or driving and pouring the moment I stepped out pretty much held all week.

In East Jamaica Laura Howe, one of my adopted mothers and
The Vermonter to whom several editions of the guide have been dedicated, fed me
Tuna fish, lettuce from her garden and her ginger and oatmeal cookies.

Up the road in Jamaica 9 (Vt.), the town hall

has been restored, fitted with an authentic painted curtain from Bellows Falls. Muzzie has sold his hardware store and the building is now an outlet for a local glass-blower.


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Elaine Beckwith’s gallery continues to be one of the best in Vermont and Skip Woodruff (a Howe relative) is thriving, making and selling his rustic lodge furniture. Margie’s Muse weaving shop, the Three Mountain Inn and Asti’s (authentic Swiss dining) plus Jamaica State Park—right there with trails and a swimming hole—all make for an exceptional village that you can drive through in seconds but is good for a couple pleasant days. I was there until almost 4pm.

Route 30 snakes on west, up and up through woods to Bondville. I turned at the deceptively modest “Stratton” sign. The access road, long and steep, climbs by the golf clubhouse and course, ending at a mammoth development. The small Chapel of the Snows – which stood all alone on that day (ok: 40 years ago?) when my friend Mary was married there, is now dwarfed by condo complexes. According to the Welcome Center clerk, just 250 condos are in the rental pool but that’s hard to believe. The good news is that cell phones work here.

Back down on Route 30 I stopped at “Out Back” and was glad I did. Its dining room and deck are right on Winhall River and all signs point to a find, especially for families, with Thursday night bbqs at picnic tables and live blues or other music.

North on Route 100 pottery was set out in the field and open door at D. Lasser Ceramics.
Years ago I bought a pair of crooked purple and blue candlesticks here and, although current pieces look more sophisticated, it’s nice to see that they are still not afraid to set them out so trustingly.

I’d been tipped off that The New American Grill in the Londonderry Shopping Center is outstanding and I’m sure it is. Unfortunately it was the chef owner’s birthday and so he wasn’t cooking, but I would return in a minute—booths, a great menu, friendly service, decent prices. Jake’s, also in the shopping center and formerly the local favorite, was empty but I understand the food is still okay.

It stopped raining and I ventured east along Route 11, past Magic Mt. to Lowell Lake, off up a side road and a quiet backwater that’s recently become at state park. Fishermen were drifting in but I didn’t see any places to swim.

The Colonial House is a small, homey inn and motel surrounded by meadows, south of Weston village. Kim and Jeff Seymour are the second generation innkeepers here and there’s a casual, friendly feel to the place. Given all the day’s collection of flyers, etc., I was grateful to be able to pull right into a rear motel unit and to begin sorting.

Tuesday, July 22
Breakfast is big at The Colonial House, with a menu to choose from, homemade breads. I fit right in at a breakfast table of half a dozen women, several here by themselves, drawn by services at the nearby Weston Priory, a Benedictine monastery known for its music and expansive peace.

Weston itself was a disappointment this time around.

The Inn at Weston is lovelier than ever , in part because innkeeper Bob Aldrich, a doctor in his previous life, is a passionate gardener. Perhaps I’m just sour grapes because the Vermont Country Store wasn’t carrying my guide and in the past they have been a big outlet. A new Gallery on the Green has opened with WiFi, good coffee, teas and art but the museums are closed weekdays and the general feel is tacky.

After a false start, I found the Landrgrove Road and the Landgrove Inn, seemingly as lovely as ever, a great woods retreat with pool, pond, walking trails and dining room.
Unfortunately I had a 2pm appointment with the chamber in Manchester so had to scoot through Peru and the less said about that meeting, the better.

Manchester is a bit overwhelming for a travel writer who needs to get it all straight and hasn’t been there for the ten years I had left it to my co-authors. The Barnstead Inn was perfect for me needs—a tasteful room with all the comforts but not fussy, plus a pool.
Dinner at The Perfect Wife with Chris and Ted Sprague, innkeepers at the far more luxurious Inn at Ormsby Hill, was a delight and tuned me inn.

Wednesday, July 23
Scurried around Manchester and checked out both Dorset and Pawlet

but it’s a no brainer I should have allowed another day herer. The Gourmet Café and Deli, back behind Riteway, was a great find for lunch and I was chugging along despite the rain when I walked in The Equinox inh Manchester Center, Vermont’s only surviving 19th century spa resort. It’s recently changed hands, yet again. Current owners, a New Jersey-based conglomerate, have lavished it with millions in excruciatingly bad, insensitive taste. Theoretically “Art Deco”because the resort prospered in 20s era of “auto touring”, the public rooms are attractive but each of the guest rooms is dominated by a huge flat-screen TV and outsized contemporary furnishings that would look fine in am urban boutique hotel but are totally bizarre here.
Shouldn’t there be a law, or at least guidelines, when owners acquire a historic property on the National Register? The spa area is lovely and the amenities—golf, archery, falconry, off-road driving—are still there but the hotel itself is now a shell with
An anywheresville feel.

Too bad the decorator didn’t seem to know about Susan Sargent’s bright fabrics, showcased next door in the old Johnny Appleseed. They would have been far more sophisticated and appropriate.

Whew! I got that out of my system. Unfortunately I was still filled with negaztive vibes when I left the hotel and managed to slip on the marble steps in front of the North Shire Court House across the street. I hit my chin and a car stopped. Two nice guys offered to take me back into the Equinox, where they worked, and give me some ice.

“No way!” I croaked. “I’m not going back in that hotel.” I’m sure thay thought I was crazy. Luckily at the Historic Hildene Visitors center, my next stop, Paul Maynard (who remembered me from years past at the Inn at West Hill in Arlington) gave me plenty of sympathy and an ice pack. Paula sent me over to Southern Vermont Arts Center, which now hosts major seasonal exhibitions—at present featuring Janet Fish and her amazing renditions of glass.

Enough! I drove through the rain to Arlington and the Country Willows where Anne and Ron Webber, longtime are innkeepers, gave me a warm reception and we dined well at the reasonably priced South Arlington Café.

Thursday, Arlington & Bennignton
One of the best breakfast’s ever! An omelet concocted from Anne’s herb and veggie garden with French press coffee. I prowled the local antiques shops and inns happily but fell behind schedule as usual, finally snagging lunch at 2:45 in a general store—during a downpour—in North Bennington, home of the Park McCullough House, one of Vermont’s truly hidden gems. I remember walking into the parlor there one day (40 years ago probably) and finding Aaron Copland at the grand piano there and no one else in the house. I had forgotten that until I heard a musician practicing in the carriage house when I entered.

Finding the middle of Bennington – and then the chamber—took much more doing than I’d anticipated. Since my last visit by-passes have looped like spaghetti around the old Rte.7 and 9 junctions, where the traffic backup seems worse than ever. JP at the chamber couldn’t have been more helpful but it’s obvious I have to come back to do Bennington justice. At least I found the Bennington Arts Center with its Covered Bridge Museum and managed to stop at the Bennington Monument.

The former Walloomsuc Inn, which was here during the Battle of Bennington (which wasn’t here) is the most picturesque ruin in the state—it was Vermont’s oldest inn forever but the owners refused to paint or upgrade it. Now it would be the perfect venue for murder mysteries. It was already past 6pm and I fled east, down Route 9 and up out of the Battenkill Valley through wooded Woodford—said the be the highest village in Vermont—then down into the Deerfield Valley and Wilmington to the White House, a former mansion that’s been an inn, under the same ownership, forever.

Or so I thought. Turns out it changed hands on Wednesday. Stan Smith, the new owner, is a former Beverly Hills realtor. I supped at The Maple Leaf Brewery in the middle of Wilmington, which is no longer a brewpub because it had just changed hands.

Friday, Mt. Snow Valley
Mt. Snow is now owned by a Missouri –based company and, according to the C of C, is pouring money into snowmaking and other improvements. Hard to tell anything about a ski area in summer but local lodging actually seems on an upswing. The Inn at Sawmill Farm, celebrating its 40th anniversary this summer—is still the standout place to stay and eat here and seems more inviting than ever, with traditionally luxurious rooms and a blue heron (no clipped wings) cavorting around the pond beyond the pool.

Niche inns are the thing here. The Grey Ghost now caters to motorcyclists, Trail’s End is all about herbal spa treatments, Austin Hill is about murder mysteries and “Paws” in the middle of Dover will be opening soon with, I’m told, dog runs for every room. While The White House will no longer maintain x-country trails (it’s still a great places for weddings), The Hermitage, currently being totally rebuilt with an eye to energy efficiency and “green construction” will reopen by winter with its great trail system.

Again I feel like a bit of a ghost in this Valley. I have not only skied Haystack Mt. (now a private community with just its golf course open) but Carinthia, once owned by a college classmate, now a “frontal face” reserved for free-style skiing, part of Mount Snow. Soon too, no one will remember the lake with its distinctive floodlit fountain in front of Snow Lake Lodge. It’s being drained, despite its fish and otters. Seems someone died there five years ago, falling out of a paddle boat after hours.

My final find of the day was Cooper Hill Inn up in east Dover, arguably the inn with the best view in Vermont—this afternoon it was all the way west (70 miles?) to Mount Monadnock. Formerly this was an informal, groups-geared place but present owners Lee and Charles Wheeler have created a very special place, reserving one wing of the lodge for families and tailoring the other wing to romantic getaways. There’s an informal rec room but also a gracious living room in the original 18th century core of the house. The setting for a wedding is in a sheltered hollow below an exceptionally flowery rock garden and everywhere is that amazing view.

Posted by christina Tree at 12:07:00 PM

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CRAFTSBURY FOUND

Originally Posted Saturday, July 12, 2008 (http://vermontexplorer.blogspot.com/)

Saturday, July 12, 2008


July 9, 2008
Phoebe’s Cottage, East Craftsbury, Vt.Husband Bill has been in Mt. Auburn Hospital in Cambridge with diverticulitis for a week and we finally drove the 220 miles to Craftsbury,Vt. on Sunday, a day late. Getting all eight of us out of our house was heavy lifting. Everyone was torn about coming but the cottage had been rented and “Vermont” had been promised for so long that there was no way the grandkids were not going.Aki (age 7) gets carsick and so the going along I-93 was slow. It was a hot, muggy day and around 4pm the talk was all about swimming. Luckily I write an Explorers Guide to New Hampshire and had carefully detailed what’s at each exit in Franconia Notch State Park for the current edition. Luckily I had the book in the car and cell phones work south of Franconia Notch so both cars exited at 34C to Echo Lake ($4 per adult, $2 per child, changing facilities!). It hit the spot! A sandy beach, cool but not freezing water below the slopes of Cannon Mt. plus a brown dot on a ski trail, a real bear!!!We hadn’t had lunch and around 4pm the talk was all about eating so we headed for Anthony’s Diner in St. Johnsbury, which my Vermont guide says is open late but the owner was closing up as we pulled in. He directed us up Route 2 to Goodfellows Restaurant which again hit the spot with its outdoor porch, ideal for kids. The burgers were’nt great but a patron at the bar from Ct. assured me that the regular menu was fine. Local brews are a specialty.

Around dusk we reached our Phoebe’s House (named for the bird Phoebe and one happened to be sitting in her nest on the back porch). It’s perfect! A 19th century cape with a huge back meadow and everything inside just where it should be. The phone only accessed local calls without a calling card, which I had forgotten to bring, but our hospitable landlady lives just down the road and so I could check in.

Next morning Aki and Taiga (age 4) joined the day camp at Highland Lodge, a few miles up the road, and I headed for the pay phone on Craftsbury Common to call Bill. The Common is one of Vermont’s most beautiful villages, summer home to Circus Smirkus and year-round to the Craftsbury Outdoor Center, specializing in summer running and sculling camps and in winter, outstanding cross-country skiing. The elevation here is high, mostly open and rolling with long views west to the Green Mountains, from Mt. Mansfield to Jay Peak.

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We swam at the public beach at Caspian Lake in Greenboro, perfect for small children because it’s shallow a good ways out. Willy’s Store is a big deal here, with hardware as well as good meats, veggies, local cheese, etc. and an upstairs full of clothing. We had set up a badminton net in the meadow but needed stakes, string and more cocks. No problem.

Cassie’s ice cream is half way between the beach and Willy’s. Named for the mythical monster in the lake, it’s a great post-swim stop (Wilcox creamery ice cream). The Miller’s Thumb is next door, a great gift store with a window in the floor, through which you can see the raceway. Greensboro is the kind of tiny village you drive through in a second but full of unexpectedly good things. We didn’t get to the library or new herb shop but did pay (not for the first time) a visit to the Greensboro Garage, one of those rare places that can fix just about anything.

July 12, back in Cambridge.

The news from the hospital was better on day 4 but still not release date.
While the kids were in camp three of us followed signs through a maze of back farm roads to Stillmeadow Gardens.

Back 25 years ago this was Stillmeadow Farm, which we discovered one sugaring season because Albert and Marion Urie took in guests as well as boiling maple sugar. Then it was a dairy farm and we spent some time in the barn, talking politics with Albert and his son Bruce, while they milked and did chores. Albert rented a snowmobile from a neighbor and made trails for the kids, then ages 2, 5 and 7, to ski around and Marion had hot chocolate ready when they came in. We returned a couple more winters and at least once in the summer. Albert and Marion are gone and so are the cows and Bruce now works for the Vermont Land Trust and Betty operates a fabulous two-greenhouse nursery. We bought a glorious planter and a few more things at bargain prices.

A fierce thunderstorm swept in early in the afternoon but between downpours we walked the short ways to the John Woodruff Memorial Library, a former general store that’s now a fabulous little library, with a large, well-stocked children’s reading room (and ping pong table) . There we got happily stuck for an hour plus.

We rolled up and sadly said goodby to Phoebe’s house. We had planned to stop at Claire’s, the hip new restaurant in Hardwick on the way home but it was inexplicaly closed. Luckily the Hardwick Family Restaurant is across the street, the total opposite of hip and unquestionably a better spot for a family with two small children;. The back porch overlooks the swinging bridge and river and there are crayons and mats for kids.

The only downside to the fabulously beautiful Craftsbury area is lack of cell phone service. Usually not a problem except when someone is in the hospital. Driving back on I-93-back through Franconia Notch with a glorious sunset-we finally picked up service again and kept calling the hospital. No answer. Finally, an hour north of Boston we got a call from husband Bill-from HOME. Mt. Auburn, it turns out, had -without warning–given him an hour to get out of there or pay for a night that would not be covered by insurance! Luckily our neighbor was home – a fluke since she spends all summer on The Cape. She checked him out and bought his meds.

Stay tuned. Next week I’m heading for Southern Vermont.

Posted by christina Tree at 1:27:00 PM

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