Travelogue: Stowe, Vermont
At the moment Vermont is wrapped in snow, but it is the green mountains that give this American state it’s name – from the French verts monts. Many ski regions don’t have much to offer in the summer, just sullen and abandoned mountains, but not Vermont. It’s mountains lure many summer vacationers to come and explore hiking paths that run throughout the entire 160 mile-length of the state.
Vermont is normally classified as New England, and it is the only state in the region that has no access to the ocean, but it would be some kind of heaven if there were golden beaches and waves as well as it’s serene countryside, dramatic mountains, see-through streams and little towns each conspicious with their own church steeple and clapboard houses.
We drove down from Montreal to Stowe, which was about two and a half hours. Before we set off I’d downloaded some picturesque drives that we could deviate onto, so to get to see some of the renowned Vermont countryside I had heard about, but there was no need because all roads were basked by beauty.
We passed lots of small farms keeping such secrets as wine, cheese, maple syrup and apples. We toyed with stopping at one of the small towns alongside Lake Champlain but didn’t but did eventually succumb to the Boyden Valley Winery, about 40 miles before Stowe on Route 104. We were welcomed like old friends and ate cheese, and drunk all they had to offer, but we particularly liked their desert wine and bought a bottle of Vermont Ice Wine, which we polished off later in the holiday.
We stayed at the Stowe Mountain Lodge, a sumptious all-year-round hotel that was charmingly rustic but efficiently modern, the sort of place that after a couple of nights you’d want to move into permanently. The hotel was a windy climb from the tiny but delightful town of Stowe. Spread along the narrow main road of Stowe were enough small craft stores (a rabbit fur hat was $70), restaurants, cafes and the Vermont Ski Museum to keep your interest for a while, but I wouldn’t book too late a taxi back to your hotel base.
Back near the hotel we used our rental car to climb the Toll Road ($25) up Mt Mansfield, the highest point in Vermont at 4,393ft. Not that I would know cocooned up in my air-conditioned car, but Mt Mansfield is a maze of hiking trails for differing abilities. At the top stunning views of Lake Champlain and the Adirondack Mountains awaited, but $25 worth? I’m not sure. On the way down we stopped half way at a little chapel and watched a wedding that appeared to be between two women.
Three miles from Stowe was the renowned haunted bridge at Gold Brook (left), also known as ‘Emily’s Bridge’ where a girl of the same name hung herself from the covered wooden bridge. Apparently Many people that have visited Emily’s Bridge have experienced disturbing paranormal activity. I didn’t but it did make for a nice photo.
There are some beautiful other villages nearby, each coming with an obligatory stunning drive. 90 minutes away is Woodstock and nearer were Smugglers Notch and Waterbury, all are worth a visit. One of the highlights of our trip was at Waterbury, and that was the Ben & Jerry’s factory (right). After starting of with a small store in Burlington, this facility at Waterbury was the life-long friend’s first factory. Cherry Garcia, Boston Cream Pie and Chunky Monkey are still made here, but the old hippies sold out years ago and Ben & Jerry’s owners Unilever make the majority of the ice creams and sorbets at their factories in the UK, Israel and the Netherlands (powered by ice cream).
The 30 minute factory tour ($3 each) included some free ice-cream, and a sneek insight into some scrummy secrets. Outside there are plenty of activities and my favourite was the Flavor Graveyard, where visitors can pay their respects to extinct flavours. Interactive site here.
The same day we went to Ben & Jerry’s we also visited the Lake Champlain Chocolate and Cabot Creamery factory stores, plus the Cold Hollow Cider Mill (left), a farmhouse that smelled like a giant vat of apple cider. Take a free glass of delicious cider and buy a sweet doughnut to dunk. We skipped dinner that night!
Living in Bermuda doing a shopping side trip has become a fixture in our travels, so we drove the 35 miles to Burlington.
Burlington is Vermont’s biggest town with 40,000 inhabitants (no other state has it’s largest town so small) and we pretty much walked the width and length of it in not much more than half an hour, and that was with a pram. Burlington is nestled up against Lake Champlain that separates the state of New York and Vermont. The lakeside was disappointing although further north by all accounts there are beaches and a nice fixture is that one can cycle a lot of it, if one didn’t have a pram!
Burlington is a busy college town but it was about the shopping for us and the Town Center Mall met all of our needs plus the pedestrianised Church Street had a colourful outdoor market as well as tasty places to stop for refreshments. Talking of which a few miles south of the main town is the Magic Hat Brewery. A number of microbreweries have successfully opened since the 90’s in Vermont and I got a real taste for a few of the Magic Hat brews.
The Stowe Mountain Resort is comprised of Mount Mansfield and Spruce Peak and although this is a wonderful summer destination, those mountains that towered around us with their deep etched ski trails dug deep into lush forests were missing the fluffy white stuff and I’d like to go back in the winter months to see it at the height of ski season.
However you can take the Stowe Mountain Gondola up the mountain side at 1,200ft per minute to the Cliff House restaurant at the top. Close your eyes, imagine the chill and the excitement and you’ll be skiing back down the mountain in no time!