Travelogue: Southern Vermont (August 2010)

We have been talking about visiting Vermont in the summer ever since we started the process of moving out east. There’s always been something incredibly romantic about Vermont.
And yet I almost changed our course at the last minute.
I’m not quite sure why, but I had a hard time planning these four nights. I knew the summertime image in my head could be found there (lakes and Adirondack chairs, blueberry bushes, comfy digs), but most of the guidebooks and websites focused on leaf-peeping or skiing–there was little help in terms of how to plan a summer road trip to the state. I have to be honest: I looked through countless hotel websites and got discouraged by a combination of (very) high prices and teddy bears. I fear I’ve gotten too picky, but there were too many inns featuring poster beds, lace, and teddy bears. One room had a mannequin wearing a wedding dress in the corner. Eeek! Of course, now that we’re back, having had an absolutely wonderful visit, I feel silly about all of the whining Aron endured as I combed hotel websites for hours one night.
Indeed (rather, of course) we did have an absolutely wonderful visit. Lakes, blueberries, comfy digs and all.
After work, we picked up our ridiculous looking rental car in midtown. We decided that our brown Nissan Cube resembled an automated espresso machine and it shall forever be named Nespresso to us. Turns out it was a great conservation piece, and is one of the few cars we’ve driven that offered ample headroom for Aron.
Woodstock, where we’d reserved our first two nights, is roughly five hours from Manhattan. We took the Merritt Parkway through Connecticut, stopping at a Roadfood recommendation–Ted’s in Meriden–for famed steamed burgers, once it got dark.
I had made the reservation at Kedron Valley Inn a month or so before and was pretty excited about the find. Still, I had forgotten what it looked like. It all came back to me as we pulled up: the Inn is featured in the famous Anheiser-Busch Christmas commercial–where the Clydesdales pull the sleigh past. Our room was in the main house and was beautiful (no teddy bears) and we noted that it would be perfect in the winter, too; there was a large fireplace and a jacuzzi tub.
Breakfast each morning was delicious, with maple sausages, fruit coffee cake, hard-boiled eggs, and blueberry yogurt. We took ours out to the large front porch, along with copies of the Boston Globe.
We spent the first day exploring Woodstock and the surrounding towns.
Woodstock has a beautiful downtown, with a lovely town green and a covered bridge to boot. We made our way around the Main street and took our time looking in stores–especially the large F.H. Gillingham & Sons general store, which has been doing business since 1886.
It was hard not to notice, immediately, how friendly everyone was. Folks just started chatting with us–remarking on the water level in the river (they’re due more rain), telling us which egg poachers they prefer (we brought some home), or suggesting a different angle for a photo (“try down the road and you can get the mountains in the background”). It was also noticeably–wonderfully–quiet, and we were confused by the way all the cars stopped for us the second we approached a crosswalk.
We debated whether we should continue to explore or whether it would be better to just relax and take in the concert on the green or share some apple pie with cheddar, but decided that we wanted to see more of the surrounding area–especially as we had arrived so late the night before.
In Quechee, we visited the famous Simon Pierce glassblowing factory (I’d love to try their restaurant next time) and peered down into the Quechee Gorge.
We paused for a lunch at Farmer’s Diner–where our typical diner fare was prepared almost exclusively from local products.
Next, we drove to the town of Norwich to visit the home of King Arthur Flour. Our imaginations ran riot with baked goods and we brought home some fresh supplies.
A few roadside stands and covered bridges later, we were in the town of Hanover–seeing the Dartmouth campus.
Aron kept repeating, “this is beautiful country,” as we stared out the window at red barns, lush green hills, and twinkling bodies of water.
Before returning to our inn, we popped into Harpoon Brewery for a self-guided tour and an extensive tasting. Each visitor can sample four brews in 2-oz portions. There were ten varieties on tap, so our brewmaster was nice enough to pour all ten and we split them between us. We brought home Belgian Pale Ale, Munich Dark, and Hefeweizen–though Harpoon is probably best known for their IPAs.
The Inn has a large spring-fed pond out back and we fit in a quick swim before dinner.
The restaurant was quite busy, but we were able to snag a table on the porch just before the seating time ended (8:30). It was a lovely night. We couldn’t believe we had to leave the next day! We had some champagne in the room and agreed that we needed to spend more time in the pond before checking out.
Jumping off the floating rafts on the pond and swimming in the fresh water was first priority after breakfast and the hours flew by far too fast.
Our next destination was Manchester. When I was looking for cities to visit, one of the few things I found with suggestions for summer was a small line on Jauntsetter, wherein the city was touted as a base for canoeing down the Battenkill river. On that alone, we chose Manchester as a base.
Driving west after our swim, we headed first toward the Vermont General Store in Weston. Our Moon Guide explained that this was sort of the mother of all general stores–both in the proverbial “it’s enormous” sense and in the sense that it was sort of a catalyst for the nostalgic return of general stores all over Vermont. We sampled cheeses and jams on common crackers to the point that we decided to skip lunch and go straight to dessert: soft serve with maple syrup. Delicious!
Next, we made our way over to the town of Grafton–home of Grafton Village Cheese. The town was bought by an investment banker and has been meticulously preserved–so it wasn’t too surprising that we found it to be picture-perfect.
(right down to the “Grafton Town Pool” which, as you can see, is a pond)
The cheddar makers sold products from their farm as well as local wares in the cheese shop, and we left with some fresh (squeaky) curds, Ridgeway Farm Sausage, and a small bar of aged cheddar before driving down the road to peek into the factory.
Not wanting to arrive in Manchester too late, we pulled into town in the afternoon and got settled at the Palmer House. Our Manchester lodging was probably the more difficult to settle on, of the two bases we chose, and I was pleased when we stumbled on The Palmer House, which appears to be a roadside motel converted into something a bit more upmarket. We stayed in their Calvin Coolidge house (nothing fancy, but quite spacious) and they appear to have a range of room options on the property–as well as a range of activities. While there, we took advantage of the tennis courts, jacuzzi, and croquet set, but we could have also borrowed golf clubs for their green, fishing rods for their pond, or taken a swim in one of the pools.
While the light was still out, we made a quick tour of the town–noting restaurants, the fancy Equinox lodge, anglers giving fly-fishing tutorials at Orvis, and Heldene–the former home to Lincoln’s son. And though they were being closed up for the night, we snuck a peek at the Summer Festival horse show grounds and glimpsed some beautiful, very shiny thoroughbreds.
Manchester Center is less cute than most of the towns we visited as it’s home to an array of outlet stores, but even those fit in nicely with the surroundings and it’s not far before you’re back on a small road filled with birch trees and magnificent views–the town is set in a stunning location amidst the Green Mountains.
For dinner, we walked down the road to Candeleros for Southwestern-style Mexican food and a sampling of state-made beers. Aron and I both agreed that we felt a little strange eating Tex-Mex in Vermont, but everything was delicious.I think we both liked the Ale by Switchback best, but I might need to go back for another round of trials.
Before we went, Aron had made reservations for us to go canoeing on the Battenkill river, so we were up bright and early to get in a hardy breakfast at the town favorite, Up For Breakfast, on Main Street.
We both went for blueberry pancakes, so I can’t say much about the rest of the menu–but the local following (which supposedly includes novelist John Irving) and crowds of devout diners seems to suggest that there’s a lot to like here. The pancakes were delicious; they were loaded with blueberries. I have to admit that we were a little disappointed in the Maple Syrup–which I know must have been 100% pure, as they promised–but which we could have sworn was a mix. As you might recall, Aron is quite serious about his syrup and has been known to tote his own pure maple syrup to others’ homes (to my horror), so I’m not sure how we both got this wrong.
By 9:45 am, we had been outfitted with life jackets and had piled into a van, on our way to start our paddle down the river.
We struggled with our communication skills at first, but found our rhythm in time for those trickier maneuvers around anglers and through rougher water (of which there wasn’t too much).
The scenery was gorgeous; I wondered how the sky could possibly be any bluer. And just before we pulled out to have a light picnic of cheese curds and sausage next to a field of corn, a pair of deer came down to drink from the water’s edge. (I know. I couldn’t make this stuff up!)
We pulled out around the New York State line, trading places with some groups of tubers, and waiting for our pick-up. We chose to be out until around 1 pm, but we could have easily gone all day. The pick up was the only blemish on the activity, as it took nearly 45 minutes to an hour to load up the others we picked up on the way back to the shop in Arlington.
Having passed up apple pie with a slice of cheddar earlier, we went on a brief hunt–we looked around at Dutton’s farm stand to no avail and I quickly succombed to the call of another local treat: Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. Even if Coffee Coffee Buzz Buzz Buzz can be found in supermarkets across the country, it seemed necessary to have a cone while in Vermont.
Sometimes I feel embarrassed about how much our focus centers on food, but it has to be said that Vermont seems to excel in some major ways. Next up: blueberries.
Aron and I both picked blueberries for the first time at Wildwood Farm in East Dorset. The owner, Scott MacKenzie, and a nice girl we suspect was his granddaughter pointed us to the best bushes and off we went, just like Sal–sampling a little, and filling up our pails. What a bargain: we left with roughly two pounds of berries and a couple of maple candies for under five dollars.
Dorset and Manchester sit side by side and we drove the roads around the center of Manchester a fair amount during our stay. From Wildwood Farm, it was just a short drive over to the Dorset Marble Quarry, on Route 30. I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect at first; when I heard abandoned quarry, my mind conjured images from movies like Gone Baby Gone and Garden State. When we pulled up, however, the image was more that of a town pool.
Towels were spread on the lawn adjacent to what was the country’s first commercial marble quarry. And we had a blast jumping off the sheer rocks (Aron from heights greater than I) and thinking about how these stones contributed to structures like the Public Library in New York.
After a quick soak in the jacuzzi back at the Palmer House, Aron and I walked through town to the Little Rooster Cafe. After returning from our trip I learned that they’re known for good breakfasts, which wouldn’t surprise me because our meal was wonderful. We both raved about our cheddar broccoli soup and I had the most delcious corn, tomato, and Lobster Risotto. It was all so fresh tasting.
The next morning, after a short game of tennis, we left our bags with the innkeeper and paid a visit to another local institution–Mrs. Murphy’s Donuts. For some reason, it’s incredibly difficult to find a simple glazed old-fashioned in New York (my favorite), so I was pretty excited about this classic counter-style donut spot and its classic roundup of donuts.
Our larger plan was to spend the next few hours swimming and lounging at the quarry, where we were the first to jump in  that morning.
Dorset holds a farmer’s market on Sundays. We chose a bottle of Cassis from Charles Dodge after sampling a selection of his fruit wines and picked up a jug of Grade B Maple Syrup (our second of the trip, but it was just so buttery). Our biggest purchase, however, was a wool blanket from Merck Farms. They send their wool to MacAusland Mills on Prince Edward Island to have it woven. We couldn’t resist, then, meeting the sheep who had been sheered to make us a blanket, so we drove the five minutes or so up the hill, beyond the market, to the Merck Forest and Farmland in Rupert. We didn’t stay long–just long enough to look around at the sheep, pigs, and horses, and take in a little of the history–but this would be a great place to which to return, perhaps to go camping.
We left town later than intended, after a quick stop to look around the Orvis fly-fishing outlet, but the detour was well worth it.
We made a few more stops on the way home, taking the longer route south through the Berkshires of Massachusetts and the Litchfield Hills of Connecticut–most notably in the cute town of Great Barrington, MA, for dinner and to marvel at the covered bridge in New Canaan, CT.
The views from our windows as we drove that evening, and especially during our four days in Vermont, were easily the highlights of the trip.
Some choice roadmaps for a trip to Vermont:

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