Tonight as I sit here writing, trying to relive this trip in all it’s loveliness, I am missing Vermont more than ever. There is simply no way for me to adequately describe the love I have for that state. It is the place that gave me a taste for adventure, a love of frogs and salamanders, and an introduction to the mountains. Vermont also has a copious amount of farms that produce incredible cheese and fresh produce. Autumn is second to none among the peaks of the Green Mountains. When I was growing up, our stomping grounds were in the southern part of the state – Arlington, Manchester, Shaftsbury, Weston, Grafton, Chester, Townsend – so when friends in Burlington were getting married, Rob and I made a trip out of it and spent some time in Stowe, which I’d never been to before. To say I fell hard for that little town is an understatement.
Stowe has a really lovely recreation path that wends its way through town. You can walk, bike or run from town all the way up to the ski resorts. We didn’t have enough time to really explore it, but it was one of the activities that was mentioned repeatedly at local spots.
GOLDEN EAGLE RESORT & DOC PONDS
We stayed at the Golden Eagle Resort, which is old and in the process of being updated under new ownership. Our bathroom had wallpaper peeling off the walls and was horribly outdated, but the rest of the room seemed to be new. There were maintenance trucks around the property, so hopefully within a year or two, they’ll have fully remodeled the place. The price point was right for us and the location was really convenient to everything in town.
The owner suggested some places to eat, so we headed to Doc Ponds for dinner and drinks, which absolutely exceeded our expectations and was delicious in every way. Local beers and VT cheddar fritters were our downfall at this place. When we came back to the resort, I made Rob go on an early evening adventure on the trails behind the resort. I say I made him go because it was getting dark, the weather was less than awesome, and we’d had a long travel day already. The things we do for love. The trails are a complete mess of a maze, make no sense at all, are numbered erratically, and were entirely frustrating to figure out. We eventually decided to just stick with one number and take it to a an overlook. The trail had us traipsing through fern covered forest floor as the evening mist settled in and it was absolutely enchanting.
We came upon a small clearing with a ski lift chair that would have been the most romantic place to sit if it wasn’t all soaked and dripping from the rain. Soft ridgelines could be seen as the breeze blew the clouds apart, revealing mountains in the distance.
As we headed back I kept hearing things in the woods that I was sure were wildlife of some sort that was going to jump out at us, and finally when we reached the trailhead sign, Rob heard it too. Somewhere in the woods beyond the sign we heard large branches cracking as though a heavy creature was trampling through there with no concern for silence. We couldn’t see a thing, which was maddening, and we kept creeping further in on the trail to try and spot what was making the racket, and suddenly all was still and it stopped immediately. Our best guess is that we heard a bear, a moose, or an ROUS (rodent of unusual size). One can never be certain.
GREEN MOUNTAIN INN
Later that night we headed out for an evening drive on the hunt for dessert. We ended up at the Whip Bar & Grill, a cozy restaurant swathed in comforting dark wood inside the historic Green Mountain Inn. The place makes you feel like you’ve stepped back in time. There were photographs on the walls showing the history of Stowe and the inn. I had maple crème brûlée. I think at one point I was sitting there in rapturous joy and Rob knew I’d really gone off the rails this time. One can never take for granted the loveliness of a moment comprised of sitting at a table in a historic inn in the middle of Vermont eating maple crème brûlée. If you miss this, you are missing out on life.
STOWE MOUNTAIN RESORT & MOUNT MANSFIELD
The Stowe Mountain Resort is a formidable ski resort, one of the best in the world, recently purchased by Vail Resorts. Not being familiar with the world of skiing, we had no idea the breadth and scope of the place. The day we were there, the top of Mount Mansfield was invisible beneath the clouds. We decided to throw down $26 apiece for some gondola tickets, and as soon as we headed up the mountain, realized they were worth every penny. The views from the top of Mt. Mansfield are among some of the best I’ve ever seen and I was sad we didn’t get to hike it, but elated to be up there all at the same time. We ate in the restaurant up top, enjoying some soup and hot drinks before exploring a bit up there.
We stood on the platform above the zipline and watched two pairs of people zip off over the trees into an abyss of Green Mountain forest. The zipline is the longest one in North America and it looked AWESOME. We were dying because we wanted to do it so badly. The tickets are no bargain at $131 apiece, but we decided on our next trip, we’d plan to fly over the treetops.
I didn’t want to leave the mountaintop. We were there, soaking it all in, and I just kept thinking, oh my God, I get to live and experience things like this. What greater blessing than this could exist? And to be there with Rob who I love most in the world, surrounded by nature, another love of my life, was so special and I didn’t want it to be lost on me in that moment.
We headed back down in the gondola and took a second gondola over to the resort itself which looked like a ghost town awaiting an onslaught of activity in just a few weeks. The place is beautiful, a playground for the wealthy who can not only afford to stay there, but afford to pay for the lift tickets, ski equipment, and boutique shops that dot the property. I fell in love with a $1295 jacket that was on sale for half off, but even at $650, I couldn’t justify it. But it was so cute…I still think about it.
WATERBURY, VT – BEN & JERRY’S, CABOT, COLD HOLLOW CIDER MILL, GREEN MOUNTAIN CLUB
Ice cream was next on the itinerary, so we headed to Ben & Jerry’s. Visiting the factory and taking the tour was very…touristy. The most interesting things we learned were about the sustainability of the operation and how they support the agricultural economy in the area by using only local, ethically raised, dairy products in their ice cream. At least we can say we’ve done it once. I think it would be fun for families with kids.
Then on to Cabot where we stocked up on hard maple candies and an insane amount of cheese we can’t buy in the stores at home. Their selection is vast, samples abound, and we’ve never regretted spending the money to support the co-op of farmers that comprise Cabot. We brought a flat rate postage box with us and shipped an anvil’s worth of cheese back to ourselves at home so we can enjoy the taste of Vermont for hopefully another year. We made sure to stop at the Cold Hollow Cider Mill where Rob got a half dozen cider donuts and hot cider, and I almost threw up because we hadn’t stopped eating in forever. They have adorable pet bunnies that munch on the lawn there.
I couldn’t leave the area without stopping in at the Green Mountain Club. This organization stewards the Long Trail, America’s oldest long distance hiking trail. They have conservation programs, educational workshops, and are a wealth of information on hiking in the area. The visitor center sells books, tees, maps, and other items that support the organization. I picked up an official Long Trail Guide for some light reading and future scheming on the way home. On the same side of the road, right near the GMC there is an incredible coffee place called the Vermont Artisan Coffee & Tea Co. They make a maple latte that is to die for.
LOST NATION BREWERY & THE BLUE STONE
We headed back into Stowe and went to the general store and decided to go to Lost Nation Brewery for dinner since it was so highly recommended by a local. It sucked. Out of the 10 beers they offer on tap, they were out of 4 of them. The food was mediocre at best, and it wasn’t a welcoming environment. Not terrible, but not somewhere I’d recommend based on our experience there.
However, we made up for the sad dinner the previous night at The Blue Stone in Waterbury. Not only are the pizzas outstanding, but the poutine is everything you could possibly hope for this side of the Canadian border. They offer a really respectable selection of craft beers, and the few times we’ve been here have been a home run every single visit. Needless to say, the only way to work off this type of food consumption is by hiking up the nearest hill.
TRAPP FAMILY LODGE & BREWERY
One place I wanted to make sure we stopped was the Trapp Family Lodge. The Von Trapp family story was made famous in The Sound Of Music, but many of the books I’ve read about the family tell how disappointed they were in the film and its portrayal of their history. I would encourage anyone who is interested to read some of the books that tell the real story. The lodge looks Austrian from the outside, and there isn’t a whole lot to see on the inside if you’re not staying there. We enjoyed the lovely view of the mountains over the cow fields, and then walked downstairs from the lobby to look at some family photos hung on the wall.
We ended up stopping at the brewery on the way out, which was a pleasant surprise and one of the few places in town where you can find a dark beer. Vermonters really love their bitter IPAs. We met a woman at the bar who used to live here and was visiting because she missed it so much. She talked about how it was really difficult to make a living here because many of the jobs are seasonal, and people will often have two or three jobs to make ends meet. This is a familiar story. So many of the truly beautiful places where we travel are made up of residents toughing it out because they hold a deep, strong love for the land where they live. Life isn’t necessarily easy in those locales even though the serenity of the scenery would suggest otherwise. In Stowe, it’s very easy to see how the town and all the resorts rely on the wealth of visitors to keep the economy alive. September was a really great time to visit because town was quiet and we didn’t experience a crowd anywhere we went. Some trees in the mountains were starting to show hints of color, and I would imagine in a few weeks the place would be a bustling hub of leaf peeping activity.
As we headed back to the resort, full of all the good things a trip like this could hold, I felt immensely grateful for every second of it. Life is short, far too short, and there are and infinite amount of lovely places in this world to experience. I want to squeeze all the goodness out of every one of them as much as I possibly can and remember them on the days when I’m tied to my desk, looking out my office window, daydreaming about the next adventure.
Ahhhhhh, I arrived home in the UK 3 weeks ago from the most magnificent holiday in New England. Vermont nailed it for me in every way and your description brings it all flooding home. Harry’s Bar, in the hardware store in Cabot was hard to beat, as was the Three Penny Tap in Montpelier. Wonderful people, wonderful food, wonderful scenery, wonderful hiking. I freakin’ LOVE VT.
So glad you loved VT! It really is one of the most beautiful states. The UK is also stunning. Planning to hike the West Highland Way next year. Can’t wait!