The first thing you need to know: Vermont is never not gorgeous.
We visited America’s sixth smallest state at the tail end of last year; the colorful drama of autumn a recent memory, the enveloping blankets of winter snow as-of-then untold.
So, off-season, basically. Or, as the locals call it, ‘stick season.’ But even down to its bare bones, Vermont is heart-stoppingly beautiful. Case in point: the staggering, awe-inspiring sight that greeted us on our first morning in Green Mountain State.
This powerful natural beauty is mostly down to a stunningly mountainous terrain – there are 223 peaks here, the highest being Mount Mansfield at 4,393 feet.
It’s also in part due to the still-existing billboard ban of 1968 – and a tiny population of 626,000.
Indeed, Vermont is a truly rural place: it lays claim to the smallest state capital – Montpelier: population 9,000, the only state capital without a McDonald’s – while its largest city, Burlington, is home to just 43,000.
In fact, cows outnumbered people here until 1963, making this the literal as well as spiritual home of Ben and Jerry’s. But there’s no shortage of wildlife – 3,000 moose, 6,000 black bears and 50,000 turkeys live here, to name but a few.
And it’s not just the natural world that remains unspoiled: the warm, trusting friendliness of the locals is so enduring, it’s of a bygone era. Crime rates are among the lowest in the US, and more than one person we met during our visit insisted Vermonters don’t lock their doors at night.
Commonly voted one of America’s greenest states, attitudes are generally left-leaning; indeed, this was the first state to legalize civil unions way back in July 2000, and the first to legalize gay marriage through legislature in September 2009.
Here, we celebrate this incredible (and extremely drivable) destination, by counting down nine fabulous places to enjoy its warm character, great food and astonishing vistas…
1 Escape the rat race at the Mountain Top Inn & Resort
It’s strange to think that just hours before checking into the luxury Mountain Top Inn & Resort in Chittenden – and the secluded Lakeview Lodge therein – we were atop the Empire State Building, taking in New York City’s buzzing skyline.
But such is the respite Vermont offers from nearby supercities. The Inn itself is 4.5 hours from NYC, 3.5 hours from Boston and 3 hours from Montreal.
The complex is sprawling and perfect for weddings and family/friend reunions, featuring an array of huge, homely lodges housing 10+ guests, plus an outdoor swimming pool and recently-opened spa.
But mostly, our small party wanted to forget the world by settling down in our temporary home. One of our travel highlights of 2015 was surely relaxing in our outdoor hot tub one frosty evening, before heading indoors to enjoy wine and Monopoly before a log fire.
2 Nest for the night at Moose Meadow Lodge
A real home from home (not to mention a taxidermist’s paradise), the intimate, inimitable Moose Meadow Lodge is hidden within 86 acres of woodland, and run by Willie and Greg, a sociable gay couple who are proudly living their dream.
Its traditional log cabin exterior is heartwarming, while the interior is at once rugged and sparklingly modern, taking rustic, Instagrammable chic to a new level. And, like every accommodation featured in this story, it’s surrounded by curious hiking trails – the state has over 1,000 miles of them.
3 …and its tree house
We enjoyed a perfect night’s sleep in the main property (you’ve never known silence quite like this), but how we longed to stay in the property’s two-storey, pond-view treehouse, sadly only open from May to October. We would’ve totally braved the outdoor shower, too.
4 Sink beers at hipster hangout, the Long Trail Brewery Company
Hot, young things with a penchant for lumberjack shirts travel from far and wide to sup grainy fine ale at this laid-back brewery/watering hole – we sipped and posed next to an outdoor firepit in our hats, gloves and scarves. Tipplers must also check out Cold Hollow Cider Mill, Smugglers’ Notch Distillery and Boyden Valley Wines and Spirits.
5 Visit the Flavor Graveyard at the Ben & Jerry’s Factory
It’s one of Vermont’s most popular tourist attractions, visited by 170,000 people a year. Located close to the town of Waterbury, the 30-minute guided tour at the Ben and Jerry’s Factory is short but sweet, and includes a couple of samples. We purchased a beautiful flavor on arrival that we’ve never seen in the UK: Cotton Candy, loaded with hundreds and thousands.
Then to the Flavor Graveyard, dedicated to out-of-production concoctions such as ‘Turtle Soup’ (vanilla, fudge, caramel and cashews) Miz Jelena’s Sweet Potato Pie (ginger, fudge and seemingly no sweet potato) and Dastardly Mash (chocolate, pecans, almonds and raisins). We left feeling bizarrely melancholy.
6 Make yourself at home at Blueberry Hill Inn
The patchwork quilts, the aroma of home-baked cookies, the easygoing familiarity of the staff: Blueberry Hill Inn is an almost surreal slice of folksy, quirky, down-to-earth Americana.
The feeling of remoteness here is truly uncanny, as is the front-facing killer view of the Green Mountain National Park. Due to its prime location in the Moosalamoo National Recreation Area, it’s also a great base for skiers, with access to on-site routes.
7 Sample local fare at Red Clover Inn and Restaurant
A 42-minute drive down the mountain from Blueberry Hill you’ll find Red Clover: another gorgeously warm and cozy stopover dating back to the 1840s. We had a great dinner here, where the focus is on bold Vermont flavors and locally-sourced produce; highlights of the current seasonal menu include corn soup with scallion and red pepper, and a cutlet, belly and sausage pork trio courtesy of the nearby Hinterland Farm, served with squash, polenta and spiced tomato chutney.
8 Break into song at the Trapp Family Lodge
The family that inspired the The Sound of Music continue to fascinate with this sumptuous four star, managed by dashing former model Sam von Trapp. Set among 2,500 acres, this grand hotel charms with its pretty Austrian-inspired architecture. On a brief tangent, von Trapp Brewing is also based here, and the brewery itself is among the most impressive and streamlined we’ve ever seen. The lager, meanwhile, is immaculate.
9 Get outdoors, generally!
As we mentioned, there was a distinct lack of powder during our trip – but naturally, that’s since changed. It’s snowing in Vermont as we write, with temperatures hovering around the 0 mark. And it’s just as well: the state thrives under such conditions.
For a whistle stop tour of Vermont’s exceptional winter sport credentials, including its 19 downhill ski areas, head to the Vermont tourist board’s official website. It’s really no surprise the state’s produced more US Olympic skiers and riders than anywhere else in America.
But whether it’s skiing, snowboarding, sledding you’re into – or simply some gorgeous nature – you’ll be spoiled for choice in Vermont.
For more information on Vermont visit vermontvacation.com
From £1299pp Bon Voyage offers the following New York and Vermont package: flights from London Heathrow to New York; two nights at the LEX Hotel in New York; Return Amtrak tickets (the Ethan Allen) NY Penn Station to Rutland; Car hire for five days; two nights at the Mountain Top Inn Resort; one night Blueberry Hill Inn; one night Moose Meadow Lodge. Prices based on a May departure.
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