Woodstock is such a favorite destination for Yankee staffers that when we decided to do an Explore New England piece on the town, things got a little competitive. But then it occurred to us: This is such a major New England vacation hub, why not send two staffers there and tackle it from different angles. Heather Atwood chronicled her visit last week. And here I am.
I’ve been to Woodstock many times, for week-long vacations between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, for quick fall and winter getaways. At those times, there is so much to do and love: the Suicide 6 ski area, one of the best small ski mountains in the region, the Billings Farm and Museum, where you can get a taste of traditional New England farm life circa 1890, from winter sleigh rides and summer wagon rides to butter-making and sheep-shearing demonstrations (the museum’s main season runs May-October, but they open for special weekend and holiday events in the winter). On warm days, you can do the 30-minute hike up Mount Tom from the village (the trail begins on Mountain Avenue, behind the covered bridge) and take in this view of the entire village.
It’s easy to love Woodstock for most of the year. But this time, I decided to visit the town during the most unlikely time of year: mud season. I was curious to see if we could love it just as much during the month when many locals deliberately leave town. March is a funny time in the Green Mountain State. It can feel like mid-winter one year and be a muddy mess the next. On our visit, the temperatures were in the upper 60s. One day we were getting a last bit of skiing in t-shirts at Killington and the next we were getting our car towed out of the mud on Prosper Road.
But let’s start at the beginning. One reason for the timing of our visit was to check out the new spa at the Woodstock Inn. It opened about 17 months ago, and we had been eager to see it for ourselves.
I’ve always loved this inn, which was only built in the late 1960s on the site of a much older building, but feels so quintessentially New England with it’s giant lobby fireplace.
People gather here or in the adjacent game room. They quietly introduce themselves and share dining tips. At Christmas time, there’s a giant gingerbread display, which we always make sure to see, even when we’re staying somewhere else.
The rooms at the inn vary in size. Ours, in the wing near the tavern restaurant, was slightly smaller than that of our companions, but was more stylishly decorated. The design team at the inn has succeeded in creating a look that I can only describe as “Vermont Luxe.” It feels both spare and cozy, luxurious and pleasingly austere. That look also applies to the new spa, which truly lived up to expectations.
Travel writers get to experience their fair share of spas, and most seek to create a transporting effect. You’re meant to feel that you’re in some unspecific Asian oasis, or in the South of France. Here, I knew I was in Vermont, and it was a beautiful, particularly the walled courtyard with its year-round soaking tub and fireplace.
The inn sits in the heart of the village, and it’s one of the pleasantest places in New England for an evening stroll. Even long after the Christmas decorations are put away, the shop displays feel so festive.
The sounds of the Kedron Brook and Ottauquechee River animate the night.
I was also happy to discover that the Yankee Bookshop had my cookbook in the window.
You have several terrific dinner options in town. Bentley’s has been around for decades and takes a solid something-for-everyone approach: flatbread pizzas, burgers, pastas, steaks. And on weekend nights, they light up the disco ball and turn the place into a nightclub.
A little farther down Central Street, is Pane e Salute, where foodies gather for handcrafted Italian fare: local braised pork belly with fava bean puree, pasta with walnut-parsley pesto. Owners Caleb Barber and Deirdre Heekin studied and apprenticed in Italy before coming to Woodstock, and their love of Italian simplicity and local ingredients shines through in all their food. The restaurant is only open Thursday through Sunday and reservations can be a challenge, so call ahead.
We’re also fans of the Woodstock Inn’s house restaurant, the Red Rooster, which was renovated and revamped in 2008. Hotel restaurants always have the challenge of turning out three squares a day that appeal to a broad range of tastes and ages. And this restaurant manages to pull it off and still offer interesting seasonal flavors.
With all this eating, it was time to get moving. Killington, about 30 minutes northwest of town, is famous for having one of the longest seasons in New England, and even with record-high temperatures, we still enjoyed a few semi-slushy runs. Sandwiches from the Woodstock Farmers’ Market provided delicious fuel. Another option: the Village Butcher, where owner George Racicot has been serving delicious meats, cold cuts, meat pies, and gourmet foods for about 40 years (he began working as an apprentice butcher under his father back in 1957). It’s hard to imagine the town without him.
The next day, we opted for a hike in the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller forest. Unfortunately, our car, loaded with hikers and gear, got stuck in a deep mud patch on Prosper Road. But kind neighbors came along and towed us out, despite our Massachusetts license plate! And the hike, up past the man-made pond called The Pogue to a lookout, was lovely.
And so the weekend ended on a high note. And we were reassured that Woodstock is a year-round gem.