By David Lyon and Patricia Harris
Vermont is New England’s vertical state, where things are always looking up — unless you’re staring down a black diamond ski run at Killington or Stowe. Lacking the saltwater coast of the rest of the region, Vermont compensates with its knobby spine of the Green Mountains and the nation’s first — and some would argue best — long-distance hiking path, the Long Trail.
The moment you drive across the border you’ll notice that Vermonters cruise around in four-wheel-drive vehicles with ski racks in winter and bike racks in summer. They just toss the snowboards (Vermont more or less invented the sport) into the hatchback. From Mount Snow in the south to outrageous Jay Peak in the Northeast Kingdom, there’s a ski, board, or bike trail with your name on it.
Two artists have captured the enduring rustic soul of Vermont. The “primitive” paintings of Grandma Moses recount a farm-life idyll of the state’s southwest corner. See many of them at the Bennington Museum.
A little farther north in the artistic and intellectual capital of Middlebury, artist Woody Jackson has established the black and white Holstein cow as the icon of the state. Jackson’s bovines emblazon the pints of premium ice cream produced by the Green Mountain moguls of mix-ins, Ben & Jerry, at their Waterbury factory. Also thank the cows for some of America’s best cheeses, which you can taste at the factories in Cabot or Healdville or Grafton — or in any of the state’s equally iconic country stores. (Catch the “original” in Weston.)
The signature taste of Vermont, though, is sweet. Even if you miss the spring maple syrup festivals, be sure to order a tall stack of pancakes at any of the state’s great diners and breakfast cafes. Your syrup should come in a generous pitcher.
Few states feed you as well as Vermont, thanks partly to the training programs of the New England Culinary Institute. Visit NECI’s restaurants in Montpelier and Essex Junction. When the aroma of pot-au-feu lures you into a village bistro, remember that the chef probably trained in Montpelier. And he or she likely uses locally grown produce, meat and dairy products — look for the Vermont Fresh logo.
The state is more than mountain trails, covered bridges, and rolling cow pastures. Two of its lakes — Champlain and Memphremagog — are so big they each have a legendary sea serpent, and the long, deep finger of Lake Willoughby resembles nothing so much as a landlocked fjord.
Though Vermont is one of the least populated states, its cities and towns are lively places. Burlington bustles with international flavor (Montreal’s only an hour away), while old time bohemians and the new millennium avant-garde blend in St. Johnsbury in the Northeast Kingdom and Brattleboro on the Connecticut River. Look for the country gentry in Woodstock — it used to be almost the private preserve of the Rockefellers.
Samuel Champlain no doubt named the countryside in summer (Vermont means “green mountain” in French). If he’d come in early October, he would have called it Rougemont. That’s when the hills light up with the scarlets and oranges of the maples, the somber bronzes of the oaks, and the acid yellows of birches and beeches. The north-south Route 100 cuts right through the heart of brightness. We’ll look for you at the scenic turnout.