In the city of Burlington, Vermont's best features combine in one picture-perfect region and bustling center of economic activity. The greater Burlington area is also home to more than a quarter of Vermont's population, as well as several of the state's largest employers.
Today, Burlington is Vermont's largest city, with about 40,000 year-round residents. It attracts visitors who like the juxtaposition of college-town sophistication with idyllic rural beauty. In Burlington and the region, they find both. There are excellent dining, diverse cultural events, and bountiful shopping, in addition to plentiful outdoor adventure and recreational activities. Lake Champlain, often referred to as the sixth Great Lake, stretches for more than 120 miles between Vermont, New York, and Quebec. The lake, in concert with the rugged Adirondack Mountains and beautiful Green Mountains that surround it, sets the stage for outdoor festivals, historic exploration, and everything from swimming, sailing and fishing, to hiking, mountain biking and skiing. Its mountain backdrop is one of the reasons author and world-traveler Rudyard Kipling said Lake Champlain was one of the most spectacular places in the world to view a sunset. It is not surprising that Burlington scored top honor in one of Outside Magazine's "Dream Towns” selections.
(Source : Contact Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce)
Top-notch skiing, sophisticated microbrews and serious locavore farm-to-table eats: Burlington and Stowe bring the Green Mountain goodness.
As you drive along the country roads of Vermont, you’ll soon lose count of the signs with words like “green” and “local.” Of course, these signs are never very big: Vermont banned billboards in 1968, which makes for plenty of uninterrupted views of the Green Mountain State’s natural beauty. In winter, this translates into more white than green, as in snowy fields, chalky mountains and forests blanketed with powder. At meals, you may wonder if state law requires menus to list the farms where each organic chicken thigh or tender green leaf was reared, and where each Vermont microbrew was fermented. (It doesn’t.) Such are the quirks of this tiny, mountainous state, renowned for its fine cheeses, epic skiing and distinctive counterculture.
Vermont’s charms might be best enjoyed in Burlington, a leafy, laid-back college town, which is the ideal starting point for any winter adventure. Begin by stocking up on supplies at the Outdoor Gear Exchange, a shop that will instantly put you in a Vermont state of mind. Those mad enough to climb frozen waterfalls will appreciate the ice axes and ice screws. Fair-weather hikers should bypass the sarcophagi-shaped sleeping bags and instead peruse the brightly patterned made-in-Vermont Darn Tough socks and puffy, down-filled jackets.
With your appetite stoked, head to American Flatbread for lunch. Established in 1985, the restaurant makes a legendary pizza. (The first New York outpost opened in the fall.) Pies of the day might go something like this: a medley of duck, potatoes and raspberry sauce, or a layering of butternut squash, wild mushrooms and tender greens. All local and organic (need you ask?).
Later, take in a show at the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts, Burlington’s premier venue for live entertainment. It’s also home to the Vermont Symphony Orchestra. Built in 1930, the Flynn was meticulously restored to its original Art Deco splendour in 2000 (witness the incredibly detailed stencilling along the moldings in the lobby and the ornate, carved murals beside the stage). Mikhail Baryshnikov danced here, Sonny Rollins blew his sax here and, most recently, acts like Lucinda Williams and Laurie Anderson have dropped in.
Burlington’s downtown core, where the Flynn sits, is dotted with late-1800s, wood-sided Queen Anne homes. As you move away from the town centre, Burlington’s streets become wider, packed with rambling Victorian mansions, some peeling and dilapidated, others lovingly maintained or restored. Part of the latter group is the Willard Street Inn, run by the disarmingly friendly Davis family: mom and dad Katie and Larry, daughter Carrie and son Jordan. Built in 1881 by Charles Woodhouse, a Vermont senator, the 14-room inn has been modernized with Wi-Fi, en suite bathrooms and flat-screen TVs. “Ski reports for all nearby mountains are on the dashboard of the communal Mac in the living room,” Jordan, unofficial IT guy, says. And that smell? There’s always something in the oven at the Willard. Carrie bakes cupcakes, and guests receive a daily delivery of fresh chocolate chip cookies. Breakfast might include a hot peach coffee cake, served alongside eggs and homemade granola. When it snows, Larry likens the marble-floored solarium, where breakfast is served, to “a giant snow globe.”
On your drive to Stowe, treat your passengers to a beer tasting at the Alchemist Cannery. The brewery makes just one beer here: Heady Topper, its highly praised flagship double IPA. Why cans, you may ask? They’re more eco-friendly, requiring less energy to manufacture, ship and recycle than bottles. Just go easy on the tasting, drivers: With an alcohol percentage of eight, Heady will go straight to your head.
Pulling up to the valet at the five-star Stowe Mountain Lodge, the crisp air will dispel any residual beer buzz. This 312-room ski-in-ski-out resort, opened in 2008, is part European alpine village, part oversized, early-20th-century New England cabin and all 21st-century luxe. An alpine concierge service arranges everything from dinner reservations to ski lessons, while the ski valet will tune your equipment, even warming your boots or lugging your gear to the chairlift.
Guests can choose between two mountain faces: the family-friendly Spruce Peak and Mount Mansfield (Vermont’s highest peak), a favourite of experts for its double black diamonds and glade skiing. Après-ski takes the form of a fireside schmooze in the lobby, with a piano player, Vermont artisan cheese and charcuterie, and a full bar. If that doesn’t relax you, try a dip in the expansive outdoor pool (open all year) or the spa’s Healing Lodge, where you can rub your limbs with Himalayan sea salt, take a steam, then visit the rain shower for the softest skin this side of infancy. This feels good whether you’ve spent all day gliding gingerly down Spruce Peak or shredding moguls on Mount Mansfield.
Stowe’s cross-country trails provide less adrenaline-fuelled thrills. After gliding – or snowshoeing – along the gently sloping Slayton Pasture Cabin/Haul Road Loop for about an hour, a small log cabin appears in the distance. Inside await plates of baked goods, sandwiches and hot cider. Flames dance in a blackened stone fireplace. Like a winter oasis, the Slayton Pasture Cabin is ample reward for completing half the 11.5-kilometre loop. It’s part of the cross-country ski trail system at the Trapp Family Lodge, founded by the Austrian von Trapp family (of The Sound of Music fame) in 1968. The system includes 60 kilometres of groomed trails, and the Nordic centre includes a rental facility to outfit you from head to toe.
On your way home, assemble a sophisticated takeout dinner from Harvest Market, a bakery, espresso bar and food shop that stocks wine and beer. Founded by Donna Carpenter, wife of Jake Carpenter, the founder of Burton snowboards, Harvest Market is also a great place to taste some of that famous Vermont cheese. Try the nutty Cabot clothbound aged cheddar or some Crowley muffaletta (made with manzanilla olives, garlic and pimento). Better, assemble tomorrow’s picnic lunch, then head to Waterbury for a farm-tastic feast at Hen of the Wood. In a dimly lit 19th-century gristmill, with stone walls and wood beams, the open kitchen churns out dishes like cornmeal polenta with duck sausage and fried oysters. Pair that pillowy gnocchi and local grass-fed porter steak with something red from the naughtily nonlocal wine list – say, a Piedmont Barbera d’Alba?
The next day, between outdoor excursions and eating yourself silly, make time for art. Built in 1861 in the Greek Revival style, the building that houses the Helen Day Art Center, in Stowe Village, was originally a high school. For little ones who quickly tire of the slopes, the ground-floor library has a well-stocked kids’ section and affords a welcome retreat from the crowds, a block away on Main Street. Upstairs is the art, all of it contemporary, much of it by local and emerging artists.
For nostalgic types, a little antiquing is in order. Sir Richards Antiques Center, in Waterbury Center, has a well-edited collection. There are sunny rooms filled with furniture from as far back as the 18th century, fine china, jewellery, furs, framed art and old posters. If you’re committed to travelling light, check out the vintage postcards. Some are printed with images of jolly skiers enjoying the pleasures of 1950s Stowe, the same snow spread out like cake icing under a familiar Technicolor blue sky – small mementos of that timeless Green Mountain magic.
Formerly known as the Firehouse Gallery, and housed in an old fire station, this contemporary arts complex is dedicated to keeping the flames of creativity ablaze, with exhibitions, gigs, open mike night and events of every vivid hue.
In January, photographer Evie Lovett shows her portraits of the participants at a drag show in rural Vermont; check out the website for other forthcoming conflagrations.
135 Church Street, (802) 865-7166
Burlington International Airport (BTV) is located in South Burlington, just 5 km/3 mi. from the city center. Porter Airlines flights operate from two different locations as noted below. Flights arrive at US Customs/ International Arrivals Building located at 271 Aviation Avenue, off of Williston Road. Pre-arranged ground transportation, including resort shuttles, may be picked up there. Arriving passengers may be met outside of US Customs/ International Arrivals Building. Flights depart from the Main Terminal Building.
Ski Shuttles: Several Vermont Ski Resorts provide ground transportation services to and from Burlington Intl Airport by prior arrangement.
Taxis to downtown cost approximately US $15.
Hertz is conveniently located on the main floor of the Burlington Airport passenger terminal building, adjacent to the baggage carousels. Rental vehicles are a short walk from the counters via the skywalk.
Bus to Burlington: CCTA Route 12 links the airport main terminal and University Mall, with peak hour extension to downtown Burlington. Rides cost US $1.25 one way.