Travel 2022: ‘A different feeling here’: Mountain scenery, places to disconnect in southern Vermont

Jugglers perform at Brattleboro Gallery Walk, held the first Friday of every month from May to December.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Jugglers perform at Brattleboro Gallery Walk, held the first Friday of every month from May to December.

SUMMER TRAVEL 2022 The Vermont vibe.

Cross the New York/Vermont state line and you’ll immediately notice a change — a more relaxed, welcoming and carefree atmosphere, where people take the time to enjoy the company of good friends and appreciate the beauty of life.

“We’re known for our views and scenery, and being a place where people can kind of disconnect from their normal lives and get out into the natural scenery,” said Tim Dolan, marketing director for the Southern Vermont Deerfield Valley Chamber of Commerce.

“People say when they come across the border they get a different feeling here,” said P.J. DeVito, director of the Bennington Welcome Center.

Though often overshadowed by the Champlain Valley to the north, southern Vermont has its own unique charms: small towns of historic interest with lively arts scenes, good food, walkable downtowns and easy access to hiking, boating and swimming.

The drive from Bennington, in southwestern Vermont, to Brattleboro, which abuts the state’s eastern border with New Hampshire, takes about an hour via Vermont Route 9, also known as the Molly Stark Byway.

The trip is a real treat, with plenty of places to stop and spend a few hours or a few days.

The road winds through lowland valleys and past burbling, boulder-filled streams, while also taking travelers to impressive heights and showcasing the dense, woodsy grandeur of the Green Mountain National Forest.

The tiny town of Woodford lies at an elevation of 2,215 feet, the highest of any town in the state, while Marlboro’s Hogback Mountain is famous for its 100-mile view of Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts.

One of Bennington’s key historic attractions is also its most prominent: the Bennington Battle Monument, a 306-foot-high stone obelisk that commemorates the Battle of Bennington, a pivotal victory for American forces in the Revolutionary War.

For history of a more literary variety, check out the Robert Frost Stone House Museum in Shaftsbury, outside Bennington.

This modest historic house museum preserves the legacy of one of America’s most celebrated poets, showing where Frost gardened, planted an apple orchard and wrote some of his most famous poems in the 1920s, including “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening.”

Frost’s remains can be found in Bennington in the cemetery adjacent to the Old First Church, which was completed in 1805 and is worth a visit in its own right.

According to the church’s website, the Old First Church is the first church built in Vermont that reflects the separation of church and state, meaning the government had no role in the church’s ministry or the maintenance of its building. From Memorial Day to mid-October, people can visit the church Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sundays from 1 to 4 p.m.

Just a short walk away is the Bennington Museum, which has the largest collection of paintings by folk artist Grandma Moses.

The museum also sponsors a popular outdoor concert series, Concerts in the Courtyard, that starts June 3 and runs each Friday through Sept. 2. The North Bennington Outdoor Sculpture Show, now in its 25th year, opens June 18; the free show will showcase works by regional artists on the museum’s 10-acres campus.

Downtown, visitors will find a number of new shops, restaurants and cafes, including the Village Garage Distillery, a craft distillery in an old tractor dealership that’s been written up in Forbes magazine. Village Garage specializes in high-quality spirits made from locally grown corn and rye, but it’s also home to a first-class restaurant that sources ingredients from Vermont farms.

“Our downtown is going through a bit of a revival,” said Matt Harrington, executive director of the Southwestern Vermont Chamber of Commerce. “Ten years ago, it was tougher to sell it to people. Now you’ve got breweries up and down the streets, cute shops. … It’s not your grandpa’s Vermont.”

In Brattleboro, visitors will discover a hip, dynamic community located on the banks of the Connecticut River.

There are interesting museums, such as the Estey Organ Museum, which celebrates the heritage of the Estey Organ Company; and the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center, a contemporary art museum focused on the work of living artists.

One summer highlight is the town’s gallery walk, held the first Friday of every month from May to December.

This downtown arts extravaganza, which drew more than 1,000 people in May, is more than just a tour of local art gallery spaces; there are also pop-up art stations, live music, food trucks and a makers’ market, called the Brattleboro Flea, showcasing handmade wares from local artists, shops and collectors.

“It’s all about the art,” said Stephanie Bonin, executive director of the Downtown Brattleboro Alliance, which runs the gallery walk.

One of Brattleboro’s top tourist destinations is its scenic farmers’ market, which runs every Saturday through Oct. 29. The weekly event takes place near a brook and covered bridge; people can sit at picnic tables near the water and listen to live music.

“Our market is limited to people who live and produce in Windham County, Vermont, and Cheshire County, New Hampshire,” said Meghan Houlihan, the market’s manager. “We’re about as local as you can get.”

From the farmers’ market it’s easy to reach the Brattleboro Retreat, an old farm now run by a nonprofit organization with a mission of connecting people to the land.

There are miles and miles of hiking trails, a forest playground, animals — sheep, goats, chickens, pigs — and vegetable gardens.

During the summer there are food trucks at the Retreat every Thursday night, as well as live music, lawn games and craft beer, and a full schedule of arts events will soon be announced.

“Brattleboro has something for everyone,” said Jennifer Crowell, events director for the Brattleboro Retreat. “You can come to the Retreat and spend a day outside. You can go downtown and go shopping.”

Another attraction is the swimming holes of the West River which, while not publicly marked, are not especially hidden or secret, either.

“We have some of the best swimming holes,” Bonin said.

As the magazine Southern Vermont Arts & Living put it, “Just remember, there are no lifeguards or amenities — and you might encounter strong currents — but what could be better than lounging on the big flat rocks that have been warmed by the sun and enjoying a picnic lunch. You can find the best spots by heading along Route 30 where others have parked their cars.”

Those interested in seeing the West River from a canoe, kayak or paddle board can visit the Vermont Canoe Touring Center at the Veterans Memorial Bridge for rentals.

Nearby is The Marina Restaurant, which has indoor and outdoor dining and is located at the confluence of the West and Connecticut rivers.

Hikers can explore the 36-mile West River Trail, which begins at The Marina and runs to West Londonderry.

There are many places to stay in southern Vermont — inns, small motels, Airbnb rentals — but the region’s two campgrounds are especially nice: Woodford State Park, which offers hiking trails, swimming, canoeing, kayaking and rowboating; and Molly Stark State Park in Wilmington, which has a short hiking trail to the fire tower atop Mount Olga.

Mount Snow, southern Vermont’s biggest mountain, is best known for its downhill skiing, but it’s also open in the summer. Visitors can spend a day playing golf, mountain biking and taking in the awesome views via a scenic chairlift ride.

“The best part of Vermont is the people and the outdoors,” DeVito said. “It’s so beautiful here.”
She added, “There’s just a Vermont vibe.”

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Categories: Life and Arts, Summer Travel 2022

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