Being raised in the Midwest, I’ve always appreciated the change of seasons and, like many others, consider fall my favorite time of year thanks to the symphony of colors the autumn leaves produce on the trees. Because of this, Vermont has always been on my travel bucket list as I’ve often heard that its canvas of rolling hills and white steeple churches is unmatched in September and October. As an Inspirato Member, I booked a long weekend trip at the picturesque Stowe Mountain Lodge and chose the Sterling residence with its breathtaking view of Mt. Mansfield for our accommodations. Since I had a beautiful 4 bedroom/4.5 bath, I invited some friends to join me, all of whom had never been to Vermont and were eager for an adventure!
As a trend forecaster and design consultant, I search out new and interesting spots. Be it a restaurant, boutique, gallery or a seemingly undiscovered nugget not usually on the Chamber of Commerce’s hit list. My favorite discoveries are hidden gems that elicit a visceral reaction. That may sound a little dramatic, but it’s in my blood to sniff out these little jewels. To my delight, Vermont was full of them.
As we headed out, a strong cup of coffee was my top priority. Mind you, my friends refer to me as not only a coffee snob but bordering on fanatical. That first cup needs to be fresh and hot. My addiction was satisfied at The Black Cap at 37 Main Street in Stowe Village. It’s a quaint coffee cafe with delicious fresh baked goods and gluten-free goodies. I could browse the greeting card rack and get a feel for the local scene. I immediately knew this was going to be a fun trip.
Lynn, one of our travelers, was pretty obsessed with finding the quintessential bottle of maple syrup. Throughout the day, she stopped to sample various versions. Her discerning palate forced us to move on, disappointed, until late afternoon. On our way back to the lodge, we stumbled upon a little wood shack of a building: Stowe Maple Products at 2618 Waterbury Road. Upon entering, a familiar feeling came over me. This could be the place! Steve Pierson, the proprietor, couldn’t have been more charming. He entertained us with interesting stories as we tasted the sugary varieties as if we were in Napa Valley at a fine vineyard. As it turns out, it’s been a family business for years and he taps approximately 9,000 trees every year in early March through mid-April. Needless to say, we all stocked up and I’m happy to report that I’ve been topping off my plain oatmeal with a little cinnamon and maple syrup ever since. I didn’t buy enough.
That night, we dined in a fabulous, chef-owned farm to table restaurant, Michaels on the Hill at 4182 Waterbury Stowe. The white clapboard two-story farmhouse structure, set up on a hill, looked so inviting with its outdoor autumnal decor; heirloom pumpkins and mums. The menu is constantly changing and we feasted on roasted corn, sweet potato chowder and skillet chicken with smoked cheddar mashed potatoes, roasted cipollini onions, green beans, and cider sauce. Simply delicious! I have to confess that I don’t normally order chicken when I’m at a restaurant since I prepare it frequently at home, but this preparation was comfort food at its finest.
We ventured on a road trip to Woodstock, about 80 miles south of Stowe</span. My Google search described the town as the storybook New England destination. We weren’t disappointed as we walked Main Street and discovered all the old world East coast charm we anticipated. I had been on the hunt for a new plaid flannel shirt as a must have for this fall’s wardrobe and found The Vermont Flannel Company at 20 Central St #2. What a find! The husband and wife owned business has been around for more than 20 years and boasts products that are handcrafted in the U.S. Their selection is what I consider a headquarters for plaid flannel. Some of my favorite items were stadium blankets, sleep/lounge pants and, of course, the shirts. As I continued my stroll, I walked into Gallery on the Green. I noticed a gentleman tutoring an aspiring artist as she was painting. I gently interrupted him to inquire about the gallery and its contents. He introduced himself as Chip Evans, the artist/owner of the gallery. He proceeded to spend the next 20 minutes taking me on a tour and politely answering my endless questions. His mantra is, “it’s all about the light,” and his oil paintings reflect that driving force. He even has a lighting den where he demonstrates how tampering with the lights creates various illusions. My favorite was a simple wood chair in a stark attic corner illuminated by the bright sun coming through the window. I still regret not purchasing it.
We ended the day driving about 10 minutes to Quechee to visit what I call the Simon Pearce experience. Simon Pearce is an Irish American glassware designer who learned the trade of glassblowing in Kilkenny, Ireland and studied at the Royal College of Art in London. In 1981, he located his factory in a warehouse structure in Vermont overlooking a waterfall. The gorgeous site is powered hydroelectrically by the Ottauquechee River and encompasses a retail showroom, glassblowing viewing area, bar and acclaimed restaurant where you can dine overlooking the falls. A truly unique experience for the design-conscious.
Our final day was highlighted by an interesting drive through a stretch of road heading north on Route 108 called Smugglers’ Notch. This daredevil drive meanders past the base of Mt. Mansfield, Vermont’s highest peak at 4,393 feet, and climbs through Smugglers’ Notch, the reputed route for cattle smugglers, bootleggers run and hiding place for Lake Champlain pirates. As the road narrows, you’re sandwiched between huge boulders. This two-way road narrows to barely accommodate one car, let alone another one approaching on the opposite side around a hard-to-see corner. If you’re in the area, you need to try it for the adrenaline rush alone. Once through, we found a small house-like structure on the side of the road, Smugglers’ Notch Distillery. Pure kismet, as we could all use a drink. The distillery is a father and son partnership in Jeffersonville, Vermont and was founded in 2006. The team of Jeremy Elliott, a research chemist by trade, and Ron Elliott, a corporate businessman, make and hand bottle award-winning spirits one small batch at a time. We tasted all they had to offer and had a difficult time making purchasing decisions. Later that night, we retreated to our restful abode.
I have to admit to feeling spoiled in our lush digs. As we grabbed blankets and sat on our perfectly placed balcony, Smugglers’ Notch bourbon in hand, we watched the highly publicized lunar eclipse blood moon. On that clear and starry night, we all commented on how fortunate we were. It was a magical finale.