Falling for Vermont

By staff November 19, 2008

Falling for Vermont


Glorious foliage and great inns on a perfect October trip.


By Charlie Huisking


The first week of October is a perfect time to travel just about anywhere. But perhaps because I'm a Florida native who has always longed for the change of seasons, I keep being drawn to Vermont.


I've probably spent 10 or 12 Octobers driving the winding back roads and country lanes of the state in pursuit of the perfect fall foliage. Some years have been better than others, of course. Last year, because of a dry summer and the lack of an early frost, the colors were muted.


But I read on a foilage blog that conditions were ripe for a spectacular season this year (yes, there are foliage blogs, where participants argue heatedly about which Vermont roads offer the best viewing). So I made a last-minute decision to fly to the Green Mountain State, and invited my friend Barby to come along.


Because many of the best inns are booked a year in advance, we were lucky to find space in some of my favorites (even if I had to move somewhere new almost every night).


The first stop was Woodstock, a picture-perfect Vermont town with a village green surrounded by colonial-era buildings. You can spend hours wandering through the bookstores, galleries, gift shops and restaurants in this popular tourist spot. At the Billings Farm Museum just outside of town, you can learn about rural Vermont life in the 19th century.

The Vermont Country Store in Weston

We stayed at the Woodstock Inn, an elegant, 142-room resort hotel with a prominent location in the middle of town. A roaring fire crackled in the massive fireplace in the lobby when we arrived, and our room had a working fireplace, too. But despite the cozy touches, I prefer smaller lodgings where you can get to know the innkeepers and your fellow guests.

The Inn at Round Barn Farm

That was exactly the atmosphere at the Inn at the Round Barn Farm in Waitsfield, where we spent the next two nights. The Round Barn in the inn's name was built in 1910, and it is now the site of weddings, meetings and art exhibits. Guests stay next door in a lovingly restored 19th-century farmhouse. Our room, the Abbott Suite, had a king four-poster bed, a sitting room, gas fireplace and a whirlpool tub.

My friend Barby in front of the Inn at Round Barn Farm

The inn is situated in rural splendor on 245 acres in the Mad River Valley. Hiking trails wind past five ponds, flower gardens and an inviting hammock.

Every afternoon, guests gather in the sitting room for tea, freshly baked cookies and hors d'oeuvres. The tone is informal. We were allowed to stash our take-out lunch in the inn's refrigerator, for example. One afternoon, we met a gregarious Australian couple and invited them to join us for dinner in a restaurant I'd read about in a guidebook.

Fall splendor at Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe

The foliage in Waitsfield was glorious but a little past peak. In nearby Stowe, however, we encountered the brilliant, fiery red-and-orange hillsides that you see in Vermont Life magazine photo spreads. The best spot for viewing was from the vast grounds of the Trapp Family Lodge, which is run by descendants of the family made famous by "The Sound of Music." The Von Trapps reportedly bought this land because it reminded them of their native Austria, and the mountain scenery is spectacular.

Me on a brightly colored country lane in Vermont.

We then headed south to tiny West Townsend, where we spent the night at the Windham Hill Inn, an isolated retreat at the end of a twisting road lined with crimson and gold trees. There are 21 rooms in two 19th-century structures, and the elegant restaurant serves gourmet food. That's good, for there aren't many alternatives in the nearby towns. This is a spot for guests who like to stay put, and perhaps play tennis on the inn's courts or swim in the small pool. And it's easy to stay put in a glorious, 145-acre-setting like this. I wandered along one of the hiking trails, while Barby climbed the stairs to the cupola in our room, which offered a 360-degree view of the Crayola-colored hillsides.


 Our final stop was my favorite Vermont town, Manchester Village (not to be confused with the much larger Manchester, New Hampshire). Marble production was once a major industry here, and the quaint town is lined with four miles of marble sidewalks. We stayed at the Equinox Resort and Spa, which has been welcoming guests for more than 150 years. In fact, Abraham Lincoln's wife and sons spent the summer at the Equinox during the Civil War.


Though the Equinox is a huge property, it still retains a cozy feel, and the service is top-notch. The indoor swimming pool at the spa is huge, and the hot stone massage I got helped sooth shoulder muscles strained by too many leaf-peeping drives.


As we packed the car for the ride to the Hartford Airport, the bright sun made the leaves on Mt. Equinox and the other nearby hillsides sparkle and shimmer like jewels. I thought I had overdosed on foliage, but suddenly I wanted more. We decided to drive part way up the Mt. Equinox toll road, exclaiming "Oh, my God!" at every bend in the road.


Come next September, I have the feeling I'll be checking those foliage blogs again.
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