Fall Fiesta

By Megan McDonald October 12, 2011

Since I was heading to Connecticut this week for a cousin’s surprise birthday party, I decided to take a detour to one of my favorite spots, the charming village of Woodstock, Vermont.

I’ve been vacationing in Vermont  for 30 years, drawn to the state by its rural beauty, dramatic fall foliage and cozy inns. I was particularly eager to return this year,  to see how the state was faring after the devastating floods caused by Hurricane Irene in August.

The good news is that Vermont has made a rapid recovery from a disaster that some estimate caused more than $2 billion worth of damage.  Most of the major roads have reopened, and many washed-out bridges have been at least temporarily repaired. Still, we glimpsed plenty of severely damaged homes and businesses as we drove around searching for fall color.

That search proved to be fruitless. Even though this weekend is normally the peak of the foliage season,  the change of color is about two weeks behind schedule this year.  Some residents cite the humid weather of September, while others blame the rain from Irene.

Green trees, not orange and red ones, frame the Woodstock courthouse.

But even though the hillsides were mid-summer green, we still had a wonderfully relaxing couple of days in Woodstock.  The town of about 2,500 residents is laid out around a quintessential village green.  The streets are lined with handsome Federal-era, Greek Revival residences, and the bells in one of the churches were made by Paul Revere.

The dramatic entrance to the Woodstock Inn.

We spent hours wandering through art galleries and boutiques, stocking up on maple syrup and sipping hot mulled cider at a café. One morning, we attended the annual Apples and Crafts Festival in a meadow just outside of town.

We stayed in the gracious Woodstock Inn and Resort,  located right off the green in the center of town.  A blend of rustic charm and modern convenience,  the large, sprawling inn fulfills everyone’s fantasy of a perfect Vermont retreat. When the doormen swing open the doors to the lobby, you almost expect Bing Crosby to greet you from the couch by the six-foot long, walk-in stone fireplace. We checked in just in time to enjoy complimentary coffee and cookies in the verandah. In the library, families were playing board games and flipping through books full of historic photos.

Our room in the new tavern wing had a huge four-poster bed and a wood fireplace, which I was finally able to work after calling room service to ask for more kindling.

Lots of temptations at the Woodstock Apples and Crafts Festival.

We ate wonderful dinners at the cozy Prince and the Pauper in town, and at the Simon Pearce Restaurant in nearby Queeche.  That dining room, dramatically perched over  a waterfall, is connected to the famed Simon Pearce glassware factory and showroom. Though the menu was more limited than usual because the kitchen was destroyed in the floods, our seafood and beef entrees were both excellent.

I have to say, though, that my favorite meals were my two breakfasts at the Daily Grind coffee shop. One day I had an omelet made with Vermont cheddar cheese, and the next I had hearty oatmeal topped with cranberries and maple syrup.

Pumpkin delight in Connecticut.

Our fall celebration continued later in the week in Guilford, Ct., where I joined my cousin and his family at a festival at Bishop’s Orchards. We wandered through a hay maze, snapped pictures of a field full of pumpkins and snacked on apple cider doughnuts. The highlight, though, was making a scarecrow out of hay, old clothing and pieces of felt for the eyes, nose and mouth. It turns out this is a lot more complicated an enterprise than you might expect. But with help from the patient volunteers at the scarecrow booth, we finally succeeded, though our creation looked more bedraggled than scary.

Posing with my cousin's family and our just-created scarecrow.

So even without a hint of color, my October adventure in New England left me feeling warm and fuzzy.

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