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July 9, 2014

Side trip from Montreal: Summer Weekend in Vermont

Vermont is both beautiful and easily accessible from Montreal. It takes just an hour to drive to the U.S. border, and it's less than an hour from there to Burlington.

Vermont is a year round destination, but summer is especially delightful. Yes, there are Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream and Cabot Creamery tours, but there's a lot more to enjoy.

Get an early start on Saturday morning and return on Monday to beat weekend congestion at the border crossings.

Here's a brief outline of the itinerary:

Saturday
1. Maglianero Café
2. Burlington Farmers' Market
3. Church Street Marketplace
4. Shelburne Farms
5. Hen of the Wood Waterbury

Sunday
1. Red Hen Baking Co.
2. Lots-O-Balls Mini-Golf
3. Prohibition Pig
4. Stowe Recreation Path
5. American Flatbread Waitsfield

Monday
Camel's Hump Hike

At the end of the blog post I also cover Places to stay and Crossing the border.

Enjoy!


Saturday

Burlington is a great place to start a visit to Vermont. With just over 42,000 inhabitants, it is the state's largest town, which gives you an idea of just how rural Vermont is. Despite its small size, Burlington traffic can get somewhat congested, and parking spots on the street are not that easy to find in the center during peak times.

I recommend parking at the College St. Garage. All of the central core is walkable from there and this garage tends to be less crowded and easier to access than other options. It is also a municipal garage, which means that the first two hours of parking are free.

Website: Parking in Burlington (pdf)

1. Maglianero Café

Start by fueling up with a coffee at Maglianero Café. From the College St. Garage, walk three blocks south on S. Champlain St. to Maple St. and turn right. The cafe will be on your left.

Maglianero is a very laid-back hipster kind of Third Wave Coffee shop with quality coffee and marvelous baked goods from the pastry chef of the Hen of the Wood. (More about Hen of the Wood later.) The mocha is a standout at Maglianero, and the latte is also satisfying.


Website: Maglianero Café

Maglianero Cafe on Urbanspoon

2. Burlington Farmers' Market

Next head to the Burlington Farmers' Market. In the summer it is held in City Hall Park, just two blocks north and two blocks east of Maglianero Café. This popular farmers' market has dozens of vendors, including stands that sell vegetables, meat, eggs, cheese, canned foods, nuts, ready-to-eat food items, flowers, arts and crafts, and more.


A favorite is the Rookie's Root Beer stand. This Vermont made root beer is sold on tap at several restaurants in Vermont. What's special about the market stand is that all of the line's flavors are available. Try a Rookie's Red, a citrus soda that is colored with beet juice.

Another great stand at the market is Chasworth Farm. The owner makes and sells soaps that are divine. The Vermont Sunflower Oil Soap is especially wonderful and comes in five different scents. The Sea Salt soap is another solid choice. My absolute favorite, however, is "Our Farm Soap", which contains egg yolks, honey, and beeswax produced by Chasworth Farm.


Websites:
Burlington Farmers' Market
Rookie's Root Beer
Chasworth Farm

3. Church Street Marketplace

Enjoy a lunch at the farmers' market and then head to nearby Church Street, a pedestrianized outdoor mall one block east of City Hall Park. There you will find chain stores like Macy's (ask about a Canadian visitor discount), Abercrombie & Fitch, Gap, Williams-Sonoma, and The Body Shop alongside local shops Kiss the Cook, Lake Champlain Chocolates, and the Vermont Butcher Block and Board Company, among others. If you need running shoes, stop by City Sports. Sales tax is not levied on clothing or shoes in Vermont.

Looking for cosmetics? Mirror Mirror is worth the four-block detour. It is located at the beginning of Main St., directly west of the south end of Church St. This small store carries many of the brands found at upscale department stores and Sephora. Mirror Mirror also carries harder to find brands like Skinceuticals and Trish McEvoy.

Websites:
Church Street Marketplace
Mirror Mirror

4. Shelburne Farms

Once you've finished in Burlington, drive 20 minutes south to Shelburne Farms, a National Historic Landmark. A visit to Shelburne is a good way to get a sense of the countryside along Lake Champlain and to learn about traditional agricultural practices.

After purchasing a General Admission ticket at the Welcome Center take the 15-minute walk over to the Farm Barn, which is quite possibly the most gorgeous barn I've ever seen.


The Farm Barn is the site of the Farmyard, an interactive and informative agricultural experience for children of all ages. Activities run throughout the day. Highlights include the Chicken Parade and the opportunity to milk a cow.


If you didn't stop for something to eat in Burlington, consider picking up a snack at the reasonably priced Farm Cart by the Farmyard. The farm's products are used to make soups and sandwiches. Choices are reasonably priced. The grilled cheese is tasty, as is the curry lamb sausage. There are plenty of picnic tables, too.

It costs just $3 extra to take a farm tour, which I highly recommend you do. It starts at the Welcome Center and takes visitors on an informative 90-minute ride with commentary, during which you get to tour the inn and see part of the property that borders the lake.


There is plenty to do at Shelburne Farms. Allow several hours for a visit.

Website: Shelburne Farms

5. Hen of the Wood Waterbury

To wrap up the day in style, take the pleasant 40-minute drive to Waterbury for a dinner at the original Hen of the Wood. When it comes to dinner in Vermont, Hen of the Wood is hard to beat. This restaurant alone is worth a trip to Vermont. Reserve well in advance.

Related blog entry: Hen of the Wood restaurant in Waterbury, Vermont
Website: Hen of the Wood


Sunday

The area around Stowe, Waterbury, and Waitsfield is one of the most beautiful in Vermont. It is also one of the most touristed. You'll find plenty of things to do in the tourist brochures. Here are some ideas that are slightly off the beaten path.

1. Red Hen Baking Co.

A few minutes' drive east of Waterbury is the town of Middlesex, home to Red Hen Baking Co., one the suppliers of Hen of the Wood. At its home location, Red Hen Baking Co. offers breakfast sandwiches, pastries, tea, and coffee drinks to get you started for the day. Orders are available to go, but stay and hang out with the locals for a while. The atmosphere is relaxed and pleasant.

Website: Red Hen Baking Co.

Red Hen Bakery & Cafe on Urbanspoon

2. Lots-O-Balls Mini-Golf

Driving down Highway 100 from Waterbury to Waitsfield, I happened upon Lots-O-Balls Mini-Golf. It's on the left side about 3.5 miles from the Highway 2 turnoff. Sure, mini-golf is great for kids, but why not adults too? My travel companion and I decided to stop for a friendly round of competition.


What we found was a hardworking owner who took the place over after it had been abandoned for several years. The course has been cleaned up and looks great.


Playing a game or two is an enjoyable way to support a local business. Go ahead and indulge!

Website: Lots-O-Balls Mini-Golf

3. Prohibition Pig

Back in Waterbury there's a good spot for lunch called Prohibition Pig. The menu is simple, the atmosphere is casual, and the food is tasty. It tends to be crowded and loud in the evenings. Lunch is a nice alternative. I especially enjoy the pickled vegetable starter. It comes with an impressive variety of individually pickled items, which this time included beets, cauliflower, green beans, celery, cucumbers, onions, fennel, and radish. At $6.50 it's one of the best deals on the menu.


Several sandwiches and burgers are on the lunch menu. The burgers are modestly sized. Add a side of duck fat fries to round out the lunch.


Going for something healthier? The kale salad is a nice alternative. It is lightly dressed and topped with pickled cranberries, parmesan, and pumpkin seeds.

 

Website: Prohibition Pig

Prohibition Pig on Urbanspoon

4. Stowe Recreation Path

Stowe is a 20-minute drive north of Waterbury. One of the best ways to enjoy this town is by bicycle on the Stowe Recreation Path.


This asphalt path winds its way north and west for 5.5 miles from Stowe Community Church, roughly following the path of the West Branch of the Little River and crossing it several times along the way.


Although it passes through the town, the path is mostly in the trees or open areas, so it feels like you are in the country. The pedaling is easy, but overall the path is slightly uphill heading north. Several places in town rent out bicycles. AJ's Ski & Sports is a good choice. It is located near the southern end of the path and has direct access. Check the website for coupons.


There are numerous benches and picnic tables along the path, some with views of the mountains or the river. Many of the town's shops are accessible from the path, too. A great early afternoon stop on Sunday is the Stowe Farmers' Market, located just off the path about halfway between its beginning and ending points. There's some fantastic homemade maple-walnut ice cream to be had there. You can also try out old-time precursors to sports drinks: switchel and pickle juice.

Websites:
Stowe Recreation Path
AJ's Ski & Sports
Stowe Farmers' Market

5. American Flatbread Waitsfield

Thanks to distribution of its products in frozen form across the U.S., American Flatbread is one of the more well-known restaurant chains in Vermont. The location to visit is the original one in Waitsfield at the Lareau Farm.


The covered outdoor seating is coveted, and the restaurant takes no reservations. The best plan of action is to arrive at 4 p.m. when the wait list opens. Enjoy a drink on the lawn until 5 p.m., when seating starts, or go out for a while and return for a later seating.


American Flatbread is really pizza (although nobody on the staff ever says the "p" word) that is cooked in a handmade, earthen oven fired by wood.


Choose your own combination of toppings, get one of the weekly specials, or go for one of the choices on the menu. The weekly specials are sometimes great and other times less inspiring.

Good bets on the regular menu are the New Vermont Sausage flatbread (maple-fennel sausage, scallions, caramelized onions, roasted mushrooms, olive oil, cheeses, and herbs) and the Punctuated Equilibrium flatbread (kalamata olives, roasted red pepper, goat cheese, rosemary, red onion, cheeses, and garlic infused olive oil).

One flatbread is enough for two people for dinner, and different choices can be made for each half of the flatbread. An excellent gluten free crust is available. The gluten free flatbread is smaller and only one combination of toppings can be chosen for the whole flatbread.


As you might expect, it takes a little while for the flatbread to be cooked. Salads are available to fill in the time. Truthfully I've always been slightly disappointed with them and prefer just to enjoy a drink while the flatbread is prepared.

If it's raining or if American Flatbread is crowded or just not your thing, there are other good restaurants in Waitsfield. My favorite is a vegetarian restaurant called Mint. It's a small place with slightly funky decor. The chef cooks up wonderful dishes. Having dined there several times I've never had something I didn't enjoy. I love the Greens and Broccoli main course, which contains kale, broccoli, and black beans topped with a creamy tofu sauce and sitting on brown rice. The flavor is vibrant, and the dish is quite filling. The menu changes from time to time, but Greens and Broccoli is usually available. Gluten free, vegan, and garlic and onion free choices are clearly marked on the menu.

Websites:
American Flatbread Mint Vegetarian Restaurant
American Flatbread on Urbanspoon Mint on Urbanspoon


Monday

A hike up to Camel's Hump is a great way to end a visit to Vermont and to work off some of the rich weekend meals. Monday is a less busy day than the weekends to visit this very popular hiking area.

At 4083 ft., this mountain is the third highest in Vermont. It is clearly visible from Interstate 89, and the 360-degree view from the top is worth the effort to get there.


A nice loop to the top starts at the Monroe parking area. There is no park fee to pay. Parking is also free but limited, so arrive early.

Hike up Monroe Trail to Alpine Trail. Turn left and hike to the junction with Long Trail. Turn right and climb to the summit. Near the top, the path is marked with white blazes on the rock.


Some scrambling is involved on the way up, and there are a couple of spots that are somewhat exposed. It's a beautiful section, but keep an eye on your footing and take your time.

The views from the top are superb. We were told that you can see Montreal on a clear day.


To complete the loop, continue north on Long Trail to Hut Clearing. Then take a right on Monroe Trail to return to the parking lot.

The total distance is approximately 6.6 miles with a total elevation gain of 2600 feet and a book time of 4 hours 40 minutes.

Don't underestimate this hike. The path is not particularly tricky, but the hike is moderately strenuous and the path itself is rocky. The top of the mountain is not only substantially higher in elevation that the parking lot, it's also completely exposed to the elements. Afternoon thunderstorms are common in the summer. Rescues and injuries are regular occurrences here. In fact, hikers are asked to sign in and out on arrival and departure. At a minimum, wear good shoes and carry a map, plenty of water, some food, a warmer layer, and a windbreaker or rain jacket. Take more rather than less, and turn back in bad weather.

Website: Camel's Hump State Park


Places to stay

Given the itinerary above, staying around Waterbury is the way to go.

Moose Meadow Lodge

The Moose Meadow Lodge outside of town is a magnificent bed and breakfast housed in a private log home. Themed rooms (Teddy Bear, Creel, Duck, and Mountain View) are meticulously decorated, spotlessly clean, and carefully maintained. The two-story deluxe tree house is glamping at its finest. There is a two-night minimum. The peak rate for the rooms in 2014 is $259 per night plus 9% Vermont Meals & Room Tax, while the tree house rate is $475 per night plus tax.

The innkeepers, Greg and Willie, live on the property. These guys are respectful yet have a hands-on style and interact with the guests. Greg is especially outgoing and is good at giving advice on local activities, restaurants, etc. He also performs weddings and civil unions on the property. Willie can be booked for on-site massage therapy. The breakfasts these two make are first rate. 

The property encompasses 86 acres and has hiking trails. During Summer 2014, the Moose Meadow Lodge is hosting several musical events. See the website for details.

Website: Moose Meadow Lodge

Little River State Park

A money saving alternative to the bed and breakfast scene is camping. Little River State Park, just a 15-minute drive from Waterbury, has clean facilities that include potable water, flush toilets, and pay showers. All sites have picnic tables and fire rings. None have hookups. Some of the sites have lean-to structures. The best of these are in the "A" area. Maple, Cherry, Pine, and Aspen are the best spots.

Outdoor activities at Little River State Park include hiking, boating, and swimming in the reservoir. The park sponsors programs, and both camping areas have beaches and playgrounds.

The park in general is quite popular. Reservations are recommended (well in advance for the best spots) and can be made online or by phone.

Website: Little River State Park


Crossing the border

The obvious route from Montreal to Burlington is to take Quebec Route 133 south, which turns into U.S. I-89 in Vermont. The border crossing you would use in this case is St-Armand/Philipsburg. This crossing is very popular and can get congested.

Alternative 1: Morses Line

If the stated border wait times are long, or if you notice a lot of cars headed in the direction of the St-Armand/Philipsburg crossing, an alternative is to drive to the next crossing to the east, which is called Morses Line. It is generally much less busy, but also adds 15 - 20 minutes to the driving time.

Also note that while the St-Armand/Philipsburg crossing is opening 24 hours a day in both directions, the Morses Line crossing into the U.S. is only open from 8 a.m. to midnight. The hours crossing into Canada at Morses Line are even more restricted: 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Alternative 2: Alburg /Nolan or Rouses Point/La Colle

Another alternative is to cross the border west of U.S. I-89, either where Quebec Route 225 meets Vermont Route 2 (Alburg/Nolan crossing in Vermont) or where Quebec Route 223 meets U.S. Route 11 (Rouses Point/La Colle crossing in New York state).

In either case, some jogging over is necessary on the Quebec side to get over to or from Quebec Autoroute 15. On the Vermont side I recommend using Highway 2 through North Hero. It's a scenic drive and is never crowded.

Using the Alburg/Nolan or Rouses Point/La Colle crossings adds less than 15 minutes to the driving time.

Websites:
Canada to U.S. border wait times
U.S. to Canada border wait times
ezbordercrossing

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