Great Drives: Village Circuit, Vermont

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A stretch of town green. A circle of white, wood-frame buildings. Perhaps a war monument and a handsome church to complete the picture. The classic Vermont village, like its English predecessors, is designed around a simple arrangement that holds up brilliantly for its harm-ony and scale. This summer, lower your pulse rate with a trip through the historic villages of southern Vermont. Start on Route 7A in tiny Arlington¿as all-American as the Saturday Evening Post scenes illustrated by former

resident Norman Rockwell. Arlington is a place where the town comes out to watch the kids play baseball. Its biggest attraction is the Arlington Gallery, a shrine to Rockwell in the center of town. It sells stacks of his prints, but memories are free from former Rockwell models who have helped staff the place for years. Continuing on 7A, look for the Mount Equinox "Skyline Drive" toll road ($6 per car, $2 per passenger) up the 3,825-foot peak. The mansions and marble sidewalks of Manchester are 5 minutes north. Along the way, Hereford cows lumber in pastures and Vermont's most famous trout stream¿the Battenkill River¿meanders across the countryside.

The majestic white-pillared Equinox Inn is a must for at least a drive-by. It offers a world-class spa and odd diversions, from falconry classes to 4x4-driving instruction. The Equinox Preservation Trust trails are open to hikers and bikers. After the workout, retail therapy is available at dozens of designer outlet stores in Manchester. At sunset, giant margaritas hit the spot at Candeleros.

Bromley Mountain resort is 8 miles north of Manchester. Get out and hike the Long Trail. Then head north on Route 100 toward Weston¿a white-washed village where summer is celebrated on stage at the Weston Playhouse. Next, veer toward tiny Wallingford on Route 155. Antiquing is good in Brandon, and nearby Lake Dunmore is wonderful for a family swim. In Rutland, take a quick tour of a traditional Vermont downtown undergoing a revival (partly fueled by the restoration of rail service to New York City).

Heading east out of Rutland on U.S. 4, watch for Killington, the perfect unloading zone for restless adolescents. Wear them out with water slides, a climbing wall, a skateboard park and 40 miles of mountain bike trails.

Continuing on toward Woodstock, the scene fades back to classic Vermont. Farmstands, including some that are self-serve, offer grandma's favorite cut flowers: peonies in June, snapdragons in July, asters in August. Near Woodstock, take the short drive to Plymouth Notch, the mountain-hamlet turned museum-town where President Calvin Coolidge grew up¿and still would enjoy visiting.

Then it's on to Woodstock, where millionaires live in mansions and jodhpur-clad equestrians swarm the narrow streets. Enjoy the drive to the falls at Quechee Gorge. Listen to the roar, look for the rainbow in the mist and breathe deep. This is Vermont.

Drive Length 97 miles

Drive Time About 2 1/2 hours

Try To Avoid The intersection of Route 7A and Route 11 in Manchester Center on Saturday afternoons (peak shopping hours). Locals call it "Malfunction Junction."

Don't Miss Nothing is so pure as the uncluttered vista of farm and field from the front porch of the Rockefeller mansion at the Marsh-Billings National Historic Park near Woodstock.

Get Out Of Your Car In Manchester, visit Hildene, the estate of Robert Todd Lincoln (President Lincoln's son). His Georgian Revival mansion crowns 412 acres, with formal gardens to explore.

Contact Vermont Tourism, (800) 837-6668; www.travel-vermont.com