"The most beautiful place in the world," William Dean Howells is said to have called it. The 19th-century novelist was referring to the lake country around Burlington, the Queen City by the lake, situated against a stunning backdrop of Green Mountains behind and Adirondack Mountains rising across Lake Champlain.
Beauty unfolds along the length of Lake Champlain, the 120-mile-long waterway that reaches to Quebec province and, after the Great Lakes, is America's largest freshwater lake. The Champlain Valley starts around Middlebury and Vergennes and embraces Charlotte and Shelburne, where rolling, pastoral landscape gives new definition to suburbia, Vermont style. It extends as far north as the Champlain Islands, a delightful cluster of isles and byways lightly touched by civilization.
Burlington, the state's largest city (population, 39,100), has blossomed into Vermont's downtown "as downtown as Vermont gets," in the laconic words of Vermont Life magazine. The nation's mayors recently voted it America's most livable city. The University of Vermont adds culture and vitality.
Here is one downtown that works, as the Church Street Marketplace and the revitalized lakefront draw throngs to the heart of the city day and night. Church Street is a wide pedestrian mall lined with specialty stores, restaurants, coffeehouses and outdoor cafes, plus a growing number of upscale national chain stores that inevitably go where the crowds are.
After years of neglect, Burlington has opened its lakefront to public access. Appealing people places are the nine-acre Waterfront Park with its flower gardens and swinging park benches, and a floating Community Boathouse that spawns all kinds of water sports. The new, triple-deck Spirit of Ethan Allen II gives lake excursions, and an auto ferry crosses the lake hourly for Port Kent, N.Y. The Lake Champlain Basin Science Center and Aquarium are in their infancy here. The free College Street shuttle bus connects the waterfront to downtown shopping and the university on the hill.
Robert Hull Fleming Museum, 61 Colchester Ave., Burlington.
This expanded museum is a high point of the large and fairly nondescript University of Vermont campus. More than 17,000 works of fine, decorative and ethnographic arts are shown in several galleries in the museum, designed by McKim, Mead and White in 1931. A selection of Burlington artist Fleming's finest paintings and sculptures is on display in the permanent galleries. Other highlights are Northern Plains Indian Art, early 20th-century American drawings and unusual examples of Rookwood pottery. Interesting pictures and displays depict Burlington during the Victorian era and before.
(802) 656-0750. Open Tuesday-Friday 9 to 4 (noon to 4 May-August), Saturday and Sunday 1 to 5. Adults $3, children $2.
Ethan Allen Homestead, Off Route 127, Burlington.
Guided tours show the restored 1787 farmhouse of Ethan Allen, Vermont founder and Revolutionary War hero. Exhibits trace his life and times in the orientation center, which has a multi-media show. The property consists of the timber frame house, working gardens and several acres with hiking trails and access to the Winooski River.
(802) 865-4556. Open Monday-Saturday 10 to 5, Sunday 1 to 5, mid-May to mid-October; Saturday-Sunday 11 to 4, rest of year. Adults $5, children $2.50.
>> Burlington Lodging and Dining Suggestions
Radisson Hotel Burlington, 60 Battery St., Burlington. (802) 658-6500.
>> Burlington Lodging Suggestions
The Willard Street Inn, 349 South Willard St., Burlington. (802) 651-8710 or (800) 577-8712.
Lang House, 360 Main St., Burlington. (802 652-2500 or (877) 919-9799.
>> Burlington Dining Suggestions
Smokejacks, 156 Church St., Burlington. (802) 658-1119.
Opaline, One Lawson Lane, Burlington. (802) 660-8875.
The Iron Wolf Café, 86 St. Paul St., Burlington. (802) 865-4462.
Five Spice Cafe, 175 Church St., Burlington. (802) 864-4045.
Leunig's Bistro, 115 Church St., Burlington. (802) 863-3759.
>> Essex Junction Lodging and Dining Suggestions
The Inn at Essex, 70 Essex Way, Essex Junction. (802) 878-1100 or (800) 727-4295.
>> South Burlington Dining Suggestions
Pauline's Cafe & Restaurant, 1834 Shelburne Road, South Burlington. (802) 862-1081.
Shelburne Museum, U.S. Route 7, Shelburne.
The incredible collections of Electra Havemeyer Webb, wife of a Vanderbilt heir, became the Shelburne Museum in 1947, and the resulting 39 exhibit buildings spread across a 45-acre heritage park fascinate young and old. The almost overwhelming display of Americana, unrivaled in New England, spans three centuries and a multitude of interests. The sidewheeler Ticonderoga excursion boat that cruised Lake Champlain for 47 years is what many visitors tour first. Especially interesting are the staterooms some elegant and some holes in the wall with their corner washstands and dining-room tables set with Syracuse china. Among the interesting historic structures are a one-room schoolhouse from Vergennes, an 1871 lighthouse from the lake, a 1733 saltbox from Massachusetts, a Shaker barn filled with a fantastic collection of carriages and the last remaining two-lane covered bridge with footpath in the United States. Don't miss the Weed House, which has remarkable collections of dolls, toys, pewter and glass, and the Stencil House, with its original and very handsome stenciled walls from 1790. Our favorite is the Electra Havemeyer Webb Memorial Building, a Greek Revival mansion housing a six-room apartment taken from the Park Avenue residence of the museum founders; it is totally charming and filled with priceless paintings. The Shelburne Depot from 1890 and the private railroad car parked beside it are worth a look. The collection of wildfowl decoys here is considered the most important in the world. Altogether there are more than 80,000 pieces of Americana in this national treasure described by the New York Times as "Vermont's Smithsonian."
(802) 985-3346. www.shelburnemuseum.org. Open late May to late October, daily 9 to 5; eleven buildings open in spring and fall. Closed mid-December to mid-April. Adults $17.50, children $7; off-season, adults $10.
Shelburne Farms, 102 Harbor Road, Shelburne.
The 1,400-acre agricultural estate of Dr. William Seward Webb and Lila Vanderbilt Webb is open to the public as a working farm. Blessed with one of the more spectacular lakeside-mountain settings in the Northeast, Shelburne Farms combines an active dairy and cheese-making operation, a children's farmyard, walking trails, a bakery, a market garden, furniture-making and other leased enterprises in a working-farm setting that has a Camelot-like quality. Guided tours aboard an open-air wagon show the enormous Farm Barn, the Dairy Barn, the formal gardens and the Shelburne House, where they stop to tour a few of the public rooms. You may see grazing along the way the choice herd of Brown Swiss cows, descended from stock raised for cheese making in Switzerland. Their Shelburne Farms farmhouse cheddar, some of the best we have ever tasted, is sold in the welcome center and farm store.
(802) 985-8686. www.shelburnefarms.org. Open mid-May to mid-October, guided tours daily at 9:30, 11, 12:30, 2 and 3:30, adults $5. Day pass, adults $5.
>> Shelburne Lodging and Dining Suggestions
The Inn at Shelburne Farms, 1611 Harbor Road, Shelburne. (802) 985-8498.
>> Shelburne Lodging Suggestions
Heart of the Village Inn, 5347 Shelburne Road, Box 953, Shelburne. (802) 985-2800 or (877) 808-1834.
>> Shelburne Dining Suggestions
Café Shelburne, 5573 Shelburne Road (Route 7), Shelburne. (802) 985-3939.
Vermont Wildflower Farm, Route 7, Charlotte.
Founded in 1981 by Ray Allen to popularize wildflower gardening, this has grown into one of the largest suppliers of flower seeds in North America. More than 250 wildflower species grow along pathways through six acres of field and forest at the largest wildflower seed center in the East. Interpretive markers along the pathways explain legends, herbal remedies and uses of the flowers. An eighteen-minute multi-media show set to music focuses on the changing seasons. The modern split-level gift shop has wildflower seeds and sachets, dried and silk flower arrangements, vases and books.
(802) 425-3500. www.americanmeadows.com. Open May-October, daily 10 to 5. Adults $3.
>> Charlotte Lodging Suggestions
The Inn at Charlotte, 32 State Park Road, Charlotte. (802) 425-2934 or (800) 425-2934.
Ferrisburgh Artisans Guild, 5467 Route 7, Ferrisburgh.
This complex of buildings is the guild's new home, showcasing one of the finest collections of art in Vermont. Terry and Debbie Allen purchased the old Spade Farm and restored the 1810 farmhouse, a storage building, a train depot and a cider mill as work rooms and gallery space for artists and craftspeople. The farmhouse became the main gallery, the depot is now a furniture studio and the storage building is a working pottery studio and classroom/demonstration center. The cider mill became the Starry Night Café. A new shop features a resident blacksmith. The second oldest covered bridge in Vermont is located on the property.
(802) 877-3668 or (877) 877-5556. Open daily in summer, 10 to 5, weekends to 9; winter, Thursday 10 to 5, Friday-Saturday 10 to 9, Sunday 11 to 7:30.
>> Ferrisburgh Dining Suggestions
Starry Night Café, Route 7, Ferrisburgh. (802) 877-6316.
Mount Independence State Historic Site, off Route 73, Orwell.
On this Gibraltar-like promontory jutting into Lake Champlain, the colonists held off the British attacking from Canada for a year in a confrontation that changed the course of the Revolutionary War. The significance of the war's most intact surviving site is commemorated in a 400-acre park that opened in 1996 and won an award as the finest museum in Vermont. The odd-looking visitor center is shaped like the upside-down shell of a boat. The inside is fascinating, especially the fiberglass "talking heads" custom-designed in Montreal one British, one American whose lips appear to move ever-so-realistically as they tell opposing versions of the story. Exhibits detail the military life of the period and include an 18th-century cannon recovered from the bottom of the lake and artifacts found in a continuing archaeological dig more than 700 items in the summer of 2001 alone. Several miles of hiking trails link blockhouses, hospital, barracks and other well-preserved remains of the once-bustling military complex that was one of the largest communities in North America. The private cruise boat M/V Carrillon operates between the Mount and Fort Ticonderoga to show the military history of the area.
(802) 759-2412. Open late May to mid-October, daily 9:30 to 5:30. Adults, $2.
Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, 4472 Basin Harbor Road, Basin Harbor.
This expanding museum is located in a complex of ten buildings near the Basin Harbor Club entrance. Dozens of small boats built around the lake over a period of 150 years, regional watercraft memorabilia, a working blacksmith forge and an operational boat shop are featured. Exhibits inform about the largest collection of wooden shipwrecks in North America, buried on the lake bottom. Visitors get to board a 54-foot-long replica of Benedict Arnold's sunken Revolutionary War gunboat Philadelphia II, built at the museum and rigged, armed and afloat in the harbor. A good collection of Champlain Valley artifacts from Indian through modern times is shown in the restored 19th-century limestone schoolhouse in which the growing museum started. The museum has expanded to downtown Burlington with the Burlington Shipyard and schooner-building project.
(802) 475-2022. www.lcmm.org. Open May to mid-October, daily 10 to 5. Adults $7, children $3.
>> Vergennes Lodging and Dining Suggestions
The Basin Harbor Club, Vergennes. (802) 475-2311 or (800) 622-4000.
>> Vergennes Lodging Suggestions
Strong House Inn, 94 West Main St., Vergennes. (802) 877-3337.
>> Vergennes Dining Suggestions
Christophe's on the Green, 5 North Green St., Vergennes. (802) 877-3413.
>> Bristol Lodging and Dining Suggestions
Mary's at Baldwin Creek, 1868 Route 116 North, Bristol. (802) 453-2432.
Home of Middlebury College, this is the quintessential New England college town, flanked by some of the highest of the Green Mountains. The 1,200-acre campus of the "college on the hill" on the west side of town is unusually picturesque, as are its famed summer language schools and the Bread Loaf mountain campus with its ties to poet Robert Frost, who spent the last 23 summers of his life in a cabin nearby.
The array of shops and restaurants is remarkable for a town its size (8,000). Visitors are also drawn by the UVM Morgan Horse Farm, the Vermont Folklife Center and the Robert Frost Interpretive Trail, off Route 125 near Middlebury's Breadloaf campus.
Henry Sheldon Museum of Vermont History, 1 Park St., Middlebury.
Bachelor Henry Sheldon bought the brick 1829 Judd-Harris House opposite Cannon Park and opened it in 1884 as the first village museum in the country, advertising it with a twenty-foot sign that read "Sheldon's Art and Archeological Museum." The place is filled with all sorts of odd but interesting items like a mousetrap that kills a rodent by drowning it in a cylinder of water, a pair of shoes worn by Calvin Coolidge as a child and a collection of old dentist's tools, including a primitive ether bottle. There's even a stuffed cat it seems that Sheldon, the town clerk, saved everything. Guided tours show highlights of one of the most exemplary museum collections in Vermont, exhibited in room settings in the elegant Federal house. Middlebury's garden clubs have created an early Victorian garden next door.
(802) 388-2117. Open Monday-Saturday 10 to 5. Adults $4, children $2.
Vermont State Craft Center/Frog Hollow, 1 Mill St., Middlebury.
With windows onto the Otter Creek falls in the heart of Middlebury, this is picturesque as well as being an exceptional craft center. Inside the renovated mill is a 3,000-square-foot treasure trove of pottery, stained glass, pewter, quilts, pillows, wall hangings, jewelry and stuffed and wooden toys, all by more than 230 juried Vermont artisans. The nation's first state craft center has expanded to locations in Burlington and Manchester.
(802) 388-3177. www.froghollow.org. Open Monday-Saturday 9:30 to 5, also Sundays 11 to 4, spring through fall. Free.
>> Middlebury Lodging and Dining Suggestions
Middlebury Inn, Court House Square, Middlebury. (802) 388-4961 or (800) 842-4666.
>> Middlebury Lodging Suggestions
Swift House Inn, 25 Stewart Lane, Middlebury. (802) 388-9925.
Whitford House, 912 Grandey Road, Addison. (802) 758-2704 or (800) 746-2704.
The Inn on the Green, 19 South Pleasant St., Middlebury. (802) 388-7512 or (888) 244-7512.
Cornwall Orchards Bed & Breakfast, 1364 Route 30, Cornwall. (802) 462-2272.
>> Middlebury Dining Suggestions
Tully & Marie's, 5 Bakery Lane, Middlebury. (802) 388-4182.
Fire & Ice, 26 Seymour St., Middlebury. (802) 388-7166 or (800) 367-7166.
The Dog Team Tavern, Dog Team Road, Middlebury. (802) 388-7651 or (800) 472-7651.
>> East Middlebury Lodging and Dining Suggestions
Waybury Inn, Route 125, East Middlebury. (802) 388-4015 or (800) 348-1810.
Starting a dozen or so miles north of Burlington, these four pencil-shaped islands connected by causeways and bridges stretch 30 miles to the Canadian border. U.S. Route 2 is the main road through the islands, from South Hero through Grand Isle, North Hero and Alburg. The islands were part of a charter granted in 1779 to Ethan Allen, Ira Allen and others of the Green Mountain Boys. The grant was given the name Two Heroes, referring to the Allens, and some people still refer to the area as "The Heroes."
St. Anne's Shrine on Isle La Motte, site of Vermont's first white settlement in 1609, is the main visitor attraction. The 1783 Hyde Log Cabin on Grand Isle, a state historic site, is considered the oldest log cabin standing in the United States. North Hero is the summer home of the Royal Lipizzan Stallions, which perform weekends. The new Snow Farm Vineyard in South Hero is the East's northernmost vineyard and grape winery.
>> Champlain Islands Lodging and Dining Suggestions
The North Hero House, Route 2, North Hero. (802) 372-8237 or (888) 525-3644.
Shore Acres Inn & Restaurant, Route 2, R.R. 1, Box 3, North Hero. (802) 372-8722.
Ruthcliffe Lodge, 1002 Quarry Road, Isle La Motte. (802) 928-3200 or (800) 769-8162.
St. Albans Dining Suggestions
Chow!Bella, 28 North Main St., St. Albans. (802) 524-1405.