As a native of the northeastern United States for more than twenty years, I’m biased in saying that it’s the most charming region in the entire country. And, even though I’m a lifelong Rhode Islander, no state is more quintessentially “New England in winter” than Vermont. Soaring mountain peaks, quaint valley towns, covered bridges over icy crystalline rivers, and couples packing their requisite Subarus with skis, kids, copious amounts of hot chocolate, the family dog, and … everything necessary for a day on the mountain.
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Which is how Kelsey and I have come to love the town of Stowe, Vermont for our semi-annual romantic weekend getaway. Just an hour from the Canadian border, this tiny mountain town is best known as a year-round mecca for outdoor enthusiasts.
Winters offer some of the best skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing and … well, you name it … in all of New England. And still, through decades of popularity amongst locals and tourists, it’s managed to maintain a picture-perfect small town feel.
Frankly, I’d recommend a visit any time of year. But here we provide a brief list of our favorite winter spots to visit in Stowe …
Stowe is easily accessible by car from almost anywhere in New England or by plane with a quick stopover in a regional hub such as Logan or Manchester. With that in mind, plan to arrive by noon to kick off your 37-hour stay.
Lunch @ Cliff House
Start your long weekend with a breathtaking gondola ride up Vermont’s highest peak. Situated at nearly 4,400 feet above sea level, The Cliff House atop Mount Mansfield offers stunning views of the surrounding peaks and the town of Stowe below.
As you might expect, lunch is a variety of hearty soups (the onion soup is fantastic), stews, and entrees with a mix of apres ski-inspired cocktails, like their unique Mapletini. While I didn’t order this, I did steal a sip from my Kelsey and I’m not ashamed to admit that it was quite tasty.
2pm / Snowshoeing @ Wiessner Woods
If you’re looking for outdoor kit, you need only make one stop in Stowe: Umiak Outdoor Outfitters. This small, unassuming shop is a hub for winter sports enthusiasts, offering virtually any type of rental including snowshoes (rentals around $20/day), skis, extreme sleds ($5-20/day), and more. And, if you don’t know how to use it, the staff is more than happy to provide a primer so you don’t kill yourself!
There’s no shortage of outdoor adventure options in Stowe. I’d recommend grabbing a pair of snowshoes and a trail map from Umiak. Nearby Wiessner Woods is an excellent choice for your first outdoor fix in town, with a small network of relatively short paths, all perfect for a quick, “we’re only here for the weekend” jaunt. There’s no hunting and motorized recreation is off limits, so it’s an ideal spot for grabbing some peace and quiet and communing with nature.
From there, head to Marshall Hill at Stowe Elementary School for some extreme sledding. Once a beginner’s ski slope, it’s since been converted into a badass sledding hill with a nearly 100-foot drop. Beware: this slope is not for the timid! Bonus: the nearby playground at the school is a nice spot for the kids (or childlike grown-ups) to relax between sled runs.
If you need a post-sledding warm-up, PK Coffee serves great artisanal espresso drinks and their Logan’s Hot Chocolate is arguably the best in Stowe.
Dinner @ The Bistro at Ten Acres
The Bistro at Ten Acres is a fine-dining French-meets-American restaurant disguised in a casual and thoroughly unpretentious atmosphere. Everything from the burgers (and buns!), marinades, and steaks are made from scratch and the service is excellent to boot. Splurge on the Pan Seared Lobster — arguably their signature dish, splashed in bourbon, tarragon sauce, and polenta.
Overnight @ Stone Hill Inn
I’m hesitant to tout raw numbers but, as recently as a few years ago, Stone Hill Inn was ranked #16 among more than 21,000 (!) B&Bs by TripAdvisor readers. It’s a picturesque boutique property designed for couples in search of the perfect romantic getaway.
While I’m typically more a fan of budget/boutique hotels, Kelsey and I fell in love with Stone Hill Inn the first time we stayed there in 2012. With few rooms, it offers all the charm and intimacy of a traditional New England B&B but with plenty of space to ensure every guest has complete privacy. We like to think of it as a bed-and-breakfast for folks who don’t typically like bed-and-breakfasts (read: us).
Every room features a warm, beautiful design, unique floor plan, and modern appointments. Our Fiddlehead guestroom was a corner suite with almost 500 square feet to relax and spread out. A double-sided fireplace warms the bedroom and bathroom simultaneously — a luxurious feature we quickly grew to appreciate, particularly after coming in from the brisk Vermont cold. The adjacent, ensuite bathroom was almost as large as the bedroom itself with an oversized spa tub, walk-in shower, and dual vanities.
Innkeepers Todd and Kristie Roling ooze Southern charm, and get to know every guest personally. An hour after we checked in, they knew us and every other guest by name. They’re kind, gracious, and inviting.
Common amenities at the inn include free snowshoe use (with onsite trails), unlimited use of their DVD lending library, and a common area where guests can gather and relax around a towering fireplace. Plus, there’s local wine and beer available from the front desk, and the guest pantry is always stocked with free fresh-baked treats, coffee, tea, and soft drinks.
Breakfast @ Stone Hill Inn
Wake up early for breakfast at the hotel where it’s prepared fresh daily by Todd, Kristie, and their family. In addition to a selection of fresh fruits, yogurt, cereals, granola, and muffins, hot a la carte dishes inspired by locally sourced ingredients are cooked to order.
The breakfast literally became the highlight of every day of our trip. The Roling’s herald from Texas, and there’s a distinct Southern-inspired flair behind every dish. Especially notable: the chicken and sweet corn waffles with maple butter and spicy maple syrup. Mimosas and Bloody Mary’s are also available upon request.
9am / Zipline @ ArborTrek Canopy Adventures
It’s no surprise that, with so much varying terrain, Vermont offers some of the best ziplining in the country, and ArborTrek Canopy Adventures is the best in the state. At their Smugglers’ Notch location, you’ll spend upwards of three hours in the Green Mountains traversing up to 4,500 feet of zip lines, crossing sky bridges high above the forest floor, and rappelling from trees. It’s an ambitious trip for sure, but no experience is necessary making it perfect for kids or first-timers. (Note: due to road closures during the winter season, allow at least an hour to travel between the hotel to/from ArborTrek).
Noon / Wine Tasting @ Boyden Valley
Wine in Vermont?! Wait … what?? It’s true. And more surprising is that it’s pretty damn good. There’s a shorter growing season to be sure, but that just means the wineries must be that much more clever and work that much harder at making great wine.
Stop at Boyden Valley Winery for a tour and tasting with wine room manager Bridget Jones. Her endless energy, bubbly personality, and encyclopedic knowledge of all things wine make for an educational and fun tour. Don’t miss their Ice Ciders and Glogg (mulled wine served hot with a variety of added spices)! There’s also plenty of take-home bottles on offer, with the Big Red being their best seller.
2pm / Lunch @ Bench
Like most eateries in Stowe, lunch at Bench is a low-key, unpretentious affair. So come as you are, belly up to the bar, and be sure to sample a few things from their lengthy menu. It’s all about comfort food, so expect hearty fare like duck fat fries, wood-fired pizza, and homemade lasagna. Although, there are more “adventurous” specialties like wood fire roasted duck and salmon tacos. The beer list is solid and almost entirely local.
4pm / Massage + Relaxing @ Top Notch Spa
After a hearty meal, it’s time to unwind at Topnotch Resort & Spa. The award-winning spa at this five-star resort is routinely ranked among the best in the country. And with good reason: the changing rooms alone are the largest and swankiest of any spa I’ve ever visited, complete with large seating areas, flat-screen TVs, fireplace, and comfy couches. It’s a perfectly relaxed atmosphere akin to hanging out in your (rich) friend’s living room.
Opt for the uber-romantic, 90-minute side-by-side couples massage. You’ll enjoy a treatment room larger than some apartments I’ve lived in, complete with fireplace, couch, and chairs. And if you really love the person you’re with, splurge on an even longer treatment with optional accouterments such as sparkling wine and chocolate covered strawberries.
Treatments here include access to the spa’s numerous amenities: a sauna, steam room, indoor and outdoor pools, and a hot tub with a waterfall (this last bit alone is worth the price of admission). Spend the rest of your afternoon by the pool, where you can order light snacks and adult beverages while relaxing in your robe and slippers.
Or, if you really love beer, abandon all that frilly nonsense and …
6pm / Stock Up at The Alchemist
There’s no shortage of breweries, brewpubs, and beer-related destinations in New England. But, The Alchemist might just be the pinnacle, the mecca. Beer lovers travel — in their words, pilgrimage — hundreds of miles to visit the brewery. The reason is simple: it’s among the only places on the planet to buy the beer fresh (the only other outlets are located in Stowe). Their Heady Topper is routinely ranked among the best in the world.
For a few four packs and a T-shirt, our bill in the taproom came to more than $70. And you can expect to wait an hour or more (on a good day) to cash out. But, it’s worth every penny!
Visitors are only allowed a few four-packs per beer variety. So, be sure to stock up before you …
Dinner + Overnight @ Stone Hill Inn
Once you’ve had your fill of several hours of relaxation, head back to Stone Hill Inn. I recommend planning a night in. Specifically: order a pizza from nearby Piecasso (the “Carcass” is among the best meat lover’s pizzas I’ve had anywhere in the States).
Then, grab your Heady Topper and head to the inn’s billiard room for a few rounds of pool before kicking back in your room where you can enjoy a movie (from the hotel’s free DVD collection) and one last glorious soak in your private hot tub.
It’s the perfect end to a busy weekend of outdoor fun, gourmet food and wine tasting, and a perfect trip to one of the most quintessential New England towns in the Northeast.