Après-Ski Season: A Rather Sophisticated Springtime in Vermont – Part I, Manchester
Kimpton Taconic Hotel
There are few places more idyllic than Vermont (and they’re probably much further away). In any season, its winding roads dotted with rustic covered bridges, villages seemingly untouched by time, and family-owned farms beckon with the promise of escape from the sometimes soul-crushing pace of New York City. But beyond bovines and Bernie, Vermont offers the best opportunity for a genuinely off-the-beaten path adventure, a rich arts and cultural history, and a revolutionary approach to often misrepresented farm-to-table cuisine.
We set out on a recent weekend to take in the pleasure of the Green Mountain State. And Land Rover was kind enough to loan us a Range Rover Sport Hybrid PHEV to get us there in style. While the vehicle isn’t yet available in the U.S., its agile handling and luxurious feel are the familiar hallmarks of Land Rover’s entire range of SUVs. We actually felt pretty cool tooling up the Taconic in the shiny red vehicle – and it was a dream to drive. In fact, when we set the cruise control, it almost drove itself.
We went first for bags of New England charm in Manchester, then a bit of rustic sophistication in Burlington. Here’s how Part I played out.
The tiny village of Manchester is just three-and-a-half hours from New York City, yet it genuinely feels like a world away. Sweeping views of the Green Mountains to the east, and the Taconic Range to the west set the scene for all manner of outdoor adventure; but there’s a lot more to Manchester than skiing or wilderness hikes.
Quite a lot of New Yorkers don’t often have the opportunity to get behind the wheel – and when they do, they’re not typically driving up a rugged mountain trail. We did an exhilarating half-day driving lesson with one of Land Rover’s professional off-road driving instructors, and seriously put our skills to the test (we also pick up a few new ones) as we crawled over boulders, waded through three-feet-deep ponds, and descended steep inclines – of course, all accomplished in our super-smooth-but-tough, luxurious Land Rover. You can’t do that in NYC.
Here we were taught how to cast like a seasoned angler. A half-day class at their state-of-the art schoolhouse will introduce you to the art and science of this beloved (and relaxing) activity. Before casting our reel, we learned how to choose gear and tackle, tie essential knots, learn about stream entomology, and how to read water and currents. And, on Orvis’ fully-stocked casting pond, you’re almost guaranteed to hook a fish worth bragging about.
If you’ve gotten hooked on the current authenticity trend, it honestly doesn’t get any more authentic than Boorn Brook Farm, a private estate and working farm just five minutes from downtown Manchester. The restored barn, with soaring, hand-hewn beamed ceilings, offers magnificent views of the property, has two cozy bedrooms, an open floor plan, and wood-fired stove in the kitchen. The grounds are also home to the Green Mountain Falconry School where you can book a private lesson or take a hawk walk on the property’s three miles of groomed, wooded trails. And seriously – what could possibly be cooler than falconry?
Of course, we also appreciate the more intellectual adventures. And we later made our way to Hildene, the historic Lincoln Family Home, originally the summer house of Robert Todd Lincoln. The Georgian revival mansion and 14 historic buildings have been fully restored, including much of the original furniture, and it functions as a campus for environmental and agricultural education. We toured the house and explored the grounds (making sure to visit the farm and goat dairy) and took a stroll through the gardens. You can also hike the many peaceful, meandering trails through the 412-acre property.
The recently renovated Southern Vermont Arts Center is a gateway to the impressive cultural history of the region. Originally established almost a century ago by an eclectic group of local artists, the Center has evolved to become a multidisciplinary arts organization that includes music, dance, education, and workshops with visiting creatives. This season, the museum’s curated exhibits dive into culturally relevant issues; Unusual Threads: Stitching Together the Future of Fashion takes on sustainability in the fashion industry, and Everything is Still: Photographers Working in Motion Picture Film explores storytelling through the creation of single, still images made through the medium of motion picture film. Fascinating stuff.
Although you’ll not want to miss Manchester’s high-end outlets (Ralph Lauren, Yves Delorme, Theory), we found Manchester’s most memorable shopping at its independently owned stores. You can easily spend hours browsing the shelves at the Northshire Bookstore – make sure to check out the staff picks and selection of locally-made gift items. The Mountain Goat is great for deals on outdoor apparel, and at Above All Vermont, an old-fashioned country store, we loved the handcrafted, quirky, and delicious Vermont-made goods.
Our home base, the Kimpton Taconic Hotel, perfectly captures the cozy-chic aesthetic one would expect from a Vermont hotel, but with a bit of big-city sophistication. The lobby’s soaring stone fireplace, wide-plank floors and carefully curated local artwork distinctly nod to the character and voice of the community, and each of the 86 rooms and three private cottages offer luxurious accommodations and amenities including in-room spa services.
The hotel’s excellent restaurant, The Copper Grouse, reinterprets classic American tavern fare and regional dishes with ingredients sourced from local purveyors. We started with shareable snacks: the house made soft pretzel bites tossed in duck fat and served with a spicy cider mustard, hand-cut fries with truffle oil, sea salt, and fresh herbs, and crispy chicken wings with maple sriracha and blue cheese mousse.
For the main event, we loved the Copper Grouse Burger topped with local cheddar and house-made pickles and the maple plank roasted Atlantic salmon accompanied by charred root vegetables. Desserts included a formidable goat cheese cheesecake with cider caramel and maple walnuts, and a classic apple crisp (yes, it’s all very, very Vermont). After dinner, it was cocktails – they made a killer espresso martini – at the hotel’s blazing outdoor fire pit.