The quintessentially New England town of Stowe, Vermont may be a skiers paradise, but there are so many great things to do there, even when there is (blissfully) no snow on the ground. I recently spent a fall foliage weekend in Stowe, which was so picturesque and relaxing that on Monday morning when we were driving to work, my traveling companion and I both fantasized about turning our cars around and heading back to Vermont.
I was expecting Stowe to be a relatively sleepy town in the off-season, rich with scenery but not much else. It turns out my expectations were completely wrong: there is so much to do in the area, mostly involving food or drink. On the drive from the highway to our hotel, I was begging to stop every two minutes - for “the world’s best” cider donuts, at a distillery or gourmet cheese shop, at a farm-oriented general store. My willpower ran out at the Ben and Jerry’s Factory, where they offer tours, and there’s a “flavor graveyard” in remembrance of dearly departed flavors like Rainforest Crunch and White Russian.
We had to work off all of that Wayne’Swirled (a Saturday Night Live flavor mixing vanilla and caramel ice creams with a dark caramel swirl), so as soon as we checked into our hotel, we headed back out for a scenic hike.
Scratch that. We headed out for what I thought would be a pleasant, easy jaunt to Sterling Pond, but was actually a tough mile-plus up Smuggler’s Notch. Just past the pond - which, ok, fine, was beautiful, once my vision came back - is the trailhead for several ski runs on Mt. Mansfield. So yes, we hiked to a gorgeous pond. I just didn’t know we were hiking up an entire mountain to get to it.
Despite my best attempt to fall off the mountain on our descent (I wish I was kidding), we made it down. But I wasn’t done risking my life for the day, because when we got back to Stoweflake Mountain Resort & Spa, there was a hot air balloon waiting to take us up for a sunset flight.
After taking in the 360 degree view of mountains, the resort’s expansive golf course and historic Stowe Village, we landed safely and I headed to the bar to calm my nerves. That’s when I had my first taste of what would be easily the locavoriest weekend in recent memory. (Not a word, you say? It is now.) The hotel is part of the Vermont Fresh network, which connects local farms to local chefs. At Winfield’s, the property’s breakfast and dinner restaurant, we sampled cider and wine from Boyden Valley Winery, and too much produce and cheese from local farms to count. My maple pumpkin bisque was amazing, but I couldn’t resist the chevre from just down the road that was on my companion’s raspberry spinach salad.
I was really feeling the previous day’s hike on Sunday morning, which made it even better that we were scheduled for appointments at The Spa at Stoweflake. Mine: a balancing ayurvedic treatment; his: an apres-ski massage, focusing on shoulder, back and leg soreness. Afterwards, there were visits to the his and hers jacuzzis and saunas, followed by a nirvana-inducing hour in the spa’s Aqua Solarium, which has panoramic views of the mountain vista. We soaked in the Hungarian Mineral Bath and the Bingham Hydrotherapy Waterfall, which is a massage pool modeled after Stowe’s Bingham Falls where you soak in a hot tub and an actual waterfall massages your back.
Before checking out of Stoweflake, we headed across the street for the Sunday morning Stowe Farmer’s Market. We browsed the booths while eating wood-fired pizza and warm chocolate chip cookies. Every time I tried another cheese (like the curds from Sweet Rowen Farmstead) I lamented that I didn’t have a cooler to bring Vermont’s dairy bounty home with me. This happened no fewer than ten times throughout the day.
In Stowe Village’s lower village, there are boundless farm to table restaurants. We stopped in at Harrison’s, where I had a cocktail made with Smuggler’s Notch Bourbon and local cider, before shopping at Stowe Mercantile. The place is packed to the roof with local edibles: a wall of maple syrups; a mountain of preserves and sweets; a whole alcove of wines, beers (like the Von Trapp Golden Helles, brewed by the real, honest to goodness Von Trapp family from The Sound of Music) and gourmet ciders.
We were headed out of town, but I wasn’t done sampling Stowe’s bounty. We stopped at Smuggler’s Notch Distillery on the way out of town to sample their vodka, gin and bourbon, and the neighboring Cabot Annex Store, where there were so many cheeses to sample that my companion said “here, let me hold your stuff so you can focus on the cheese.” It was the perfect end to a delicious weekend.