At a time when every American town is starting to look like every other American town, with the same clothing stores, coffee shops (ahem) and fast food chains, it’s nice to know there’s one that’s still alive with a fierce independent spirit, small town charm, and all the hospitality a family could want.
It’s been years since I had been up to the lovely town of Stowe, Vermont and on a recent weekend, fall foliage in glorious bloom, I fell in love with it all over again.
Stowe feels like the last indie town in New England, with tons for families to do over a long weekend, or even longer. If you’re planning an East coast ski trip this year, or just want to get out of town and head somewhere laid-back and restful, here are a few great reasons to check out Stowe.
If you’re a skiing family, Stowe Mountain has some of the best ski trails, with the longest average trail length in the region. It’s a very friendly, family-oriented slope that’s known for being more about actual skiing than post-ski drinking. Which is precisely why so many families from Boston and New York make the journey.
While Stowe Mountain is strong on intermediate and a few double black diamonds, there are still a nice number of beginner trails for kids. Look into the kids’ programs which start at age 3 (5 for snowboarding) so your kids can learn while you get in a few runs. If you’ve got toddlers, there’s a well-rated day care program on mountain, for 6mo-3yrs.
If you’re not a skier, or you just want to spend time off the mountain, there are tons of great family-friendly activities in and around Stowe. Of course the most famous is probably the Ben + Jerry’s Factory which your kids will love, right down to the “graveyard” of dead and buried flavors. The tour itself is pretty quick, cheap at $3, and worth it if just for the free ice cream sample at the end.
If you want something that’s “very Vermont,” Cold Hollow is practically an apple cider theme park, with tours, a fun gift shop and yummy cider donuts. It’s a great diversion for an hour or so.
We didn’t get to take a Gentle Giants sleigh ride, but I’d imagine with all the beauty in the area, taking one of these over covered bridges while singing Over the River and Through the Woods would be one of those memories your kids never forget.
There’s also an incredible number of outdoor activities here, from horseback riding to snow-shoeing and evening dog sled rides. You can also take a good long walk–or cross-country ski–along the 5.3-mile Stowe Recreation Path to get the lay of land. Don’t forget your camera.
One of the amazing things about Downtown Stowe is that there’s not a chain store in town. Don’t be looking for Starbucks or a Gap around here–even the ski and sports shops are all independently owned. The closest thing is a mini Subway in a gas station; and evidently there was a Mickey D’s years ago but they closed shop and left town.
Nearly utopian, right?
If you want shopping, there are plenty of boutiques including a nice kids’ clothing shop in the Red Barn Shops with everything from ski clothes (probably cheaper than on-mountain) to accessories and dresses from Kit+Lili. Next door is a
terrific boutique toy shop called Once Upon a Toy (no website).
And around town there are plenty of gift shops with varying degrees of quality–expect some really fun shops, like Gizmos in the Butler House, and then of course, those that appreciate things like ceramic cats wearing hats and “funny” dishtowels.
Definitely worth a stop: the indulgent, handmade treats at Laughing Moon Chocolates. You can watch them dipping truffles and making candy canes right in the store. Yum.
And while it’s now closed for the season, I also have to give a shout-out to the excellent Stowe Farmers’ Market. We came home with enough handmade goats milk soaps and maple syrup to last us until the next trip to Stowe. If you’re there between May and October, just bring more cash on hand than you think you’ll need. Enough said.
The Stoweflake Mountain Resort + Spa
I spent a lovely weekend in Stowe courtesy of the Stoweflake Resort. This small resort is just 2 miles from the slopes (there’s a shuttle if you want to leave the car behind) and it offers spacious rooms and even bigger townhouses around back for larger families, which can be a huge money saver if you’ve got a big brood.
It’s not a fancy place, but it is a comfy place and a friendly place. And I love that there are little cozy nooks all around, where you’ll find people curling up with newspapers, or reading books by a fireplace.
However the best reason to stay here, as far as I’m concerned, is the absolutely exquisite spa. It’s got gorgeous facilities (you get a free day pass when you book any treatment) including saunas, whirlpools, steam rooms, and 30 treatment rooms where you can indulge in a menu of treatments from body wraps to massages to unbelievable reflexology from therapists with magic hands. There’s also a co-ed spa area with a Hungarian mineral soaking pool and some hydrotherapy waterfalls which are so cool, there were guests going back there just to take pictures.
The spa also has a beautiful salon that’s as nice as any in a luxury hotel. Just uh, make sure your stylist knows to go easy on the Bumble + Bumble products.
Like the rest of the hotel, the spa is amazingly unpretentious and friendly–which really does get you in a state of relaxation faster than those places where you feel like you need to be a well-toned size 2 to fit in. I could have spent 5 days here instead of just one.
If you don’t stay at the hotel, I’d still book a spa day at Stoweflake. It’s really that good.
In a town this size, it’s nice to know you can still eat well. It’s also where you see that local Vermont pride in full force, with restaurants visibly proclaiming use of local purveyors, like Cabot Cheese, Green Mountain Roasters coffee, and Laughing Moon Chocolates. And of course, lots of maple syrup.
We really loved Frida’s, an excellent Mexican restaurant with terrific margaritas, guacamole made tableside, and mini soft tacos as good as any in NYC. It’s got a fun, lively scene whether you’re with the kids or taking a grownup night for yourself.
If you’re with little ones, Charlie B’s at The Stoweflake Inn is fine for burgers and basics, and a surprising selection of wine by the glass. We also loved Pie-Casso, once we got over making fun of the name. The pizzas are actually terrific, my sigOth loved the mussels, and they’ve got a brownie sundae I should have regretted a lot more than I did.
For something a little fancier, Harrison’s Restaurant is highly recommended by both locals and visitors, but by all accounts, you’ll definitely want to make a reservation.
Overall, if you’ve never been to northern Vermont, it’s so worth a trip. It’s got this cool, laid-back feel that’s different than Massachusetts, and a sense of local pride and iconoclasm that’s even stronger than Maine’s in some way. So many of the people we met there moved from other states years ago, and simply never left.
After just 3 days, I totally get it. -Liz
You can learn more about Stowe at GoStowe.com, or about the Stoweflake Mountain Resort and Spa. It’s about a 7 hour drive from NYC, 8 hours from Toronto, or 3.5 hours from Boston. You can also take a bus or train to Waterbury, or fly to Burlington. Thank you to Stoweflake for covering my accommodations for the weekend.