I wonder as an adult what it means to “head home”? Vermont was my childhood home. It is the place that still has Al’s creemee stand with the maple creemees I gobbled up as a child. It is the place with the little one room schoolhouse in Jericho where I completed 2nd grade. It is the place with my first apartment- a yellow Victorian on North Winooski Ave. where I rented the turret. It is the place where I learned to hike, kayak, bake, garden, and be the person I am today. It is where I spent summers on Nanny’s farm, where I had my first child, where I buried my father, and where I learned to appreciate hard work. All those are still a part of my childhood home, but now I have a new home with my own family. So then what is home for an adult- the place that formed you, the place that shapes your current life or a tapestry of memories and experiences that are less tangible, but more present? As we turned onto route 7 in Vermont, all of those concepts merged in me as I pointed out places I had long stowed away to my husband and daughter.
Planning out our vacation, I knew there were touchstone places I wanted to visit. We were there to celebrate our son’s birthday and we wanted to do some old school family stuff since we only see him a couple times a year. On the list was kayaking on Lake Champlain, tour of Ben and Jerry’s factory, a vineyard visit, shopping local artisan stores, walking the waterfront, and visiting some of my old haunts…plus eat fabulous, locally prepared foods at some of the best restaurants in the nation. We accomplished all and more! This post details the places and activities; the next will explore the foodie stops.
First on our list was exploring Church Street. It has changed a lot in the last decade, but the value of supporting independent, local businesses still rings strong on the Marketplace. I am an independent bookstore junkie and seek them out in every place I go. Burlington is home to a few and I made my way to one, Crow Bookshop at the top if Church Street.
They have a wide selection of new and used volumes arranged in neat shelves running vertically along the length of the store. A comfy seating area, and lots of natural light make it a great place to spend a couple of hours among the stacks. I happily found Purple Hibiscus, a book I have been hunting for a couple of months to no avail. The young lady working the counter was friendly and knowledgeable, and I got to leave some money in the local economy rather than the online behemoth’s coffers. After Liv and I acquired some new books, we moved down the Marketplace for some local jewelry purchases and a handmade scarf before heading out to kayak Lake Champlain.
As a child, we would kayak out of Jeffersonville which offers rushing rivers, as well as larger pools. For our purposes, we wanted something more local and Community Sailing Center offered the solution. The Waterfront in Burlington has exploded with activity over the past decade. The city has poured money into revitalizing abandoned warehouses and buildings and made room for cute cafes, local shops, and housing. they also spent time and money rehabilitating the bike path. When Dylan was a baby, we would bike the Bike Path every day from Oak Ledge to downtown, but it was always in disrepair and not long enough. Now it is this gorgeous swath of green snaking its way all over the state. It is a marvel to travel. Along the bike path is the Community Sailing Center- a warehouse converted to a rental facility for all things watersport related.
They offer paddle boards, canoes, boats, and kayaks for very reasonable rates. The kayaks rent for $15 per hour- single or tandem. Lake Champlain is enormous and offers lots of area to explore for those wishing to enjoy some outdoor adventure. There are also ferries, dinner cruises, and guided tours of the Lake Champlain region available for those interested.
In addition to fantastic outdoor activities, Vermont is also home to the best ice cream around and some beautiful vineyards and we planned on enjoying some of that. On our last trip we visited Snow Farm Winery, which was wonderful, but we wanted to branch out a little on this trip. I did a little research and decide on Shelburne Vineyards. They have some award winning wines and Shelburne is a quaint town with lots to offer. The vineyard is pretty small, but has an incredibly knowledgeable staff.
Our tour guide, Emily, knew everything there was to know about the growing region, the grapes, and the process of making wine. She was personable and funny- ask for her if you can! We did the vineyard tour and then the complete tasting, which for $7 comes with a souvenir wine glass. They also offer a cheese plate of Vermont cheeses that was quite tasty. We ended up going home with a bottle of their sparkling wine that was a fave among our little group!
Post wine-tasting called for some ice cream indulgence, so we made our way to the home of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream in Waterbury, VT. As a kid, my family would drop in on the scoop shop on the corner of Cherry Street in Burlington. It was an experience- there was a piano downstairs and usually somebody was playing, there was an old-fashioned ice cream maker where you could mix up your own ice cream (rock salt and all), and some of the creamiest tubs of ice cream upstairs in the scoop shop. It was always a treat to have my parents regale us with stories of the original Ben & Jerry’s of their youth- a converted garage down the street. Hard to believe that small place of my childhood has become the global business it is today!
Ironically, I never toured the factory in all my years living in Vermont. It may have been more of a tourist thing to do, or I just enjoyed the local scoop shop enough to not make the trek to Waterbury, but I wanted my family to experience some of that ice cream-making magic that happens only at the factory now. The tour is fairly inexpensive, $4 for adults and includes samplings of the featured flavors. They also offer a package deal where you get a t-shirt as well for $20. This is also a good deal considering the shirts are usually $22- $26. Our tour guide ushered us through the history of Ben & Jerry’s through the philanthropy and mission of the company. Ben & Jerry’s is truly one of those companies that has stayed the path of its original ideals. Though now owned by Unilever, Ben & Jerry’s still maintain creative control over the company’s direction to ensure the company is run in a way that holds true to its roots. The tour ended in the tasting room where we indulged in the featured flavor of the day, Caramel Truffle served up by friendly scoopers. In addition to the factory itself, there are also many activities to enhance your visit. There is a station where you can tye dye your own t-shirts as a souvenir. There was also a posed photo-op area where you can take pictures with cut-out pints. My kids especially enjoyed the spin art station. They had a glass enclosed table with a spinner underneath and a slit for paint. They got to choose as many colors as they wanted and create their art. The staff hung them on a clothesline to be picked up as we left. Maybe the coolest part of the factory is the Flavor Graveyard. This where all retired flavors go for their final rest. It sits on top of the hill above the actual factory and is set up just like a traditional graveyard with markers for the flavors, dates of production and short epitaphs about their life. It was fun to try and figure out which flavors might be “resurrected” based on their gravestones. We have a running bet that White Russian, Wavy Gravy, and Vermonty Python will see the inside of a pint sometime in the future.
Much of the rest of our long weekend was spent driving around the backroads of the state marveling at the pristine green of the fields, covered bridges, and newly installed solar panel farms. Vermont still manages to be the cleanest state I have ever set foot in and the most supportive of locally-produced food and beverage. It sort of amazes me a state with little-to-no industry other than tourism and agriculture keeps finding a way to reinvent itself economically, yet stay true to its grassroots nature. Needless to say, we did not want to leave.
Stay tuned for Part 2- Eats and Treats from Vermont’s finest restaurants and stores!