In Sea­son

The scar­let and gold fo­liage of Ver­mont in au­tumn is draw­ing a new crowd of leaf-peep­ers.

Virgin Australia Voyeur - - CONTENTS - Words JOEL MEARES

kILLINGTON,IN CEN­TRAL Ver­mont, is known among skiers as the ‘Beast of the East’. The largest ski des­ti­na­tion in the eastern US, it boasts a 930-me­tre ver­ti­cal drop — snow­bunny speak for a stretch of white, pow­dery moun­tain­side per­fect for tear­ing down on skis or a snow­board. Come win­ter, Killington’s slopes are crammed with those up for the chal­lenge.

But there’s another time of year when the sky-nudg­ing ‘Beast’ also shines, al­beit in tamer fash­ion. A few months be­fore the rugged-up hordes de­scend upon (and then as­cend) the moun­tain, a dif­fer­ent kind of ex­plorer shows up; one armed not with poles and scratched-up foot slats, but with binoc­u­lars and ex­pen­sive cam­eras they’re of­ten just work­ing out how to use.

Ev­ery au­tumn, th­ese ‘leaf peep­ers’, as they’ve come to be known, make pil­grim­ages to Killington and other patches of Amer­ica’s north-east for the thrill of see­ing the an­nual chang­ing of the trees. This months-long dis­play is Mother Na­ture at her most as­ton­ish­ingly tech­ni­colour: maple trees flare into a vivid scar­let, cast­ing red shad­ows across hill­sides; poplars burst into rich golds on the road­side; and twin­kles of or­ange, pur­ple and sun-bright yel­lows dap­ple the woods. Perched on an off­sea­son chair­lift, smoothly scal­ing Killington on a crisp Oc­to­ber af­ter­noon, one has a front-row seat to this spec­tac­u­lar au­tum­nal show. The red­den­ing trees be­low are so close you could al­most kick their fiery tips with your feet, and a breath-snatch­ing panorama of ter­ra­cotta moun­tain ranges glows in the dis­tance.

Tak­ing that very ride up­hill last year, I hadn’t quite worked out my fancy new cam­era yet, but it didn’t mat­ter — it was im­pos­si­ble to take a bad photo of the land­scape around me.

Ver­mont in au­tumn is full of such ‘wow’ mo­ments. Some you will seek out, such as Killington; oth­ers will be happy ac­ci­dents — like when a sud­den curve in a high­way re­veals a bronzy moun­tain view you had no idea was com­ing. Tra­di­tion­ally, an older set of tourists has chased this slow-paced ‘wow’ mo­ment: re­tirees with enough time to wheel it across the state, mix­ing their am­a­teur pho­tog­ra­phy with an­tiquing and stops to sam­ple the lo­cal maple syrup. But younger tourists are start­ing to turn onto the idea of a leaf-peep­ing tour, with its me­an­der­ing, chilled-out ap­proach to the week­end get­away. For New York­ers and oth­ers in the north-east (Killington is less than three hours from Bos­ton), Ver­mont has come to of­fer a re­laxed back-to-na­ture op­tion up there with the Catskill Moun­tains in New York State and the Po­conos in Mas­sachusetts. And one per­fect for In­sta­gram.

Savvy op­er­a­tors are tak­ing note of the cu­ri­ous younger crowd, none more so, per­haps, than the team be­hind Bar­rows House in Dorset, a tiny,

2000-per­son town in the state’s south-east fea­tur­ing a killer gen­eral store (and lit­tle else). The his­toric prop­erty — the cen­tral home was orig­i­nally built in 1803 — of­fers 27 guest rooms, along with stand­alone cot­tages, ten­nis courts, gar­dens and hectares of grassy land for lolling around on. But it’s the finer de­tails and add-ons that nod to a hip­per class of vis­i­tor.

Take the Tap Room, which show­cases eight lo­cal craft beers (the com­pre­hen­sive se­lec­tion is scrawled on a board), paired with hearty pub-style eats, such as slabs of ten­der pork brined in lo­cal cider. It ticks all your in­ner-city-cool boxes with a very thick marker, and the es­tab­lish­ment is proudly re­ferred to as a gas­tropub (the pro­nun­ci­a­tion is ex­plained at the top of the menu: ‘gas-troh-puhb’). Or con­sider the gi­ant games that guests can play out on the lawn, in­clud­ing a man­sized set of Con­nect Four, de­signed for long af­ter­noons of cider-in-hand chuck­les and goofy self­ies.

The team be­hind Bar­rows House also owns the more tra­di­tional Dorset Inn, lo­cated just down the road, which first wel­comed guests in 1796 and hasn’t changed much since. In con­trast to its sis­ter prop­erty, there are no nods to mil­len­nial leaf peep­ers here — and more’s the charm for it. The ground floor is de­voted to old-fash­ioned feast­ing. Sit by the fire­place in the el­e­gant, coun­try-style din­ing room, where bul­bous gourds gather in the cen­tre of each ta­ble, or do as we did and bunker down in the dark wood of the tav­ern with a glass of hoppy Bat­tenkill Ale from Northshire Brew­ery. (You can tour the brew­ery, lo­cated in nearby Ben­ning­ton, on Satur­days.)

if you’re look­ing for things to do be­yond eat­ing, drink­ing and un­wind­ing among the chang­ing trees in south­ern Ver­mont, Manch­ester is where you’ll want to head (stop­ping by the Dorset Ris­ing bak­ery on the way for a mo­lasses cookie). The pop­u­lar town, just 10 min­utes south of Dorset, is known for out­let shop­ping, so if that’s your thing, make a bee­line for Le Creuset; you won’t find the pricey crock­ery go­ing any cheaper. Some in the re­gion be­moan the town’s trans­for­ma­tion into an en­gorged strip mall — and there is some­thing de­flat­ing about see­ing big-box stores rub­bing their gar­ish shoul­ders with cen­turies-old brick beau­ties. But there is a cer­tain charm to be found here if you know where to look. You’ll want to press your face against the glass fudge cab­i­net at Mother Myrick’s Con­fec­tionary as you pe­ruse the op­tions (pump­kin, please), and you’ll hap­pily while away hours among the shelves of the 900-square-me­tre Northshire Book­store.

His­tory buffs and ar­chi­tec­ture lovers are well-served, too: nearby Hildene, once the home of Abra­ham Lin­coln’s el­dest son Robert, is open for vis­i­tors. The Ge­or­gian Re­vival man­sion is fab­u­lously ap­pointed with the fam­ily’s orig­i­nal fur­ni­ture, and a self-guided tour of the op­u­lent rooms of­fers a chance to see one of Abe’s own hats. But the real treat is out­side: the prop­erty looks over the Bat­tenkill Val­ley, with pools of green at its base and cop­pers and yel­lows at its peaks. Keep that cam­era handy.

Leaf peep­ing in Ver­mont is a mo­bile pur­suit — not fast­mov­ing in any way, but best done on four wheels. A car al­lows you to zip from the south­ern tip of the wedge-shaped state to its cen­tre, set­ting your eyes on new panora­mas with new, vi­brant pal­ettes. A car also al­lows for the kind of pit stops that truly make a leisurely trip like this. Stop­ping at a cov­ered bridge in Ar­ling­ton for a quick photo op, we met a woman tak­ing her last weekly dip of the sea­son in the shal­low waters be­low. Test­ing the icy wa­ter with my toe, I re­alised that Ver­mon­ters’ rep­u­ta­tion as a tough, free­dom-lov­ing group — the kind of peo­ple who’ve twice elected Se­na­tor Bernie San­ders — was well earned.

For post­card-style views and ma­jor cosy-up-by-the-fire vibes, few places in the north-east ri­val the Moun­tain Top Inn & Re­sort atop Cen­tral Ver­mont Moun­tain, just over an hour’s drive north from Manch­ester and Dorset and a short trip to Killington. A rolling green lawn cas­cades down from the main build­ing (orig­i­nally a re­stored 1870 barn, re­built in log-cabin style af­ter a fire in the 1970s) to a 300-hectare lake, which, dur­ing the au­tumn months, is en­cir­cled by green, yel­low and red moun­tains. You can head down to the wa­ter to hire a kayak and put your­self in the pic­ture, or park your­self on the lawn, drink and cam­era in hand, and soak it up at a dis­tance.

Ei­ther way, as the sun starts to sink, head in­side for din­ner at the inn’s cabin-like restau­rant ( spot the elk-horn light fixtures). For dessert, don’t miss the gooey skil­let cookie, a dis­cus-sized choco­late-chip bis­cuit served hot in a cast-iron pan; it’s as photo-wor­thy as the dim­ming scenes out­side.

As au­tumn per­fumes the air in Ver­mont, Moun­tain Top Inn & Re­sort of­fers an ideal spot for an all-in friends’ get­away, with 23 guest­house-style ac­com­mo­da­tions avail­able, each just a short walk or drive from the main build­ing. Kit­ted out for aprèsski shenani­gans in the win­ter, the mul­ti­level homes fea­ture large recre­ation rooms with pool tables, out­door Jacuzzis, fam­ily-style kitchens and screenedin porches. Some of the guest­houses even come with pri­vate pools. The only dan­ger is in for­get­ting you’re ac­tu­ally here to im­merse your­self in na­ture, not to re­treat from it in lux­u­ri­ous digs.

But then that’s kind of the point of a trip to Ver­mont in au­tumn: for­get­ting. For­get­ting the rush of the world that awaits at lower el­e­va­tions. Or that there was an agenda you were sup­posed to be fol­low­ing at some point. Don’t worry, though: plan­ning is for the snowchasers who’ll be tak­ing over the state in a few months. For now, you’re here to ex­plore, with­out any plans be­yond ogling stun­ning stretches of na­ture, eat­ing de­li­cious meals, sip­ping lo­cal beers and pick­ing up a bot­tle or two of maple syrup.

By the time you head home, you’ll have checked all those boxes — whether you’d planned to or not.

GET­TING THERE VIR­GIN AUS­TRALIA OF­FERS FLIGHTS TO BOS­TON WITH ITS CODE­SHARE PART­NER DELTA AIR LINES. TO BOOK, VISIT WWW.VIRGINAUSTRALIA.COM OR CALL 13 67 89 (IN AUS­TRALIA).

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.