Ex­plore New Eng­land one tank of gas at a time

Three hours and one bald ea­gle sight­ing from Bos­ton by car, this artsy farm town of­fers a re­lax­ing overnight es­cape.

Where Boston - - NEWS - By Leigh Har­ring­ton

A WORD OF AD­VICE for fans of dead po­ets: Visit your idols no ear­lier than springtime. I learn this the hard way, trudg­ing at sun­set in deep­est Fe­bru­ary across the frozen tun­dra of the Ben­ning­ton Cen­tre Ceme­tery, to­wards the gravesite of per­sonal hero and New Eng­land lit­er­ary icon, Robert Frost. The wind­ing paths of hard-packed ice and arc­tic mud are treach­er­ous—you would give bet­ter odds to a fugi­tive ham­ster cross­ing a busy free­way—but I fi­nally reach Old Frosty (as I now call him) in a hot funk of near­ly­cracked el­bows and un-po­etic ex­ple­tives.

“I had a lover’s quar­rel with the world,” reads Frost's epi­taph. He must have seen me com­ing.

This won’t be my only trek over two days in the quiet and ut­terly charm­ing moun­tain town of Ben­ning­ton, tucked into the very south­west cor­ner of Ver­mont four miles from New York and 10 from Mas­sachusetts. There’s much more to see here than Frost, es­pe­cially in the full throes of spring.

Ben­ning­ton presents an ap­peal­ing mix of farmer and ar­ti­san, hip­pie and hip­ster.

Along his­toric Main Street (Route 9) and South Street (Route 7)—or North Street, de­pend­ing on which side of Main Street you’re on—there is an en­ter­pris­ing mix of bou­tiques, cafes, restau­rants and art gal­leries.

Fid­dle­head at Four Cor­ners is a funky art-space that de­mands hands-on in­ter­ac­tion, whether it's draw­ing on the walls of a re­pur­posed bank vault with chalk, play­ing a few notes of Louis Arm­strong’s “What a Won­der­ful World” on the gallery’s pi­ano or shoot­ing a free game of pin­ball on a vin­tage ma­chine. The cur­rent ex­hibit ex­plores banned books of the 20th and 21st cen­turies, which is right up my al­ley.

Nearby at The Vil­lage Choco­late

Shoppe, the lemon and olive oil notes in the hand­made, 32-per­cent milk choco­late Il sapore del cioc­co­lato bars re­call lemon­scented days spent in Sorrento when I was 22. I stop in at South Street Cafe for an al­mond milk chai latte and catch a live, midafter­noon acous­tic set. Live, mid-af­ter­noon acous­tic sets are very Ben­ning­ton.

MAKER CUL­TURE

Maker cul­ture here is huge here, ex­tend­ing from the town's sig­na­ture pot­ters to its craft brewers. On this quiet af­ter­noon, I si­dle up to the bar at vet­eran hop house Madi­son Brew­ing Co. as my first stop in an in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the lo­cal beer scene. It’s hard not to no­tice that this town loves beer. There’s a ‘tap room’ at ev­ery cor­ner, al­though the term seems to have gen­er­al­ized to mean any bar with lo­cal beers on tap, not limited to those of its own mak­ing.

Ben­ning­ton has started breed­ing craft brewers, too, and that’s why I’m at Madi­son sam­pling my way through eight of its sig­na­ture drafts, in­clud­ing the su­per light Suck­er­pond Blonde, the or­ange-scented Was­sicks Bel­gian White wheat and the malty English York­shire style Old 76 Strong Ale.

Har­vest Brew­ing is part bar, part co-op: Mem­bers use its 15-gal­lon brew­ing sta­tion and fer­ment­ing cel­lar to pro­duce beer or cider, which Har­vest then sells as part of its nanobrew­ery. Lo­cals hang out here four nights per week to drink, play darts and ping­pong, jam to live mu­sic or make their own at the fre­quent open mic nights.

Beer-mak­ing meets glass-mak­ing atop the cor­ru­gated metal bar at The Tap House at Cata­mount Glass where, later, I di­gest a fresh pint of Northshire Brew­ing Co.’s Equinox pil­sner. The com­pact space is packed with mid­week din­ers dig­ging into home­made veg­etable bar­ley soup (served in Cata­mount glass bowls, of course) and Bey­oncé Burger—they put an onion ring on it.

Per­haps the most widely rec­og­nized lo­cal maker is Ben­ning­ton Pot­ters. At 68 years young, this is not your Grandma’s stoneware pot­tery. The hand-thrown, glazed ves­sels nail that con­tem­po­rary take on the ba­sic Arts and Crafts aes­thetic, and I am bring­ing a cou­ple trig­ger mugs—imag­ine a vin­tage pis­tol trig­ger—home.

A CLAS­SIC AND A HID­DEN GEM

Ver­mont is fa­mous for its cov­ered bridges, and it’s hard not to no­tice them while you’re on the road. Five are lo­cated within Ben­ning­ton County, so I de­cide to head away from down­town on Route 67 to drive through the clos­est three. Mind the road, it’s one car at a time! These bridges over the Wal­loom­sac River are as sturdy as they come, de­spite their 175 years.

I end up in North Ben­ning­ton and drive past the Park-McCul­lough House to ad­mire its op­u­lent ar­chi­tec­ture—totally worth it—but I rec­om­mend by­pass­ing an in­te­rior tour of this build­ing to in­stead hike the Mile-Around Woods just be­yond and be­hind the prop­erty. To reach the en­trance to the hik­ing path, I have to park on the side of the road and tramp through some­one’s horse field to the tune of train whis­tles and the rustling leaves of huge, old-wood oaks. Don’t bother feel­ing weird about tres­pass­ing. The well-worn path is ev­i­dence of fre­quent foot traf­fic.

Among the cows, the craft and the quiet, my thoughts re­turn to Old Frosty’s head­stone. I think my quar­rel has been re­solved.

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