White on Green

You don’t need to know how to ski to have winter fun in the mountains of Southern Vermont—but it doesn’t hurt.

TCross-country skiing in Southern Vermonto ski or not to ski? Whether you do, don’t, or want to but haven’t yet, the only real question is how much on- and off-slope fun you can fit into one winter getaway to the Green Mountains of Southern Vermont.

If you’re looking for the quintessential small-town New England experience, situate yourself in Manchester, Bennington, Dorset, Arlington, Peru or one of more than a dozen other neighboring villages—collectively known as the Shires of Vermont. Nearby, you’ll find two major Alpine skiing and snowboarding destinations, miles of groomed cross-country skiing and snowshoeing trails on a historic estate, and ice skating at an Olympic-size community rink.

Visit a sugarhouse (or two) to see how the state’s famous maple products go from tree to table. Sample artisan-crafted cheeses and chocolates. Shop for everything from housewares to haute couture at country stores, boutiques and outlets. And take in the local talent at any of Southern Vermont’s visual and performing arts centers.

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With its more than 40 trails covering 300 acres, an over-1,300-foot vertical drop and 10 lifts, Bromley Mountain (3984 Route 11, Peru; 802-824-5522, bromley.com) offers varied Alpine terrain, from the winding but beginner-friendly West Side to the expert-caliber Black Diamond East Side trails. New England’s only slopes with Southern exposure, Bromley is nicknamed “Vermont’s Sun Mountain.” Go mid-week and adult lift tickets cost $39 ($63 on weekends); check out the discounts for kids on Family Fridays and “Lift and Lunch” packages on Tuesdays. Bromley has a particular affinity for slope novices. Beginner Circle lessons for newbie skiers and boarders ages 13 and up are $104 for a full day and guarantee results (or another lesson is free).

If, after you’ve tested the terrain for an hour at Stratton Mountain Resort (5 Village Lodge Road, Stratton Mountain; 800-STRATTON, stratton.com), conditions aren’t to your liking, you’ll get a free lift ticket for another day with the property’s “Great Snow Guarantee.” Located on the highest peak in Southern Vermont, with a vertical drop of more than 2,000 feet, Stratton has 92 easy-to-expert trails on 600 acres with 14 lifts (adult tickets range from $59/weekdays to $78/weekends). Long renowned for its snowboarding school (one-hour adult beginner group lessons are $45), Stratton will celebrate its 25th year as the home of the U.S. Open Snowboarding Championships in March.

Guided nighttime snowmobile tours are available on Saturday nights at Stratton. Adults can ride the trails for one hour for $85 ($25/passenger), and kids can get a 10-minute mini-version for $15. For snowmobiling in Green Mountain National Forest, go to Equinox Snow Tours (6 miles from Manchester at the junctions of routes 11 and 30, Winhall; 802-824-6628, snowmobile.com). Cost for an adult driver is $107 ($40/passenger); 15-minute, private-trail mini-tours for drivers ages 5 and up are $15.

It’s a winter tradition for families in the Manchester area to gather for ice skating at Manchester’s Olympic-size indoor Riley Rink (Hunter Park Road, a few miles off Route 7; 802-362-0150, rileyrink.com; $5/adults, $3/children, teens and seniors). On Saturdays from 4 to 10 p.m., the outdoor rink at Stratton Mountain Resort’s Village Common is open to the public for free skating (skate rentals also free).

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Sit back and let a local guide show you the seasonal splendor of the Southern Vermont countryside on an afternoon “Winter Wonderland” tour from Backroad Discovery Tours (802-362-4997, backroaddiscovery.com, $30/person). Or snuggle up for a private one-hour day or evening ride in a one-horse open sleigh from Lively’s Livery (802-447-7612, livelyslivery.com, $75/couple). Included is a bonfire, where you can roast marshmallows, sip hot chocolate and munch on homemade brownies.

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Strolling the picturesque streets of Stratton VillageSince around 2000 B.C., falconry has been the sport of royalty around the world. Learn to handle a Harris hawk at the British School of Falconry at the Equinox (3567 Main St., Route 7A, Manchester Village; 802-362-4780, equinoxresort.com; $59/person), the first educational facility of its kind in the U.S.

Save a weekday afternoon for a visit to the Vermont Arts Exchange (29 Sage Street Mill, North Bennington; 802-422-5549, vtartxchange.org), where you can browse the converted brick factory’s galleries filled with contemporary multimedia works representing local and international talent. In Manchester, the 10-gallery Southern Vermont Arts Center (West Road, 802-362-1405, svac.org; $8/adults, $3/students), located in a 28-room Georgian mansion, displays an extensive permanent collection of 19th- and 20th-century American works and major national and international traveling exhibitions. Both venues also host an eclectic array of musical performances from around the world.

Ever wonder what it would be like to jump in a lake in the middle of winter? Join the locals for the Penguin Plunge at the Annual Winter Festival Jan. 31 in North Bennington. Those who prefer to skip the swim can take a tour of the historic Park-McCullough Mansion, sample award-seeking chili from area restaurants, help judge an ice sculpture contest, and hop on for a horse-and-wagon ride (802-447-3311, bennington.com).

During the Vermont Maple Open House Weekend March 27-29, visit area sugarhouses to watch syrup making and taste the various treats made from the sweet, sticky stuff (800-837-6668, vermontmaple.org). You’ve no doubt tasted Vermont cheddar, but at Taylor Farm (825 Route 11, Londonderry, 802-824-5690), the handmade goudas—including maple-smoked, chipotle and garlic—are the stars. And small-batch, hand-stretched traditional and cherrywood-smoked mozzarellas are among the specialties at Maplebrook Farm (453 East Road, Bennington; 802-440-9950, mountainmozzarella.com).

Just about every small town in the Shires has its own distinctive shopping district. One-of-a-kind antique and boutique shops line Route 7A (a.k.a. Main Street) in Manchester Village. Millstone Antiques (4478 Main St., 802-366-9040, millstoneantiques.com) focuses on 18th-century American and English country home furnishings. Local artist Susan Sargent owns and operates her self-named store, featuring her own colorful rugs, pillows and other accessories (3609 Main St., 800-245-4767, susansargent.com).

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Further up the road in Manchester Center are the Manchester Designer Outlets (97 Depot St., manchesterdesigneroutlets.com, 800-955-SHOP), including Peruvian Connection (802-362-2762) for Alpaca sweaters, blankets and other posh products, Michael Kors designer sportswear (802-366-1900), and Sanctuary Collection (802-362-5785) for handmade Turkish and Tibetan rugs. Nearby on Route 7A is the 23,000-square-foot flagship Orvis (4180 Main St., 802-362-3750, orvis.com), a virtual sporting-goods wonderland complete with an indoor trout pond.

For close to 60 years, Bennington Potters (324 County St., Bennington; 800-205-8033, benningtonpotters.com) has been a destination for handcrafted stoneware. You can even watch the artisans at work. In East Arlington, ask about the deliciously educational tastings and demos by chocolatier Nick Monte at The Village Peddler (261 Old Mill Road, villagepeddlervt.com, 802-375-6037). While you’re there, pick up a handmade signature Sincake, Bragger or Avalanche Bar.

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A dessert served at the Reluctant Panther Inn and Restaurant in Manchester VillageAlthough you can’t talk about Manchester Village without mentioning the Equinox Resort—the Grande Dame that has reigned over the area since 1796—visitors who prefer more low-key, but equally elegant, accommodations should try the family-owned Reluctant Panther Inn and Restaurant (17-39 West Road, 800-822-2331, reluctantpanther.com). The 20 suites in this petite luxury hotel have king featherbeds and lovely views; many also have fireplaces and double hydrotherapy tubs ($309-$659; ask about winter ski and holiday packages). Full breakfast in the Main House dining room is included. Be sure to stay for dinner (entrées run $31-$42), when CIA-trained executive chef Justin Dain prepares such specialties as locally raised, barbecued quail, maple- and mustard-rubbed Colorado lamb, and the signature Valrhona-drenched chocolate peanut butter bombe with homemade cinnamon marshmallows.

For visitors with a sweet tooth, there are always home-baked brownies, apple bars, cherry flop and other treats available at the Eddington House (21 Main St., North Bennington; 800-941-1857, eddingtonhouse.com), a cute and cozy 1859 colonial inn ($99-$139). Norman Rockwell once lived in the 1847 Classic Greek Revival residence now known as the Arlington Inn (3904 Route 7A, Arlington, 800-443-9442). Its 18 guest rooms and suites ($149-$279) are furnished with Victorian-era antiques, and some have fireplaces and Jacuzzi tubs.

Once you’ve dined at the Panther, you might want to try Pangaea Restaurant (1 Prospect St., vermontfinedining.com, 802-442-7171) in North Bennington for dishes like caramelized Scotch-glazed shrimp, savory spice-rubbed sturgeon, and a Thai green curry stir-fry of fresh vegetables ($18-$24). For more casual fare, head to Kevin’s Sports Pub & Restaurant (27 Main St., North Bennington, 802-442-0122) for half-pound burgers, hand-cut steaks, chicken and seafood ($5.75-$14.95), plus locally brewed beers on tap.

If you haven’t tasted well-prepared sautéed calf’s liver for a long time (or ever), regulars at the Dorset Inn (8 Church St., Dorset; 877-367-7389, dorsetinn.com) consider it quite the delicacy. Locally raised beef, pork and poultry also take center stage on the menu. Opened in 1796, the Dorset is also Vermont’s oldest continuously operating country inn ($165-$200 for rooms, some pet friendly; $290-$325 for deluxe suites).

Country Classic

Vermont Country Store

Country stores have long been small-town New England mainstays—and although this one is a little beyond the boundaries of the Shires (about a half-hour drive from Manchester), it’s worth the trip for an authentic experience. Open since 1946, the Vermont Country Store (657 Main St., Weston; 802-824-3184, vermontcountrystore.com) stocks all kinds of fun stuff, from dill pickles in a barrel to foot-warming socks and hard-to-find brands (remember Tangee lipstick and Aqua Net hairspray?), amid an array of antiques.

Hildene in ManchesterOpen House

Every area has its historic homes once owned by famous people and now open for public tours. Hildene in Manchester (1005 Hildene Road, 800-578-1788, hildene.org) is much more. The 24-room, circa-1905 Georgian Revival-style main house on the 412-acre estate was once the summer getaway for Robert Todd Lincoln, son of Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln, and its rooms are filled with the family’s furnishings and memorabilia ($12.50/adults, $5/children). In winter, more than 9 miles of groomed trails are open for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. On Hildene Holiday Evenings (Dec. 1-Jan. 1, $15/adults), the residence is decorated in the Victorian tradition, complete with a 12-foot Christmas tree. It hosts organ and handbell concerts, as well as a New Year’s “Good Luck Bonfire.” Or visitors can scan the winter skies with a telescope in the estate’s observatory.

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