With its white churches and red barns, covered bridges and clapboard houses, snowy woods and maple syrup, VERMONT comes closer than any other New England state to fulfilling the quintessential image of small-town Yankee America. Much of the state is smothered by verdant, mountainous forests; indeed, the name Vermont supposedly comes from the French vert mont, or green mountain.
This was the last area of New England to be settled, early in the eighteenth century. The leader of the New Hampshire settlers, the now-legendary Ethan Allen, formed his Green Mountain Boys in 1770, and during the Revolutionary War, this all-but-autonomous force helped to win the decisive Battle of Bennington. In 1777, Vermont declared itself an independent republic, with the first constitution in the world explicitly forbidding slavery and granting universal (male) suffrage; in 1791 it became the first state admitted to the Union after the original thirteen colonies. A more recent example of Vermont’s progressive attitude occurred in 2000, when former governor Howard Dean signed the civil union bill into law, making the state the first in the USA to sanction marital rights for same-sex couples. Today, Vermont remains liberal when it comes to politics: the state continually attracts a mix of hippies, environmentalists and professionals escaping the rat race, most of them aspiring to an eco-friendly philosophy best epitomized by Ben & Jerry’s additive-free, locally produced ice cream.
With the occasional exception, such as the extraordinary assortment of Americana at the Shelburne Museum near Burlington (a lively city worth visiting in any case), there are few specific sights. Tourism here is more activity-oriented, and though the state’s rural charms can be enjoyed year-round, most visitors come during two well-defined seasons: to see the spectacular autumn foliage in the first two weeks of October, and to ski in the depths of winter, when resorts such as Killington and Stowe spring to life.
Lakeside BURLINGTON, Vermont’s largest city, with a population near forty thousand, is one of the most enjoyable destinations in New England. Renowned for its liveability and green development, it’s home to a hip, eclectic community that fuses urbanism with rural Vermont values. The city faces 150-mile-long Lake Champlain, which forms the natural boundary between Vermont and New York State. Burlington’s founders included Revolutionary War hero Ethan Allen and his family; Ethan’s brother Ira founded the University of Vermont. Home to five colleges and universities, the area has blossomed as a youthful and outward-looking college town. Its downtown is easily strolled by foot, notably around the Church Street Marketplace.
Running along the ridge of Vermont’s Green Mountains, 272 miles from the Massachusetts border to Québec, the Long Trail is one of America’s premier hiking routes. Those planning on hiking its entire length should count on it taking between 25 and 30 days. The most conventional way of accomplishing this feat is to hike from shelter to shelter, maintained during summer and usually no more than a gentle day’s hike apart. A moderate fee is charged at sites with caretakers (usually $5), and availability is on a first-come, first-served basis; if the shelter itself is full, you’ll have to camp, so unless you plan to arrive early you’ll need to carry a tent. All shelters are on the primitive side (no electricity or running water). Contact the Green Mountain Club (802 244 7037, greenmountainclub.org) for more information.