The combination of a family cross-country trip and years of business travel provided opportunities to visit 40 of the United States. Vermont was not one of them, so while searching for a state to escape the city noise for a few days, Vermont became #41.
In early September, I wanted to disappear for a few days before the busy fall months. I chose #41 (not George H. W. Bush, but Vermont) and booked a stay at the landmark Castle Hill Resort and Spa. After driving a few highway hours, I found myself on a nondescript road through Proctorsville, Vermont. Finally seeing the hotel sign was not as exciting as I anticipated though. The hotel was comprised of ordinary cream-colored buildings—not very resort or a spa-like—and I thought there would be a “castle.”
As I drove up a winding hill looking for check-in, there it was!
Nestled in the Green Mountains, atop the hill was the castle. The sun was shining brilliantly on its façade of magnificent grey stones and its surrounding flowers. The scene was magical and inviting. (I later discovered the hotel near the entrance is their sister property, The Pointe Hotel.)
The Castle Hill Resort and Spa is a luxurious inn inside a historic mansion. With just ten charming rooms, each decorated with period furnishings, it meets the standards required for inclusion in both the Historic Hotels of America and the National Register of Historic Places.
Wanderlust is in my DNA so I immediately had the urge to explore the property. I was impressed with the stonework of the mansion, the meticulously kept grounds, the quaint spa building, and the enticing heated pool with its matching lounge chairs. My soul already felt at home.
Dinner that evening was in the mansion’s Castle Dining Room. The menu is French-influenced American cuisine, so I just had to start with the French onion soup. Every additional course was delish: the shrimp cocktail, warm bread with bruschetta, Caesar salad, filet mignon, and chocolate dessert. Did I mention I like to eat? Across the hall was the perfect after-dinner sanctuary, the Library, set with dim lighting, a fireplace, comfortable chairs, and well-cushioned couches.
Adventure and exploration were on the agenda for the next day.
I always ask the staff and locals for restaurant recommendations so I don’t end up at the pricey tourist spots. Breakfast today was at a small spot on Main Street called Cafe At De Light…because there’s one traffic light in town…and this place is on that corner…”at de light.” Yep.
Asking the waitress for her favorite spots around the area was key. I headed up Routes 100/103 North for a spontaneous day of exploration, with a few sights in mind. The town itself is quintessential New England. The leaves were almost turning; the pastures (because there were pastures!) were green and cow-speckled. The houses were country retreats and the bridges classic.
After stops for maple syrup, handmade candles, and ice cream at a modest artist community, Buttermilk Falls was next on my list.
“Buttermilk Falls” was not in my GPS, so I settled for “Buttermilk Falls Road” – should be close enough, right? After driving up and down a dirt road for a few minutes, I hit a dead end—a literal dead end. A couple was there randomly eating lunch out of the hatchback of their car. The New Yorker in me thought this is how people get killed—you stop and ask the friendly-looking people at the end of a deserted dirt road eating ham sandwiches for directions. Then I thought, well, how much longer could I drive up and down this dirt road? The couple turned out to be friendly and I survived the interaction.
I hiked down the embankment and figured out how to make my way across the stream on slippery rocks. I climbed Kilimanjaro, I should be able to tackle this. The falls were worth the hike. Almost on cue, the sun shined brighter, a dog was running in the stream, and birds were chirping in the background.
Thank You Vermont.
“You have to visit the Vermont Country Store,” was suggested more than once. Again, one of those places that was unimpressive at first glance. Actually, I thought it was closed. The country store across the street looked livelier and the door was open, so I strolled through there first. There’s only so much cheese I could taste and honey I could sample, so I made my way across the street. I climbed the steps of the narrow “Vermont Country Store” and opened the door, expecting it to be closed. Oh my goodness, I could not believe my eyes.
Was this James Hilton’s fictional Shangri-La
from Lost Horizon?
The store seemed to go on for miles, was filled with treats, apparel, personal care, toys—and this was only as far as I could see. Candy and flavored popcorn were the first to catch my eye. God, I wish I hadn’t eaten so much at dinner last night!
The Vermont Country Store is a treasure. It has remained a family-owned business since its opening in 1946. Their employees are beyond friendly and accommodating. Their hospitality and comfortable atmosphere of the store kept me captive (in the very best way) for hours browsing, sampling, and reliving my childhood in their toy section. Oh—and they have an outdoor ice cream parlor with the cutest wooden tables and benches. They are said to receive over 1 Million visitors a year and I can see why.
Dinnertime was fast approaching and yes I still had room for dinner, but not before a visit to the spa. There’s nothing like a massage at the end of a long day of exploring. The spa staff was delightful and the massage perfect. I used the same approach for dinner and asked the women there where they’d go for an Italian dinner: Mangiamo Ristorante was the clear winner.
I called to make a reservation,
because that’s what I do.
Similar to every other experience I had in Vermont thus far, I pulled up and thought it was closed. Even walking in I thought that it must be closed for the season. There was NO ONE else in the restaurant. The man on the other line earlier did take a reservation from me, right?
Casey is the most delightful restaurant owner you’ll ever meet. A Boston native, he now lives up here and owns this restaurant. After chatting with him over the Yankees and appetizers, I now understand why there haven’t been many people around. This area is seasonal: busy in the summer months for vacations, busier in the fall for the changing of the leaves, quiet from the second week of September until the snow starts to fall, SUPER BUSY when ski season starts. Rinse and repeat. Most places will even close down during this period of time.
The best part of having the restaurant to yourself is having the owner to yourself, which means lots of insider VT suggestions!
If you’re visiting Ludlow, this is the place to eat.
P.S. the food is really good too!
The last morning was reserved for antiquing.
I love a good antique shop. There’s something that makes my heart beat faster when I discover a postcard between lovers in 1945 or hold an old dusty book in my hand.
There were several vintage and antique shops on Main Street in Windsor to choose from and I couldn’t be happier. These are the travel days I live for, soul seeking rather than sightseeing. My favorite spot was The Next Generation Antiques. where I serenely perused the aisles of nostalgia: old soda bottles, vintage books, postcards, and tools from an era gone by. I love the vintage photographs the most, where people live beyond the day the flashbulb went off. I think of this every time I snap a photo—who will find this beyond my days?