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One-Tank Trips: A Vermont Driving Vacation

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Karl drivesAs travelers begin to eye fall weekend getaways, Burlington, Vermont stands out as an affordable hub for experiential travel.

Karl I. Muller explores the bucolic surroundings and autumn offerings in this latest entry in our One-Tank Trips series covering affordable, easy driving destinations.

DAIRY, CIDER, AND GLASS

When you think of Vermont, the first images that come to mind might include rolling landscape, excellent, winter sporting, or even maple syrup. What you might forget is that it’s home to the Ben and Jerry’s Factory. Yup, scenery, snow and ice cream!

Ben & Jerry’s SignAbout 27 miles outside Burlington is Waterbury, Vermont, where lies the delicious Ben and Jerry’s Factory. Although this place is touted as Vermont’s number one tourist attraction, the crowds here on even a hot summer day are pretty small. The drive alone is worth going since Highway 89 provides some excellent views of the Green Mountains as they begin to change colors ranging from a deep red to bright gold and magnificent brown.

Once at the factory, take a 30-minute tour of the place for only $3 which includes a sample of some of that Ben and Jerry’s favorite. For those who are lactose intolerant, they’ve got you covered with tasty alternatives such as Berried Treasure Sorbet. There is also a Flavor Graveyard where you can pay your respects to any dearly departed flavors. (RIP White Russian.)

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But don’t stop there! Just a mile up the road from the factory is the Cabot Cheese Annex, where you can sample a variety of award-winning cheeses for free. Arranged around a rectangular table, flavors range from Wickedly Sharp Cheddar to Chipotle Cheese to Basil and Garlic. Then head across the parking lot to Lake Champlain Chocolates and grab a few delectable treats to take along the road. You’ll need them because the journey isn’t over. www.lakechamplainchocolates.com

Outside the cider millYet another mile up the road is The Cold Hollow Cider Mill, a working mill that is also home to a large store that offers a variety of local food products. Additionally, you can enjoy the “legendary” cider doughnut and even cider popsicles. Across the lot is a wine tasting venue that lets you try a few select Vermont varietals, including pear and blackberry wine. www.coldhollow.com

Lastly, on the way back to Burlington, check out the glass-blowing art gallery Ziemke Glass Blowing Studio. Watch a local Vermont artist in action as he/she makes vases, ornaments, shot glasses, or other glassware. www.zglassblowing.com

After that, call it a day and head to Church Street in Burlington where you can grab a drink on the lively street and enjoy any remaining chocolates, cheese, wine, or cider you might have left.

Montreal homesOH, CANADA! – MONTREAL

Once in Burlington, it’s easy to fit in a day trip to Montreal. Only a two-hour drive, Montreal is the entertainment and dining capital of Canada so there are plenty of activities to occupy your time.

Once across the Canadian border (remember to bring your passport), there are numerous small hot dog stands typical of rural Quebec to grab a quick lunch. Specialties here are basic steamed hot dogs, fries, or the can’t-miss Canadian staple, poutine—fries with cheese curd and gravy. There’s plenty of opportunity to try traditional French cuisine within Montreal, so a bit of the hearty local flavor won’t hurt.

Entering MontrealWhile you can enter Montreal through various points, follow signs and try to enter from its most dramatic point—the Champlain Bridge, which offers the best panoramic view of the city. A hop on over to Old Montreal is worth your time. Here you will find boutiques, restaurants, galleries, performers, clubs, brasseries … the list goes on.

Old Montreal is also a great location to rent a bike and aimlessly ride along the Lachine Canal. The city itself is situated along the St. Lawrence River, so there is no lack of beautiful walking areas. Spend your afternoon taking in the air and viewing the city from a pretty cool vantage point. One thing is for certain: Do not leave Old Montreal without trying the original “Beaver Tail,” a pastry formed in the shape of, you guessed it, a beaver’s tail.

Montreal riversideOnce the afternoon activities have settled down, you have a choice of exploring downtown Montreal, taking a boat cruise, or simply walking riverside before settling down for a good meal. If you’re looking to splurge on a high-end T-bone, head to Queue de Cheval (www.queuedecheval.com). Or go more casual at Reuben’s Deli (www.reubensdeli.com) home to one of the tastiest smoked meat sandwiches in Montreal. While there are two locations, avoid the more crowded touristy location, and head for the original near McGill College Street, below street level.

If you’re too tired to drive back, Montreal has plenty of bed and breakfasts: the more charming ones are further in the countryside, but the ones found in the city are easily accessible. After a night’s rest, grab brunch along St. Denis Street or “La Plateau.” And if there’s time, check out St. Joseph’s Oratory, a beautiful basilica located at the highest point in Montreal. In fact, the basilica’s dome is the second largest, falling behind the more storied St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

Want more information on Montreal? Don’t miss our Off the Brochure Travel Guide to Montreal, Canada.

GORGING OUT

Huntington GorgeSometimes, you don’t even need to venture too far off the Vermonter path or even have use for a car. Two inexpensive and scenic destinations are the Huntington Gorge and Lake Champlain.

The Huntington Gorge is located less than 15 miles outside of Burlington, in the town of Richmond. During the spring and summer, this drive will answer any questions you may have as to why Vermont is called “The Green Mountain State.” Of course, as the seasons change, that lush green color gives way to the vibrant shades of fall, giving you an even more dramatic color scheme, until finally being covered in a wintery white. Included within this short drive is a view of Camel’s Hump, Vermont’s most recognizable and third-highest mountain.

Old Round ChurchAlso along the way is The Old Round Church, a church originally constructed as a place of worship for five Protestant denominations, before being primarily used as a town hall. These days, it functions as an example of a New England meeting house, hosting the occasional wedding or two. Now under the jurisdiction of The Richmond Historical Society, you can visit the church and take a tour, but the available times depend on the season. www.oldroundchurch.com

Once you finally reach the Huntington Gorge, walk the short trail and find a spot to have a picnic. The natural sound of rushing water and the sun’s bright rays will complement whatever experience you seek to have. If you’re feeling up for a swim, hop in one of the many swimming holes along the way, but take note of the signs warning of unsafe areas with strong currents.

Sunset on Lake ChamplainHOW YA DOING, CHAMP? – LAKE CHAMPLAIN

Or, how about leaving the car behind altogether? Bike rentals are easily accessible, and it can be the better way to see Lake Champlain and the lake’s fabled monster, Champ.

The Burlington Bikeway begins in South Burlington, traversing along the waterfront and meeting up with the Island Line Causeway which extends 3 miles out over the lake. The whole ride is 12.5 miles one-way, so a 25-mile ride would make for an excellent day trip, stopping along the way at various points of interests for either lunch or photos.

Just don’t think about swimming here: Lake Champlain made Peter’s book “Don’t Go There” thanks to its high pollution levels.

Vermont sunsetOf course, to enjoy the lake, you needn’t ride the whole route. Just past mile 2 is Waterfront Park, a spacious area located near several eateries.

Check out The Skinny Pancake, a creperie and coffee shop which is also host to a Folk and Fondue Music Series every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings. www.skinnypancake.com

Further up the path is North Beach, a small area to rest and enjoy the scenery. A truly awesome site is located at mile 7, where the Trail Bridge connects the Burlington Bikeway with the Colchester Causeway. Prior to the construction of this bridge, riders had to take a ferry across the short distance.

Text and photos by Karl I. Muller for PeterGreenberg.com. Click here to vote for Karl to win the GuideGecko writing contest for his feature story on traveling on a budget in Japan.

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