Champlain Islands | VermontFreshwater Pearls
Time, too, in a few hours, to sling myself into a hammock on the porch of an elegant room at North Hero House, facing the water like a spyglass looking out to sea. To eat a dreamy dinner of delicate salmon dusted in chive blossom, and fall asleep to the sound of rolling waves. And in the morning, the inn’s genial owner, Walter Blasberg, who’s been coming to the islands since he was a child, will show us a rookery where great blue herons’ nests teeter in a primordial swamp. There will be time to rent a bike next door at Hero’s Welcome, an all-purpose general store/café/marina/emporium run by yet another corporate refugee, Bob Camp, the ex-CEO of Pier 1.And, of course, time to zip around Butler Island with Captain Holly Poulin, whose Driftwood Tours, leaving from North Hero House, offer fishing, sightseeing, or daytrips into Burlington. It’s the watery side of the Champlain Islands story, told by someone who grew up here, got her captain’s license, and has been in business for 13 years.
“This is one of the best bass fisheries in the country,” she says matter-of-factly. Waves slap against the side of the boat as we pick up speed and lean into a turn. “It’s different out here, not crazy like the Burlington area,” she shouts into the wind. “There are so many islands around here to get out of the weather.”
It’s also far from the madding crowd, although Burlington is only about a half-hour’s drive. “We’re off Broad Lake [the main section],” she explains, “in an area called the Inland Sea [the northeast arm]. It borders northwest Vermont and ends in Quebec. That’s part of what makes it so special. A lot of days I’m the only one out here. It’s just so peaceful.”
“What about Champ?” I can’t resist asking.
“That’s one of the first things most people ask when they get on the boat,” she finally says, after a pause. “Last summer I saw something for the first time, something long and very, very large on the water, about 40 feet away. Just lying on top of the water, moving around.” She shrugs. “It was something, and it was big.” Who doesn’t love the mystery of water–what it hides, what it reveals, and the way it weaves in and around the lives of island folk?
But all of this is still to come in the days ahead, plus a final night at the lovely Ferry Watch Inn, on the west shore of Grand Isle, with views to the Adirondacks. Unlivable when Troy and Janet Wert first bought the place in 1997, the proof of their hard work is everywhere: in the soaring barn they restored, beam by beam; in Janet’s gardens that hide fossils or trail along the water. The story of their labor, and love, is one we’ll hear over and over on these islands.
The sparkling B&B sits on a spectacular bluff overlooking the ferry, which crosses about every 15 minutes at this time of year. We’ll ride it, in a day or two, across this deep and unknowable Lake Champlain, simply for the thrill of turning around and chugging back. The wind behind us, the islands ahead of us, and fathoms of water below.
When You Go: Visit champlainislands.com for an overview of dining and lodging, attractions, events, and activities. And for detailed information on the venues noted in boldface in our story, go to: YankeeMagazine.com/more