Vermont: Montgomery, Vergennes, Norwich, and Newfane
Like the south of Spain, Vermont’s Windham County has its “white villages.” Newfane, Townshend, and Jamaica spool out along Route 30 north and west of Brattleboro, and Newfane is the loveliest of them all.
You’d never guess Newfane is only 11 miles from Brattleboro, which is what passes for bustle in Windham County. The village seems like some Yankee never-neverland, adrift in the Arcadian era when Greek Revival architecture made the homes and public buildings of upcountry New England look like temples in the wilderness. The effect comes across most spectacularly in three structures facing the town green: the 1839 First Congregational Church; the Windham County Court House, built in 1825 and given the full, Doric-columned classical treatment a little more than a quarter-century later; and the Four Columns Inn, built in 1832, behind whose eponymous pillars Bruce and Debbie Pfander run one of Vermont’s most luxurious hostelries.
Newfane’s particular cachet lies with its plethora of antiques shops. The mix includes Jack Winner Antiques, specializing in American, English, and Welsh furniture and equestrian art and accessories; Schommer Antiques & Art, where the emphasis is on late-19th-century furniture and china; and Olde and New England Books, with gems of fiction and nonfiction (travel, gardening, and architecture are strong suits) from both sides of the Atlantic. For shoppers drawn to present-day artisanship, the place to go is The Newfane Country Store, where Marilyn Distelberg’s adjacent shop displays a gorgeous selection of handmade country quilts.
If it’s Thursday, that means it’s Live Jazz Night at Rick’s Tavern, so you can do a 21st- (or at least 20th-) century reality check.
One of Vermont’s prettiest college towns doesn’t even have a college. Norwich borrows its panache from Dartmouth, across the Connecticut River in Hanover, New Hampshire, and counts among its residents more than a few of the Ivy League school’s professors and administrators. That fellow in the old khakis working his way from the mud boots to the hardware to the Napa Zinfandels in Dan & Whit’s wonderful old store? Classics department, no doubt. But Norwich isn’t just a bedroom town. It has a Vermont character all its own, expressed in its expansive town green fronted by lovely Georgian brick homes and a white-steepled church, and in the state’s largest outdoor farmers’ market, held on Saturday mornings from May through October.
You can get a good education in Norwich without crossing the river. King Arthur Flour, which runs what must be the most amply stocked baking-supply shop in New England, offers a wide range of courses in this tastiest of the liberal arts. Even if you don’t have time to enroll (some courses take only a few hours), this is a great place to stock up on staples as well as exotic items such as Heidelberg Rye Sour, nonstick popover pans, and Belgian waffle makers. Expand your knowledge even further — and less calorically — at the Montshire Museum of Science, a bright, modern facility crammed with kid-friendly interactive exhibits including a pedal-powered elevator. There’s also an outdoor science park and trails throughout the 110-acre grounds.
Norwich’s signature vine isn’t ivy, but hops, growing out behind The Norwich Inn, the 1797 stagecoach stop that’s a hospitality landmark in the upper Connecticut River Valley. The inn’s line of Jasper Murdock ales makes splendid use of the homegrown (and imported) hops and is a fine foil to the inn’s pub fare. Up front, a formal dining room is the place to enjoy macadamia- and pecan-encrusted pork loin.
Don’t leave Norwich without a stop at Alléchante bakery and café, where you can stock up on picnic essentials ranging from spring rolls to smoked salmon to Devonshire double cream. The breads and pastries are all baked right here, and chances are good you’ll go no more than five miles before dipping into your provisions.