Touring Country Stores in Stowe, Vermont with Mom

Mom and I Shopping in Vermont

Since 1895: Shaw’s General Store

Vermont Country Road

Mom at Stowe Mercantile

My how I’ve been blessed with being back East this fall. The weather has been glorious throughout upstate New York and New England. (I think it has actually been pretty beautiful along the whole East Coast with the exception of down south.) We’ve been experiencing true Indian summer weather–East Indian, in fact, with some days hitting temps as high as 90 degrees!

The annual autumnal festival of colors with regard to leaf peeping has started late this year. (The abundance of jewel-toned mums, however, rates among one of the most spectacular I’ve ever seen. I we don’t have such a display in Colorado.) A brilliant kaleidoscope of fall colors is just now emerging in many parts of the Northeast.

Designer Mum

Magnificent Mums

This fall is not likely to rank among the most spectacular, since many of the maple trees have been stricken with a fungus that has made their foliage look blah. Plus, we have not yet had enough chilly nights to force the color to change into eye-popping hues of red, orange and gold. But isn’t fall always beautiful? I think so. For me, it has already been memorable.

Brick-Toned Beauty Before the Leaves Even Change

Ready for Winter at Nebraska Knoll Sugar Farm

That’s because two weeks ago mom and I headed out for a road trip to Vermont. It was just a two-night stay, however, we packed a lot in. My mother and I have always traveled a good amount together but this was the first real getaway of its kind in two years. There’s no doubt that as you grow older, home offers greater appeal and traveling seems like more of a chore.

Still, mom rose to the occasion and off to Vermont we went. We beat the path that we had tamped down–heading northeast out Route 7 from Troy, New York–for many years throughout our lives. This time, however, we were venturing far beyond our usual destinations of Bennington, Arlington and Manchester, Vermont. This time we were headed way up. Three-and-a-half-hours up.

“I always wanted to go to Stowe,” mom told me as I navigated the sinewy roads of the Green Mountain state, by then dashing along Route 100 past Rutland. (Yes, mom thought I was going too fast around the innumerable bends in the road.)

Pumpkin Potpourri at Cold Hollow Cider Mill

“Really? I didn’t know that.”

“Yes, I wanted your father to take us all there on a ski trip.”

“Wow, that’s the first time I’ve heard that,” I said. I remember the very first time I skied. I had a terrible time. It was so cold and the equipment felt so heavy. But I remember the lodge and the whole ambiance. I just loved the cozy scene in Vermont. I think it was during a New Year’s holiday. I think I was about five–is that right, mom?”

Stowe and Skiing Go Together Like Rolling Hills and Vermont

And so we prattled on, trading thoughts and memories about what we loved so much about Vermont.

Salt and Pepper Shakers from Stowe Mercantile

In truth, most of our mother/daughter escapes to Vermont revolved around day trips. We’d leave early in the day, enjoy the scenic drive, have lunch in a country inn and then poke about in quaint shops. We’d return with the car loaded with goods and goodies, a mostly made-in-Vermont haul that we’d have to sneak in to keep out of sight from “the boys” and my father (six fellas in all). It was female bonding at its best. Sure, we’d share cider and syrup with them but many of our treasures were stashed away in order to avoid looking like spendthrifts.

In truth, we didn’t buy a whole lot, mostly wool sweaters, candles and knickknacks. It was how and where we bought everything that had the most significance for mom and me. It was out of these forays to Vermont country stores that my love for shopping and touring in authentic places was born. So many of these bastions of tradition and charm spoke to me, so much so that I could hardly tolerate shopping and browsing in department stores or other big, impersonal retail outlets the rest of the time.

Little did I know that these excursions would plant the seeds for me to found Chic Promenade, a Paris shopping service where I organized visits behind-the-scenes at the big names as well as tours to the off-the-beaten-path boutiques of the French capital. I later went on to write three guidebooks on Paris and one on the French provinces. (Read about The Riches of Paris: A Shopping and Touring Guide and The Riches of France: A Shopping and Touring Guide to the French Provinces as well as my travel memoir, A Tour of the Heart: A Seductive Cycling Trip Through France at Maribeth’s Books.)

Flannel Shirts at Shaw’s

Rugged Shoes and Boots at Shaw’s

Yes, indeed those childhood trips to Vermont formed me.

So returning at this stage in our lives felt especially poignant. Bittersweet. Twas bittersweet, just like the vines of the same name, plants native to the Northeast that grow wild along the roadsides. Mom and I have hunted them out many times in autumn, clipping down pieces festooned with yellow-orange berries that once dry, break open into a riot of bright orange pops. Symbol of fall and tradition for us, mom loves bittersweet. And I’ve come to value it, too.

Mom Trimming the Bittersweet this Year on the Patio

Bittersweet is something that makes me happy and also tugs at my heartstrings. That’s what I felt on my recent trip with mom–how could I not?

As much as it wasn’t easy for my mother to get around, she still possesses that good ‘ole shopping bug. Of course a lady her age doesn’t need much of anything but it made her happy to point me in the direction of some smart purchases and also to stockpile a wagonload of comestibles that we continue to delight in back home. Our cheese, chocolate, fudge, cider, cider doughnuts, maple syrup and a pantry-full of other sweet and savory treats were procured with love within the most sought-out places. We handpicked these establishments after consulting with a variety of people and referring to our Discovery Map. (More on that below.) We also left a certain amount of our discoveries to serendipity, one of the best forces to rely upon when traveling.

Yes, it was a successful trip to Stowe, one that we will relish well after the last piece of candy has been consumed. Here’s to many more, mom!

Here are my Discovery Map write ups that I completed after this trip:  Stowe-pendous Adventures and Vermont Country Shopping in Stowe.

Note that there’s still plenty of time to plan a trip to this oh-so charming New England state and enjoy its array of colors. Plus, a trip to Vermont is a great way to kick off your Christmas shopping.

Vermont Country Bridge

Along the Stowe Recreation Path

Vermont Nature

Where to Stay
Mom and I were delighted with our two-night stay at Stoweflake Mountain Resort & Spa. Situated midway between the historic village of Stowe and the ski resort, its location allowed us easy access to all that we wanted to see and do in the area. Plus, Stoweflake is just steps away from the Stowe Recreation Path, a 5.3-mile paved swath that extends from Stowe Village to Top Notch Resort on the Mountain Road. Taking an early morning, high-energy walk through this stretch of Vermont nature ranked as one of the highlights of my stay.

Stoweflake Resort & Spa

Our Room at Stoweflake

Stoweflake in Early Fall

Mom Enjoying a Wine Upon Arrival at Stoweflake

Stoweflake is so pleasant you could easily while away many hours here participating in activities such as golf, tennis, swimming and croquet (and that’s just for spring, summer and fall). My favorite was soaking up the solitude of their meditation gardens and then walking the labyrinth before starting my day. The labyrinth, designed by an Englishman, is just one of the many influences from across the pond of this family-owned property, which began as an inn, founded by Beatrice and Stuart Baraw, in 1963.

The Stoweflake Pool

Chuck Baraw at the New Old Covered Bridge at Stoweflake

Since then it has grown into a four-diamond luxury resort built around a very large interior garden that exudes beauty and charm while promoting relaxation and serenity. When touring around with Chuck Baraw, I learned that his mother was English and his father was French. No wonder I felt so enamored by this property!

Tea is served here daily from 3 to 5pm. Mom and I missed that although we did regal in our own pre-dinner nips within our spacious room decorated in floral fabrics, cushy armchairs and a fireplace–all très British, mind you. (And yes, despite the warm, balmy Indian summer evening, I had to hike up the ambiance a notch by igniting the fireplace for a short while.)

My Morning Moment at Stoweflake

The Labyrinth

Ahhhh

For complete rejuvenation, go to The Spa at Snowflake. I toured it but sadly, did not have time to experience it. It has been consciously conceived replete with a waterfall that replicates nearby Bingham Falls, a Stowe favorite. Hungarian salt soaking pools and a lounging area where you can absorb the beauty of the restful Vermont landscapes round out the bucolic tableau within the spa. How I longed to lay myself down for a Maple Scrub Facial, one of their top treatments out of more than a hundred, but alas, the shopping beckoned.

The Spa

Mom and I needed one more day at this lovely resort, so make sure you book at least three nights.

Stoweflake Spa Boutique

Where to Shop and Eat

Whether you’re staying at Stoweflake or not, if you’re into beauty and wellness, make sure you check out Elements, the spa’s boutique. Here you’ll find one of the best selections around of potions, lotions and elixirs devoted to restoring wellness and preserving beauty. Yoga wear, women’s clothing and accessories and a swirl of other great gift ideas both made in Vermont and/or curated from secret sources guarantee many remarkable finds. How about maple herbal tonics?

My Salad at Charlie B’s Pub

Dinner at Charlie B’s Pub, the signature restaurant of the resort done in an English pub style, was most enjoyable. Mom and I noticed a strong local vibe, which is always a good sign. We both were thrilled with our ultra fresh salads, another great indicator of a fine place to drink and dine.

A Fifth-Generation Family Member Behind the Original Counter at Shaw’s

Table Arts at Country Store on Main

A Vermont Christmas at Country Store on Main

In terms of Vermont country stores, I recommend you check out Shaw’s, Stowe Mercantile and Country Store on Main, all located within the heart of historic Stowe. Plan to spend lots of time poking around these establishments.

A Yummy Lunch from Cold Hollow Cider Mill

South of Stowe, Cold Hollow Cider Mill boasts a Vermont country store-like emporium bulging with goods from their own label as well as products from other purveyors. Although there’s a lot to draw you in here, we were overwhelmed by how touristy it felt. (Attention: tour bus alert!) Mom and I did not think their cider donuts were anything to rave about either. We did, however, feel that their cider was the best we had ever had and I know for sure its sweet, soft taste of apples will forever remain stored in my food and drink memory bank. I also recommend lunch at their luncheonette where they serve delicious sandwiches within a casual atmosphere. (Note that they’re very big, so you might just want a half.) They’re served with fresh salad and if you’re like me, you’ll want to pick up a bag of chips, too. And yes, wash it all down with swills of cold Cold Hollow cider.

Choosing Chocolate at Laughing Moon Chocolates

Now That’s Fudge

Mixing Up the Goods at Laughing Moon Chocolates

Back in town, Mom and I stockpiled chocolate and fudge at Laughing Moon Chocolates. Thank goodness we had brought a cooler! I can tell you these are fabulous chocolates and that’s coming from someone that once conducted chocolate lover’s tours in Paris.

Nebraska Knoll Sugar Farm

Nebraska Knoll Sugar Farm

Nebraska Knoll Sugar Farm

Just north of Stowe, tucked into the lower folds of the Green Mountains, we reveled in a picturesque drive way out to Nebraska Knoll Sugar Farm. It was a distance that conjured up many “are we there yet queries” but fortunately we didn’t turn back because here mom and I fell beneath the wistful spell of the most down-to-earth shopping foray we had ever experienced. A visit to this sugar shack is a must, especially if you’re in search of fine maple syrup from an authentic source. If you go in winter, you’ll either need chains or a four-wheel drive vehicle.

Trapp Family Lodge Gift Ideas

OK, I’m sure you’re wondering about the Trapp Family Lodge, the main address in Stowe (aside from the ski resort). Well, I did pop in to check it out, although I will save my full report for after a stay at this renowned property. It’s beautiful and it is a must-see albeit one on a more tourist trodden scale. My main mission at the lodge was to check out their boutique. Small and tidy, and abundant with goods from Austria and Vermont, there is much to behold and purchase here for yourself and others (translation: gift ideas galore).

Mary Dawn and the Alpen Schatz Team

But–and you knew there was a but–I do think they could do better. I prefer the presentation of such European goods within Colorado establishments such as Gorsuch and Alpen Schatz. If you’re on my newsletter list, you know that I’m a big fan of Alpen Schatz, a Telluride boutique that actually wholesales the finest alpine treasures you’ll see outside of the Alps. I’ll admit that the owner, Mary Dawn DeBriae, is a friend and I’m a big proponent of her shop yet we initially connected because of our mutual love for European goods of quality and charm.

So, if you’re in Stowe, do check out the Trapp Family Lodge boutique and if you’re not, let your Christmas shopping begin today at Alpen Schatz. NOTE THAT BONJOUR COLORADO READERS RECEIVE A 10% DISCOUNT. Just type in Bonjour at checkout! Go to my Online Shopping Page to read more about what I have to say about Alpen Schatz.

A Flight of Brews at the Von Trapp Bierhall

Our Dinner

Mom and I also have mixed reviews about the Von Trapp Brewery and Bierhall, a recently opened establishment that seems to be drawing huge crowds. But will these people ever go back? Although style-y, the chairs here are so hard that it made our dinner unbearable. Really. “I’m going to have to crawl out on all fours,” said mom. Granted she’s an elderly woman but my bottom was crying ouch from the hardwood seating as well.

Mom Enjoying Her Dinner

So Long Vermont

“Yes, I know, we’ve heard it before,” said our waitress, when we expressed our woes. With the more than a hundred blond wood chairs and tables they have at the Bierhall, it’s unlikely they’ll change them out anytime soon. Dis must be zee Austrian way–hard and strict! Bring a pillow and you’ll be good.

We enjoyed super tasty sausages and brews and once the waitress started with us, the service was good. We did, however, have to sit for close to a half hour on those hard chairs without a sip of beer or water. (We would have left but it was already too late to find another eatery.) Apparently the Bierhall has a staffing problem, too. Let’s hope they work out their issues soon, since it is a great concept.

You can find more on Stowe in the Discovery Map stories I wrote that should be published within the upcoming ten days. I’ll be sure to link this piece to them once they’re up.

In the meantime, enjoy fall. I hope you’ll be able to head out and experience Vermont while the colors still enchant. If not, know that it’s a sweet place to visit year-round and the shopping never disappoints.

Amen

 
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