Bostonians reserve a special eye roll for a certain breed of contemptuous New Yorker: The type of visitors who sniff about how surprised they are by the high quality of the South End restaurant you reserved, or by the excellent exhibition at the ICA. Yet it’s not uncommon for Bostonians to turn a similarly patronizing side-eye to the smaller cities of northern New England—as though idyllic nicknames like “The Green Mountain State” are really just code for “Here There Be Dragons and Toothless Banjo Quartets!”
Those assumptions fail to account for properties like Hotel Vermont in Burlington, one of several new and recently renovated accommodations (like the Topnotch Resort in Stowe, Vt., and the Hanover Inn in Hanover, N.H.) that are contemporizing the landscape of northern New England getaways, where lodging options are hardly limited to cramped B&Bs with crocheted pillow shams or once-grand, now-creaky resorts. Opened last year, Hotel Vermont deals in a rustic-chic that’s fitting for a hotel in Vermont’s largest city, which, with a population of about 42,000, still boasts plenty of bucolic charm.
The Hotel Vermont lobby greets guests with floors of poured concrete, laden with shells and pebbles from gorgeous Lake Champlain, which is just a stone’s throw away. Sleek, low seating—looking straight out of a trendy cocktail lounge—clusters by a roaring wood-burning hearth. On one side of the lobby, a weekend DJ spins gentle house grooves on his turntables; on the other, front desk staff show guests to the rack of complimentary snowshoe rentals. This is a place for couples who want a romantic rural retreat without sacrificing citification. It’s a place for 30-something hipsters who dress like lumberjacks on weekends—but only because they like the way those flannel shirts look through a lo-fi filter. It’s cool. It’s contemporary.
And it’s comfortable. The 125 guest rooms aren’t especially large, but they’re stylish and smart: picture sleek blond wood furnishings and two separate bathroom units (a water closet and a stone-tiled shower room) partitioned off from the sleeping area by opaque pocket doors. The rooms are thoughtfully appointed with clever amenities, from Vermont Flannel pajamas to a “Story Time” booklet with prose provided by the Burlington Writers Workshop. A special “Bedtime Menu” lets you order several sleep aids: aromatherapy oils, a hot toddy and even a choice of teddy bear. And nearly everything in the room, from the handmade soaps (and soap dishes) to the Johnson Woolen Mills blankets, is made by local artisans and for sale. Want something? Prices are listed. Just shove it in your suitcase.
Another big draw: dining. Overlooking the lobby is Juniper, covered in white oak and boasting a buzzing bar that makes creative (and ample) use of spirits from Vermont distillers. The dining room serves fairly splendid fare that we city folk call “farm to table,” but in Vermont is simply “food.” And Hotel Vermont also holds the second location of Hen of the Wood, an acclaimed six-time James Beard award nominee and purveyor of polished New England-inspired plates.
In general, Burlington’s food scene can compete with those of cities several times its size; “small-batch ingredients” and “local sourcing” aren’t just buzzwords for a press release here. Be sure to visit American Flatbread, where pizzas are fired in an earthen oven before your eyes; the Farmhouse Tap & Grill, with its huge craft beer selection; Penny Cluse Cafe, a cheap breakfast and lunch gem; and the new tasting room of local favorite Citizen Cider. (Our favorite variety: the ginger-and-lemony
“Dirty Mayor.”) Then get double the buzz with coffee cocktails at Muddy Waters, a coffeehouse with a gnarled wood interior that feels like the hollowed-out tree home of a hobbit.
For shopping, pedestrians-only Church Street is postcard pretty and filled with a motley crew of quirky gift shops, high-end decor boutiques and a very few familiar brand stores, like Urban Outfitters (for the University of Vermont students) and Macy’s (for their parents). The indie alt- and roots-rock bands that descend on music venues like Higher Ground and Nectar’s keep the scene weird and wonderful. And the proximity to ski, bike and hiking trails ensures there’s the opportunity to indulge in four seasons’ worth of outdoor activity. You know, if you’re into that.
If not, just enjoy sleeping, eating and shopping amid more fresh air and fewer frenetic distractions in a small-scale city with surprisingly sophisticated amenities. Even a New Yorker might agree.
-In summer weather, brave the legend of Champ (America’s “Loch Ness monster”) by boating, fishing and swimming around the islands of Lake Champlain, which was briefly considered our sixth Great Lake. (Or play it safe and visit ECHO Lake Aquarium and Science Center.)
-Some locals refer to neighboring Winooski as “Vermont’s Brooklyn,” and it’s worth a stop for killer craft cocktails at Mule Bar and Oak45.
American Flatbread | 115 St. Paul St. | 802-861-2999 | americanflatbread.com
Citizen Cider | 316 Pine St. | 802-448-3278 | citizencider.com
The Farmhouse Tap and Grill |160 Bank St. | 802-859-0888 | farmhousetg.com
Hen of the Wood | 55 Cherry St. | 802-540-0534 | henofthewood.com
Higher Ground | 1214 Williston Rd. | 802-652-0777 | highergroundmusic.com
Hotel Vermont | 41 Cherry St. | 802-651-0080 | hotelvt.com
Muddy Waters | 184 Main St. | 802-658-0466
Nectar’s | 118 Main St. | 802-658-4771
Penny Cluse Café | 169 Cherry St. | 802-651-8834 | pennycluse.com