by Mike Dunphy
Before becoming editor in chief of The Bridge, I spent more than 10 years in the travel and tourism industry. I continue to do so on the side, and, indeed, I am currently in the middle of updating the Fodor’s Travel Guide for Vermont. This means poking around the entire state for the best restaurants, pubs, hotels, attractions, and activities.
Starting with this issue, readers of The Bridge also benefit. Once a month, Abridged Vermont will highlight what’s the buzz in one Vermont town or city in hopes of inspiring some weekend getaways. In some cases, the experiences are sponsored by the venues, but I have selected according to quality and appeal only.
Mark Twain may have coined the term “gilded age” as an aspersion against the post-Civil War era’s gross materialism and political corruption, but it certainly produced some impressive works of art that dovetailed nicely with Bennington’s industrial peak, when nearly three dozen mills along the Walloomsac River manufactured. The economic prosperity that resulted brought much in beautiful art, furniture, and decorative objects—many of which are displayed in the Bennington Museum, including furnishings from mill owner Henry Bradford’s home to Frederick MacMonnies’ captivating and electric portrait of May Suydam Palmer.
But it’s the gallery dedicated to the work of Anna Mary Robertson, better known as Grandma Moses—who lived in Bennington from 1932 to 1935—that can leave you gobsmacked. Works such as “A Country Wedding,” “Catchin the turkey,” “the Old Checkered House,” crackle with fun and joy and are made all the more amazing by the fact that she didn’t even start painting until late in her 70s. Included also is her needlework, paint-stained apron and table, art supplies, and photographs.
75 Main St., benningtonmuseum.org
The Robert Frost Trail
When Robert Frost wrote “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” he may very well have been referring to the woods around his famous house in Shaftsbury, a stone’s throw from Bennington College. By all means tour the house and see the very dining room table where he wrote the poem on that hot June morning in 1922, and even Frost’s own apple trees outside, still bearing fruit. But save an hour to commune with the spirit of the poem on the two-mile trail that starts outside the house.
Opened in 2011, and extended in 2012, it runs west from the house through the woods and fields including a pine stand planted by Robert Frost in the 1920s; along Paran creek; across a footbridge; to the eastern shore of Lake Paran, where there’s a swimming beach on the northwest shore from which to go for the full immersion. The trail also features lovely views south to the Bennington Battle Monument and the Berkshires. Long sleeves and trousers are recommended because of ticks.
121 Historic Route 7A, Shaftsbury; bennington.edu
Pangaea/Lounge and Bakkerij Krijnen
Pangaea, in North Bennington, has two faces. On one side, the classy rustic-chic “Lounge” turns out tuned-up, locally sourced versions of burgers, pulled pork tacos, and crispy fried oysters in a convivial setting. But the other side, “Pangaea” goes for the full-blown, fine dining experience with gussied up and coiffed waiters guiding you through a three-course meal, starting with the likes of Vermont venison tenderloin with juniper and mission fig compote and open-faced ravioli with veal and truffle beurre blanc, before moving on to a superb roasted Long Island duck breast over saffron risotto and Burgundy cherry sauce, unless you prefer rack of lamb with mint pistachio pesto, tomato chutney, and roasted carrots. Walk off some of the calories after (or prep before) with a stroll around the grounds of the historic Park-McCullough House, a six minute walk to the west.
Before leaving town, stop by Bakkerij Krijnen, helmed by Dutch chef, Hans Krijnen and his wife and business partner, Jennifer. Everything is made from scratch, using local, organic, and all-natural ingredients, and I almost turned my car around to purchase a second “fruit square” puff pastry, made from King Arthur wheat flour, Cabot butter, water, sanding sugar, sea salt, and egg yolks, and topped with a tumble of fresh strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, pineapple, bananas, and an apricot glaze. It’s no wonder the bakery earned the Editor’s Choice award from Yankee Magazine.
Pangaea/Lounge: 1 Prospect St, North Bennington; vermontfinedining.com
Bakkerij Krijnen: 1001 Main St.
The Harwood Hill
One of Bennington’s newest accommodations is a study in contrast. Built in 1937 as a typical roadside motel, just north of downtown, it received a full make over with a distinct artsy twist by a foursome of new artist owners. The result is an appealing and unique presentation, both in the rooms, which feel fresh and classy, but also the extensive grounds, dotted with a variety of impish sculptures (all for sale). Indeed, a separate building (with faux purple asparagus outside) houses on-site artists, who each add their mark.
This also translates into workshops on-site, as well as musical performances from a custom built red stage on the vast back lawn, dotted with hammocks to enjoy the fun in maximum chillaxation. If spending more than one night, opt for the “Arts Package,” which comes with tickets for two to the Bennington Museum, the Bennington Center for the Arts and Covered Bridge Museum, and the Oldcastle Theatre, plus a pair of mugs from Bennington Potters and more.
864 Harwood Hill Rd, harwoodhillmotel.com