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 have just completed updating the Fodor’s Travel Guide for Vermont. This meant poking around the entire state for the best restaurants, pubs, hotels, attractions, and activities.
Readers of The Bridge benefit, too. 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.
Grafton Village Cheese Company
This vaunted Vermont cheese company may still maintain a small foothold in its tiny namesake village, but it now welcomes guests exclusively at the visitors’ center and production facility in Brattleboro, next to Retreat Petting Farm, just outside of downtown. The 2,500-square-foot barn-like building opens immediately to the shop and deli, with enough tasting stations of cheese, dips, salsa, and chutney among a maze of Vermont artisanal products to make a full meal. Follow the stairs up to the back to a raised viewing area and watch the cheddar production through large windows, as well as a video explaining the cheese-making process.
If you are feeling caloric guilt afterwards, find the Timber Lane trailhead off Linden Street, about a five-minute walk away, and follow the climb to the spooky Retreat Tower, built in 1887 by patients of the asylum across the street. Rather than enjoying the vistas of Brattleboro from the top, many leapt to their deaths, causing the tower to be closed to the public indefinitely and yielding no small number of ghost stories and goosebumps.
400 Linden St. (Rte. 30), (802) 246-2221, graftonvillagecheese.com
River Gallery School
For more than 40 years, the River Gallery School has been inspiring and channeling Brattleboro’s prodigious creative spirit with art workshops in a wide range of disciplines and media. No previous experience is ever required, and all ages are welcome. Plus, the actual product is less important than the embrace and nurture of your own creative process and expression. Inspiration is easy to find, too, in the views of the river and mountains out the windows, the work of classmates, and instruction by professional, working, and even world-renowned, artists such as Leigh Niland.
This year’s fall schedule brings more than 20 one- and multi-day workshops, covering subjects like pastel farmscapes, plein air landscape painting, screen printing, botanical printmaking, expressive figure painting, classical oil painting, charcoal drawing, monotype and drypoint printmaking, encaustics, paper lithography, glass-bead making, walnut ink (make and draw with it), and mosaics. The cost of workshops ranges from $20 to $280 each.
32 Main St., (802) 257-1577, rivergalleryschool.org
Whetstone Station Restaurant and Brewery
Perched over the west bank of the Connecticut River in downtown Brattleboro, the Whetstone may claim the best dining room view in the state, particularly from the open-air roof terrace and balcony wrapping around the side. The 1920 Pennsylvania truss-style steel bridge stretching across the river just below to the forested banks on the New Hampshire side adds the visual cherry on top.
The on-site “nano-brewery” makes pretty darn good IPAs, double IPAs, stouts, and amber ales, too. They marry well with a menu of “sharezies” such as poutine and wings, as well as burgers, brisket, and bangers. It’s an impressive combination, so much so that in March 2018, Whetstone was dubbed the best beer bar in Vermont in the annual Great American Beer Bars competition conducted by CraftBeer.com, the Brewers Association’s website for beer lovers.
36 Bridge St., (802) 490-2354, whetstonestation.com
Inn on Putney Road
This 1930 French manse, originally built for the superintendent of the Vermont Asylum for the Insane—now called The Brattleboro Retreat—hosts Brattleboro’s most elegant and coziest accommodation. Upstairs are six guest rooms, including one suite, that charmingly straddle tradition and modernity, with old world tiling, flooring, and furnishings, but the sugary frills (doilies included) replaced by artsy, boutique flourishes by owners John and Cindy Becker, who took the reins of the inn in June 2016. A mini-fridge and basket in each room includes a decent range of drinks and snacks free of charge, which is a nice change from the usual price-gouging minibars.
Downstairs, a sun-drenched breakfast room dispenses free cookies, coffee, and tea all day, while the adjacent living room combines a wood fireplace, plush leather sofas, and a billiard table. But it’s the surprisingly large backyard that deserves some time if the weather permits. Around a central fountain are bright flower beds, a fire pit, white gazebo, a massive Japanese maple tree, and pottery by Stephen Procter. The superintendent’s original path to the asylum now meanders along the river and connects to the larger trail circuit.
192 Putney Rd., (802) 536-4780, vermontbandbinn.com