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. From May to September, I updated the Fodor’s Travel Guide for Vermont. This meant poking around the entire state for the best restaurants, pubs, hotels, attractions, and activities.
The readers of The Bridgebenefit, too. Once a month, Abridged Vermont highlights what’s the buzz in one Vermont town to inspire some weekend getaways. In some cases, the experiences were sponsored by the venues, but I have selected according to quality and appeal only.
Manchester is one of the few places in Vermont not hurting for upscale accommodations, with the Equinox Resort, Kimpton Taconic Hotel, and Wilburton Inn all within two miles of each other. However, I’d suggest pushing the envelope five miles farther and book a night at Hill Farm Inn in Sunderland. Taking up residence in a 1799 farmhouse—now supporting a team of alpacas, Toggenburg goats, and the tubbiest, tawniest barn cat you ever saw—the inn combines an exquisite Vermont landscape with a fresh and modern interior design. Instead of the flowered upholstery and four-poster beds plaguing so many Vermont inns, Hill Farm has adopted a classy, country boutique style that impresses with its subtlety, taste, and balance. The service, however, remains charmingly familial making you feel more like a guest than a customer. Top it all off with a soak in the outdoor hot tub under a sky full of stars, or loll in a lounge chair on the wide, wrap-around veranda.
458 Hill Farm Rd., Sunderland; (802) 375-2269; hillfarminn.com
In the hills north of downtown Manchester is one of Vermont’s most enjoyable art experiences at the Southern Vermont Art Center. It starts before you even reach the front door, with a long, winding drive past large-scale statuary and sculpture erected in the surrounding fields. Plan to stop the car more than once to trek out to them and be sure to bring Vermont-appropriate shoes. At the end of the driveway, multiple buildings host a permanent collection of more than a thousand 20th and 21st century paintings, etchings, and sculptures laid out in a mini-labyrinth of rooms and staircases by regional artists such as Ogden Pleissner, Jay Hall Conaway, and Reginald Marsh Long. Special exhibitions rotate regularly, as well. If it’s open, budget some time and money at Café Sora, which serves a tasty Japanese menu.
930 SVAC Dr., Manchester; (802) 362-1405; svac.org
There are massages, and then there are massages by Mary Scriber, who channels 32 years of experience into relieving tense muscles and spirits both at the Equinox Spa and in her own private practice. Trained in several different “healing modalities,” she practices Swedish massage, Reiki, therapeutic touch, craniosacral therapy, reflexology, and Native American medicine. As she explains, “My work is more than just physical. When the body is relaxed we can tap into other aspects of our being.” Experience it for yourself in the 100-minute “Spirit of Vermont” treatment at the Equinox Spa, or customize your own session at her studio. In all honesty, this may have been the best massage of my life, and I was genuinely moved. When she told me at the end of the treatment, “You are whole and well in body, mind, soul and spirit,” I felt it.
Private: 282 West Rd., Manchester; (802) 362-3959;
Equinox Spa: 3567 Main St. Manchester Village; (802) 362-4700; equinoxresort.com
As a major hub of Vermont tourism—much of it moneyed—the Manchester area hosts some of the best dining experiences in the state. Mystic Cafe & Wine Bar in downtown is one of the latest examples, combining an eclectic and creative international menu with a high, boutique sheen, illuminated further by abundant natural sunlight through the wide wrap-around veranda. The local produce goes into some fantastic salads, like the “Power Couple”—kale, quinoa, roasted sweet potatoes, dried cranberries, pepitas with a dijon-maple vinaigrette and whole wheat toast spread with creamy Vermont goat cheese—spicy Peruvian chicken sandwich, and the house paella. The full bar also excels with curated wines from both old and new worlds. For late night bites, just slip downstairs to the almost equally new, Union Underground, where fried cheese curds and “tater kegs” mingle with craft beers.
Mystic Café & Wine Bar: 4928 Main Street, Manchester Center; (802) 768-8086; mysticcafeandwinebar.com
Union Underground: 4928 Main St., Manchester Center; (802) 367-3951; unionundergroundvt.com