By Andrew Collins
In 2000, Vermont became the first state to legally sanction civil unions for same-sex couples, and in 2009, the state extended full marriage rights to gays and lesbians. Although neighboring states now also have gay marriage, Vermont has remained a favorite romance destination among LGBT travelers, some coming here to exchange nuptials, and others visiting simply to enjoy this stunningly scenic state's relaxed pace, mild and wild recreational opportunities, charming inns and B&Bs, and superb restaurants that emphasize local - often organic - ingredients.
From north to south, this narrow swath of forests, meadows, and mountains has plenty to offer, with several key regions making excellent hubs for exploring. In southwestern Vermont, close to both the Berkshires of Massachusetts and the Albany region of upstate New York, the town of Manchester is a favorite weekend getaway - it's home to dozens of outlet shops, but beyond these mostly expected retail establishments you'll find a charming downtown with some great restaurants, plus several historic attractions and well-known ski areas. Just a two- to three-hour drive from Boston, the Upper Connecticut River Valley is rich in culture and outdoor recreation. And along the shores of rippling Lake Champlain, you'll find Vermont's largest community, Burlington, a lively and liberal college town that's also an excellent base for great skiing at several resorts, including nearby Stowe.
Although Vermont has a quite high proportion of LGBT residents, it's a relatively sparsely populated state. Nightlife options are minimal, although Burlington has some fun bars on or near downtown's Church Street pedestrian mall, all of which are ostensibly gay-friendly. Vermont is ideal for couples seeking romance or groups of friends looking for both warm- or winter-time outdoors adventures.
It's very easy to find information on planning gay weddings and other trips to Vermont - sites including VermontGayTravel.com and VermontGayTourism.com provide excellent guidance and list welcoming businesses, and the official state tourism site, VermontVacation.com, is great for general trip-planning information.
Burlington and Stowe
The largest city in America's first state to legalize same-sex civil unions, Burlington is home to University of Vermont and claims the state's most visible gay community. It's just 100 miles south of Montreal and enjoys a stunning setting, with Lake Champlain on one side, and the rugged Green Mountains on the other. Visitors appreciate the vast opportunities to enjoy the outdoors, plus downtown's network of redbrick sidewalks, cozy coffeehouses, great music and bookstores, and affordable eateries.
Just 35 miles away, Stowe ranks among the nation's best ski getaways, but this charming, gay-friendly village offers a genuine balance of outdoor and indoor fun. An abundance of plush lodges and inns, sophisticated eateries, and first-rate spas contribute to the town's ardent following. And shoppers appreciate Stowe's many one-of-a-kind shops.
Stowe is popular all winter with gay visitors, especially in late January (Jan. 23 to 27 in 2013), when the town is host to Winter Rendezvous (mjwadventures.com/winterrendezvous_index.php), a five-day gay ski gathering that draws enthusiasts from throughout New England and includes not just skiing and snowboarding but also a wealth of other activities, as well as parties and entertainment.
Where to Stay
In Burlington, the Courtyard by Marriott Burlington Harbor (marriott.com) and Hilton Burlington (hilton.com) are both great, gay-friendly chain properties with central locations, large rooms, and friendly service. Just 6 miles south on a secluded peninsula overlooking Lake Champlain, the elegant Inn at Shelburne Farms (shelburnefarms.org) occupies a former Vanderbilt summer home and now contains 24 rooms and suites furnished very much in the style of the Gilded Age. The surrounding 1,400-acre working farm include a working dairy - note that the inn is closed mid-fall to mid-spring.
The quaint town of Waterbury, famous for Ben & Jerry's ice cream, is convenient both to Burlington and Stowe and contains one of the best gay-owned accommodations in the state, the Moose Meadow Lodge (moosemeadowlodge.com), an upscale, log home with three plush rooms, a hot tub, and a peaceful setting with alluring views. Hosts Greg and Willie are a font of information on what to see and do in the area.
Stowe's personality is low-keyed yet urbane. Virtually all the town's businesses are gay-friendly, but a few inns are especially so, among them the excellent Timberholm Inn (timberholm.com), a 1940s cedar lodge with great mountain views; and the luxurious Stoweflake Mountain Resort and Spa (stoweflake.com), which provides the sort of indulgent pampering that can make it tempting never to leave the premises. The famed Trapp Family Lodge (www.trappfamily.com) is another favorite resort, especially during Winter Rendezvous (it's the host hotel this year).
Woodstock and the Upper Connecticut River Valley
Throughout the Connecticut River Valley, you'll find inviting communities in both Vermont and New Hampshire (the river forms the state border). A formerly hardscrabble railroad center, White River Junction has lately flourished with hip restaurants and edgy art galleries, and it's home to the esteemed Northern Stage theater. Many students and faculty from Dartmouth College, just up and across the river in the dapper New Hampshire town of Hanover, live around here. A bit south, highlights include the American Precision Museum, Harpoon Brewery, and Simon Pearce glassware in Windsor; and the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site (the grounds are spectacular) across the river in Cornish, New Hampshire.
Just 15 miles inland from White River Junction, the neatly preened village of Woodstock is rich with meticulously preserved Federal and Georgian colonial houses, many of them containing fine antiques shops, art galleries, and attractive inns. Woodstock offers beautiful scenery and plenty to see and do - hiking and biking in summer, watching the leaves turn brilliant colors in fall, and skiing and snowshoeing in winter. The world-famous ski slopes of Killington Resort are a short drive west. The Rockefeller family has been instrumental in preserving this delightful town, whose leading attraction is the 500-acre Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park, which preserves some of New England's most pristine and scenic forest and farmland. In winter, be sure to stop by Sugarbush Farm, which makes its own syrup, drawn from the sap of the 5,000 maple trees on the property. The nearby town of Quechee, which is pierced by the Ottauquechee River, is home to the 165-foot-deep Quechee Gorge, an excellent spot to picnic and take photos.
Where to Stay
With several homey, antiques-filled rooms, the centrally located Village Inn of Woodstock (villageinnofwoodstock.com) also offers terrific dining in its casual but elegant restaurant. On edge of Woodstock, the Lincoln Inn (lincolninn.com) sits on 6 rolling acres that edge the gurgling Ottauquechee River. In White River Junction, the Inn at Clearwater Farm (innatclearwaterpond.com) has five warmly furnished rooms and a verdant, rural setting; and downtown's affordable and historic Hotel Coolidge (hotelcoolidge.com) is a little rough around the edges but has plenty of character and is a short walk from great dining.
Rural Chester is a great lodging base in the lower valley, and home to a couple of terrific gay-owned inns: The Chester House Inn (chesterhouseinn.com) is a splendid 1780 colonial house just steps from shopping and restaurants, and the Williams River House (williamsriverhouse.com) sits on 46 rolling acres and dates to 1780 - this lovely B&B contains four artfully decorated suites and cottages.
An idyllic community in southwestern Vermont, Manchester offers a wealth of cool-weather diversions, plus a collection of high-end outlet shops that rivals any in New England. The town lies in the bucolic Battenkill River valley, which has long been famous in summer for its fly-fishing - the Orvis mail-order company is headquartered in town, as is the informative American Museum of Fly Fishing. Two respected downhill ski resorts fringe Manchester, the more low-key Bromley Mountain, and the bigger and more upscale Stratton resort.
Several historic inns and imposing colonial buildings make up dignified Manchester Village, which is tucked beneath the regal crest of 3,816-foot Mt. Equinox (you can drive to the top in summer). Just south, on the grounds of Robert Todd (son of Abe) Lincoln's palatial retreat, Hildene, you can cross-country ski along 10 miles of groomed trails that traverse farm roads and pass through birch and maple groves.
Where to Stay
The last word on dining and lodging in Manchester has, since 1769, been the Equinox Resort (equinoxresort.com). This stately and exclusive resort comprises numerous main buildings with ultra-luxurious furnishings. There's also a fully equipped fitness center and spa and a variety of fine restaurants. Additionally, the resort operates The Inns at Equinox, which include the centrally located and richly inviting 1811 House, an authentically simple Early American inn with 13 rooms. Also operated by the Equinox are 30 newer town homes decorated with Mitchell Gold pieces.
Other highly recommended inns in the area include the Arlington Inn (arlingtoninn.com), an 18-room Greek Revival beauty in the town Norman Rockwell called home in the 1940s; and the Wilburton Inn (wilburton.com), a lavish Victorian mansion in Manchester Village, set on a bluff with great views of the mountains. Rooms here are among the most sumptuous in the state.
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