When I was a teenager, my parents built a house in Stowe, Vermont to escape the hot New Jersey summers, and enjoy the ski slopes of Mt. Mansfield. Since I would typically visit during the winter, my view of Stowe was quite narrow. It was shaped by roaring fires, snow-covered mountains, home-cooked meals, and early nights, to gather strength for the next day of skiing.
Stowe, aside from being known for winter sports, is also famous for fall foliage. Autumn, that time of year when the leaves and trees decide, en masse, to put on a dramatic display of color, texture, and light.
While those two seasons have reason to gloat, the summers in Stowe are nothing short of spectacular. The unsung season, perhaps. The little sister to her older, more popular siblings—winter and fall. I didn’t realize that until I got older, and now crave Stowe in the summer above all other seasons.
Getting out of town
Last summer, my husband and I decided to pack up and head north to Stowe, from our home in Washington DC. We were eager to live country life, and a less rushed life, in the green mountains of Vermont. My parents’ house had been sitting empty, and it seemed an ideal way to escape the oppressive DC heat, not to mention the monotony of our everyday lives in those first few months of the pandemic.
We packed only the most essential items; our kids, our dogs, a few hundred Nespresso capsules, and cornhole. Our essentials, as it turned out, didn’t fit into one car, so we took two, and began our ten-hour caravan to New England.
A two-week getaway turned into six, and while our kids may have felt differently, it was the decision of the year for me and my husband. I learned a lot living the simple life. For one, I discovered that while big luxuries are great, little luxuries are even better.
10 little luxuries
During those six weeks, I compiled a list of the things that Stowe, and village life, had given me. A mix of the tangible and intangible. A list of things that I hadn’t thought much about in the past, but seemed suddenly, overwhelmingly luxurious.
Incomplete, and in no particular order, are the ten things that I learned to appreciate, love, and (dare I say), consider true luxuries about living in Stowe.
Looping gently around the town of Stowe and covering 5.3 scenic miles is the much-loved Rec Path. The path is beautifully maintained and easily accessed. One natural starting point is directly behind the Stowe Community Church, the soaring centerpiece of the village. However, there are countless places to enter and exit the serpentine route.
Sixteen meticulously kept wooden bridges appear intermittently and cry for photo ops as they arch over clear, stone-filled streams. The low rumble of bikes that passed over the wooden slats would alert me to their oncoming presence. Tots on tricycles would whiz past me, their parents racing to catch up. Bikers, walkers, and runners shared the meandering path which curved around and behind the town’s main streets.
Lovely, hidden picnic spots dotted the water’s edge, and I often heard kids splashing and squealing near the banks. A picturesque way to burn calories, the Rec Path had just the right balance of shade and sun, streams and fields, and cows and gardens, to keep a family entertained for hours.
If the Rec Path doesn’t conjure up a Norman Rockwell portrait, the Quiet Path certainly does. Built as a low-impact extension of the Rec Path, the mown grass pathways keep the Quiet Path true to its name.
The 1.8-mile panoramic route hugs the perimeter of tall, quickly growing cornfields, and a burbling stream filled with newly built beaver dams. Alpine views are within sight, as is the steeple of the community church in the distance at certain points.
Foot traffic, whether four-legged or two, is all that’s allowed, and I found it amusing to read that dogs need to be under voice or leash control. Voice control was certainly not guaranteed with my two willful dogs, but luckily, I avoided scorn from the many dog-loving walkers I met.
Sunday mornings quickly became a weekly highlight. Small and unpretentious, and sitting just off the Mountain Road, is the Stowe Farmers’ Market. A gathering of local vegetable producers, cheese vendors, ice cream makers, handmade crafts, and a variety of ethnic food stalls, the market offered different tastes and treats for the widely differing taste buds in my family.
My favorite food stall was Green Mountain Potstickers. Homemade dough that was just the right consistency and balanced with the optimal amount of fillings—like edamame, scallions, chives, and tofu. Their scallion pancakes easily competed with ones I’d had long ago in Beijing, as did the cold sesame noodle salads topped with julienne sliced veggies.
I became obsessed with the pickled goods from Gizmo’s Pickled Plus. I knew I liked pickles before our summer in Stowe, but I didn’t know I liked them quite this much. Sunshine Pickles, Bread and Butter Chips, Corn Relish, Pickled Beets, and Sour Salty Dog Spears were just a sampling of what was offered. When the vendor suggested I could get twelve jars for the price of ten, I scoffed. ‘Who could eat that many pickled things?’ Then, I promptly went ahead and bought twelve.
As if their pickles aren’t enough, Gizmo’s also makes jams. Their famous Bear Jam is the berry trifecta of blueberry, blackberry, and strawberry. Wild Organic Black Raspberry Jam and the unique, but surprisingly good, Cucumber Lime Jam, are a few others.
All the jams and pickled goods are freshly made and preserved in original soda-lime glass mason jars. Food-wise, Gizmo’s topped the list of what I missed the most when I headed home to DC. Although, not to worry, they ship world-wide. Pickle crisis averted.
I discovered that one of the Farmers’ Market vendors was located just up the road from our house. Sage Farm Goat Dairy is a picture-perfect, Insta-ready, and family-run goat farm located on upper West Hill Road.
The weathered gray barn and farm store sits neatly next to a field of wildflowers and a tattered, wooden fence. A small sign invites customers to walk in. The store is unattended and provides an honesty box alongside the refrigerated case of small-batch artisanal goat cheeses and fresh eggs.
Chickens pecked noisily at the ground, and some days we spotted the goats roaming the fields. They have a bucolic spot, those lucky alpine goats. By the smug look on their long faces, I’m guessing that they knew it.
From Maria’s Garden
A pretty, gray, clapboard house at the top of Cape Cod Road is the charming roadside flower stand called From Maria’s Garden. Mason jar-filled wildflowers are presented daily, as are hand-cut bouquets and potted plants. A price list and honesty jar sit nearby. Maria told me that she has had the honor system in place since 1987. Honesty—a Stowe theme.
As her website notes, Maria escaped the corporate life in NYC, to live a simpler one, in Vermont. She is a certified floral designer and aside from her daily roadside flowers, designs for weddings and events.
Every time I drove past, I was tempted to buy a bouquet. The homespun feeling that radiated from the colorful property was magnetic, and I often noticed Maria’s husband, shears in hand, cutting for the day’s arrangements.
Maple syrup, dairy cows, green mountains, and covered bridges are all so quintessentially Vermont. Stowe boasts a few iconic covered bridges, including the Stowe Walkway Bridge that lies near the center of town.
Built in 1973, this narrow, pedestrian bridge straddles the Waterbury River. I can’t resist taking a stroll through it when ducking in and around the village.
Another local bridge, Gold Brook Covered Bridge, has an eerie past. The folklore describes a chilling love story from the mid-1800s. A girl named Emily was to meet her boyfriend on the bridge, then they were to run off and elope.
He never showed, sending her into a wild fit of despair. That night, she took her own life, and is said to have haunted the bridge ever since. These days, the bridge is commonly referred to as Emily’s Bridge, and sometimes daring tourists head there around midnight to look for her. I was not one of those tourists.
The village of Stowe has a storybook setting – just the right amount of charm, quaint shops, ice cream parlors, and lively restaurants – to wander and explore. Stowe village is slow-paced, an inherent part of its charm.
My son and I biked to breakfast some mornings, passing acres of corn fields and barns, to sit outside at Café on Main. We eavesdropped on the locals gossiping over their coffees and Stowe Reporters. Little shops hid behind big shops. Stowe has many lovely historic homes to gawk over and photographing them became another daily pastime.
A notable Stowe fact — neon signs are strictly forbidden. Yet another way that Stowe is able to maintain its charm. Until I found myself in a non-neon environment, I realized how much of my life is neon-filled. Its absence was refreshing.
The countless hiking and mountain biking trails could take up an entire post. Stowe has more mountains, gorges, notches, summits, and waterfalls, that, in six weeks, I had time to tackle.
The Sterling Pond hike started with a steep, natural rock staircase and got my legs fired up faster than I was prepared for. Dense foliage, streams, and wet rocks gave way to tall pines, a signal that the summit was close by. Moss covered stones, fallen tree trunks, wild mushrooms, and a plush carpet of ferns covered the mountain floor.
The reward for our efforts was a glorious, serene pond, which looked so large, that I thought it should be called a lake. Semantics aside, it was a beautiful sight after an arduous climb.
Another morning of hiking started with a steep, 4.5-mile, switchback drive to the top of the Toll Road, followed by an hour long open vista hike (The Long Trail) to the ‘chin’ of Mt Mansfield.
There, we were rewarded with blue skies and 360-degree views of the area. We looked down over the grass-covered winter ski runs and gazed out towards the distant layers of overlapping mountains. My favorite kind of hike, both starting and ending at the top. Views rule.
While hiking back towards the car, we passed a man with a butterfly net, who we learned was actually searching for dragonflies. Although not just any dragonfly—he was on a mission to spot a particularly elusive species. Afterwards, I started to take note of the dragonflies I saw every day at our pond, not having given them any thought before.
If Vermont does any one thing to absolute perfection, it’s ponds. They can be found everywhere, it seems, and are an instant gorgeous foreground to any landscape photo.
My parents’ house has a small pond of its own nearby. Some days, it is as still as a plate of glass, and I catch the ethereal colors mirroring the sky. Other days, the clouds become a contrasty, pillowy-shaped Rorschach test.
If our black labs were swimming in the pond, as they often did, their otter-like bodies created concentric, circular waves that gave the water texture—a slow ripple in the mirror image. Around the perimeter of the pond, frogs croaked intermittently, low baritones that sounded like a giant rubber band being twanged.
Stowe, Al Fresco
Being such a popular, all-season, travel destination, it isn’t surprising that Stowe has restaurants and cafés to suit just about everyone. Having had years of local eating under my belt (literally, and figuratively) I came to town armed with a few faves.
The Bistro at Ten Acres has been perched at the junction of Luce Hill Road and Barrows Road for as long as I can remember and has always been a favorite of my parents. We sat outside for dinner watching a particularly remarkable sunset one night and wondered what it would be like to cash it all in and make the simple life of Stowe a permanent one.
Even outdoors, the Bistro at Ten Acres felt intimate. A musician played guitar, just far enough from the patio so that we could still have a conversation. The dry, summer air certainly made the night memorable, as did my lovely spring pesto over homemade linguini.
At 91 Main Street, California-inspired Plate, became a new favorite. The owners, while originally from LA, have been in Stowe for years. Their menu is described as being able to satisfy meat lovers to hard-core vegans. I’m not vegan but gravitated towards the vegan dishes when we visited. I thought the vegan crab cake starter was a highlight of the menu, as was the Tofu Ramen, and Plate’s interpretation of a veggie burger.
The wine list was especially well thought-out, and I’d be lying if I said that didn’t somehow factor into our return throughout the month.
Summer is coming
Many of us are looking at US-based, road trip-friendly destinations where our families can enjoy the summer months. Stowe had just the right amount of natural beauty, range of activities, and dining options to suit us all. I wouldn’t change a thing. In fact, I am looking forward to a do-over. Summer can’t come soon enough.
Maybe most importantly, Stowe helped me remember that I can define luxury in a variety of ways. Luxury is personal. For me, it’s spotting a photo-worthy pond, buying pickles at a farmers’ market, or goat cheese from a barn with an honesty box. How do you define luxury? It’s worth finding out.
Jamie Edwards is an avid traveler, travel writer, and photographer. She launched I am Lost and Found, her adventure/luxury travel website after 25 years of living and traveling around the globe. Jamie’s goal is simple: to inspire travel. Keep up with Jamie’s adventures in travel here.