Inside the Wanderlust team retreat to Vermont

The Wanderlust team relocated to New England last summer, exploring a lush state filled with outdoor escapes, historic towns... and lashings of maple syrup...

4 mins

Vermont highlights

Cycling the Island Line Trail

An undoubted highlight of the trip was cycling the 21.6km-long (one way) Island Line Trail from Burlington, which begins near the marina. It’s easy enough to rent bicycles for the day, and we hired a mix of manual and electric bikes from friendly company Local Motion.

From there, we traced the eastern shoreline of Lake Champlain, pausing periodically for breaks not because of heavy legs (the going is really flat), but because the route is laden with lakeside panoramas that are just too irresistible not to soak up for a little longer. The trail is easy for most of the way, allowing you to concentrate fully on the surrounding woodland as well as the marshy wetlands of Delta Park, a sub-tropical wilderness best viewed as you cross over the Winooski River on its namesake bridge.

While we’d been teased with glimpses of the lake during the first portion of the trail, we suddenly found ourselves pedalling directly across it on a 5km-long causeway that practically skims the water. With Lake Champlain being such an integral part of Vermont’s character, it was a surreal feeling being so close to its surface without actually being on it. It goes without saying that the lakeside views are astonishing, but aside from the glittering vistas, it also offered a glimpse into how locals use this area for recreation. We passed hordes of fellow cyclists, boaters, dog walkers, sunseekers and fishermen along the way.

The 5km-long causeway is  easily the best bit of the Island Line Trail bike ride (Wanderlust)

The 5km-long causeway is easily the best bit of the Island Line Trail bike ride (Wanderlust)

Saddling up for a ride with Lajoie Stables (Wanderlust)

Saddling up for a ride with Lajoie Stables (Wanderlust)

Before long you’ll reach ‘The Cut’, a 61m gap in the causeway, but this is just a good excuse to hop on the Bike Ferry (donations are appreciated), which allows you to carry your two-wheeled adventure over to Grand Isle, where you can recharge at Snow Farm Vineyard before making the return journey.
A sunset sail on Lake Champlain

We clambered aboard the aptly named Friend Ship, operated by the Whistling Man Schooner Co, to set sail on Lake Champlain. At 1,269 sq km, this is the biggest lake in New England (its northern tip even stretches into Canada), but you only get a sense of how vast it is when out on the water. Amid views of the silhouetted Adirondack mountains, we soaked up the myths told to us by our captain, Diddy, and learned that the lake even has its own version of the Loch Ness Monster, ‘Champ’. Afterwards, we explored Burlington itself, a laid-back city of lakefront cafés and bars, and strolled the pedestrianised Church Street, home to a range of boutiques and eateries.

Horse riding with Lajoie Stables

Vermont’s hardwood forests, trickling creeks and craggy mountains make for the perfect horse-riding backdrop. And so it proved on our experience with Lajoie Stables, where an hour’s ride served up the opportunity to see the state from an entirely different perspective.

We rode Western-style through woodland and meadows, spotting secretive deer and a noisy family of wild turkeys flitting through the grass. One of the horses, Alex, stood a gigantic 20 hands high and was only a few inches shorter than the largest horse ever recorded (23 hands). But don’t worry if you’re an uneasy rider; complete novices will feel safe with these well-trained animals right from the off, leaving you free to concentrate on the scenery from a unique vantage point.

What are the Vermont must-sees?

The Shelburne Museum is home to one of the most significant collections in northern New England, but at times it can seem more like a village than a museum. Its primary focus is on art, design and all things Americana, so it’s an eclectic mix, but each exhibit is separated by a short walk through the vast grounds, which span more than 18 hectares.

The collection was accrued by Electra Havemeyer Webb and her family in the early 20th century. We saw exhibits including miniature circus models, as well as a multitude of wooden animals that had once been part of various carousels but had been collected here in honour of the travelling circuses of America’s past. There was even a lighthouse (in perfect condition) that had originally sat on the shores of Lake Champlain but now found itself within the museum.

We also climbed aboard the Ticonderoga steamboat, a National Historic Landmark that has been restored by the museum and is now the only walking beam side-paddle-wheel passenger steamer in existence. Today, the ship showcases what life was like in its heyday, offering a glimpse into the America of 100 years ago. Another of the incredible buildings is the Round Barn, which held a selection of historic horse-drawn carriages and a sled that was several metres long and topped with a velvet seat cover – though it looked more like a church pew on skis.

Lastly, the Shelburne Museum has also launched The Native American Initiative and will eventually add a 40th building, the Perry Center for Native American Art, to its campus. We’ll have to come back in 2026, when it opens, to see it in person.

Views over state capital Montpelier (Wanderlust)

Views over state capital Montpelier (Wanderlust)

The Ticonderoga steamboat operated on Lake Champlain until 1953 – now it lies in the grounds of the Shelburne Museum (Wanderlust)

The Ticonderoga steamboat operated on Lake Champlain until 1953 – now it lies in the grounds of the Shelburne Museum (Wanderlust)

What’s the capital like in Vermont?

Vermont’s capital is the pint-sized yet pretty Montpelier, which has all the charms of a relaxed New England town. Lined with friendly coffee shops and teahouses, it’s easy to see its sights on foot. You’d be forgiven for thinking you were on a purpose-built movie set, such is its prettiness: all the buildings are charmingly angular and as pristine as the streets. Montpelier’s showstopper is the Vermont State House, which dates back to 1859. This grandiose Greek Revival building is topped with a glinting golden dome and is surrounded by manicured gardens, all set against a backdrop of dense forest. Inside, there’s an exhibition and mural recounting Vermont’s history that is well worth a visit.

What's the food like in Vermont?

Vermont loves its comfort food, as we discovered at the delicious Halvorson’s on Church Street in Burlington – we challenge anyone to beat their smoked turkey sandwich and fries. But most of all, Vermont is proud of its array of produce and its farm-to-table philosophy. Local apples, maple syrup and plenty more are sold across the state. And as with many parts of the US, craft breweries are enjoying a resurgence here, something we experienced first-hand at The Alchemist, a brewery in Stowe that has an impressively responsible ethos, thanks to its community work and state-of-the-art wastewater treatment.

Top tip

Most visitors flock to Vermont in the winter to enjoy the ski slopes and snow-capped mountains at resorts like Stowe. Autumn is also popular for ‘leaf peeping’, a phenomenon that involves immersion in the forests. But if you want our advice, it’s well worth going during the quieter summer months. Vermont isn’t called the Green Mountain State for nothing; its emerald rises are best seen in the sunshine, and the roads are pleasantly quiet at this time. If you visit during the summer, you’ll feel like you have the whole of Vermont, including its waterfalls, lakes and mountains, all to yourself.

Canoeing the lake at Sterling Ridge Resort (Wanderlust)

Canoeing the lake at Sterling Ridge Resort (Wanderlust)

The gold-tipped Ira Allen Chapel is one of Burlington’s most recognisable sights (Wanderlust)

The gold-tipped Ira Allen Chapel is one of Burlington’s most recognisable sights (Wanderlust)

We wish we’d known…

How important maple syrup is in Vermont. The state produces around half of all the maple syrup that comes out of the US, and this is more than evident when you’re travelling. We drove by roadside shacks selling it by the gallon, and it was a flexible fixture on menus, appearing in lemonades, spritzers and glazed on ham. Our accommodation, Sterling Ridge Resort, even had its own maple sugarworks, and some of our team took a tour to understand the incredible efforts that go into making it.

Cautionary tale

We’d certainly recommend pre-booking a taxi or Uber for when you arrive at Burlington Airport, especially if your flight lands during ‘anti-social’ hours. We struggled to find transport when arriving close to midnight, and locals advised us to pre-book in future. In this ever-growing cashless society, we’d also advise always carrying money, as many of the servers in restaurants, as well as the guides and the people running experiences, depend on tips as a substantial part of their income.

Anything else?

We can think of few places better to pitch up at than Sterling Ridge Resort, a collection of self-catering wood cabins sprinkled throughout hardwood forest and not far from Jeffersonville. You’re left to your own devices to explore, but friendly owners Barb and George are always on hand to help. Make sure you make use of the complimentary kayaks and canoes for a paddle on the lake – it’s a moment of pure serenity.

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