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Vermont is a small, highly attractive state in New England, sandwiched between New York and New Hampshire, bordering the Canadian province of Quebec in the north. The impressive Green Mountains create a north-south spine running most of the length of the state, the majority of which are covered by dense forest, and the glittering Lake Champlain stretches across the northwest. With 52 state parks, top-class outdoor activities and spectacular fall foliage, it is no surprise that tourism is Vermont's biggest industry.
Vermont was originally inhabited by small groups of Algonquin-speaking Native Americans, including the Abenaki and Mohicans. The Iroquois later edged out most of the smaller groups, claiming the area as a hunting ground. Large-scale European settlement began much later in the mid-1600s when French explorer Samuel de Champlain claimed what is now known as the Lake Champlain region as part of New France. The British soon ousted the French, and new settlers brought new conflicts, giving rise to the Green Mountain Boys militia (begun by New Hampshire settler Ethan Allen) who fought the British in the Revolutionary War. Vermont became the 14th state in 1791.
Vermont is popular year round, but the abundance of world-class ski resorts means that winter is a peak season, with a focus on cross-country and downhill, snowshoeing and snowboarding. For those who prefer the warmer months, summer offers a wide range of activities from hiking, fishing, camping and water sports, to traditional New England clam bakes and lake cruises. Autumn is breathtaking, and the sugar maples are a riot of golds, oranges and reds. Take the time to sample some of the state's famed maple syrup, indulge in local cheeses or visit the birthplace of Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream.
Although Montpelier is the state capital, Burlington is Vermont's biggest city, situated on the eastern shore of Lake Champlain. The city is lively, attractive and historically significant as one of the leading ports in the country. A restored waterfront with views of the Adirondacks, bustling markets and moderate climate make it an essential stop on any visit to the Green Mountain State.
In recent years, Vermont has attracted about 15 million travellers annually. The majority of these visitors are domestic tourists from other US states, and visitors from neighbouring Canada. But the loyal droves of domestic tourists are the best possible advertisement for this New England state, where the long ski season, unspoiled landscapes and small, vibrant urban centres promise wonderful holiday diversions.
Vermont's ski resorts are hugely popular: Killington is the biggest and has a frenetic nightlife which delights younger visitors, Jay Peak has a diverse offering of trails and slopes and Stowe is part modern ski resort and part quaint heritage hub, appealing to lovers of both snow and culture.
But despite the considerable draw of the slopes, Vermont's peak tourism season is summer, when a plethora of scenic and cultural attractions occupy visitors. The state is an outdoor activity paradise when the snow dries up, with wilderness areas like the vast Green Mountain National Forest and Smugglers Notch State Park promising extensive camping grounds, view points and hiking trails. Lake Champlain, a sprawling body of water which lies mostly in Vermont, attracts boaters, kayakers, and sailors as well as nature lovers keen to explore the wildlife reserves that enshrine the lakeshore.
Cultural highlights include the renowned Shelburne Museum, the quirky Fairbanks Museum and Planetarium, and the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historic Park which provides insight into Vermont's proud agricultural heritage. Speaking of agriculture, Vermont is a joy for foodies, especially lovers of fresh produce and artisanal products. The state is the maple syrup hub of the US and celebrated for its chocolates, the famous Ben and Jerry's Ice cream brand and divine cheese varieties.
There are some wonderful farmers markets in the state, arguably the best of which are Brattleboro Farmers Market and the Champlain Valley Fair. Those planning to eat their way around the state should try out the Vermont Cheese Trail and perhaps wash it down at the widely celebrated Vermont Brewers Festival.
In capturing Fort Ticonderoga during the Revolutionary War, and as a militia leader, Ethan Allen secured his position as a folk hero and founder of Vermont. A man of many talents, he was a statesman, philosopher and deist, publishing Reason the Only Oracle of Man. Visitors to the homestead can wander through the faithfully restored 18th-century home and gardens. The house itself is a small frame house built in the Cape Cod style, existing for many years in complete obscurity. In addition to historical interest, the house's grounds provide lovely trails for hiking and picnicking.
Lake Champlain Chocolates encompasses a handful of dedicated shops and a factory. Indeed, what could be more tempting than the thought of delicious, handmade chocolates and the chance to enjoy free samples. The line of chocolates and other products produced at the factory includes the famous truffles, caramels, hot chocolate, Five Star Bars, organic chocolates and novelties. Lake Champlain Chocolates are all made on location in small batches where visitors can see how they're made and enjoy the tastes and aromas at the factory.
Travellers can enjoy a trip out to the Ben and Jerry's Factory in Waterbury and get a chance to see how the famous treats are made and sample their mouth-watering flavours. Tours include a short documentary on its history, a trip to the factory floor to observe the ice cream production and finally a sampling of the flavour of the day. During summer, visitors can stroll through the cow pasture and can also bring a picnic along to enjoy on the picturesque grounds. It is worth noting that ice cream is only produced from Monday to Friday, so on weekends, a short movie is screened instead.
With seven peaks and 73 miles (117km) of trails, Killington is the biggest winter sports resort in the eastern United States, earning it the nickname 'the Beast of the East'. Opened in 1958, Killington has five base lodges (all colour coded for convenience) and a huge variety of terrain.
The resort offers skiing opportunities for all skiers, from beginners and intermediates to experts, with ski and snowboarding lessons available for those just starting out. The ski season is long, lasting from about mid-October to late May and early June. One of the world's most extensive snowmaking systems ensures that snow conditions are outstanding.
The terrain includes plenty of cruisers, high-altitude bumps, and a halfpipe to lure snowboarders. The craziest run is the Outer Limits on Bear Mountain and the 10-mile (16km) Juggernaut is the country's longest alpine ski trail. An excellent shuttle system delivers skiers and snowboarders to the various base areas and then back to their cars at the end of the day.
There are a number of shops at Killington, including gift shops and antique shops, and a host of ski equipment shops. There are also shops that sell traditional Vermont specialities including maple syrup and local cheeses. Villages and towns surrounding Killington are home to even more country stores, antique shops and galleries, with the nearby town of Rutland, in particular, offering good shopping opportunities. There are roughly a hundred restaurants in Killington and those willing to travel a bit will find cosy eateries in neighbouring villages as well.
The après-ski activities on offer are extensive and Killington's nightlife is one of the best by American ski resort standards. The Wobbly Barn is an institution in Killington, offering live music, dancing and a popular happy hour, resulting in a rowdy crowd. There are many other pubs, lounges and bars to enjoy.
Activities are abundant on and off the slopes and in all seasons. In winter, snow-mobiling and ice-skating, indoor rock climbing, dog sledding, sleigh rides, spas, snow-shoeing and live music are available. In summer, Killington is still a popular holiday resort with two world-class golf courses, horse riding, mountain biking and hiking available. Rates usually drop drastically in summer.
The Stowe holiday resort was developed in the 1930s, and as the granddaddy of Vermont ski resorts, it's managed to retain a genteel atmosphere and traditional New England flavour. Situated about 15 minutes north of the charming town of Stowe, the resort is split over two mountains, Mount Mansfield and Spruce Peak. Mount Mansfield is Vermont's highest peak at 4,3965 feet (1,340m), and has most of the resort's runs. Spruce Peak is a perfect spot for intermediate and beginner skiers, with only one black run and plenty of gentle blues.
Stowe has a total of 48 runs and 485 acres (196 ha) of skiable terrain and is a down-to-earth resort, getting far less crowded than the likes of Killington. There is only one slope-side holiday accommodation option. The nearby town of Stowe is full of character, offering picture-perfect views of churches, clapboard houses and covered bridges, and is close enough to several principal eastern US cities to attract local and international clientele.
The town contains shops and restaurants enough to keep visitors happy and entertained off the slopes, but there is not a huge range of options when it comes to nightlife. A few long-standing favourites offer evening entertainment, but the pubs, bars and taverns are typically laidback and celebrated for live music and craft beer options rather than DJs and pumping dancefloors.
There are several options for the non-skier on holiday in Stowe, or for those days when the legs need a rest. The town of Stowe offers world-class spas, indoor tennis, ice-skating, an indoor pool, snow-mobiling, horse riding, rock climbing and the Vermont Ski Museum, as well as plenty of shops and art galleries. The resort is also open in summer, providing a spectacular mountain holiday venue with fun activities like trampolining, hiking, the Alpine waterslide and the Gondola skyride.
Stowe has gathered a loyal group of die-hard fans and, although not a huge resort, it offers a range of skiing opportunities for experts, intermediates and beginners. The double-black diamond Front Four trails (Starr, Liftline, National and Goat) on Mt Mansfield offer a real challenge for experts, while the Toll Road is a more gentle long run and the top section of the Nose Dive offers good glade skiing.
Spruce Peak is better suited to beginners and intermediates, with plenty of green runs, cruisers and great night skiing. Skiers can also choose to ride Snuffy's trail to the neighbouring Smuggler's Notch resort. The snowboarding at Stowe is also some of the best around, with three terrain parks and plenty of freeriding.
Vermont's climate is changeable, with greater differences between summer and winter temperatures than most parts of New England. The northern region, including what is known as the Northeastern Kingdom, tends to experience the coldest winters in the state, with temperatures averaging about 10°F (6°C) colder than in the south. Summer temperatures average around 70°F (21°C). Snowfall in winter is heavy and most rainfall occurs in the summer. Spring tends to bring what is known as the mud season, when frozen ground thaws, resulting in thick mud.
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