12 of life’s littlest luxuries are hiding in Stowe, Vermont

by nyljaouadi1
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I have been visiting Stowe since I was a teenager, my parents having built a house there to escape hot New Jersey summers, and as a home base for the winter ski season. I usually visited in the winter months, and so my view of Stowe was quite narrow, shaped by snow-covered mountains, roaring fires, and early nights, to gather strength for the next day on the slopes.

Vermont, and Stowe in particular, is renowned for its fall foliage. That magical time of year when the leaves and trees decide, en masse, to put on a dramatic display of light, texture, and color. While those two seasons have reason to gloat, summer in Stowe is nothing short of breathtaking. The unsung season. The little sister to her older, more popular siblings—fall and winter. As I got older, I began to crave Stowe in the summer above all other seasons.

Getting out of town

This past July, my husband and I made a pandemic-based decision. We packed up, and headed north to Stowe. We were eager to live village life, country life, and a less rushed life, in the mountains of Stowe. My parents’ house was currently empty, which presented an ideal way to leave the oppressive DC heat behind, as well as a way to break the monotony that had gradually taken hold of us over the past few months.

We packed up only our most essential items; two dogs, two kids, a few hundred Nespresso capsules, and corn hole. Our essentials, we quickly discovered, don’t fit in one car. So, we took two, and began the 10+ hour caravan to New England.

We spent six weeks in Stowe, and while our kids may have been slightly less enthusiastic about it, it was the decision of the year for me and my husband. I learned a lot living the simple life. For a start, I discovered that while big luxuries are great, little luxuries are even greater.

12 little luxuries

During those six weeks away, I compiled a list of things that village life, and Stowe, revealed to me. A list of things that I hadn’t thought much about before, but soon became overwhelmingly luxurious. The list is by no means complete, and was collected through my rose-colored lens. I have no doubt that this list will grow, when we revisit Stowe next. But for now, and in no particular order, are 12 things that I learned to appreciate, love, and consider true luxuries, about living in Stowe, Vermont.

1. The Stowe Recreation Path

With its gently looping slopes and hills, and covering 5.3 scenic miles, is the much loved Rec Path. The path is beautifully maintained, easily accessed, and a true highlight of the town. A natural starting point for the path is directly behind the Stowe Community Church, the towering centerpiece of the village. However, there are countless places to enter, and exit, and benches at which to rest, along the meandering route.

Sixteen pristine wooden bridges appear along the way, and cry for photo ops, as they arch over the clear, shallow, stone-filled streams. The low, rumbling sound of bikes that passed over the wooden slats of the bridges, would alert me to any oncoming ‘traffic’. Toddlers on tricycles would often speed past me, their out-of-breath parents racing to catch up. Bikers, walkers, and runners alike, share the path, which curves around and behind the town’s streets.

Hidden, lovely, picnic spots dot the water’s edge. I often hear kids splashing and squealing by the banks. A scenic way to burn calories, the Rec Path has just the right balance of shade, sun, streams, fields, cows and gardens, to keep anyone entertained for a few hours.

We would occasionally bike to the back garden of Idletyme Brewing Co., a local restaurant, and enjoy a well-earned cold drink. It has an idyllic location, being both on the Mountain Road, and the Rec Path. Fried pickles were ever-tempting, which will come as no surprise should you read ahead to little luxury #4. Gigantic, soft pretzels came hanging on a stand with a variety of dipping sauces. Flights of IPA beers were another excuse, ummmm, reason to head there on a hot summer day.

2. The Quiet Path

If the Rec Path doesn’t paint enough of a Rockwell-ian portrait, the Quiet Path certainly will. Built as a low-impact extension of the Recreational Path, mown grass pathways keep the Quiet Path true to its name. I sometimes saw walkers barefooted, flip flops in hand, enjoying the trimmed, soft, grass underfoot.

The 1.8 mile panoramic route hugs the perimeter of tall cornfields. A gurgling stream filled with beaver dams sits alongside the path, which my dogs always seemed to accidentally destroy. Alpine views were within sight, as was the steeple of the community church in the distance, at certain points on the path.

As the signage dictated, only foot traffic was allowed, whether four-legged or two. I found it amusing to read that dogs needed to be under voice or leash control. Voice control was far from guaranteed with my two stubborn pups, but I somehow escaped being reprimanded.

3. Sage Farm Goat Dairy

Sage Farm Goat Dairy is an insta-ready, family-run, goat farm located on upper West Hill Road. The weathered gray barn/farm store sits beautifully next to a field of wildflowers and alongside a tattered, wooden fence. An unassuming 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 attack and peck the ground with enthusiasm. Some days we spotted the goats roaming the fields. They have a bucolic spot, those lucky alpine goats. Noticing the smug look on their long faces, I think they knew it.

4. From Maria’s Garden

A pretty, gray, clapboard house sits at the top of Cape Cod Road. Welcome to ‘From Maria’s Garden’—a charming roadside flower stand. Mason jar-filled wildflowers were presented daily, as were hand-cut bouquets and potted plants. An honesty jar sat nearby, a system she has had in place since 1987. Honesty—a popular theme in Stowe, I observed.

Maria escaped the corporate life in NYC, to live a simpler one, in Stowe. She is a certified floral designer and aside from her daily roadside flowers, designs for weddings and events.

I was tempted to buy Maria’s flowers every time I drove past, which was often. And during our first few weeks in Stowe, I did just that. The homespun feeling that radiated from the colorful property was magnetic. I often spied Maria’s husband, shears in hand, cutting for the day’s arrangements.

After having noticed the variety of wildflowers that were blooming in our own yard, I started to create my own masterpieces. It became clear pretty quickly that my flower arranging skills needed help, and I wondered if Maria was available for lessons.

5. The Stowe Farmers’ Market

Sunday mornings became a day in which to look forward, during a time when every day felt like a Sunday. Small, unpretentious, and sitting just off the Mountain Road, is the Stowe Farmers’ Market. A gathering of local vegetable producers, cheese vendors, handmade crafts, and a variety of food stalls—the market offered different tastes for the widely differing tastebuds in my family.

Green Mountain Potstickers was an instant hit. Homemade dough that had just the right consistency, and was balanced with the optimal amount of fillings—like, edamame, tofu, scallions, and chives. Their scallion pancakes easily competed with ones I’d had long ago in China. The cold sesame noodles, topped with julienne sliced veggies, were a lovely accompaniment to the warm potstickers.

I became obsessed with the pickled goods from Gizmo’s Pickled Plus. Who knew I liked pickled things so much? Not me. Sunshine Pickles, Bread and Butter Chips, Corn Relish, Pickled Beets, and Sour Salty Dog Spears (the perfect beer drinking pickle, they advertised) are just a small sampling of what they offered. When the vendor suggested I could get twelve jars for the price of ten, I quietly scoffed. Then, I promptly went ahead and bought twelve.

As if the pickles weren’t enough, Gizmos also made homemade jams. Their famous Bear Jam, was the berry trifecta of strawberry, blackberry, and blueberry preserves. Wild Organic Black Raspberry Jam, and the unique, but surprisingly good, Cucumber Lime Jam, were others. Sunshine Marmalade, a mix of unlikely ingredients (oranges, carrots, lemons, cherries, and pineapple) won me over, as well.

All the jams and pickled goods were freshly made, and preserved in original soda-lime glass mason jars. Where was I going to source my pickle cravings when I got back to DC, I openly fretted? “Not to worry”, they told me, “we ship world-wide”. Crisis averted, phew.

6. Stowe village

The village of Stowe has a fabled, storybook setting. Just the right amount of charm, quaint shops, ice cream parlors, and lively (modern definition: ‘socially distant’ 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 cornfields and weathered red barns, and sat outside at Café on Main, his favorite spot. We eavesdropped on the locals gossiping over their coffees and Stowe Reporters. Little shops were hidden behind big shops. Stowe had so many lovely historic homes to gawk over, and photographing them became another pastime.

Stowe fact — neon signs are strictly forbidden. Just another way that Stowe is able to maintain its historical charm. Until I found myself in a non-neon environment, I realized how much of my life is neon-filled. Its absence was refreshing.

7. Al fresco Stowe

Stowe is a popular, all-season, travel destination, so it wasn’t surprising that it had 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 favorites, and found a few new ones.

California-inspired, Plate, at 91 Main Street, became a new fave. The owners, originally from LA, have been in Stowe for years, and their menu was described as being able to satisfy everyone from meat lovers, to hard-core vegans. I’m not vegan, but gravitated towards the vegan dishes, nonetheless. I thought the vegan crab cake starter was a highlight of the menu, as was 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 factor into our return throughout the month.

The Bistro at Ten Acres has been perched at the junction of Luce Hill Road and Barrows Road since I was a kid, and had 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.

The Bistro at Ten Acres feels intimate, even outdoors. A musician played guitar, just far enough from the patio so that we could still hear each other speak. The dry, summer air, and late setting sun, certainly made the night memorable. The food matched the night, it was lovely.

8. Stowe hiking and biking

The countless number of hiking and mountain biking trails in the area could take up an article of their own. Suffice it to say, hiking recently became one of my go-to activities, and Stowe had more mountains, gorges, notches, summits, and waterfalls, then I had time to tackle.

One morning, we hiked to Sterling Pond. A steep, natural rock staircase welcomed us to the 2-mile climb, 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 nearing. Wild mushrooms, moss covered stones, fallen tree trunks, and a lush carpet of ferns covered the mountain floor. The reward for our efforts was a placid and serene pond. Although in my non-scientific opinion, it looked more like a lake—it was enormous. Whatever it is called, it was well worth the effort to get there.

Another morning, we went to Moss Glenn Falls, which is known to be one of the prettiest and most photogenic waterfalls in the area. Conveniently, it was a quick ten minute drive form our house. At only 68ft tall, what it lacked in height, it made up for in beauty. The water from Deer Hollow Brook cascaded over the textured rock face like a fan, and created tiers of pools where we could swim. Since the waterfall is a short, flat, walk from the parking area, it is known for being quite busy, one inherent pitfall of an easy hike, I guess.

Another morning’s hike started with a steep, 4.5 mile, switchbacked drive to the top of the mountain Toll Road. What followed, was an hour long open vista hike, called The Long Trail, to the ‘chin’ of Mt Mansfield. There, we were rewarded with 360 degree views of the area. I looked down over the grass-covered winter ski runs, and gazed out towards the distant layers of overlapping mountains. My favorite kind of hike, one that both starts and ends at the top. Views rule.

On the way back to the car, we passed a man with a butterfly net, who we learned was searching for dragonflies. Although, not just any dragonfly—he was on a mission to spot a particularly elusive species. Since then, I took note of the dragonflies I saw each morning at the pond. Dragonflies had never been on my radar before, and the more I noticed them, the more intrigued I became.

9. Vermont covered bridges

Dairy cows, green mountains, maple syrup, and covered bridges, are all so quintessentially Vermont. Stowe boasts a few iconic covered bridges, most notably, the Stowe Walkway Bridge, that lies near the center of town. Built in 1973, this long, pedestrian bridge straddles the Waterbury River and is an ideal part of an introductory walk around the village.

Gold Brook Covered Bridge, not far from the village, I read, has an eerie past. 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 up, which sent her into a wild fit of despair. It is said that she hanged herself from the rafters, and has haunted the bridge ever since. Today, 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.

10. Wildlife, Vermont-style

In Stowe, I saw beavers, frogs, hummingbirds, dragonflies, chipmunks, cows, gophers, snakes, horses, and even a pair of berry-eating bears. Who needs Africa to spot animals? While not the traditional ‘big five’, wildlife is fascinating no matter what the size.

An early morning in August, my walk revealed a world of grazing cows, vivid clusters of fiery tiger lilies, and dilapidated barns. If I had chosen the same route to walk each day, I would inevitably spot something I hadn’t seen the day before, which was due, in part, to the ever-changing light, weather conditions, and bovine behavior.

One day, I stopped mid-run to take a photo of a cornfield, and found myself face-to-face with a suspicious gopher. While stretching later on, I saw a Monarch butterfly feasting on a flower. I never stop in my DC life. In Stowe, I stopped, and in doing so was rewarded with the littlest, most luxurious, things.

11. Pond life

If Vermont did any one thing to perfection, it was ponds. They were everywhere, it seemed, and became an instant, gorgeous foreground to any landscape photo.

My parents’ house has a small pond of its own nearby. Some days, it was as still as glass, and I caught ethereal colors that mirrored the sky. Other days, the clouds became a contrasty, pillowy-shaped Rorschach test. If our unruly black labs were swimming in the pond, as they often did, their otter-like bodies created circular waves that gave the water texture—a slow ripple in the mirror image. Around the perimeter of the pond, frogs croaked intermittently, with low baritones that sounded like a giant rubber band being twanged.

12. Mountain scenes

Bucolic pastoral scenes that appeared to be lifted from the canvas of a Wyeth, were everywhere. Wispy streaks of yellow grasses and lavender wildflowers laid quietly against green pastures, and distant blue skies. This led to an epiphanic moment.

After having spent days wondering why the sunsets seemed to be more colorful in Vermont, or why the clouds seemed more defined, I finally realized that it actually had nothing to do with the sun, or the clouds. It was the scenery against which the sunsets were setting, and the cloud formations were sitting above, that made it more spectacular. The sky can be gorgeous anywhere, like, over the NJ Turnpike, for instance, but it wouldn’t look quite as pretty. (No offense, NJ). It was the surrounding scene that made it all the more extraordinary. A-ha.

The late afternoon thunderstorms that passed through mountainous Stowe instantly turned on all of the primary colors of the landscape. At times, I was able to see both the incoming storm, and the blue sky at exactly the same time. The dark clouds inevitably swallowed up the sky, and then bright blue reemerged. After one particularly fast and furious storm, I witnessed a full rainbow that was so bright, it glowed.

Summer isn’t over, yet

Many of us have not been able to travel like we used to, or want to, which is an unfortunate reality. Big trips have been interrupted, changed, or put on hold, indefinitely. My family’s time in Stowe gave me the chance to think more creatively, or as Steve Jobs once said, think differently.

I am back in Washington DC. My parent’s house in Vermont felt like another world, and the change of scenery was healthy on multiple levels. I realized that I can define luxury in more ways than I had ever thought. Luxury, is personal. For me, it was 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.

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