Quechee Gorge Village

The sweet life

COURTESY PHOTO
Be sure to enjoy the lounge fireplace.

By CARLEY THORNELL

Just because it’s shoulder season doesn’t mean you have to be rubbing elbows.

This much my husband Dave and I learned after spring popped its way up like a shy groundhog and went back under for six more weeks of winter in New England, during a welcome weekend getaway to the Hanover Inn in Dartmouth, N.H. Here, spacious suites have masculine touches that reflect the color palette of the Ivy League campus on which the hotel calls home. Deep-pine greens, earthy black-and-white plaids and sumptuous cognac tans of the leather couches (which also sleep two comfortably) are enough to make you want to tuck in and honor the college spirit with a heady book, but there’s plenty to do here despite the sleepy feel of Everytown, USA.

We started with a pleasant Saturday morning drive north and hit up South Main Street, where Lou’s Restaurant & Bakery is essentially a Norman Rockwell painting come to life. It’d be pretty impossible to visit a college town without a diner, but the warmth of this circa-1947 gem—lunch counter and all—makes you feel like you’ve stepped back in time. Towering cakes, maple-bacon doughnuts, fluffy omelets and even some luscious salads that put your mindset straight back into 2017 are all ogle-worthy, but the pancakes here are really part of the quintessential experience.

Wonder where that syrup comes from? The in-between-time when winter segues into spring, with warmer days and nights below freezing ideal for maple sugaring. While each year is unpredictable—roughly mid-February through mid-April — this year’s surprise last gasp of winter made for not only a chance to learn more about how sap is collected and boiled down, but also for some neat outdoor activities. At Sugarbush Farm, just a 20-minute drive from Hanover, kids and adults alike can meet Belgian draft horses before wandering inside for a syrup tasting and production tutorial, paired with cheeses as they’ve been produced here for four generations by the Luce family. It’s worth taking home a wax-wrapped bar (or several) as a souvenir.

Next steps for Swampscott rail trail

If shopping is more your thing, there’s plenty of fun to be had strolling downtown, where tax-free delights include boutique Indigo, for everything from hip designer jeans with triple-digit price tags to cute, trendy earrings for just $14. Or head over to Lemon Tree gift shop, where owner Melissa Haas has put together a collection of fun and affordable curios like decorative pillows, candles, handmade birdhouses for bookworms (each has a literary theme), jewelry, and unique children’s toys and decorative items. It’s fun to meander through each section of the store—separated by interest and age group—and even Dave had a good time picking out a gift for our niece and shopping in the men’s section.

But what would a college town be without a bookstore? Check out Left Bank to see what used treasures await in its packed rows, or head over to Baker-Berry Library. The heart of the Dartmouth campus is open to the public to admire its National Historic Landmark fresco, The Epic of American Civilization, by Jose Clemente Orozco. In addition to these visual delights are culinary ones, too, and there’s another reason to study its hallowed halls (and ceiling): the King Arthur Flour Bakery + Café located inside. Those looking for some pastry lessons can head just two miles up the road, too, for cooking classes at the main outpost in Norwich, Vermont, a veritable Shangri-La for bakers. Need a castle-shaped cake pan? Gluten-free bread flour? Edible glitter? All that and more are available here, along with tasty cookies, brownies, gooey brie-stuffed sandwiches and frothy cappuccinos.

Hard as it may be, it’s best not to ruin your appetite, however, before dinner back at the Inn at James Beard Award-winning chef Michael Schlow’s most pastoral outpost: PINE.  Don’t let the artfully arranged farm-to-table fare like whole chicken and mustard jus or slow-braised short ribs fool you, though—it’s a comfy come-as-you-are scene where kids can wear their snow pants but mom can toss on a cashmere sweater and jeans.

The snow pants are worth saving for an invigorating Sunday morning at Great River Outfitters, where Dave and I gave snowshoeing through some sculpture-lined paths a go,  thanks to a late-season dusting. But not to worry—there’s year-round fun to be had here, with camping, canoeing, river tubing, kayaking and bonfires during summer. No matter what the season, Artisans Park is worth a visit, since the location also hosts Harpoon Brewery next door. It’s the perfect way to toast a weekend well spent before hitting the road again.

Getting there: Take the scenic route by driving past Simon Pearce Restaurant in Quechee, Vermont, which also has a nifty lookout of a covered bridge and rushing waterfall. Or check out Quechee Gorge Village, for some fun shops, tavern fare, and a Cabot Cheese store.