On the Road to Autumn


Soon the siren song of early autumn, a melody of harmonious hues and the clear notes of crisp air, will turn thoughts to New England.

Whether thought becomes action depends, at least in part, on a plan, a destination--a reason, if you will. It needs only to be a plausible excuse for a drive in the country.

This is where Vermont's Route 100 proudly steps forward. Stretching the length of the state, Route 100 provides dozens of plausible excuses for anyone visiting the area.

There's the winery in Jacksonville, the quaint village and nearby pick-your-own farms of Wilmington, the Weston green, Calvin Coolidge's birthplace in Plymouth Notch, the bowl-making mill in Granville, Waitsfield's intriguing shops, the tour of Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream Factory in Waterbury and, finally, the unexpected tony luxury of Stowe village.

Any spaces in the bigger picture are filled in by roadside cemeteries, stacks of wood, cow pastures, produce stands, maple-syrup sales, gift shops smelling of candles and dried flowers and, of course, unmatched views of fall foliage.

While New England boasts hundreds of sights, we will restrict this review to stops along the majestic and serviceable Route 100. Pick one, or take them all in one long weekend, starting with:

The North River Winery in Jacksonville, just over the Massachusetts border. There are free tours and wine tastings at this scenic winery, open every day from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. through December.

Just up the road a piece, at the intersection of Route 100 and Route 9, is Wilmington, a town known well to skiers who frequent the southern Vermont resorts. Its in-town offerings--T-shirt shops, galleries and shops selling Vermont-made crafts, syrup and fudge--reflect its position as a bustling year-round tourist spot.

Also fed by tourists traversing the state from New York to New Hampshire via Route 9, Wilmington offers several restaurants--try for a table overlooking the river at the Old Red Mill Inn--as well as a fine art gallery and a few antiques stores. Norton House Fabrics is the first of many places to worship at the altar of homemade quilts.

Heading north out of Wilmington, watch for signs for the following farms--Vermont Maple Farm (maple products), Adams Farm, Wheeler Farm and Boyd Family Farm (pick-your-own flowers, sunrise to sunset every day).

The Adams Farm is a popular destination for year-round events that in the fall include hayrides, the weekend farm animal zoo and autumn's bounty of pumpkins, Indian corn, squash and more.

Farther on, you'll pull into the picture-perfect village of Weston, complete with a gazeboed village green, quaint church-like buildings, a fudge shop, a historic mill, a museum and the place where the Vermont Country Store began and still flourishes.

To do some serious shopping and sightseeing, park in the back of the Vermont Country Store, and put on your sneakers. If you visit on a weekend in the fall, expect crowds. Penny candy is one aisle from the jams, which are one aisle from tablecloths, which are one aisle from stationery, which is . . . well, you get the picture. The Vermont Country Store is all its name implies, complete with wood floors and the smells of beeswax and flannel.

If you're looking to buy something more sophisticated, there's the Todd Gallery and the Vitriesse Glass Gallery.

By all means, spend some time on the green, and if you're staying overnight, wander over to the Weston Playhouse, the state's oldest professional theater.

Weston is a place to take out your camera. The town boasts that its Community Church on the Hill is the most-photographed church in Vermont. One glance and you'll see why.

On the way out of town, the Weston Bowl Mill offers unpainted wooden objects ranging from thimbles to bowls to platters to serving trays.

Your next stop is the Calvin Coolidge Memorial Foundation in Plymouth. Give yourself at least an hour to savor the Plymouth Notch village, complete with the Coolidge family homestead, his father's country store, his own homestead, his brother's cheese factory and more. The rural village is virtually unchanged since the turn of the century and is considered the most perfectly preserved presidential birthplace in the nation.

Back on Route 100 and traveling north, you'll pass through Pittsfield and Stockbridge. Stop at the Vermont Bowl Mill in Granville; the nearby Bowl Mill store sells the hardwood bowls, and visitors can tour the mill--nothing fancy, but it is interesting--from early morning to midafternoon.

The town of Waitsfield practically can be divided in two--the historic village and a newer section thriving on business from the nearby Sugarbush resort.

Cabin Fever Quilts, Baked Beads and Waitsfield Pottery--these are must-stops for even the most jaded craft-ophiles. They are all within a half a mile of one another in the older part of Waitsfield, across from the Church of Christ and the town's war memorial.

Development thins out in the more northern part of the state, and there isn't much between towns--unless you count awe-inspiring scenery--until you hit Waterbury.

Bring your appetite to Waterbury and just beyond, where you'll find Green Mountain Chocolate, Cabot Cheese, the Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream Factory and the Cold Hollow Cider Mill.

No matter what kind of diet you are on, you have to stop at Ben & Jerry's. It's fun with a carnival atmosphere and it's informative (if you take the $2 tour).

Not far outside of this food heaven, anyone driving the Route 100 corridor is bound to notice some changes.

Signs advertising pick-your-own places, homemade jams and maple syrup and Vermont cheese give way to carefully restored buildings advertising massage therapy, tailors, chiropractors, architects, upscale restaurants and clothing shops. You are entering the rarefied air of the Stowe area.

Tony but comfortable, Stowe appears to be home to more luxury cars and coiffed residents than any other community along Route 100. The village has a store, a restaurant and places to stay, provided that everyone has money.

Like so many places along Route 100, you could easily spend an afternoon in Stowe, or a lifetime.

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