By Makayla-Courtney McGeeney
Vermont and Massachusetts share great and scenic nature spots, a connection to Norman Rockwell and his artwork, shops that sell homemade sweets and savory treats, and a rich variety of performing and visual arts venues. And all of these spots can be explored by jumping in the car for a road trip along some of the area’s most scenic drives. Here are three excursions we recommend taking, along with five points of interest not to miss along the way.
The drive: Route 7A in the Shires of Vermont, from Shaftsbury to Manchester
Stop No. 1: Chocolate Barn: 5055 Historic Route 7A, Shaftsbury, Vt.
The Chocolate Barn has been serving up the “typical Vermont experience” for four decades out of an 1840s era sheep barn. Owners Tom Huncharek and Susan Balutis bought the business in 2010, and continue to offer a variety of chocolate confections for sale. They also make and sell their own ice cream that comes in 13 flavors and is crafted with “blast freeze” technology.
A chemist by trade, Huncharek went back to school to learn the trade secrets of crafting ice cream in below-zero temperatures. The result is a smoother texture and pints that can survive a three-hour drive home.
Stop No. 2: Sugar Shack and Norman Rockwell Exhibition: 118 Sugar Shack Lane, Arlington
Most popular during maple sugar-making season in late winter and early spring, the Sugar Shack offers maple products, baked goods and a variety of Vermont-made products. It also houses an exhibition of Norman Rockwell paintings that were created from 1939 to 1953, the time during which Rockwell called Arlington home.
Stop No. 3: Mount Equinox Skyline Drive: Skyline Drive, Sunderland
For $15 per car and and an additional $5 per passenger, folks can ride up into the sky and see the Green, White, Adirondack and Berkshire mountain ranges. Reaching 3,848 feet above sea level, Equinox Mountain is the tallest mountain in the Taconic Range. At 5.2 miles, the Skyline Drive is the longest paved, privately owned toll road in the United States.
Opened in 1947, the scenic drive boasts several parking lots for picnics, a tollhouse and viewing center complete with a history of Carthusian monks who own the road and live in a monastery atop the mountain. The road is open through Oct. 31, from 9 a.m.- 4 p.m. daily.
Stop No. 4: Hildene, The Lincoln Family Home: 1005 Hildene Road, Manchester
Just like the charm of the Green Mountains, Hildene, The Lincoln Family Home, is nothing short of a beautiful, historic experience.
Robert Todd Lincoln, president of the Pullman Company and eldest son of President Abraham Lincoln, and his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, built this Georgian Revival summer home in 1905. Three generations of Lincoln descendants lived there both part- and full-time until 1975.
The 412-acre estate includes the mansion and gardens; a 1903 Pullman Palace Car Sunbeam exhibit; the Hildene Farm; the Dene Farm; and 12 miles of walking trails. Folks can visit daily, year-round from 9:30 to 4:30. Check-in is at the welcome center. General admission is $20 for adults, $5 for kids.
Stop No. 5: The Crooked Ram, Craft Beer Crowler Bar and Bottle Shop: 4026 Main St., Manchester Center
Established earlier this year by Brooklyn, N.Y., native Peter Campbell, The Crooked Ram sells a number of unique craft beers from all over western Europe and New England.
In the last few months, he’s strengthened relationships with community members and even the smallest of breweries in New York and northern Vermont, allowing him to continuously rotate the shop’s offerings. This summer he’s started offering tastings on the weekends.
The drive: Route 9 East, the Molly Stark Byway, from Bennington to Brattleboro
Stop No. 1: Battle of Bennington Monument: 15 Monument Circle, Bennington
A trip to Bennington isn’t complete without visiting the top of this 306-foot-tall obelisk to take a peek at the views in nearby Massachusetts and New York, as well as Vermont’s Green Mountain National Forest.
Various celebrations and reenactments occur at the base of the monument each year to honor those who fought in the Revolutionary War.
The monument celebrates the Battle of Bennington, considered to be the turning point of the war and fought in nearby Walloomsac, N.Y., on Aug. 16, 1777. From April to October, folks can get an altitude and history fix in one stop.
Stop No. 2: Woodford State Park: 142 State Park Road, Woodford
Surrounded by Green Mountain National Forest, Woodford State Park offers a variety of activities: swimming, hiking, stand-up paddleboarding, boating and camping. Located at 2,400 feet above sea level, the 398-acre park has the distinction of being the highest elevation campground of any park in Vermont. Visitors can rent one of four cabins or camp at one of the park’s 76 tent and RV sites or 20 lean-to sites while enjoying the Adams Reservoir.
Stop No. 3: Bartleby’s Book Store: 17 W. Main St., Wilmington
After surviving the flood waters of Tropical Storm Irene in 2011, this two-floor restored bookstore is a community gathering spot.
Maria Cunningham-Drew, who has been employed for four years at the store, said the owners’ goal is to make the store just what it has become, the local hangout. With a popular children’s section and an offering of various adult books, Bartleby’s has something for the everyday book worm and the casual tourist trying to pass time on a road trip.
Stop No. 4: Hogback Mountain Gift Shop: 7627 VT Route 9, Marlboro
One more turn and another hill brings you to the top of a spot where you can see mountain humps for 100 miles — literally.
Bikers, love birds and all sorts of license plates can be seen during a stop at the top of Hogback. One can’t help but snap a picture in front of breathtaking views before exploring the gift shop.
Stop No. 5: Hermit Thrush Brewery: 29 High St., Suite 101C, Brattleboro
If there’s anything more unique about Brattleboro than the atmosphere of the town itself, it’s a brewery that only serves sour, Belgian-inspired ales. The owners coined the name and logo after the state bird and use oak casks and the latest green technology to minimize their environmental impact while brewing.
The dimly lit space can be found right before hitting downtown Brattleboro. Get a behind the scenes look at how the unique brew is made during guided tours on Fridays and Saturdays.
The drive: Route 102 in the Berkshires, from West Stockbridge to Tyringham
Stop No. 1: Stanmeyer Gallery & Shaker Dam Coffeehouse: 2 Main St., West Stockbridge
Owned by National Geographic photographer John Stanmeyer and his wife, Anastasia Stanmeyer, the power of photography and that of coffee and tea are joined to explore social change, education and outreach through workshops.
The two-floor gallery showcases Mr. Stanmeyer’s love of coffee and global exploration. Relax in the garden or cozy up inside the Stanmeyer’s quaint space with tasty beverages and exceptional art.
Stop No. 2: Charles H. Baldwin & Sons: 1 Center St., West Stockbridge
This is the home of the famous Charles H. Baldwin & Sons Pure Vanilla Extract.
Established in 1888 by Charles H. Baldwin and H.M. Baldwin, the same care and high standards have continued to make this family company profitable and keep loyal customers returning over the generations.
The extract is aged in 100-year-old oak barrels which makes it stronger and darker — a staple for the ingredients’ character. The Baldwins later expanded to table syrup, bloody mary mix, vanilla vinaigrette, cinnamon sugar, and bay rum aftershave. The store is open year-round and sells various baking ingredients as well as retro candies and country store items.
Sunday hours are only available from July to December.
Stop No. 3: Berkshire Botanical Garden: 5 W. Stockbridge Road, Stockbridge
Immerse yourself in 15 acres of cultivated land surrounded by beaming functional and ornamental gardens. Berkshire Botanical is known as one of the oldest gardens in the nation — the first in 1934 with The Harvest Festival debut.
The nonprofit aims to deliver important art and science education to the community between May and mid-October.
Stop No. 4: Animagic Museum of Animation: 135 Main St., Lee
Any child or adult can find enjoyment from visiting this museum that works to do nothing but spark your imagination. The experience involves ceramics, puppets, educational movies and the work of graphic artist and museum co-owner Irina Borisova. Tour the museum for free, seven days a week, year-round, as long as an appointment is made. Post-tour, you have the opportunity to create your own animations — $20 per person for a two-hour workshop.
Stop No. 5: Tyringham Cobble: 20 Jerusalem Road, Tyringham
Hike part of the Appalachian Trail at Tyringham Cobble, just outside the village of Tyringham. It has 206 acres and a handful of trails stretching no further than 2 miles per trail, one-way.
Folks enjoy the views that the 1,348-foot elevation offers with minimal hiking effort. It’s a popular outdoor attraction to bring children and dogs — and snacks for a mid-trail picnic.