Manchester VT: Off-Roading, Fly-Fishing, Clay Shooting, and The Perfect Bra

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WHY GO: Once known for its Outlet Stores and golf at the age-old Equinox Resort, Manchester VT is transitioning into a four-seasons soft adventure, “Sporting Weekend” hotspot. The area affords opportunities to learn extreme off-road driving, fly fish on some of the country’s best trout rivers, and practice your knitting skills – all guided by experts in each field.

There are nearly 50 lodging options from the venerable Equinox to Airbnb’s, and almost as many eateries in the Manchester area. Some of the outlet stores are still here, of course. But after scoring deals at Ugg’s, Eileen Fisher, Orvis, and the like, stay a few days for Manchester VT’s other treasures.

Things To Do in Manchester VT

GO: Southern Vermont Arts Center

Outdoor sculpture stands sentry on hills and in fields on your way up the winding drive to SVAC. The campus encompasses several buildings, including a café, 400-seat theater, and artist-in-residence studios.

Begin in Yester House. Built in 1917 as the summer home of Gertrude Webster, it’s now a sunlit series of nine galleries on two floors that showcase the work of SVAC Members, local schoolteachers, and art instructors.

While Yester House features the best landscape views, the museum/gallery’s piece de resistance of architecture is the Hugh Newall Jacobson designed Elizabeth Wilson Museum and Galleries. (Each piece on exhibit is also for sale).

The white New England church-like exterior stands in sharp contrast to the floodlit contemporary interior, which features three important exhibits per year. Free, Open May-Dec. Tues-Sat 10-5, Sun Noon-5.

HIKE/LUNCH/ART: Equinox Preserve Trails

Hike from the Equinox Pond to the Southern VT Art Center (about an hour each way). Then have lunch at the cafe, peruse the exhibits, and hike back. Plan on about 3 or more hours or even a whole day.

VISIT: American Museum of Fly Fishing

The American Museum of Fly Fishing is situated right next door to the Orvis Flagship Store. (However, it is not not associated with it). You’ll be surprised how many US presidents waxed lyrical about fly-fishing. Among them were Eisenhower and George H W Bush.

Read how they extolled the sport, and learn about this solitary, meditative activity through a time-line history at this quaint, information packed museum. Upstairs, find books on fly-fishing in the wood paneled Gardiner Grant Library. For a quarter, too, you can watch how a “Line Braider” machine works. $5, Tues – Sat. 10-4.

DO: Land Rover Experience

Have you ever yearned to go “off road” on rutted, muddy, puddled, boulder-strewn, nearly vertical paths? This is your chance. Manchester VT is one of only four places in North America where you can get behind the wheel of a Land Rover, instructor at hand, to do all of the above and more. (The other 3; Asheville at Biltmore House, Carmel CA at Quail Lodge, and Quebec at Chateau Montebello).

The Land Rover Experience teaches you the skills to tackle the toughest terrain, and is considered the “standard of Land Rover driving techniques and capabilities.” Best of all, it’s not “weather dependent.”

Snow, ice, torrential downpours – you’ll learn how to navigate the landscape in the cruelest of conditions. Amazingly, you can sign up to drive 365 days a year – yes, even on Christmas and Easter.

For one and two hour sessions, head out with your own private coach. (In my case, it was Land Rover Experience Location Manager, David Nunn). On 80 acres, traverse up to 5 miles of trails, and “go walking” on uneven terrain.

This is the pace you’ll drive as you ascertain what the car can and can’t do. Riding over “Mud and Ruts” – basically dirt moguls – is a blast. The Half Day and Full Day sessions bring you out to Mount Equinox for true off road mountain driving. Intoxicating for anyone who loves a driving challenge.

Though located on Equinox property, you don’t have to be a guest of the hotel to sign up.  Sessions range from one hour ($275) to a full day ($1,200, includes lunch and driving lessons for 3 people).

DO: Fly Fishing School

There’s a reason Orvis located its flagship store here. This area of Vermont is threaded with some of the best trout fishing rivers in America. If you are new to the sport, sign up for a ½ day, full day, or two-day instruction right in Manchester at the Orvis Flagship Store.

DO: Ski or Alpine Slide at Bromley, Peru

Bromley Ski Resort is just 10 miles from Manchester. Although it’s not the size of Okemo, (46 trails to Okemo’s 120), it’s Vermont’s only south facing hill and thus gets lots of sun. It’s kid friendly, too. In summer, the Alpine Slide is a hit. When here, make a little detour to JJ Hapgood General Store (see below under where to eat.)

DO: Knit at Knit 1 Purl 1

Broke your leg, or just not into winter sports? Into knitting or want to learn? While your gang is on the slopes, slip away to this yarn shop located in the Manchester Designer Outlet Center. You can  just sit and knit at the store, experts at the ready. Or, sign up for a beginner to advanced class.

SHOP/EAT/INDIE BOOKSTORE: Northshire Bookstore and Bonnet & Main Cafe 

Grab a freshly made sandwich, salad, or pastry, and then check out the warren of rooms in this marvelous book shop that has been an icon of Manchester for over 40 years.

SHOP: EPOCH 18 Vermont Artisans Gallery

Eighteen artists got together and opened this fetching craft store in downtown Manchester. Each craftsman/woman is required to “mind the store” two days a month – which is how I met stained-glass artist, Johnny Hinrichs. You can see one of Hinrich’s enormous windows, the “Lure of the Fly,” at the Orvis Flagship Store nearby, which indicates the quality of art you’ll find in this multi-gallery shop.

SHOP/BRA: La Peche Lingerie

If you haven’t done it in awhile, it’s time to get bra-refitted. There’s a reason why women from all over the country come to Joy Proft, who stocks bras from 28A to 46K. I’ve been buying the wrong size for years. Now I know (and look) better. You’ll also find all kinds of nightclothes and underthings from hot to granny (and even hot granny).

SHOP: Fortuna’s Sausage and Italian Market

No preservatives or nitrates are used to make Fortuna’s best tasting salamis and sausages. The products are made off site in upstate NY, using recipes that the Fortuna grandparents brought with them from Calabri Italy over 100-years ago. Though Fortuna’s ships all over the world, you can come in to this brick and mortar store in downtown Manchester and sample the goods before buying. Delectable.

SHOP: Mother Myrick’s

This confectionary has been in business for 40 years and still makes some of the best Butter Crunch on the planet. Come in for samples of these or MM’s signature Lemon Lulu Cakes, and you’ll no doubt be taking some home with you.

SHOP: Comollo Antiques, Fine Arts, and Wine

For those times you’re looking for that perfect antique and forget you need a fine wine for the evening – this small crammed shop has it all.

SHOP: Manchester Designer Outlets

Yes, nearly 40 are still here. Get your Armani, Coach, Michael Kors, Polo, Kate Spade, Tumi, Le Cruset, and other outlet deals here. The internet hasn’t totally destroyed fun, hands-on shopping. Yet.

Where to Eat in Manchester VT

EAT: Ye Olde Tavern

While the food may not be as “haute” as other dining options in Manchester VT, the atmosphere, within an authentic 1790 stagecoach stop, is unbeatable. You can choose to sit in one of several intimate rooms, which from the start hosted travelers from afar. (And from 1934 to 1975, as a hotel and antique shop). 

Feast on the likes of Filet Mignon, Chicken Marsala, Salmon, and other New England Country Cooking and Continental fare. But one of the big draws is the “bread course.” The signature Cranberry Fritters with Maple Butter are absolutely ambrosial.

EAT: The Copper Grouse at Taconic Hotel, Manchester VT

With rough-hewn dark wood floors, tufted leather banquettes, espresso-colored wainscoting, and fowl and cornucopia art aplenty, The Copper Grouse is a Ralph Lauren-esqe version of a hunting-lodge. In the morning, try the signature Lemon Ricotta Pancakes with fresh blueberry syrup along with fresh-pressed juices like “Drop the Beet,” and Carrot Ginger concoctions. By night, the scene is farm-to-table locavore – with tweaks on familiar New England cooking.

EAT: Manchester VT Locals also love

Mistrals, just out of town, for fine French dining. The Reluctant Panther for innovative excellent cuisine. The Silver Fork – a foodie destination.

EAT/VISIT: JJ Hapgood General Store and Eatery, Peru

Young professional couple, Juliette and Tim Britton, returned home from the city, took a tired General Store – the centerpiece of tiny Peru VT – and turned it into a destination coffee-shop, organic farm to table restaurant, trendy bar, and yes, a locally sourced sundries “general store.”

Dine on Local Beef Burger, Plymouth Hunter Grilled Cheese, and specialty Wood Fired Pizzas for lunch.  JJ Hapgood has earned accolades for its décor, food, and service. It’s favored by everyone from Bromley Mountain skiers to Sir Paul McCartney, who came up to these parts to visit his nephew. Ask to see his picture with the Brittons.

Where to Stay in Manchester VT

STAY: The Taconic Manchester VT

Kimpton’s first hotel located outside of a city, the 86-room Taconic in Manchester VT is less flashy than those in metropolitan areas. There were several hotels on this Route 7A property between the Equinox and downtown, before the last was torn down and replaced by the Taconic in late 2015.

First Impressions

Reception, Kimpton- style, is friendly but not gratuitously so. Kimpton’s pet-friendly policy allows you to bring any housebroken or crated creature from dogs to cats to potbelly pigs up to the size that can “fit comfortably in an elevator.”

Those familiar with the urban Kimpton aesthetic might find the earth tone palette here uncharacteristically subdued. But, while the Taconic is not wild with color and funky knickknacks, there are touches of Kimpton whimsy – like a gilded deer skull – scattered about.

When cold out, there’s a fire ablaze in a comfortable lobby. And no matter what the season, the huge front porch with tables and rocking chairs (blankets offered when it’s chilly) is tailor-made for brisk fresh-air and sunset enthusiasts.

Rooms at The Taconic

Wood tones, from birch to mahogany, bespeak a hike in the surrounding mountains. The feeling is comfy-cozy, without a stick of frou-frou or stark modernist to be found.

Upholstered chairs, a bureau with twig shaped pulls, and bed sheathed in a white duvet – the gestalt is “woodland-chic,” as it should be in these parts.

Bathrooms have glass showers with white subway tile and plaid print wallpaper. At turndown, you’ll find an old-fashioned alarm clock placed on one bedside table which also features, conveniently, two embedded electrical outlets.

Dining at The Taconic

See “Where to Eat” above

Amenities at The Taconic

Wine and Nibbles Hour – 5-6pm each day. This is a great opportunity to meet and converse with fellow guests. Take your drink out on the front porch, or enjoy it near the fireplace in the lobby. The Copper Grouse Chef always creates a mouthwatering appetizer (also complimentary) to stave off hunger before dinner.

Loaner bikes complimentary for guests.

Dog Walkers ($10 per 15 minutes).

Morning Coffee and Tea

Rooms from $149 midweek offseason to “mid-$500’s” on peak weekends include one glass of wine and nibbles during wine hour, use of bicycles, wifi and parking.

STAY: The Equinox Resort and Spa

This grand dame hotel was built in the mid 1700’s, decades before Mary Todd Lincoln vacationed in Vermont (near where her son Robert Todd Lincoln constructed his summer home, Hildene). It still reigns supreme among USA mountain resorts.

STAY: The Reluctant Panther

Formerly painted purple, this luxury inn literally rose from the ashes after a devastating fire in 2005. Now, its exterior is trimmed in purple, and inside, upscale rooms have been decorated with a clever hand. The dining room, according to many, serves “impeccable” cuisine.

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