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WHY GO: Where do Philadelphia folk go when they’ve had enough of the city? For over a hundred years, they’ve trekked 30 miles West to recreate in the hills of Montgomery County PA. The train tracks that once carried them have been turned into a lovely paved and graveled bike and jogging rail trail along the Perkiomen and Schuylkill Rivers.
In winter, learn to shred on the Mom and Pop slopes of Spring Mountain for a fraction of what you’d pay at larger ski resorts, and then reward yourself (following a factory tour), with a hefty package of discounted “Hurt Chocolate” at Asher’s Chocolate Factory. This area draws the food-passionate as well, with an epicurean reputation surprisingly high for the ‘burbs.
Things To Do
DO: Ride or walk the Perkiomen Trail. Bring your bike (or cross-country skis in snowy winter), and wheel 19.5 miles along scenic Perkiomen Creek. In Spring and Summer you’ll meet up with plenty of locals who can’t believe that this treasure is in their back yard. On your way, pull off in a number of towns for food and snacks.
The trail follows Perkiomen Creek and connects with the Schuylkill Trail. It’s just a 35 mile, 1 ½ hour ride into Philadelphia from Schwenksville.
DO: Snowboard or Zip-Line Ropes Course @ Spring Mountain. Though it’s the highest point in Montgomery County, Spring Mountain remains a beginner and snowboard-features Mom and Pop ski slope. Attracting a diverse group of folks, Spring Mountain is a welcoming, multicultural example for all mankind.
Come summer, the mountain turns into a Downhill Bike Park, BMX Competition Center, GEOCache area and Zipline Canopy-Tour-Ropes Course Park. Plan on 3 hours for the Ropes and Zip Line Course – 70-250 lbs allowed. Ski lift tickets are $38 weekdays, $48 weekends. Zip Line Canopy Tour – $60 per person.
TOUR: Asher’s Chocolates. You can’t help but think of I Love Lucy stuffing bonbons in her mouth as they come rushing down the conveyer belt, but Asher’s employees know how to keep the chocolates moving without packing on pounds.
Start in the Candy Store, dangerous in and of itself, then learn about the art of factory-made chocolates from videos shown above picture windows that overlook machines, conveyor belts, overhead pipes labeled “Milk Chocolate” and employees at work.
In the shop, regulars make a beeline to the “Hurt Chocolate” bins; deeply discounted packages of chocolate covered pretzels (best seller) and other confections deemed “not pretty enough” for retail.
Asher’s, which pioneered the Sugar Free market in the 1960’s, sells a total of eight million pounds a year in all fifty states and nine countries and is the only company to offer sugar-free cherry cordials (PS; what’s the best way to eat a cherry cordial? Upside down to keep the cherry in the cup.). Tours are free; Mon-Fri. 9-3:30.
STROLL/SHOP: Skippack Village. George Washington and the Continental Army may have marched through this quaint little hamlet, but you’ll want to stick around the eighty or so individually owned stores and restaurants that bring heart back into the shopping experience.
If you’re in the market for a sentimental childhood toy, Native American ceremonial drum, Smoked Olive Oil and plenty more, you’ll find it in this collection of antique homes-turned indie establishments.
Find authentic Native American drums at Southwest Trading Post, along with a cornucopia of gifts and goodies while strolling the sweet streets of Skippack.
Where To Eat
EAT: Parc Bistro, Skippack Village; Decked out with sponged walls, large oil paintings, and country rooster carvings, the dining rooms may convey it, but the menu items at Parc Bistro are not a rendition of the “Italian, French, Country” indicated on its sign. Talented Chef Bill Tschoepe is free to innovate at the range, and avoids pigeonholing his cuisine. “Merry Mussels streamed in Belgian Ale with honey goat cheese,” ($14.50) and Ahi Tuna B.L.T. on brioche with Asian Salad ($13.50) represent a winning – and extremely delicious – menu.
EAT: Woodside Lodge, Schwenksville: Come on Wed. night for Half Priced Burger Night, and your never frozen, always gourmet burger, generally $8.99, can be had for $4.50. That’s with a slew of topping options.
The price isn’t the only thing “old fashioned” about Woodside – so is the swift, friendly service and some of the other classic dishes like Bouillabaisse ($28.95) and Beef Stew ($18.99). Your waitress may very well be artist Lori Quinn, whose Norman-Rockwellesque watercolors of local scenes grace the restaurant walls. “Starving” and “Artist” are mutually exclusive concepts in this happy place.
Where To Stay
STAY: Woodside Lodge. Owners Rick and Gayle Buckman could not be nicer. The Woodside Lodge is a 9-room comfort food of an inn with a lobby like Cheers, where, if everyone doesn’t know your name, they will by night’s end.
Originally built in 1920’s for Philly city folk who came to “the country” for recreation, the Buckman’s sunk $1.5 million and lots of heart into the dilapidated place and reopened it in 2012. Room décor is unfussy Craftsman style and you’ll be coddled to sleep in some of the softest cotton sheets to ever encase a mattress.
In the morning, fill up on the likes of caramelized onion egg omelet, bacon, sweet potato hash with goat cheese, and fresh bread with honey butter – or anything else your morning heart desires – that comes complementary with the room. The Buckmans also own next-door Spring Mountain – a beginner ski slope and summer adventure park. $139-$159 per night includes full, cooked to order breakfast for two.
STAY: Hotel Fiesole, Skippack Village. Modeled after the hotel of the same name in Tuscany, this stately inn in the center of boutique-shop Skippack is elegant and styled for a mostly corporate clientele who don’t like cookie-cutter chain hotels. An atmospheric library room with stained glass domed ceiling is particularly swanky. There’s a hierarchal level of dining; main floor is fine, middle floor casual, and the basement, aka “rathskeller” blasts live music.