Road trips are the best, aren’t they? All the excitement of going somewhere new without the hassle of dealing with crowds, security check points and little kids kicking the back of your seat. Plus with road trips, getting there really is half the fun because of 90’s singalongs (is that just me?) and pit stops for whatever catches your eye like farmer’s markets and scenic views. So when my friends and I were in desperate need of a break from NYC, instead of hopping on a flight to typical spring break spots like Puerto Rico or Mexico, we opted for a change of pace and rented a car heading for Manchester, Vermont.
What the heck is in Manchester?
Thank you! I’m glad to hear that I’m not the only one who had no idea. Manchester is an adorable town that’s pretty ideal for skiers and snowboarders in the winter and those that like to flyfish in the summer. It’s centrally located to both Stratton Mountain and Bromley Mountain, and there are even several trails in Manchester for those that prefer cross-country skiing. That being said, we weren’t heading there for the winter sports but instead to relax, do some hiking, and just enjoy the adorable town. Oh, and let’s not forget about the fantastic outlet shopping to be had! So if you find yourself staying in or nearby Manchester for a few hours or even a few days, here are some places that you should definitely check out.
Fun fact: Manchester is the home of the Orvis flyfishing chain.
Must-do: Hike the trails at Equinox Preserve
Alright, winter isn’t exactly the best time for some hardcore hiking in Manchester as many of the trails are very icy or very muddy. That being said, we managed as best we could with the trails at Equinox Preserve. Mount Equinox is one of the highlights of the town, and up until 1996 the 900+ acres around it was owned by the Equinox Resort. The resort donated this to make sure the land would always be preserved. Start your hike by picking up a map of the trails at the Equinox Resort hotel. Their concierge was very friendly and gave us some excellent suggestions of ideal routes. Regardless of what trails you choose, at some point circle back to Equinox Pond where you’ll have a stunning view of Equinox mountain over the water. The pond also has a historic waterfront property which used to be an ice house, and the building is a popular spot for wedding venues. After you have finished up with the trails, walk back on Taconic Road to pass some beautiful historic homes. If you do happen to come to Manchester in the warmer months you’ll have even more wonderful trails to choose from so take full advantage of it!
Must-see: The Hildene House
The Hildene House is the summer home of Robert Todd Lincoln, Abe’s eldest son and the only child to live to adulthood. This house is spectacular and is just part of over 400 acres of the property. Robert first visited Manchester with his mother and brother when he was 20 and they actually stayed at the Equinox Resort at that time. The property was built in 1905 and has spectacular views of the Battenkill Valley as well as Mount Equinox. Descendants of the family lived there until 1975, the longest out of any Lincoln residences. Today it is owned and maintained by the non-profit, Friends of the Hildene. I really enjoyed walking through this estate, especially because most of the furniture and possessions were actually owned by the Lincolns. The house has a 1,000 pipe organ which was added in 1908 as a gift from Robert to his wife. There are over 200 rolls and the guide actually plays the songs for you as you tour the house. It’s actually quite comical at how loud it is but is still a fun peek into the past.
Fun fact: The garden in the back of the house is actually in the shape of a stain-glass window, an idea designed by Robert and Mary’s daughter, Jessie. The garden was a gift from Jessie to her mother, and can be seen from the windows of Mary’s room on the second floor. Of course the flowers weren’t in bloom when we visited, but if you go in the spring or summer you will be able to see that the colors of the flowers are coordinated to match the stain-glass look.
If only every town had a bookstore as quaint as this one! Think 10,000 square feet of pure bookworm bliss, complete with a pretty extensive children’s section as well as a delicious cafe. The company itself was founded in 1976 but the current location was only bought and renovated in 1986 (and then renovated and extremely expanded again in 2003.) While this bookstore is always bumping, there is so much space that we never felt crowded (I love you Strand but you raise my blood pressure.) Oh, and let’s go back to this cafe! Spiral Press cafe is connected the bookstore but is way better than your average Starbucks in Barnes & Nobles experience. The food is legit and the seating is ample – we saw lots of students studying as well but there was always open tables. Definitely worth a walk-through, although you’ll probably walk out with a handful of great reads, too.
Where to stay:
The Equinox Resort is clearly the leading hotel in terms of the four-star experience, but for those of you that are looking for a more affordable stay there are plenty of other options as well. Ask yourself if being walking distance to the city center (where many of the outlet shops and restaurants are) is important or if you are ok with driving. We chose to stay at Manchester View, a hotel that is very close to the center (about a 10 minute walk to Northshire Bookstore) but is very affordable. It was a no-frills hotel but the rooms were very spacious and the grounds had some entries to trails and even a trout pond! Surprisingly you will notice a stark difference between the part of town that has more luxurious hotels versus the more budget-friendly options (think marble sidewalk versus no sidewalk.) We drove by most of the other hotels I was looking at which all seemed charming in their own way, too.
Where to eat:
Up for Breakfast: I have to start with this place – you MUST brunch at Up for Breakfast. This is non-negotiable. Delicious meals, absurdly large portion sizes, an obsession with chicken decor, and a friendly but super efficient staff. ‘Nuff said.
Spiral Press Cafe at Northshire Bookstore: You already knew this you savvy reader, you.
Mulligans: Excellent pub fare and great atmosphere.
Ye Olde Tavern: Next door to Manchester View, the food at Ye Olde Tavern is absolutely delicious. Know that it is definitely an upscale establishment. We stumbled in here on our first night thinking that it was more of a low key restaurant and were caught off guard. The food was excellent though so it was definitely not a problem!
The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins