|Vermont's velvety mountain majesty|
The October landscape in the American Northeast, punctuated by exploding yellows, oranges and reds, is best experienced with a walk in the woods -- or a drive on the open road, moving fast, climbing and weaving through the rolling hills and winding roads of New England. The Northeast Kingdom of Vermont reigns supreme over fall colors, and this year, according to the Vermont Department of Tourism, is one of the most vibrant in recent memory. Thank Mother Nature, of course -- good soil conditions brought on by a wet summer followed by a dry August and September. Most spectacular might be the 70-mile route that cuts through the Mad River Valley in central Vermont, beginning at the state capital of Montpelier and spiraling down into the college town of Middlebury. This year, the colors have never looked so good.
The following can be a guide to your route and itinerary. Get up early so you can take advantage of a full day of bright Vermont sunlight and pristine autumn air, and start with weekend brunch at the New England Culinary Institute's Main Street Grill and Bar. Don't get up too early because the restaurant starts serving at 10 a.m. Since you're in the state of all that is cheese, try the Vermont cheese omelet, with your choice of Boucher blue cheese, Vermont butter and cheese chevre, Taylor Farm Smoked Gouda or Grafton one-year aged cheddar. Photo Gallery: Spectacular Fall Vacations Now that your belly is full, and you're sufficiently caffeinated if need be, turn the key in the ignition and take to Interstate 89, where you will roll until exit 10. There, hit Route 100 for about 14 miles, as you drive alongside mountain views of Sugarbush Resort's Lincoln Peak and Mount Ellen, before turning off on East Warren Road, which runs parallel to 100, a ridiculously scenic ride connecting the quaint New England villages of Waitsfield and Warren.
You'll cross a one-lane covered bridge and see glorious multicolored views of the Green Mountains set back against open farmland. Keep an eye out for your fellow, and potentially slower-moving, leaf peepers. If you need a quick stop along the way, check out the olde-towne style Warren Store, which sells gourmet snacks, clothes, jewelry, coffee, wine and more. Just past the Warren Store, rejoin Route 100, where you will continue south. Route 100 itself takes you along the Mad River, and as you head south of Warren, the road becomes increasingly winding, curling up into the Granville Gulf, later passing the Moss Glen Falls on your right. Eventually, turn onto Route 125 west, lined with maple, birch, spruce and fir, as you head toward Middlebury, and climb the Middlebury Gap up into the Green Mountain National Forest. Your last turn will be a right onto Route 7 north, which will bring you into town. If you haven't had enough, and want to extend your drive about 30 miles before nesting for the evening in Middlebury, you can continue west on 125 to Lake Champlain and the Chimney Point State Historic Site, where you can dive into the story of the Native American, French colonial and early American cultures that settled in the area. Turn onto Route 17 and loop back to the east, to Route 7, where you'll then drive south to Middlebury. Upon your arrival, walk the campus of Middlebury College, a New England Small College Athletic Conference school nestled between the Green Mountains and New York's Adirondacks, in the Champlain Valley. The colors in Middlebury will be less developed than up in Montpelier, but budding colors accent the historic granite, marble and limestone buildings that dot the campus. Check out Old Stone Row, listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
After all that driving and walking, you deserve a hearty meal, so settle in for food and fine beer at Otter Creek Brewing. Take a tour of the brewery if you're feeling rather ambitious. Arrive before 6 p.m. An Oktoberfest brew awaits you, and Otter Creek will help you pair beer with Vermont cheese. Finally, head back to the nearly 200-year-old Swift House Inn for a nightcap at the wine bar before turning in.