WHY GO East Burke has all the necessary comforts for a rural escape on just two wheels – several B & Bs, a country store, a restaurant that takes pride in serving Vermont's finest summer produce, and a bike shop. Yet the small town, blanketed in summer by velvety green meadows in a countryside so perfectly dotted with red barns you'd think they were put there by the tourism board, refuses to be overrun by commercial interests.
THE BASICS Two huge barns that housed Jersey cows and Morgan horses at the turn of the last century are now part of the extensive grounds at the romantic 14-room at Mountain View Farm (800-572-4509, http://www.innmtnview.com; from $175). Traveling with the family? Head just over the town line to the Wildflower Inn in Lyndonville (800-627-8310, http://www.wildflowerinn.com; from $235), where innkeepers Mary and Jim O'Reilly, parents of eight children, know how to keep visiting little ones happy. A petting barn, nature-based day camps, and an outdoor pool are just some of the perks. In the center of town, River Garden Cafe (802-626-3514, http://www.rivergardencafe.com) uses farm-fresh organic greens and local cheeses in its salads, sandwiches, and entrees such as eggplant Parmesan.
DON'T MISS Bike on the Kingdom Trails, the premier network of mountain biking paths in New England (802-626-0737, http://www.kingdomtrails.org). Purchase a $10 day pass in town, rent bikes across the street at East Burke Sports (802-626-3215, http://www.eastburkesports.com), and then head back to Darling Hill Road, where the trail begins. From the ridge on the edge of town, trails branch off into the forest past dilapidated sugar houses, under tall maples and birches, and along riverbeds, then emerge into rolling fields with views of Burke Mountain in the background.
– Stephen Jermanok
WHY GO In the mid-19th century, Grafton was a thriving rural community of some 1,500 people who made their money from sheep farming and soapstone mining. The town's inn was a stagecoach stop on the Boston-to-Montreal line. (Rudyard Kipling liked it so much he decided to honeymoon there.) By the early 1960s, however, there were fewer than 100 people in the village, and many of the historic houses were falling apart. Enter Dean Mathey and Matthew Hall, two summer-home owners who created the Windham Foundation and raised funds to refurbish most of the town. Today, Grafton is once again a vibrant community, with a country store, library, historical center, art galleries, and a working blacksmith shop used by contemporary artists.
THE BASICS The Old Tavern (800-843-1801, http://www.oldtavern.com; from $175) has 11 rooms in the main inn, cottages across the street, and four guesthouses to rent in the village. The dining room emphasizes local fare and is known for its expansive and affordable wine list. Phelps Barn is a bar in the Old Tavern's former carriage house that serves beer from Vermont microbreweries like McNeill's Brewery in Brattleboro and features live music on Saturdays.
DON'T MISS Sit in a rocking chair on the Old Tavern's porch, thick book in hand, preferably when the homemade chocolate chip cookies arrive in the lobby in midafternoon. If you have the energy, wander across the street and take a refreshing dip in the swimming pond, go mountain biking or hiking at Grafton Ponds (a recreation center that opens Memorial Day weekend for the summer season), or take a factory tour of the Grafton Village Cheese Co.'s plant.
WHY GO It's the quintessential Vermont town. You'll find an inn, an independent bookstore, a village green, and a few charming shops and restaurants – surrounded by easily accessible nature. Better yet, it's very low-key.
THE BASICS Stay at The Norwich Inn (802-649-1143, http://www.norwichinn.com; from $149), which first opened in 1797 and was (rumor has it) the inspiration for the quaint inn on television's Newhart. Ask for one of the rooms in the inn's new Ivy Lodge or Walker House (from $209), and be sure to grab a beer – preferably a brewed-on-site Jasper Murdock Ale – and relax in one of the rockers on the front porch. For dinner, the chef-owned Carpenter & Main (802-649-2922, http://www.carpenterandmain.com), located across the street from the inn, always draws a crowd of food-savvy locals (it's closed Mondays and Tuesdays). During the day, pick up excellent coffee, breakfast, or artisanal picnic provisions at Allechante (802-649-2846, http://www.allechantevt.com), a cafe and takeout spot where the selection of vegetables and salads changes daily. King Arthur Flour (800-827-6836, http://www.kingarthurflour.com) offers a stellar menu of sandwiches and salads in its cafe, plus an array of baked sweets as well. King Arthur also has a renowned education center; sign up for a class to improve your technique in anything from cake decorating to gluten-free baking. At the Norwich Bookstore (802-649-1114, http://www.norwichbookstore.com), ask for a summer reading recommendation from the friendly staff, and while you're there, check out the calendar of readings and signings by local authors.
DON'T MISS Hike the 4-mile-long Ballard Trail, which runs alongside Charles Brown Brook, and then treat yourself to a dip in the Norwich Swimming Pool. It isn't a concrete pool, but a large section of the brook that the town dams each summer to create an incredibly refreshing swimming hole. Spend 40 minutes or so scrambling up Gile Mountain – and then up the fire tower at the summit – for killer views of the Connecticut River Valley and all the way to the White Mountains on a clear day.
WHY go It's an upscale ski community that offers plenty to do in the summer, too. You can climb or bike, take in the view from the state's highest peak, visit the shops, and enjoy a meal in town. You don't have to stay at Stowe Mountain Resort to love the alpine slide, gondola ride, climbing wall, and bungee trampolines or to drive its toll road to the top of Mount Mansfield. Cyclists, walkers, and runners don't pay a dime on the Stowe Recreation Path, which meanders for nearly 6 miles along a mountain stream, over bridges, and by needful things in strip malls along Route 108, all in the face of rugged Mansfield. Look for an outdoor sculpture exhibit with cellphone audio tour from July to October.
THE BASICS Old-school charm pervades the historic Green Mountain Inn (800-253-7302, http://www.greenmountaininn.com; from $119) on the village's compact Main Street. (Once listed on the National Register of Historic Places.) Across the street, dine outside on the New American cuisine at family-owned Harrison's Restaurant & Bar (802-253-7773, http://www.harrisonsstowe.com) or downstairs in the small and casually handsome eatery. Start with the ahi tuna or sea salt-sprinkled Asiago cheese fries before moving on to entrees like maple-glazed salmon or goat cheese ravioli. Ride your mountain bike into the hills above town for a microbrewed beer at the re-energized Trapp Family Lodge (800-826-7000, http://www.trappfamily.com; from $215 before June 27, from $270 through September 18). Three lagers and about five miles of winding single track were added in the last three years as the next generation enters the famous family business. “Gears and beers,” says Sam von Trapp, “they naturally go together.”
DON'T MISS The new 420-seat Spruce Peak Performing Arts Center (802-760-4634, http://www.sprucepeakarts.org) adds more cachet and variety to the high-end Stowe Mountain Resort (800-253-4754, http://www.stowe.com). Live performances and film screenings abound in a refurbished-barn atmosphere. “We want to be comfortable, warm, and welcome,” says the center's executive director, David Rowell.