The French have a concept called “terroir,” meaning that due to unique climatic and geographic factors some things grow much better in particular places, which is why the best sparkling wines come from Champagne and the best pinot noirs from Burgundy. But terroir is not limited to food — it explains why the best links golf courses are found in the seaside dunes of Scotland, the driest, lightest snow for powder skiing in Utah’s Wasatch Range, and the best fall foliage viewing in Vermont. After all, there is foliage in every corner of the globe, yet each autumn, travelers come from all over the world to see what New Englanders call “nature’s fireworks.”
One environmental condition required for great fall foliage is the full range of possible leaf colors. Almost every place has trees that transform into shades of orange and red, and the aspens in Colorado become yellow; but in Vermont, the unique mix of trees covers the entire color spectrum — maples (as in Vermont maple syrup) turn yellow, orange, red and even purple; oaks imitate maples with dark red hues, but change later, extending foliage season; and birches add yellow leaves to the palette, while their striking white bark is a visual juxtaposition.
To fully appreciate colored foliage, viewers need two other elements, contrast and visual relief. The former comes from the large numbers of pines and other evergreens, which stay green year-round, and the latter in 3-D, thanks to the many steep mountains. It’s as if Mother Nature built a foliage stadium for your enjoyment. And it doesn’t hurt that Vermont is largely undeveloped, especially its hillsides, and it is one of four states to outlaw billboards — pretty much all you will see from your car window is leaves and the occasional white-steepled, 18th-century church.
Foliage season in Vermont is a moving target based on weather, but typically the safest time to catch its full glory is the last week of September through the first two weeks of October. There are three key areas to consider, and you can combine one, two or all three.
Manchester, in the state’s southwest corner, is a great vacation spot that happens to be surrounded by undeveloped mountains and valleys. It is also home to The Equinox Golf Resort & Spa, a full-service spot with lavish spa, several restaurants and incredible outdoor activities that range from off-road driving classes to falconry to fly fishing lessons. Another top choice is The Reluctant Panther Inn, an upscale boutique hotel with one of Vermont’s best restaurants. Loops from Manchester pass through state parks and past the ski resorts of Stratton and Bromley, whose slopes are blanketed with color.
The place to stay here is Woodstock, a charming town with shops and galleries surrounding a quintessential New England village green, and home to Vermont’s only national park, Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historic Park. The Woodstock Inn & Resort was part of Laurance Rockefeller’s original RockResorts, and when he sold the company, he kept this favorite and put it in a non-profit trust. The grand white resort sits right on the town green and has a full spa, sports center with indoor and outdoor tennis courts, and a classic Robert Trent Jones Sr. golf course. About 10 miles from Woodstock sits Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star Twin Farms, which makes for a quintessential fall retreat with its cozy rooms complete with fireplaces. Great drives from Woodstock include loops on Routes 4, 100 and 106, through Ludlow (home to the Okemo Mountain Resort), Cavendish and Bridgewater. But you can see great foliage on foot by following the easy switchback Faulkner Trail up Mount Tom, modeled after the famous cardiac rehabilitation trails in Baden-Baden, Germany, with fantastic views.
Perhaps the top tourist spot in all of the Green Mountain State is Stowe, with an unparalleled slate of eateries and luxury resorts, including the just revamped Topnotch, with two great restaurants, one of Vermont’s best spas, the top-rated tennis facility in the East, and a full equestrian center. Other choices include the Stowe Mountain Lodge, Stoweflake and Trapp Family Lodge — all four are very dog friendly. Another great place to stay is Forbes Travel Guide Recommended The Essex Resort & Spa right outside of Burlington. You can drive up the historic Mt. Mansfield Auto Toll Road to the top of Mount Mansfield, Vermont’s highest peak, ascend the ski resort in a scenic gondola and drive the twisting road through Smugglers Notch in either direction, making a day loop through the village of Stowe. But don’t forget the prerequisite stop at the Ben & Jerry’s factory in adjacent Waterbury. Here you will also find The Alchemist Brewery, whose coveted and very-hard-to-find Heady Topper was recently rated the best beer on earth by Beer Advocate.
Photos Courtesy of Stowe Mountain Resort and Dennis Curran-VermontVacation.com