En route to Manchester, Vt., we passed “moose crossing’’ signs, deer crossing signs, and then, finally, a picture of a cow, with ’’next 400 feet’’ below it. “You know you’re in Vermont when you encounter cow crossing signs!’’ said our NYC-based travel buddy, Charlotte Ames.
Manchester is a perfect playground for an outdoor escape. Wedged between the Taconic and Green Mountain ranges, about three hours from Boston, this town marries gorgeous nature and creature comforts like no place else. Autumn here is a fall color fiesta, making the drive along Vermont Route 30 quite tolerable.
Planning our gals’ getaway, we considered joining a guided inn-to-inn hiking trip or cycling tour. Those looked fun, but fairly pricey — and we wanted to sample a variety of outdoor activities. Independent-minded, penny-pinching Yankees that we are, we opted to plan a Tour de Adventure — with fly-fishing, hiking, and kayaking — ourselves.
In keeping with the sporty-chic theme, we chose a buzzed-about hotel, the Kimpton Taconic (www.taconichotel.com; from $199). The firepit (a fall necessity), complimentary bicycles, and rustic-cozy vibe (no frou-frou) suited us, but the real reason we chose this place was the food. The hotel’s Copper Grouse Pub wins raves for its seasonal, locally sourced menu. At the top of our must-eat list: the classic burger, sourced with meat from a nearby farm, and topped with a thick chunk of local cheddar. “I plan to eat as much cheese as I can handle. We’ll work it off!’’ said Ames, who put “find good cheese shop’’ on our list of weekend must-dos. Plus, the hotel sits on Manchester’s Main Street, a short walk from the famed Orvis Fly-Fishing School.
We arrived at the Kimpton Taconic at 5 p.m. on Friday night, just in time for wine hour. Settled into rocking chairs on the porch, sipping rosé, we plotted our adventure: a fly-fishing lesson at Orvis and then a hike at the Equinox Preservation Trust on Saturday, followed by some shopping at Manchester Village’s outlet stores if we still had the juice. On Sunday, we’d kayak a 6-mile stretch of the Battenkill. All of that, and we’d still be home in time for “Masterpiece Mystery.’’ Along the way, we’d indulge in some great eats, including our favorite food group, cheese.
Saturday morning, we met up with our instructor, Forrest Hamer, at the Orvis Fly-Fishing School (www.orvis.com; fly-casting lesson for two people, $95 per hour). Hamer, who’s been teaching here for seven years, led us to a small, trout-stocked casting pond adjacent to the Orvis store. Most of the classes are one- and two-day trips that go out on a real river. Programs run the gamut from free demo classes (very popular) to eight-hour river trips for true fisher-folk. Newbies though we were, Hamer assembled top-of-the-line equipment for us, Orvis Helios 3 model fly rods (“Very responsive, and made in the factory right behind us,’’ he said.) No fish would be harmed in our endeavor, unless we accidentally clobbered one with a rod, since there were no flies at the ends of our lines.
With the look of a teddy bear and the patience of a preschool teacher, Hamer gave us the skinny on this elegant sport. “Your basic stroke is a nice, relaxed grip, like a tennis or golfer’s grip,’’ he explained “Let your rod do the work.’’ That part was easy enough. “Let the rod load and fill with energy,’’ he continued, demonstrating a forward cast. “Don’t crack it like a whip! I call that the ‘two dollar crack,’ since it costs you a two dollar fly.’’ Too bad — we were already channeling our Inner Indy Jones.
Ames was merrily a-casting, as though she lived in the wilds of Montana, not Manhattan’s West Village. As soon as we got that one perfect cast — always when the instructor wasn’t looking — Hamer would add another element. “If we can get 20 or 30 feet in a basic style of cast, we can get you fly-fishing for trout in just about any body of water,’’ he said, summing it up. “I can get people to understand the basics [of the sport] in about an hour, but it takes a lifetime to perfect.’’
Buoyed with the zest of trying something new, we popped into the Orvis flagship store. A gigantic stuffed bear with a fake fish in its mouth greets you inside the door, an indication of what awaits — lots of practical clothing in tech-y fabrics, plus dog beds, camp-y style home decor, and — inexplicably — delicate floral scarves. The nearby Orvis outlet has more of the same, at markdown prices. We noticed a good selection of Barbour jackets in the mix.
We rejoiced at the sight of Mother Myrick’s Confectionery (www.mothermyricks.com), across the street. A Manchester favorite, this family-owned shop is famous for its buttercrunch toffee and Lemon LuLu, a light lemon pound cake (is that an oxymoron)? We ordered treats to go, since we had lunch reservations at the Marsh Tavern at the Equinox Resort & Spa (www.equinoxresort.com).
Our al fresco meal at the centuries-old Marsh Tavern was a medley of Vermont delights. Our favorite thing: a charcuterie platter with local cheeses and duck three ways (that pate!). Their famous bread box was so tempting that our no-bread goals were quickly forgotten. “When bread is this good, it’s criminal not to at least try it,’’ Ames said, reaching for a tiny corn muffin.
We didn’t have to go far for our next adventure: The trailhead for the Equinox Preservation Trust Preserve (www.equinoxpreservationtrust.org) is right behind the resort. The preserve covers 914 acres of hardwood and pine forest, laced with 11 miles of trails. Visitors with an entire day to spare can tackle the summit trail to the peak of Mount Equinox at 3,840 feet, but you need only a couple of hours to hike Robin’s Lookout, as we did. (Another trail leads to the Southern Vermont Arts Center.) We were too early in the season to see the Battenkill Valley at its foliage-drenched finest, but wow, what a view.
Back in Manchester Village, we hit Fortuna’s Sausage & Italian Market (Local cheeses! Samples galore!), the Theory outlet, and Northshire Bookstore — and still made it back to the Kimpton Taconic in time for wine hour. We did this on foot, mind you, one of the virtues of choosing an in-town hotel. For dinner, we headed to the Taconic’s Copper Grouse tavern (www.coppergrouse.com), a foodie favorite.
We selected three dishes to share: a cauliflower gratin with Grafton cheddar, an organic green salad with goat cheese, and a burger with the works — bacon jam, Cabot cheddar, and fried pickled onions. The opinion was unanimous: It was one of the best burgers ever. “What a difference it makes to use local beef!’’ Ames declared. The accompanying skinny fries were just the right amount of salty. Not exactly a light meal, but we’d burn it off, since we had one more outdoor adventure to go.
“Kayaking is way more fun when there’s actual water!’’ we shouted to our kayak buddy, paddling madly through a maze of submerged boulders on the Battenkill. OK, so there was water, just not quite enough to keep us moving forward, if we chose the wrong side of the river. “Just read the volume of water,’’ Josh Enzensperger of Vermont River Runners (www.vermontriverrunners.com; kayak rentals, 1-6 hours, $40) had advised us when he dropped us off at the river. We had neglected to ask a key question: How?
Happily, for every stretch of the river that prompted an “Uh-oh! Shallow!’’ from Ames up front, there was a stretch of ripples that made the paddling fun. “I’m. Loving. These. Rapids!’’ we called back. Although it’s only rated Class I, the Battenkill is bouncy enough for a lively ride as it twists and turns between Vermont and New York. Our 6-mile section of the river included four bridges — handy landmarks for sure — and lots of leafy riverfront. At a couple of spots, we climbed out of the kayak into the ankle-deep water to give the thing a push. Then, a reward: more rapids.
Exhilarated, we met up with Enzensperger at the pickup spot, a small park on the Vermont-New York state border. We’d paddled all the way to New York. “You know, the Battenkill flows about 60 miles from Manchester to the Hudson River,’’ he said. “I’ve done it a few times, camping out for three nights.’’ Ames, not surprisingly, wasn’t keen to travel back to New York City via the Battenkill. But it sure sounds like an adventure. We shared a look that said, “Whaddya think? Next time?’’