A visitor can do much or virtually nothing in this town, and still have a great time. “Virtually nothing’’ might mean sipping tea or cognac in front of a cheery fireplace in the parlor at the historic Norwich Inn, or taking a stroll through the town center, tree-lined and graced with 19th-century homes. But good news for those who want more action: There’s the ice rink on the town green for figure eights with the kids and myriad ski trails and other options for outdoor fun. There’s also a surprising variety of options for shopping, dining, and museums in the area.
The Norwich Inn (325 Main St, 802-649-1143, www.norwichinn.com, rooms generally $129-$209) was established in 1797, a dozen years before the presidency of James Madison, who is said to have once stayed there during a New England visit. The inn burned a century later but was rebuilt, and with accommodations historical, dignified, but also relaxed, it has since attracted all kinds of other notables, celebrities, plus alumni and scholars visiting nearby Dartmouth College. Rooms, some with gas fireplaces, are furnished with Victorian and “Vermont country’’ antiques. If something more rural, with views of the White Mountains, is your thing, consider Norwich Bed & Breakfast at Shear Luck Farm (229 Bradley Hill Road, 802-649-3800 or 802-356-7190, www.norwichbnb.com, four guest rooms, $149-$269), a converted 1875 farmhouse. Another good bet is Butternut Lane Bed and Breakfast (32 Butternut Lane, 802-649-1549, www.butternutlanebnb.com, rooms $120) with three bedrooms in a Federalist style 1821 farmhouse.
The Norwich Inn offers breakfast, lunch, and dinner (entrees $17-$25) in its formal dining room, and pub fare at its Jasper Murdock’s Alehouse, a microbrewery on the inn grounds. The inn has a smoker, so consider feasting on smoked ribs or pulled pork. Another good option in the center of town is Carpenter & Main Restaurant (326 Main St., 802-649-2922, www.carpenterandmain.com), in an 1820s building, offering formal dining in a French tradition (entrees $25-$38) and a casual culinary experience in its adjoining bistro ($12-$19). The restaurant’s signature dish: braised rabbit with sweet potato spaetzle and sauteed apples. If you are with a gaggle of family and friends, consider Molly’s Restaurant & Bar (43 South Main St., Hanover, N.H., 603-643-2570, www.mollysrestaurant.com, pizzas $10-$14), a lively place popular with Dartmouth students. It has a children’s menu and a more sophisticated listing of sandwiches, salads, pizzas, pastas, and other fare for adults. If you can’t get enough of country inns, travel 20 minutes to Peyton Place Restaurant (454 Main St., Orford, N.H., 603-353-9100, www.peytonplacerestaurant.com, dinner entrees $12-$21) at the historic Mann Tavern, located in what the tavern boasts is the second oldest building in town. The restaurant, which serves an eclectic selection from veal scaloppini to steak frites and scallop tempura, is big on organic meats and locally grown vegetables.
Most visitors to the area, especially those who bake, consider King Arthur Flour (135 Route 5, 802-299-2240, www.kingarthurflour.com, Mon-Fri 7:30 a.m.- 6 p.m., Sat 8:30-6, Sun 8:30-4) a must-see. Visit the gift shop and cafe for bakeware, cooking gadgets, and cookbooks; sample the pastries and artisanal breads and have a cup of coffee; or consider enrolling in classes at the Baking Education Center. Got a yen to do a bit more shopping? Try Dan & Whit’s (319 Main St., 802-649-1950, www.danandwhits.com), a renowned general store that brags, “If we don’t have it, you don’t need it.’’ It sells regular grocery goods and hardware, meats and maple syrup, wine and woolens. Bookish? There’s the Norwich Bookstore (291 Main St., 802-649-1114, www.norwichbookstore.com) a few paces farther down the road. For those looking for a little intellectual stimulation (or a place for restless kids) take a quick drive to the Montshire Museum of Science (1 Montshire Road, 802-649-2200, www.montshire.org), which features more than 125 exhibits, many of them hands-on. The exhibits, outdoor trails, and gift shop are open daily, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Another great place to spend an afternoon is Hood Museum of Art on the Dartmouth campus in nearby Hanover (603-646-2808, www.hoodmuseum.dartmouth.edu, free admission). The Hood considers itself a teaching museum that encourages direct engagement with art. Opportunities for outdoor adventure are everywhere in Vermont, no matter the season. For something new and unusual, try Nordic, Scandinavian-style ice skating on a 4.5-mile, snow-cleared loop of Lake Morey, a trail that starts at the Lake Morey Resort (1 Clubhouse Road, 800-423-1211, www.lakemoreyresort.com) in the town of Fairlee. The resort has several rinks as well, and a rental shack where one can be outfitted with hockey, figure, or Nordic skates.
Next to the Hood Museum on the Dartmouth campus is the Hopkins Center for the Arts (2 East Wheelock St., Hanover, N.H., 603-646-2422, hop.dartmouth.edu/performances), offering plays, concerts, dance productions, and films. Just as close, in White River Junction, is the Tupelo Music Hall (188 South Main St., 802-698-8341, www.tupelohallvermont.com), featuring nationally known musicians performing in various genres.
Dirk Van Susteren, a freelance writer in Vermont, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.