One downshifts upon arrival at the two-town island community of South Hero and Grand Isle on Lake Champlain. There are speed zones to observe, certainly, but also many bicyclists to respect, for this is a cycling Eden. But mostly you slow down psychologically, almost automatically. That’s because the island has all the soothing attributes of any seashore community but with one major difference: Instead of ocean expanse, one gazes across water at summits, the Green Mountains over which the sun rises, the Adirondacks over which it sets. There are winding country roads to explore; and farmers’ markets, orchards, produce kiosks (honor system), ice cream stands, art galleries, and even a winery that beckon you to stop. Grand Isle is full of speed bumps, all welcome.
If it’s the views you value, there’s no better place than Ferry Watch Inn, an 1802 post-and-beam home that’s used as a B&B on the shore (121 W. Shore Road, Grand Isle, 802-372-3935, www.ferrywatchinn.com, rates, including full breakfast $110-$130, two-night minimum, special weekly packages) with a patio and sprawling lawn with shading chestnut and ash trees. Guests can watch sailboats, the Lake Champlain Ferry as it heads to and from Plattsburgh, N.Y., and those Adirondack sunsets. For those who like roughing it, consider Grand Isle State Park (36 East Shore South, Grand Isle, 802-372-4300, www.vtstateparks.com/htm/grandisle.htm, rates $18-$22 for tent and camper sites, without hook-ups; $25-$29 for lean-tos, and $48-$50 for cabins). The park’s other features: a beach, nature trail, Wi-Fi availability, and coin-operated showers. Still another B&B option is Crescent Bay Farm Bed and Breakfast, located in an 1820s farmhouse, with gardens, also on the western lakeshore (153 West Shore Road, South Hero, 802-372-4807 or 802-324-5563, www.crescent baybb.com, rates, $130 night, full breakfast, two-night minimum on holiday weekends).
For fine dining in a sporty atmosphere, try the Blue Paddle Bistro (316 US Route 2, South Hero, 802-372-4814, www.blue paddlebistro.com, entrees $15 to $28, open for dinners Tuesday-Sunday, brunches Sundays on holiday weekends. For terrific hand-cut fries and other fried foods stop at Kim’s Snack Bar (corner of Routes 314 and 2, Grand Isle, no phone or website). Two spots for formal dining require a short drive across a drawbridge to another island, North Hero, to Shore Acres Inn & Restaurant (237 Shore Acres Drive, 802-372-8722 www.shore acres.com, entrees $18.95-$37.95) and The North Hero House Inn & Restaurant (3643 Route 2, 802-372-4732, www.northherohouse.com, entrees $22-$27), both offering lakeside views.
DURING THE DAY
While vacationing at the lakeshore it’s hard not to think occasionally of fish or other critters of the deep. For a sense of what’s below Champlain’s surface, stop by the visitor center at the Ed Weed Fish Culture Station, a state hatchery (14 Bell Hill Road, Grand Isle, 802-372-3171, www.vtfishandwildlife.com/fisheries_ed_weed.cfm, open 8-4 daily, including holidays, for self-guided tours). Visitors can view Champlain’s most common fish species, feed fingerlings in their tanks, and stroll along the banks of a pond, occasionally catching a glimpse of osprey and other lakeshore birds. If art’s your thing, check out Grand Isle Art Works (259 Route 2, Grand Isle, 802-378-4591, www.grand isleartworks.com, open Monday-Saturday 10-4, but until 8 on Thursday, Sunday 9-3; café hours Tuesday-Saturday 10-3, dinners Thursday evenings), a gallery in a 1797 farmhouse featuring the works of some 75 Vermont painters and crafts people. For a dessert or to spoil your appetite, stop at Vermont Nut Free Chocolates (10 Island Circle, Grand Isle, 802-372-4654, www.vermontnutfree.com,) for specialty chocolates made without nuts or peanuts, a special blessing for anyone with nut allergies. And for some history? Consider one of the oldest log cabins in North America, the Hyde Log Cabin, a state historic site (Route 2, Grand Isle, just north of the intersection with Hyde Road, open Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, 11-5). The small cabin, with furnishings, was built around 1783 by a Revolutionary War veteran, Jedediah Hyde, whose descendants lived in the structure over the course of 150 years. And, finally, all followers of the apple-a-day adage, should consider Hackett’s Orchard (86 South St., South Hero, 802-372-4848, www.hacketsorchard@myfair point.net) or Allenholm Farm (111 South St., South Hero, 802-372-5566, www.allenholm.com., offering a “petting paddock” of farm animals for kids) Both orchards also sell varieties of berries, fruits and vegetables, plus ice cream, cider, maple syrup and other Vermont food specialties.
DURING THE NIGHT
Face it, after a day at the beach or hours of bicycling, you may not be in the mood for a raucous nightlife — which is good because all options on the island are low key. One might visit to Snow Farm Vineyard (190 West Shore Road, South Hero, 802-372-9463, www.snowfarm.com) on an evening of tastings or musical performances. For frothy Vermont brews, and a chance to watch the Red Sox on the flat-screen, try McKee’s Island Pub & Pizza (513 Route 2, South Hero, 802-372-5454, www.mckeespubs vt.com.)
McKee’s, offering subs, pasta, and salads, is also a good place to take the family for dinner. And if it’s really the simplest of pleasures you’re pursuing, you can stand in line at Seb’s Snack Bar (295 Route 2, South Hero, 802-372-6611), an island institution, for a close-up view of Americana and a “creemee,” ice cream cone, shake, or float.Dirk Van Susteren can be reached at email@example.com.