Five reasons to visit Grafton, Vt., this winter
“It’s as if we’ve stepped into a ‘White Christmas’ movie scene,” Chuck Ward, our traveling companion, said. “We’ve landed in Pine Tree, and I swear I just saw Bing Crosby.” Earlier, he was complaining about winter in New England, bemoaning the freezing temps, the icy roads, the dirty snow. Now, he was suggesting we bundle up for a sleigh ride, or perhaps take a stroll around town.
We were in Grafton, Vt., a throwback village with over-the-river-and-through-the-woods charm. Snowflakes fluttered in lantern-lit light; evergreens and twinkling white lights adorned pretty village homes. There was a white-steepled church, a snow-banked babbling brook, open fields and mountains in the distance. We’d been here in the summer when it’s busy and bright and beautiful, but think this southern Vermont beauty, considered one of the prettiest towns in New England, is best in winter. Here’s why.
The slow-paced village is a great place to sit back, relax, and enjoy the simpler things in life. Stop by the family-owned Grafton MKT, overlooking Grafton Common (www.mktgrafton.com), to pick up local products and enjoy a steaming cup of gourmet coffee and homemade cookies. Visit the Grafton Public Library (www.graftonpubliclibrary.org), located in the elegant 19th-century Butterfield House on Main Street, to read current magazines, peruse the local, daily Brattleboro Reformer newspaper, and pick up a new book to read. “It’s the kind of place that even new visitors to town can stop in and borrow a book,” says Edward Bank, a longtime resident and owner of the Gallery North Star located in town. Then, check into the rambling, historic Grafton Inn (www.graftoninnvermont.com). Established in 1801, it’s one of the oldest operating inns in the country. Two cozy living rooms have wood-burning fireplaces, and comfy chairs. Have a drink and dinner in the intimate, wood-paneled Pine Room Tavern, next to a warm, slow-burning log fire, before settling into your room, under soft, luxe linens. That’s how to get your hygge on.
The great outdoors beckons
Take yourself away from those warm fires and cozy reading areas for at least a few hours to play outdoors at the Grafton Trails & Outdoors Center (www.graftoninnvermont.com/grafton-trails). More than 2,000 acres of fields and forests are crisscrossed with 45 kilometers of cross country and snowshoeing trails that cross bridges, skirt an icy stream, and circle the historic village. There’s classic and skate skiing on 15 kilometers of groomed trails, with 5 kilometers of snowmaking capabilities, and 20 kilometers of snowshoe trails. There’s also a maintained fat bike trail network, tubing hill, and sleigh rides. Equipment rentals and lessons are also available, and Saturday afternoon wine and cheese hikes are held throughout the season.
Located in a restored 1877 house, the Gallery North Star is considered one of Vermont’s premier art galleries (www.gnsgrafton.com). There are six display rooms showcasing some of New England’s finest and most established artists, working in a variety of mediums. Stop in; owners Edward and Kim Bank are ultra-friendly and eager to share their love and knowledge of Vermont, and hometown Grafton. If the open flag is flying, take a look in the Jud Hartmann Gallery, featuring western art, including a series of bronze sculptures of Native Americans called “The Woodland Tribes of the Northeast — The Iroquoian and Algonkians.” The artist spends fall and winter in Grafton, and is open by chance or appointment, until Memorial Day. The Mercantile (www.facebook.com/MercantileGrafton) offers a nice selection of high-end gifts and accessories, including several Vermont-made items, like Simon Pearce glass and Laura Zindel pottery. Dover House Antiques is located in the same historic building, featuring period American country furniture and art.
And quaint museums
Kids will love the Nature Museum (www.nature-museum.org), a favorite with local families. The small space packs a lot in, with a slew of hands-on exhibits and programs designed to teach little ones all about Vermont plants and wildlife. Pet (gently) the mounted bobcat when you walk in the door; watch bees buzzing in the beehive, and have the kids dress up as their favorite animal. There’s also a variety of guided programs, including outdoor animal tracking and nature walks. Watch as a blacksmith hammers and forges traditional wrought iron products at Small Town Forge (www.smalltownforge.com), located in the historic circa 1870 town blacksmith shop. The Turner Hill Interpretive Center, a stop along Vermont’s African American Heritage Trail (www.turnerhillgrafton.org), tells the story of escaped slave Alec Turner and his family, who settled in Grafton. Turner built Journey’s End Farm, now the 595-acre Turner Hill Wildlife Management Area. You’ll need to call for an appointment to visit the Vermont Museum of Mining & Minerals in winter (www.vtm3.org), but if you’re a rockhound, make the call. The tiny museum has an impressive collection of gems, minerals, and rocks from around the world, including one of the world’s largest ammonites and a miniature village made of Vermont marble, granite, and slate.
The town may be best known as the home of Grafton Village Cheese Company, founded in 1892 by a co-op of Vermont dairy farmers (www.graftonvillagecheese.com). The nonprofit Windham Foundation, which works to preserve Vermont’s rural life (and also owns several historic buildings and properties in Grafton, including the Grafton Inn and Grafton Trails & Outdoor Center) restored the company in the mid-1960s. You can watch as they produce their award-winning cheeses, and purchase some to take home at the Grafton MKT.
Snowing outside? It’s a white Christmas in Pine Tree! You might as well stay another day, and take that sleigh ride.