Lake Champlain and Burlington
We have always wanted to visit Vermont as a couple, but it is quite a distance from Chicago, so we’d put that idea on hold. This summer, however, our oldest daughter was offered a wonderful position at a camp in Upper State New York. We had to drive her there for the summer, and originally had considered crossing the border into Canada for a few days. Given that the border was currently closed due to Covid, however, we realized this was the perfect opportunity to finally explore Vermont! First stop, Speculator, NY.
What a serene setting our daughter will get to enjoy this summer. We were able to stay for one night and didn’t want to leave, but travel we must. The drive up to Vermont from New York was peaceful, rural, and scenic. We passed quaint villages, quiet farming towns, small ponds, streams, and many lakes. We may have made a few stops along the way to pick up some pure Maple Syrup and homemade Maple Nut Fudge as well. Delicious! Here are a few shots between Speculator, NY to Burlington, VT.
We chose Burlington specifically because it sits on the shores of Lake Champlain. We love being by the water, whether it’s an ocean or a lake. Even ponds suffice if we’re desperate. Views of the Adirondack Mountains on the opposite side of Lake Champlain were lovely, creating a very placid setting.
The day of our arrival was a little chilly, and the wind was whipping through town, especially down by the water. We found shelter at Splash at the Boathouse, a waterfront restaurant serving lunch, dinner, and a full bar. We sat upstairs in a glass enclosed room, and savored a steaming bowl of Clam Chowder and a few drinks while enjoying delightful views of the lake and the mountains. It was exactly what we needed to warm us up and help us start to unwind. And then it was time to start exploring.
One of our favorite things about Burlington? It’s a great town to just plant yourself in and explore on foot! We especially enjoyed the town’s pedestrian-only walking street – the Church Street Marketplace. Stores, cafés, boutique clothing shops, and restaurants line both sides of a brick–paved walkway, with merchandise spilling out onto the sidewalks on warm days. Open air seating is also widely available and I wonder if it has always been that way, or if it was a positive addition due to Covid. Either way, it’s a great way to relax, sample some local cuisine, and of course, people watch. While there is plenty to do in the surrounding area, we were content to stay within the town limits of Burlington on our first visit.
Burlington also has a beautiful park-like city center with unique buildings and cobblestone pathways. The town itself is also built on a bit of a slope, so as you meander throughout town, you often catch glimpses of the shimmering water in the distance. So beautiful.
Another great advantage to visiting Burlington is its choices for dining. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know we are pretty passionate about dining. Here are a few of our favorites:
For breakfast: While we tried several places, top of our list would be the Gryphon for Sunday brunch. The interior of the Gryphon is impressive with its high ceilings, and inviting with comfortable tables, warm, wooden wall panels, and cute curtains. The dishes were plated beautifully and every item was delicious. We ordered coffee with real cream and Eggs Benedict, but the star of the whole meal was the Brioche French Toast with Maple Syrup and Whipped Cream. We split an order because we wanted to sample a few different things, but regretted that decision as soon as we took our first bites. You may think I am exaggerating a bit here when I call this dish “exquisite” but trust me, I don’t fool around when it comes to food. Also, the waiter here had his hands full, as they (like many other restaurants) were understaffed. Despite that, he could not have been more pleasant. He also went out of his way to find real cream from the kitchen, which is unusual, because most places just serve half and half. He even had it heated for me, even though he was extremely busy! We will definitely return. We loved this place. So remember – Sunday Brunch at the Gryphon, and make sure you have a reservation!
For Lunch/Dinner: Another great place we tried, the Red Panda, was an unexpected surprise. We went there on our first night because we had not made dinner reservations ahead of time anywhere, and many places were fully booked. But we also went because we were looking for something spicy, and the Red Panda specializes in Nepali, Indian, and Indo-Chinese cuisine. Upon entering the restaurant, I hesitated because there was only one other couple dining there at 6pm. That is rarely a good sign. Thankfully, we stayed. The staff member who greeted us was so friendly and accommodating, and walked us through the menu. When he brought out the food, my expectations were not high, so I snapped a quick shot for the memory and then took my first bite. I was stunned! The flavor and depth of spices in both the Chicken Samosas and the Indian Chicken Curry were phenomenal! As we dined, people started to stream in and the restaurant also had a lot of pick up orders. I had gotten a completely incorrect perception when we first arrived and couldn’t have been more pleased to have been so wrong.
Another place we really enjoyed was a café located at the end of the pedestrian walkway, Kru Coffee. We stopped here several times for an afternoon coffee.
On our last morning, we also grabbed some coffee and an amazing breakfast sandwich with delicious donuts to take on the road with us. Kru Coffee has a great atmosphere for people who just want to gather over a hot or cold drink and talk or work. We loved it!
Water views are spectacular during the day, but they don’t compare to the views during Sunset! Believe it or not, this was just a handful of sunset photos. I took so many more and each one had a different shade of purple, pink, or orange. Gorgeous!
And there is plenty of nightlife during the months of May to October. Restaurants and bars are open, musicians can be heard performing as you stroll through the streets, and even a few stores remain open.
One of our favorite places to visit after dinner was the Whiskey Room. Ryan had always wanted to do a Whiskey tasting, so we stopped here on the way back to our hotel one night. It was like stepping into the inside of an Irish or Scottish pub, with all of the dark wood paneling and decor. The staff was super friendly but we almost didn’t get a table. Covid restrictions were still in place and they were already at capacity. We were sent away politely, but fortunately, as we turned to leave, another couple decided they were done. The manager quickly grabbed their corner table for us. The couple who had entered just after us were not so fortunate.
While Ryan experimented with a few different samples, I went the safer route and ordered Caffe Shakeretto, a dessert-like drink made with a small amount of Irish Whiskey, maple syrup, Kahlua, coffee, and milk. Let’s just say this remains one of my favorite drinks to date.
Speaking of favorite things, one last place I must mention is the Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream Shop in Burlington. What I discovered (but Ryan already knew!) was that Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream was created in a renovated gas station by two guys in Burlington, VT in 1978. Their humble beginnings started with a $5 correspondence course in ice cream-making from Penn State as well as a $12,000 investment, $4,000 of which was borrowed.
While we were both familiar with Ben & Jerry’s, it’s never been one of our favorite brands, and I’m not quite sure why. That said, ordering ice cream from their store in Burlington was a completely new experience. The ice cream was a lot more fresh than pre-packaged flavors we find at grocery stores, and each flavor was jam-packed with fun ingredients, chunks, and swirls. It was incredible. We exhibited an unbelievable amount of self-control by limiting ourselves to a large cone only once a day! There may have been 2 or 3 scoops in each cone, but that’s a totally different subject.
Oh, and just a side note. If you have time, you may consider trekking out to the Ben & Jerry’s Factory in Waterbury. It’s about 30 minutes from Burlington, and they offer tours and an ice cream shop. I don’t believe they were offering tours during the time of our visit, due to Covid, so make sure to check first.
We would love to return to Burlington. We feel like we barely scratched the surface on all there is to do, both in and around this beautiful lake-side town. This last photo is just one of the many beautiful scenes at night, where we would stroll while we enjoyed our ice cream and got in some last minute window shopping. What a great town!