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Vermont: Mad River Valley

Judith Salter (Judith)

Wintertime at Mad River Valley will capture your heart. You must schedule a visit to be able to fully appreciate the beauty, serenity, outdoor sports, quaint restaurants, and overabundance of pure Vermont.

The best way to see the area is by car. You can find some of the best driving routes in the Mad River Valley Website. This particular route, which I will describe, takes you North from Boston, Massachusetts, up Route 93, to Route 89, and then a back mountain road to Route 100 in Vermont. Route 100 lets you get acquainted with the Mad River that actually meanders alongside the road. Your eyes aren't deceiving you. The interesting phenomenon of its backwards flow will make you look twice! Scenic Route 100 will take you through to the encompassing towns of the Mad River Valley: Warren, Waitsfield, Fayston, and Mooretown. All are worth exploring for their beauty alone.

My love lies in the towns of Warren and Waitsfield where you will find Sugarbush and Mad River Glen Ski areas – the reason I first came to visit. I initially came for the skiing and was so taken by the beauty and ambience of the area that I've been a regular, year-round visitor since.

In the Winter, the snow laden fields and white cap mountains are alluring, to say the least, and when you travel around and see the views from different angles, all the better! My first stop upon entering Warren for a weekend visit is to swing off Route 100 into Warren Village. You’ll find the Warren Store in the center and across the street is the Relais & Chateaux property, the Pitcher Inn. Depending on the situation (and mostly time of day), my husband and I will stop in for a drink and appetizer at the Inn. Downstairs, there’s a terrific lounge named Tracks. We love the ambience and service. You can read, play some games that are set up all around, or just sit and kick back in one of the comfy chairs.

I’ve never stayed at the Pitcher Inn, but the staff would be more than happy for you to take a peek at one of their available rooms, which are really sumptuously decorated. I can tell you that if you choose to move on and have dinner at the Pitcher Inn restaurant, it’s fantastic. Executive Chef, Sue Schickler, does magic with fresh, local ingredients.

Back outside, an alternative stop is the Warren Country Store -- iconic Vermont! A creaky wooden floor welcomes you as you walk into the store. Out back, there is a wonderful deli serving up all kinds of delights you can take out or eat at a table by the wood burning stove. I always go for their homemade Oatmeal Raisin Cookie (nice and large) and a cup of coffee – what a treat! If you have time for browsing, peruse their wine selections, gourmet treats and boutique (located upstairs).

There are all types of accommodations available in the area to suit your budget and needs, so I suggest some research before you decide where to stay. Here’s a couple of links for your research: http://sugarbush.com or http://sugarbushvillage.com. These sites will give you places right on the mountain or within easy access to the mountain.

This weekend, we are staying at the new Claybrook Lodge at Sugarbush Mountain. Use the Sugarbush access road off of Route 100 which will direct you straight to the resort. This is a newly developed property, and boy is it pretty!

The rooms at Claybrook are artfully decorated and can accommodate families. While the concierge holds your skis, check out the outdoor pool for some unwinding, along with a soak in the hot tub. Now is time to contemplate the big decision as to where to eat this evening. This is the really fun part of being in Mad River – there are so many choices!

Timbers Restaurant at Claybrook is right in the resort. I’ve always enjoyed my meals there, as well as the atmosphere. It’s especially fun at Après ski time. If you're lucky enough to be there on Friday, they have "Fondue Fridays" when there is complementary fondue for all.

Tonight, we’re in the mood for my all time favorite Chez Henri. We stumbled upon Chez Henri on our first visit. It’s been in operation since 1964 when Sugarbush was known as “Mascara Mountain” because of the beautiful people who frequented the area back in the 60’s. A few minutes walk under a starry sky, across the bottom of the mountain and through a Vermont covered bridge, you’ll find the restaurant in Sugarbush Village. You’ll actually hear the restaurant before you see it as they always have French music softly playing outside. Walk down the stairs to the snow covered court yard and enter. As you descend the stairs, you’ll be the luckiest person alive if Henri himself says, “Bonsoir!” There he will be standing near the bar in his beret on his head and scarf tied jauntily around his neck; Henri is such a delightful, French gentlemen! You may choose to eat at the main dining area or have a casual meal at the bar sitting in a booth. There is so much history to this place! I love, love, love, their cheese fondue. There is no better delight for me after a day schussing down the slopes than having a glass of crisp chardonnay, Chez Henri’s cheese fondue, and listening to a French love song being played softly in my ear.

If you're in the mood for Mexican, not too many steps away is Miguel’s Stowe Away. This casual dining spot is new, but it’s been drawing a lot of people in for their great food. The homemade chips and salsa along with a house Margarita are worth stopping in for.

Not too hungry and want something casual or light like a sandwich? Stop in to Mutha Stuffa’s. Say hi to Dino and have a freshly made to order sandwich made for you by Dino himself. What a guy and what a sandwich!

The next day, head off to the slopes early and enjoy first tracks.

Sugarbush is a beautiful ski area that encompasses two separate mountains - Sugarbush South, Lincoln Peak and Sugarbush North, Mount Ellen. It offers all types of levels of skiing including ski services. Once you get your skiing fill, take Route 100 and head into Waitsfield. There are all kinds of shops to explore in Waitsfield. You will probably find a shop for any interest you may have. Also, there are delis and coffee shops for a quick snack and pick-me-up along the way. Feeling adventurous? Get off the main route and drive some of the back roads. You won’t be disappointed with the scenery! Another draw is the “Big Picture,” a unique movie theatre and restaurant combo. The food here is very good and freshly made to order. Order up a sandwich and have it delivered while watching the feature presentation! The popcorn is excellent, too, by the way.

After another great day at the slopes, enjoy Après’ ski at the Castlerock Pub at Sugarbush. The band and the place are rocking!

Two of our dinner favorites in this area: The Common Man or the Easy Street Café. Both are excellent. The Common Man is a quick drive down the mountain access road and a left onto German Flatts Road. You’ll approach the restaurant on your right. A converted barn is the scene of this charming place. Beautiful and rustic, crystal chandeliers hang from the beams and candle lights glimmer. It oozes with charm. There’s a nice American cuisine menu that’s always changing and the food is always very well prepared. If you’re lucky and it’s a cold evening, you’ll get the romantic table next to the huge hearth with blazing fire.

The Easy Street Café is on Route 100. Again, take the access road off the Mountain, take a left at the end and go about a mile. Easy Street Café and Purple Moon Pub will be seen on your right. Easy Street offers breakfast, lunch and dinner and they have a culinary fare that can’t be beat. My husband loves their rack of lamb for dinner and often orders that. I’m addicted to their fish wraps! I promise you won’t be disappointed even if you order a hamburger. Your table not ready when you arrive? Hop next door and enjoy entertainment at the Purple Moon Pub while you’re waiting.

If you want a change of pace from skiing, put your skis away today in favor of a snow shoe trek. One of our favorite trails is the Inn at Round Barn trip. Head down again through Waitsfield on Route 100, taking a right onto East Warren Road, through Waitsfield Village, past all the little boutiques, under the covered bridge, and you’ll find the Inn at the Round Barn at the top of the hill on your left. The Inn is a very popular place to stay as well as a wedding destination. Please park in the large parking area above the Inn and walk across the street where you’ll find the trail system. Your best bet is to stop in at the Inn reception desk and ask them for directions. This will give you a chance to check out this romantic place, and maybe book a stay for next weekend!

Our trek takes us through snowy fields, over brooks and through the woods; it’s so delightful to hear nothing but the progress you make through winter wonderland. A log cabin in the woods is a perfect stop for our gourmet lunch we bought at Mehron’s Supermarket at Village Square off of Route 100. Mehron’s is a great place to shop for anything you may be looking to buy in the line of groceries. We pick up Vermont made cheese, fresh bread, and some fruit. They also have a liquor and wine store in the back to help round out your Sunday lunch. Perch yourselves on some logs (the cabin is not open to the public) as you have time to reflect on your weekend!

I’ve only given you a smattering of the delights of Mad River Valley along with a small portion of great restaurants that are out there. Hopefully, you’ve got enough to entice you to make a visit. If not, come with me next time for more exploring!


Judith is a writer and traveler, who especially likes Slow Travel for trip research. Her blog "Still Working It Girl" may be found at http://stillworkingitgirl.blogspot.com

© Judith Salter, 2009

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