Rest Easy

By MK Bateman

We all know those iconic Vermont images like covered bridges, maple syrup and world-class skiing, but what about sophisticated resorts for primping, pampering and eating your way to complete relaxation? I bet that isn’t the first thing that comes to mind, is it? You’ll be happy to know that you can find just what you’re looking for at the fantastic Essex Resort and Spa.

Photo courtesy of Essex Resort and Spa

Snuggled between the Green Mountains and stunning Lake Champlain is Vermont’s only AAA 4 Diamond Culinary Resort. The 18-acre campus has everything you need to unwind, relax, enjoy nature and indulge in delectable cuisine, no matter what time of the year.

My partner and I decided to take a little stay-cation to the Resort – a get away in the middle of February to warm up our Winter-weary bones—saunas, steam rooms, hot tubs, and massage tables—it sounded glorious. With the winter we had in the Northeast, we felt we deserved it!

The Essex Resort is as progressive as the State it resides in. At the main entrance, we were showered with welcome greetings in many different languages. We couldn’t help but notice the rainbow flag and Human Rights Campaign logo proudly displayed, as well. The staff was just as welcoming.

Like many gay and lesbian couples, our dog is like a child to us. Whenever possible, we try to bring him along on trips. With a little extra charge, the Essex Resort had no problem with our canine companion. They even supplied a little welcome gift for him with a travel bowl, a rope toy Frisbee, and house-made dog treats. That was only the tip of the iceberg of the level of service you can expect at the Resort.

Our room was large, with huge windows overlooking a tree that had been wrapped in white lights, bringing a soft glow to our room in the evening. The bed was just right – soft but not too soft – with more pillows than we knew what to do with. Truth be told, it made thoughts of anything but long, luxurious naps difficult… We rallied, though, because there was no way we were going to miss out on everything the resort had to offer.

There is so much to do at the Essex Resort that with our two-day stay we felt we had to concentrate on one aspect of the services offered. While there are cooking classes that sounded fantastic–they offered a Paella class during our stay – we decided that on this particular trip we would concentrate on the indulgence of the incredible in-house spa.

There are tons of choices for treatments at the spa. Just by staying at the resort you have access to the 25-yard indoor pool (with an additional outdoor pool for the warmer months), an oversized outdoor hot tub, sauna, steam room and fitness center. The first night that we got there, we decided to take a swim in the pool. Though it was bone chilling outside, we braved the cold to sample the outdoor hot tub. We lounged comfortably, not even realizing our wet hair was freezing up! Once we were ready to go back inside our warmed bodies couldn’t even feel the frosty air against them.

The Essex Resort has two onsite restaurants. We chose to eat at the Tavern (a traditional pub-style restaurant with a vibrant bar scene), rather than the more sophisticated dining experience of Amuse. Both restaurants are part of the Vermont Fresh Network, so you can expect amazing locally sourced meals. The Tavern was so delicious that we went back for breakfast the next morning. It was just what we needed: low key, great food and wonderful service.

The next morning, before breakfast, we got up early to walk our dog and enjoy the crystal blue skies and white landscape that makes February so special. We couldn’t wait for 10:30am to arrive, so we could begin our spa treatments. I chose an 80-minute massage that began with a steam, a sauna, and a shower (with a rain shower head – my new obsession, by the way). An indulgence, indeed… but austerity has never been my cup of tea… Comfortable with a copy of US Magazine and a cozy terry cloth robe, I had a short wait in front of a roaring fire before my massage therapist brought me upstairs for the treatment. It was a delightful experience; we chatted just enough, she used just the right amount of pressure, and the requisite world music was sufficient to wash away my cares.

My partner, coming off of months of his busy work season, decided to really splurge with a package deal. His choice was the two-hour Pure Relaxation: a 30-minute deep soak; a 30-minute muscle melt, consisting of a warm body wrap to relieve sore, tired muscles and joints with a healing blend of herbs, mints, and grains mixed with aloe vera and a stimulating application of Sport Massage Cream. It was finished off with a 60-minute aromatherapy massage.

As I was finishing my massage and being escorted to the lounge, my massage therapist pointed out the aroma in the hallway: “Can you smell that?” she said. It was an invigorating perfume of eucalyptus and other products. “That’s your partner’s muscle melt.” If I hadn’t been completely relaxed from my wonderful massage, I probably would have felt some envy. As it was, I was too blissed out to be anything but happy that he was getting his much needed pampering.

I relaxed in the lounge for a few minutes until he was done with his spa treatments. Then, we were served a delicious, light lunch, which we’d ordered earlier. It was the perfect ending to our spa day.

After a lazy stroll with the dog on the bike path across from the resort, we decided that we need a little retail therapy. Not even a half-mile down the road from the resort is the Essex Outlets. While it may not have the largest assortment of stores, it has some great ones like Polo Ralph Lauren, Under Armour, and Orvis. We spent our hard-earned money in a few stores and thought about a movie at the adjacent Essex Cinemas, with stadium seating and the largest screen in Vermont. Instead, we decided to go back to our room for that much needed afternoon nap… in our king sized, insanely pillowed bed. Pure heaven.

By the time we were ready to check out, all three of us were perfectly relaxed, thoroughly warmed and comfortably satiated. The Essex Resort provided a charming experience. While far from inexpensive, it was certainly worth it. Vermont truly offers so much more than what you may imagine.

Posted in Dining, Dining, Dog Friendly Hotel, Gay Vermont, Lesbian Vermont, Shopping, Spa Travel, Uncategorized, Vermont, Vermont LGBT Travel, Winter Getaway | Tagged , , , , , | Comments Off

Newport News

by MK Bateman

Newport, Vermont is going through quite a renaissance.  What was once a sleepy town on the Quebec border is quickly becoming a boomtown, thanks to nearby Jay Peak Resort and an unprecedented investment of money from both the public and private sectors.

Newport is situated in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom on Lake Memphremagog, a scenic glacial lake roughly 30 miles in length; with one end in Vermont the other in Quebec.  Local folklore even mentions that it has its own lake monster, called Memphre.  During the winter the lake is a frozen giant, perfect for ice fishing and skating.  While in the summer, it has a wonderful assortment of outdoor activities (which I’ll be writing about in the coming months!).  The fact that Newport is just 30 minutes from Jay Peak makes it the perfect spot to mix up your ski trip with a little shopping getaway.

I recently had the opportunity to spend a day with Patricia Sears, the Executive Director of the Newport City Renaissance, a not-for-profit tasked with advancing and enhancing Newport’s economic environment, developing a cohesive and welcoming City design, and promoting the City as a tourism and investment destination.  An enthusiastic lover of her city, she led me on a tour around the downtown, saying hello to all the people she knew, while describing the many things that Newport has done and continues to do to make it such a vibrant destination.  Her excitement about Newport was palpable and very quickly, it’s easy to see why.

As we strolled through Main Street – the center of downtown life – Patricia pointed out all the things that are making Newport such an exciting place.  Newport is a perfect example of the modern Vermont: within just a few blocks we went from the sophisticated full service salon, Jon Somes Salon with its sleek urban ambiance, to Woodknot Bookshop and Turner’s Cafe, a charming bookstore and Café, to The Pick and Shovel – a quintessential Vermont General Store with everything from hardware and hand tools to shirts and pants.  It is a perfect balance of what is best about old Vermont with the addition of wonderful modern amenities. Nowhere is this better demonstrated than in the Northeast Kingdom Tasting Center, listed as CNN’s Top Spot to Visit in Vermont for 2014!

The Tasting Center began as the brainchild of Eden Ice Cider Company’s owners, Eleanor and Albert Leger, who were looking for a way to expand their business.  The result is a cooperative of venders featuring foods from all over the Northeast Kingdom.  Approximately 20 Northeast Kingdom farmers and venders, along with many more from the surrounding counties, sell their products in the Tasting Center, contributing to creating a destination for tourists looking to savor the best of what Vermont has to offer.

When you walk into the Northeast Kingdom Tasting Center, you immediately realize you’re in for a gastronomic treat.  Stands line both sides of the former department store with all manner of deliciousness, including Jocelyn & Cinta’s Bake Shop filled with a wide assortment of delicious baked goods, and Butternut Mountain Maple Farm, filled with all shapes and sizes of the sweet treat that Vermont is famous for. In the basement, you’ll find Eden Cider’s newly opened Tasting Bar and Winery, so you can sample their delicious Iced Cider and Aperitifs. I met several of the vendors, including the Legers, whose excitement about Newport and the Tasting Center was tangible.

Before we left, I was treated to lunch at the Brown Dog Bistro, a localvore-style restaurant with fantastic food, including burgers with beef ground freshly just across the way from our table at the Brown Dog Butcher. You certainly can’t get more freshly prepared than that! Patricia convinced me to try the Kingdom Mac and Cheese, made from some of the Northeast Kingdoms award winning cheese makers – worth every calorie! Brown Dog Bistro alone was worth the trip to Newport.

The hard work of both the Newport City Renaissance and the people of Newport have certainly merited all of the positive buzz focused on the town.  Even in the winter, it proves to be a wonderful place to explore.  In just a few months, construction will begin on a block–long multiuse building, which will bring hotel rooms, more retail and residences to Main Street.  With these developments on the horizon, the excitement around Newport will only continue to flourish.

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Vermont Pride 2013

By MK Bateman

Just when you thought it was safe to put your pride flags away, Vermont has different plans for you. While the Pride Festivities of New York, Boston and other Northeast cities are a distant memory, every September, Burlington holds it’s annual Pride Parade, celebrating the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots.

Pride Vermont 2013 will take place Sunday, September 15th from 12:30 pm – 5 pm. It begins with the Parade, which starts at the south end of Church Street and ends in Battery Park overlooking Lake Champlain and the Adirondack Mountains.

The Parade may finish in Battery Park, but that’s where the next festivities begin. The Vermont Pride Festival, best described as one big party, embraces the whole LGBT community (including our beloved allies). True to its Vermont heritage, expect to see people of all ages and backgrounds, from drag queens to the curious. The Festival runs from 1pm – 5pm and includes musical performances, booths featuring local LGBT organizations and other vendors, a children’s activity tent, and of course a beer tent.

A first for Pride Vermont this year is “OUT on Church Street.” On Friday, September 13th, from 6pm – midnight purchase a Street medallion, sold at participating businesses or through Pride Vermont. With the medallion (which costs $10 and benefits PRIDE Vermont), get 10% off at participating restaurants, shops, and stores, including Macy’s.

If you’re a foodie and looking to get your fill of local Vermont favorites, you’re in luck. Running concurrently with Vermont Pride in Battery Park is Northern Decadence Food & Travel Expo brought to you by the Vermont Gay Tourism Association. Northern Decadence features a wide array of events, including a tent filled with Vermont-based food vendors, cooking demos, and beer and wine tastings. There will be a Silent Auction with offerings such as ski passes, retail gift certificates and stays at Vermont Inns. Northern Decadence is $5 to enter (free for children) and runs from noon – 5pm.

For a full list of events for the week leading up to Pride and the weekend itself, visit Pride Vermont.

See you there!

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The River You’ll Return To

by MK Bateman

Photo courtesy of Rock River Preservation, Inc.

When my partner and I first moved to Vermont from New York City, I remember reading the slogan: “Vermont: Welcome to the West Coast of New England.” For me, it cemented that we had made the right choice to move to the Green Mountain State. Vermont, like California and the Pacific Northwest, has a legacy of embracing all types, while still retaining an identity all it’s own.

One of the communities that has benefitted from this attitude is the LGBT community. While we may not be to everyone’s liking, Vermonters seem to share a collective motto: do what you want, just as long as you don’t scare the horses! It’s a saying that expresses why Vermont is a safe and comfortable environment for everyone.

Case in point: gay swimming holes. Vermont’s beautiful mountains have shaped crystal-clear rivers that literally carve through dense green forests… Nature has produced a veritable playground for gay men! One well-known gay swimming hole, Rock River conveys this sentiment perfectly. True to its Vermont locale, a non-profit organization, known as Rock River Preservation, Inc. was founded, in part: “To protect access to a traditional gathering spot in Windham County for gay and bisexual men from across Vermont.” Gotta love Vermont!

Recently, I took a trip with my partner and our dog to Southern Vermont to visit this gay landmark. It was a beautiful day, hotter than you’d expect for July in Vermont, but perfect for a day at a swimming hole. The directions we’d gotten off the Internet were a bit convoluted, but we knew we’d arrived by the sight of shirtless gay men spraying each other with sunscreen on the side of the road. We parked the car and began the 30-minute hike to the swimming hole.

We started by walking a short way up Williamsville Rd. to what looked like a dirt driveway on the right side of the street. We hiked by a bunch of cabins, including a derelict one, until we got to the path, which trailed above the beautiful Rock River below – definitely scenic.

The couple we had seen earlier joined us on the walk and we had a nice conversation with them…they loved our dog, which meant I immediately liked them! One of them was wearing flip-flops, which proved to be a difficult choice. Like many Vermont Rivers, the Rock River suffered damage from Tropical Storm Irene, so the trails are washed away at one point, forcing intrepid gays to climb over rocks and ledges before getting back onto the trail. Don’t worry though; this part is clearly marked by green markers to keep you on the right path. With a good pair of hiking boots, you will be just fine.

Soon after the washed away section, a sign posted to a tree indicated that it’s okay to disrobe – it is a gay swimming hole, after all. Be careful to wait until you see this sign, since the swimming areas leading up to it tend to be filled with families and children. Just a little further on, we arrived at what is referred to as the “second pool.”

With our new friends continuing on, we decided to take a moment to get cooled off. We happily swam with the dog in the cool, sweet water. There are some springs leading down the hill, which feed into this swimming hole. The water is extra cold in these areas, so keep an eye out. Beautiful as these mini waterfalls look, they are chilly!

After we had sufficiently cooled off, we headed up a set of wooden stairs to continue to the third and final swimming hole. We had to cross the river at one point to get to our destination. A second set of wooden stairs, which were clearly marked, lead to the water. This section of the river was very shallow, so people who aren’t strong swimmers won’t have anything to worry about – more like walking through a deep puddle than anything else.

While the previous swimming hole had basically been empty, this swimming hole was filled with naked men lounging and swimming. We were surprised by the number of people for a weekday, but as the Rock River Preservation website points out: “Swimmers and sunbathers…prize the cool, clean water and warm rocks for summertime recreation.”

We found our friends and settled in. The beach area was set up with towels, umbrellas, and even one tarp at one end. The environment was welcoming, which is always nice when you’re completely naked! We were careful to keep the dog near us, but everyone seemed to enjoy having him around. We spent a few hours swimming, laying out on the rocks and enjoying the warm sun. It was a picture perfect day.

Behind the beach, the woods are a perfect hideaway for those of you who are looking for (ahem…) a little extra fun, but we stayed by the river. No judgment here…it’s just that I’m a married man!

I will say that the Rock River is well named. Pebbles, water-worn rocks and boulders cover the entire riverbed and its banks. Those with sensitive feet (like me) may want to have some flip-flops to maneuver through the shore stones. Some of the most beautiful things at the river were the stacked rock sculptures people had created throughout the area. They certainly gave the place a magical quality.

After a few hours, we said goodbye to our friends and headed home, very relaxed.  Rock River is absolutely worth the trip.

Where to Stay: Click here for a list of LGBT friendly lodgings near the Rock River.

Directions to Rock River:
From North: Take 91 South to Exit 4 for Rt. 5 to Putney. Go 2.4 miles on Rt. 5 onto Schoolhouse Road. Follow this road for 2 miles and make a slight left onto East-West Road. Got another 2.4 miles, then make a left turn on Dummerston Covered Bridge Rd. At the end of the road, turn right onto Rt. 30 (West River Rd). Go 2 miles to Williamsville Station. The turnoff is just before a large bridge over Rock River. Pull over and park on the east end of the bridge. Be careful crossing Rt. 30 – it’s a busy road!
From Brattleboro (From South): Take Rt. 30 north. After 7 or 8 miles, when you see the turnoff for Maple Valley Ski Area, continue north on Rt. 30 for another 1.5 miles, until you reach the Williamsville Road turnoff on the left. The turnoff is just before a large bridge over Rock River. Pull over and park on the east end of the bridge. Be careful crossing Rt. 30 – it’s a busy road!

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Whatever Your Heart Desires…

by MK Bateman

Vermont is beautiful every season of the year. The summer, however, is exceptional. The trees in the mountains are so thick that they seem soft to the touch and vegetation literally blooms everywhere it can.  Add to that, temperatures that rarely hit 90 degrees and low humidity – Vermont is a summer destination not to be overlooked.

So why miss out?  Sun Birds have been coming to Vermont in the summer for decades to avoid the hot and humid weather of other parts of the country.  Why not get a group of your friends together to spend some relaxing times in beautiful, bucolic Vermont?

Custom Tours, Inc., based in Vermont’s Capital, Montpelier, has been doing just that since 1994.  According to their website: “Vermont offers many exceptional and diverse touring options: soft adventure tours with guides, breathtaking 18-hole golf courses, panoramic hiking, picturesque bicycling, scenic canoeing, fabulous tennis facilities, and unspoiled white water rafting!”  If those examples aren’t enticing enough – don’t forget the natural beauty you can experience while sitting and enjoying delicious locally grown foods. The possibilities are endless.

Imagine spreading out on a cozy motor coach, enjoying your favorite cocktail, while leisurely traveling to peaceful, beautiful Vermont.   When you arrive, you are warmly greeted at your mountainside or lakefront property. From here on, the rest of your trip is what you want to make it – all thanks to Custom Tours.

Perhaps you just want to relax and enjoy some privacy? Or, you may want to be active and enjoy the outdoor playground that Vermont excels at? What about visiting and exploring Vermont’s cultural and culinary delights? How about some of everything? Custom Tours will tailor your group tour to make it feel like individual travel.

When you (sigh!) leave Vermont, you’ll already be planning your next trip.

 

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Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

by MK Bateman

Vermont is a dream destination. With endless beauty, clean air, abundant outdoor adventures, cozy inns and fantastic restaurants — it’s the perfect draw for anyone. When you factor in a culture of acceptance, you have a destination ideal for LGBT travellers.

One question might be running through your heads, though: How do we get here?

It’s not an absurd question. With the smallest population on the East Coast and transportation system that relies heavily on private car ownership, you urban gays and lesbians may have thought twice before planning a trip to the Green Mountain State in the past.

Fear not. Whether by train, plane or automobile there are plenty of ways to make your destination trip to Vermont possible.

By Plane

Whether you live near airports in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, or Atlanta there are non-stop flights available daily to Vermont. Many major airlines, including United, Jet Blue, and Delta offer non-stop flights at Burlington International Airport. It’s an easy airport to navigate, just a short cab ride to Burlington and close to Stowe, the Mad River Valley, and locations in Northern and Central Vermont. The best part of that airport — just turn around at baggage claim and you’ll find a large selection of national car rental companies to choose from.

If a southern Vermont experience suits your fancy, the newly expanded Rutland-Southern Vermont Regional Airport may be a better choice. Cape Air has multiple flights daily to and from Boston. The airport is less than 30 minutes from such well-known Vermont locations as Manchester (think Outlet Shopping), Killington and Okemo. And with Cape Air’s partnership with Jet Blue, you can fly anywhere JetBlue flies.

By Train

Should you have the time, and want to ease your way out of the hustle and bustle of the East Coast Corridor, how about travelling the old fashion way by train? Amtrak provides two daily services to Vermont. The first, the Vermonter, travels from Washington, DC, through Philadelphia and New York to Vermont. While certainly not the fastest travel, it is definitely the most beautiful. Plus, through a deal with VGTA, you can receive 20% off with the Visit Vermont fare. For a southern Vermont trip, try the Ethan Allen Express, which takes you up New York’s beautiful Hudson Valley, through Albany.

By Automobiles (or Bus)

Want something a little faster and (usually) a little cheaper than a plane or train? Then your best bet might just be the bus. Buses offer the convenience of downtown depots in Boston, New York and other cities and will often drop you off closer to your Vermont destination than any other mode of transportation. There are several companies that provide limited stop or even non-stop service from the major East Coast cities to Vermont.

Megabus may not have $1 rates any longer, but with round trip tickets from NYC to Burlington costing less that $60, you can’t go wrong…and did I mention that it’s non-stop?

The ole’ dog of the bus business, Greyhound also offers a wide range of departures and destinations. While you may have some random stops, you certainly will be able to experience the natural beauty of the region, while saving your money for the actual vacation. Remember, Vermonters are a practical group, so that bus stigma all too common for urbanites doesn’t matter here.

Car Rentals

Once you get to Vermont, if you aren’t in the mood to stay put at your destination, you may want to rent a car during your trip. While most national rental companies have locations in Vermont, Enterprise Rent-A-Car is a great choice for one reason: they come to you. If you arrive after business hours, they will gladly come to your lodging the next morning with your car.

Many B&Bs, Hotels and Inns will make arrangements to pick you up at the airport, train stations, or bus depots. Just make sure to ask them about it when you’re booking your stay. If not, Vermont has taxi services that allow you to book well in advance. Don’t worry— you won’t be stuck at the bus station without a way to your vacation spot.

Remember, should your trip bring you to Burlington, it’s a very pedestrian friendly city with easy access to all its local amenities, including shopping, the Lake Champlain waterfront and some of Vermont’s top restaurants.

We look forward to seeing you soon!

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