NORWICH, VT — I hate winter.
Thank you, but I'll pass on the slopes, rinks and trails. The lure of cocoa at a lodge can't compare to a pina colada on a Caribbean beach in February.
So the thought of spending some time recently in central Vermont filled me with the dread of winter.
I like Vermont, in theory. After all, it produced Ben and Jerry's, Cabot cheese and Bernie Sanders. But I was pleasantly surprised that I liked discovering there's more to winter in Vermont than skiing, skating and sledding.
It's now become one of my favorite destinations for weekend escapes. It's just over two hours straight up I-91, from Hartford, Conn., to Hartford, Vt. — to what is called "The Upper Valley."
This winter, I met a friend at the Norwich Inn, a cozy, fireplace-friendly spot in Norwich, Vt., on Main Street, and so atmospheric in low-key charm that I expected to see Bob Newhart behind the registration desk.
But the chain-store-free town center has much more than a quaint inn appeal. Next to the inn is the funky Dan & Whit's — it's motto is "If we don't have it, you don't need it" — where you can get groceries, hunting supplies, quilt thread, long underwear or coyote urine, and plenty of local color.
Just down the street on Saturday mornings is a bounteous farmers' market at Tracy Hall, where more than 100 venders offer cheeses, dried meats, crafts, mushrooms, home-baked goods and a cornucopia of condiments, led by the state's nectar — maple syrup.
Further down the road and across the Connecticut River, a quick visit to Dartmouth University in Hanover, N.H., gave us that college town buzz. There's always something happening at the Hopkins Center for the Arts, which is next door to the sublime Pine restaurant at the stylish Hanover Inn. (While over the border, we dropped into a state package store where discounts are sizable.)
Later, backtracking to Norwich, we stopped at the King Arthur Flour Baking Center, one of the region's top destination spots and a place that famed Brit baking doyenne Mary Berry would love. There's a massive store featuring every baking implement and ingredient you can think of, and some you can't. There's also a cafe with fresh-from-the-oven selections. Those in my party regretted not registering for one of the daily baking classes, but we took time to peek through the glassed-in kitchens to spy on a pie-making session.
Next up — Woodstock, for a quintessential Vermont village stroll past galleries and the shops. I couldn't resist a look at the "state fabric'' at The Vermont Flannel Company store and a quick peek at Farmhouse Pottery (If you really want to get your hands wet, they offer workshops, too.).
Then off to Quechee, stopping at Quechee State Park's 165-foot-drop gorge — not recommended for vertigo sufferers. This is the off season, but I am tempted to return in the warmer months for the Segway tours — my kind of hiking. But the VINS Nature Center is open and a must for fans of hawks, falcons and owls.
For all-things Vermont, a stop at the epic Quechee Gorge Village turns into a longer visit as we roam through the many indoor shops and stalls, our favorite being the Vermont Alpaca Store, and not just because we can visit the source —seven alpacas live in an adjacent outdoor pen and love company. (Musette, who possesses the sweetest smile, I swear, is the friendliest to visitors.)
Next, we cross the covered bridge to Simon Pearce, the site of a glassmaking factory where we were transfixed watching young artisans work their craft. Their creations are for sale in the shop upstairs, next to a first-class restaurant overlooking a waterfall. (In June, you can watch the hot air balloon spectacular across the way while you dine.)
Last stop — White River Junction, a quirky town that just might lead in per-capita massage, spa, new age and yoga centers. A short stroll would also take in the Center for Cartoon Studies; Piecemeal Pies (A British-inspired meat pie eatery — no Sweeney Todd jokes here).
This town is also home to Northern Stage, Vermont's only year-round regional theater, where we took in a show; Revolution, a vintage clothing shop where we were offered espressos while we tried on fedoras; and the old-school Hotel Coolidge, just across from the train station where you can hop on Amtrak's Vermonter.
"People here find there's no great hurry to do anything," Lisa Mattei at the Vermont Alpaca Store told us earlier that day.
I agree, as I learned to love winter, leisurely, just a little.