Planning summer getaways can be a tough task for families. Juggling work schedules, soccer games, swimming lessons and family visits, it can be nearly impossible to go anywhere for more than a few days. With such a limited amount of time, you don’t want to go anywhere too far. There has to be enough to do and see at your chosen destination so the kids don’t get bored and that the trip remains as stress-free as possible for mom and dad.
Burlington, Vermont, just a mere two hours from downtown Montreal and nestled in the heart of the rugged Green Mountains with its lush valleys, may be the perfect destination for that mini escape. This quaint university town, located on the eastern shore of stunning Lake Champlain and surrounded by mountain landscapes, is a cornucopia of family fun. It has enough interesting attractions to keep the entire family entertained for a few days and all are within a 15 to 20-minute drive from one another.
A first and obvious pit stop for any visitor to Burlington is the Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream Factory. Situated in Waterbury, about 30 minutes south of Burlington, the Willy-Wonka-like factory gives you the scoop on ice cream production. The tour begins with a short movie on how Ben & Jerry got their ice cream show on the road and continues with an explanation of the required steps needed for churning out 180,000 to 190,000 pints of Chunky Monkey, Cherry Garcia and other ice cream flavours every day. The best part naturally comes at the end when visitors are brought to the sampling room and offered free tastings of some of Ben & Jerry’s most famous flavours and some that aren’t even out on the market yet. Before the ice cream has even melted in their mouths, your children will probably be begging for more. Fortunately, there is a scoop shop right on site. A park and sprawling grounds make it fun to take a stroll. If you’re brave enough you can even wander into the graveyard. That’s right, a graveyard for all the dearly departed flavours that just didn’t cut it. You can read the tombstones for flavours like Cool Brittania, a vanilla, strawberry, chocolate shortbread concoction that just didn’t fly, and find yourself mourning flavours like chocolate chip peanut butter cookie dough. The factory is open for tours year-round, however, hours change with the seasons. For more information call (866) 258-6877.
Another tour that will delight children is The Vermont Teddy Bear Factory. Most kids have at least one snuggly teddy bear in their stuffed animal collection and they’ll be fascinated to learn how these cute creatures are made. The old-fashioned bears produced at the factory are not sold in retail stores and have movable arms, legs and head. Visitors will get to see how the bears come to life on a lively tour that takes them from the cutting stage where the pieces are made, to the stuffing and dressing up stages. Kids also get to see the Teddy Bear hospital where damaged bears are sent to recover and be made as good as new. At the end of the tour, you can even participate in making your own bear. You can pick from various models of unstuffed bears and watch as it springs to life, a heart placed inside and sewn up, ready for you to take home and cuddle up with. Tours are given seven days a week and are free for children 12 and under. If you’re considering making a snuggly purchase as a souvenir for the little ones, visit the factory website at: http://shop.vermontteddybear.com and download a coupon that gives you a purchase rebate. For more information, call (800) 829-2327.
If the sun is shining during your stay, you will definitely want to spend some time outside. Vermont’s reputation for pastoral landscapes and lush greens is perfectly brought to life at Shelburne Farms, a 1,400 acre working farm and National Historic Landmark. The original owners, William Seward and Lila Vanderbilt Webb, hired landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead (known for designing Mount Royal Park) to shape the land into forests, farms and parks. Today, the farm includes a medieval-style barn with exhibits, information that promotes environmental conservation, a children’s farmyard and a cheesemaking centre. In the barnyard, kids can see cows, piglets, sheep, rabbits and even enter the chicken coop to collect some eggs. There are hiking trails around the property that lead you to some breathtaking views of the surrounding countryside. A wide range of events from campfire breakfasts to concerts are organized throughout the summer, so make sure to consult their calendar of events at: www.shelburnefarms.org. For more information, call (802) 985-8686.
A huge part of Burlington’s charm is its picturesque setting right on Lake Champlain where there is usually at least one sailboat bobbing along. Vermonters are naturally concerned about preserving the lake environment and the state has sponsored a great deal of research and conservation efforts, including the ECHO Lake Aquarium and Science Centre. ECHO, which stands for ecology, culture, history and opportunities for stewardship, is a science centre with more than 70 species and over 100 interactive exhibits. Several explain the geological forces that created the Lake Champlain Basin, what life was like in and around Lake Champlain when it was a salt-water sea and what marine life currently makes its home there. The facility also hosts seasonal exhibits; this summer features Body Language, an exploration of the fascinating physics of human movement, including the ultimate interactive Snibbe Screens — where you can literally dance with your own shadow. The centre is located right along the shores of Lake Champlain. For more information call 1 (877) ECHO-FUN.
Obviously, there is a lot to do in Burlington, which will keep the family happy and on their toes, but be sure you make time to take a stroll around Burlington’s city centre. The Church Street Marketplace is an outdoor pedestrian mall cut off to most traffic and filled with nifty boutiques and restaurants. The kids will certainly make a beeline for Lake Champlain Chocolates, where local apples covered in thick layers of chocolate and caramel beckon, but make sure to also pop into the bookstores and artisan shops that line the street, including the fascinating Vermont Folk Instruments shop.
The nearest large shopping centre from downtown Burlington is University Mall (head east on Main St. and turn right onto Dorset St.) The mall offers complementary strollers and has music and storytimes for kids during the week. For more information, go to www.umallvt.com.
Although only two hours away, Burlington fully embodies the small New England town. Taking your children will not only be a fun adventure but also a cultural experience.
Families who decide to stay overnight in Burlington might want to check out the Hawthorn Inn and Suites, located just a few miles south of Burlington Centre, which offers large rooms, friendly service and a free, hot breakfast. The hotel’s lobby is warm and inviting with sofas, chairs and a resident cat. The suites include large comfy rooms with a complete kitchen, ideal for families who want to prepare a meal or a quick snack. The Hawthorne Inn offers complimentary cocktails and snacks in the late afternoon from Monday through Thursday. The hotel also has a heated swimming pool, much appreciated by the children. For more information about the Hawthorn Inn and suites, check out www.Hawthornsuitesburlington.com
Websites about Vermont
If you are heading down to Burlington, or anywhere in Vermont, and are looking for family friendly activities, check out www.findandgoseek.net
Started by two Vermont parents, the website lists activities and places to visit around the state. Also included are photos, maps and reviews from other parents. Visitors will find suggested travel itineraries, and even calendar and listings by date, age range or location.