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Getaway to Waterbury, Vermont, under $200

SmarterTravel

Where is peace and how can we find it right here, right now? Maybe it’s in a pointed steeple on a whitewashed church, peeking through bright tufts of autumn trees. Or perhaps it’s inside a restful B&B, one with a meditative fireplace and a window filled with snow-crusted mountains alive with skiers shushing slope-side. No matter what your vision, peace is in Vermont, and you can attain it, afford it, and enjoy it—even in these disquieting times.

Getaway spots across the country have felt the effects of the downturn in air travel since September 11. But with bookings down and cancellations from long-distance travelers running rampant, new opportunities for last-minute travelers, particularly for locals, are up. Waterbury, Vermont, a favorite place for fall foliage outings and winter skiing, is no exception.

“I lost about 40 percent of my fall business, 25 percent in September, that I didn’t get back due to the September 11 tragedy,” says Pamela Gosselin, innkeeper of The Inn at Blush Hill in Waterbury. “In October, though, I recouped about 25 percent, mostly from New England people.”

Gosselin says that normally she’s sold out completely at this time of year, as she was prior to the terrorist attacks. “I get phone calls every day from people who want rooms and we can’t accommodate them. We often get walk-ins, mostly regional people who come last minute. With the lost bookings, we were able to accommodate those people, the ones we normally have to turn away.”

Local getaways, like short excursions to Vermont from Boston or New York, are not only optimal for people who want to stay a little closer to home, but also for those who are cost-conscious. For my two-night, three-day getaway at the beginning of peak fall foliage season, the total came to just $182.95 per person, including transportation, lodging, breakfast, and leisurely activities.

By driving to a short-distance getaway spot instead of flying somewhere, you instantly save on the transportation portion of your trip. My round-trip—and very scenic—drive from Boston to Waterbury cost under $50 in gas money. But if you can’t drive, you can also get there by bus or train for about $100, more or less, round-trip from Boston or New York.

I stayed in Gosselin’s amiable hillside B&B, which included a homey country-colonial fireplace room and an honest New England breakfast each morning. One of the best parts about these accommodations is that there was availability. After all, it was prime tourist season and I only made the reservation a week or two prior to my stay. The price wasn’t bad either at roughly $150 per night.

A favorable place to find other good rates at is at bedandbreakfast.com, a website that lists last-minute and other specials for inns in Waterbury and around the world. B&B’s aren’t known for specials deals, but savings are like Vermont’s own maple sap: they’re there, you just have to tap for them. When making reservations, always ask if there is a better rate available.

For huge savings, though, visit Waterbury in the winter. Although you’d think winter in prime ski areas means no availability, inns often have rooms for weekdays, even at the last minute. Most people flood the slopes on weekends, and often wait to book until they get a better sense for what the conditions are going to be like.

This winter is going to be especially good for cost saving since tourism bureaus are hoping to catch the eye of locals who normally ski out west, but have decided to stay home to avoid flying. The Waterbury Tourism Council is putting together special winter packages with ski add-ons that will appeal to anyone within a day’s drive or so, skier or non-skier. Prices start at $349 for two people for three nights, breakfast, dinner, and a tour of the Ben and Jerry’s ice cream factory. Those interested in skiing can purchase discounted lift tickets at four participating mountains.

Fall or winter, what can you do in a short Waterbury getaway that will let you escape for a while, but not make you overspend? Although staying cuddled up in a cozy inn all day is a viable option, there’s also plenty to do outside that won’t cost you bushels.

I wanted to see mountain vistas and great fall color, so took the Stowe gondola ride up Mt. Mansfield ($11 per adult, but some inns offer 2-for-1 vouchers). There I got a bird’s-eye view of the Arcadian valley below, and then wandered through the timber on some of the trails. In winter, of course, this area becomes skiers’ domain.

Vermont State Park facilities nearby offer plenty of outdoorsy fodder, but I opted to take a slow drive south along scenic Route 100. Along with more color, I stumbled upon a few roadside bonuses, including farms filled with rolling hills, cliff-hung waterfalls, and a winding brook that seemed to glitter for miles. Waterbury is a great place to be a casual observer, to follow where your eyes take you and cruise along at your own pace.

Another option is factory touring. Vermonters take pride in their products, and emphasize what’s natural and fresh. But boosting homemade goodness doesn’t stop there. Vermonters want you to see how their fruits come to be. Factory tours abound and are a pleasurable and inexpensive way to spend an afternoon. You can even get free samples, too. Waterbury must-do tours are Ben and Jerry’s ice cream factory ($2 per adult), where you can see the flavor of the day in production then stroll through the pastoral grounds with your favorite cone, and Cold Hollow Cider Mill (free), where you can see the traditional apple press in action while savoring a cup of cider as you wander through the mill. To see more that’s “Made in Vermont,” visit http://www.vtliving.com/factorytours for a list of other nearby factory tours.

No matter what you decide to do, you’ll find Waterbury a satisfying break. From my recent visit, I discovered that this holds true regardless of world events. Waterbury is a place to find enjoyment and rejuvenation, but not a place to forget. It’s a place where people discuss the events of September 11 over breakfast, but where a scenic drive is the main item on the day’s agenda. It’s a place that allows you to pull up on the roadside to go wading in a nearby stream or stroll through tall grasses to get a better sight of that bridge or mountainscape. You’ll feel a sense of welcome without feeling guilty for enjoying yourself. You’ll feel a sense of peace.

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