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The Champlain Islands of Vermont

by Marlene Shyer
Champlain Bridge in Vermont

If packing nothing but flip flops and old tees is a draw, so is the possibility of a budget vacation. The Airbnbs are very popular options, and there are campgrounds, rental farmhouses, and reasonable rates.

Marlene Fanta Shyer

Cornfields, cottages, cows and country roads are the backdrop for the lake that glitters almost everywhere you look. This unspoiled landscape in the northwest part of Vermont has brought nature-lovers, bike-riders, birders and random vacationers together to create a welcoming gayborhood.

“I come here for the peace and the people,” said a vacationer staying at the North Hero House (northherohouse.com) owned by Walt Blasberg and his partner, John Dewane. Walt, originally an insurance executive living a “traditional life” with a wife and kids in New Jersey, says, “I never knew I was gay—until one day I did.” He and his wife split after 29 years and then, in a gay bar in New York City, he met John, 25 years younger and newly arrived from Honduras. John’s mother and cousins followed, went to work at the Inn, and the two have been together here for 25 years.

Directly on Route 2, the Inn is posh, has 60 rooms, with views of the lake from most, and a top-tier restaurant. It’s also a favorite haven for gay weddings. Despite its occasional visiting luminaries (Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman, and Robert Redford have all stayed here) like every destination on the Islands, the atmosphere is Easy Casual.

Opposite the Inn is also Walt’s lively Steamship Pier Bar and Grill (northherohouse.com/dining-wine). Go for the lobster roll and key lime pie, while a small band serenades you at dinner Wednesdays and some weekends.

Lake Champlain View in The Champlain Islands, Vermont

Lake Champlain View
Photo: Guy Banville

Many visitors like to rent a boat and take a Driftwood Tour (www.driftwoodtoursvt.com/cruises). Captain Holly might take you on a boat ride to Burton Island State Park (vtstateparks.com/burton.html), where there are picnic tables, a hamburger joint, and a small swimming beach. On the way, keep your eye out for the mythic sea monster, Champ, living in the deep. No one’s seen him lately, or ever, but you never know. Romantic moonlight tours are also available.

Should you forget some item at home, the best general store you’ve ever been in is a few steps down the road. If you need anything from gluten-free beer to a buggy whip it’s here, and so is lunch. Hero’s Welcome (heroswelcome.com) is a combination deli/bakery/shop that’s adjacent to the post office and also has a gas pump out front. There are benches painted red or blue for Republicans and Democrats, and the store also has a backside. There you’ll find a bargain barn of the store’s clearance items, an ice cream shop, and also kayaks or bikes to rent. Biking is very popular on these Islands because the terrain is flat throughout, traffic is light, and dazzling views await at every turn.

Along this same stretch, in a former Catholic church, architect and painter Diane Gayer has created a gallery, Green Tara (greentaraspace.org), featuring the works of Vermont artists. She and her partner, Mary Twitchell, created this small space not just as a gallery, but also as an oasis. Stop in for the art and stay to enjoy some herbal tea or an espresso.

Not far away, look for the sign and turn off Route 2 to the Shore Acres resort (shoreacres.com). It has a nine-hole golf course, two tennis courts, and a dining room with a picturesque view of lawn, lake, and Adirondack chairs. The restaurant’s signature apple island chicken and other dishes can be ordered in small or large portion sizes. The restaurant is open for dinner, but lunch is only for its guests.

North Hero Beach, The Champlain Islands, Vermont

North Hero Beach
Photo: Walt Blasberg

Route 2 stretches 120 miles through the islands from its southern tip in New York, directly to Montreal at its northern point. Looking east over the water, see the Green Mountains of Vermont, looking west, New York’s Adirondacks. Twelve miles at its widest, the islands form a long archipelago and include Isle LaMotte, North Hero, South Hero, Grand Isle, and the Alburgh Peninsula. The “Hero towns“ were named for the 260 heroes of the Revolutionary War known as the Green Mountain Boys, who each got a ten-acre thank-you gift after the war. Their names are inscribed in the hallway of the Community Bank in South Hero.

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