There’s a city in Vermont on a huge lake, with great sailing and paddling, views of mountains in the distance and a rail trail that runs along the water. There’s a July jazz festival and no shortage of extreme events here, ranging from polar bear swims to century rides to an old-fashioned soap box derby. There are tasting rooms that feature the local foods and distillers, a great natural products market and an eclectic mix of ethnic restaurants.
No, we’re not talking about Burlington, but Newport, Vt.
Newport has always been a secret getaway for Canadians. It’s been poised for growth for years, with hopes for revitalization fueled by the influx of EB-5 money to the Bill Stenger and Ari Quiros’ Jay Peak, Q Burke and AnC-Bio projects.
The recent SEC investigation of those projects may have left Newport with a giant hole in the ground where the Renaissance Project envisioned a hotel. But the other EB-5 funded project, a gorgeous new hotel at Burke Mountain will open September 1. And there is hope new investors will continue the vision for downtown revitalization in Newport.
In the meantime, though, there’s more than plenty to do here.
Play the Kingdom Games
If you want a taste of just about every sport you can do in the Newport area (and the Northeast Kingdom, in general), join a Kingdom Games event. The king behind Kingdom Games, Phil White is, without question, one of the best event organizers in the state. For the past nine years Kingdom Games has been adding races that are as fun as they are competitive—which means that costumes, gag gifts and great parties are often the norm.
The Kingdom Games season starts in February with pond hockey and skating festivals. In March, huge chunks of ice are cut out of Lake Memphremagog to make way for a swimming pool, a perfect place to host a Winter Swim Festival—why not?
Come May, the Dandelion Run puts nearly a dozen fiddlers and musicians along a 13-mile gorgeous route of high hills and open meadows. In June, the Tour de Kingdom comprises five days of supported rides, including The Moose, a 108-mile loop from Burke up to the Canadian border where White swears you will see a moose somewhere along the way. Throughout the summer, the Games hosts a swim of varying distance on a different lake, from Willoughby to Island Pond to Caspian. These all lead up to the big event: the 25-mile In Search of Memphre international swim to Canada, on July 30.
And if you want to start with something shorter, the June 25 Newport Sprint Triathlon (organized by Newport Parks & Recreation) is a manageable ½ mile swim, 13 mile bike ride, and a 3.1 mile run.
Head out on the Lake
If you’re not ready to swim across the 25-mile Lake Memphremagog, at least head out by boat. You can rent a canoe or sailboat at Prouty Beach, the picnic area and campground just north of town. Or let someone else do the driving: the Northern Star hosts dinner cruises (and day cruises) on the lake through the fall.
Ride the Rail Trail to Canada
Bike along the shores of Lake Memphremagog from downtown Newport along the Beebe-Newport bike path, about 4 miles to the border. The views to the north are beautiful and the lake is deep, clear and cold. If you are up for an adventure, bring your passport. From Beebe, you can ride a rail trail for 16 kilometers into the town of Ayer’s Cliff on the shores of another beautiful lake, Lake Massawippi. The Canadians call their portion of the rail trail the Tomifobia (no, that’s not Quebecois for “fear of Tom,” it’s named for the Tomifobia River which it runs along.)
Loop the Kingdom
While there are great road riding loops around the state, there are few that are as scenery-rich, car-poor and well-mapped as those in the Northeast Kingdom. It’s no wonder that Canadian cycling and apparel company Louis Garneau has its U.S. outpost (and outlet shop!) just outside Newport on Route 5 Derby. The Northeast Vermont Development Association has mapped out the best in a brochure you can download at nvda.net. These can range from the 22.5-mile Black Roads to Big Falls loop just east of Newport to the 58-mile Around the Block loop that will take you from Orleans to Hardwick. From West Charleston, you can head south on the 69-mile Glacial Lakes Loop down to Lyndonville. The 67-mile Mostly Moose loop heads north from Island Pond and hugs the Canadian border as it passes Lake Averill before heading south along the Connecticut River and returning to Island Pond.
Explore the NEK Waters
Within a half hour drive of downtown you can be climbing the trails on Mount Pisgah for a view of one of the state’s most dramatic lakes, Lake Willoughby, kayaking or fishing for trout on the Clyde River (call Clyde River Outfitters) or jumping into the near perfect swimming hole at Troy’s Four Corners (on the intersection of Routes 101 and 242). While you are in Troy, head up to Big Falls State Park for a view of some of the state’s most impressive waterfalls or over to Jay Peak for indoor surfing in the water park. Just northeast of town, in Derby, Eagle Point Wildlife Management Area on Lake Memphremagog comprises 420 acres of wetlands and grasslands and is one of the prime birding areas in the state.
Apples from all over the state make their way to Eden Ice Cider’s press in downtown Newport. Downstairs, vats and barrels of cider sit fermenting. Upstairs is what is unquestionably the state’s best tasting room, The Tasting Room (also owned by Eden). For $3 you can sample a flight of Vermont ciders or $5, Vermont spirits from around the state and get a great lecture on their backgrounds. The giant room also houses every single Vermont specialty food product you might imagine, Jocelyn’s Bakery, the Cider House café serving (of course) local foods and grass-fed beef whiskey burgers and, new in late June, a coffee bar and small deli will inhabit the space as well. Next door, Dusit Thai gets the highest rating of all restaurants in town from both locals like Tegan Biun who moved here from the Finger Lakes Region to work at Eden Ice Cider and from visitors on TripAdvisor. Also next door, the Newport Natural Market and Cafe and coop also serves up sandwiches and brews. For a meal on the water and sunset drinks, head to East Side’s deck and for fancier fare, Le Belvedere or Lago. A short drive from downtown Newport, sample brews from Kingdom Brewing.
Two Don’t-Miss Events
Newport, Vt.’s Jazz Festival (July 8-10) might not quite rival the more famous Newport, R.I. event but it does host some local favorites, including Kat Wright and the Indomitable Soul Band, Madaila and Stanley Jordan. There’s also a Bread & Puppet Jazz Parade and an 18-piece swing band to dance to. And one thing not to miss: the 37th annual Soap Box Derby on June 19 behind the North Country High School. The last soap box derby in Vermont, it’s a serious affair with the winning kid (it’s kids only) going on the Nationals in Akron, Ohio.