It’s almost a crime to write about Chester, Vt. It’s like revealing a secret swimming hole.
“Oh no!” one resident said to us when we were in town researching this article. “Please, don’t tell Globe readers about us! We like our town just the way it is.”
We like this under-the-radar town, too: its slow-pace, step-back-in-time beauty, its cluster of historic homes and buildings; its green space and access to outdoor activities.
The town, originally called Flamstead, was technically in New Hampshire, before Vermont became its own colony. In 1766, the name was changed to Chester, for the Earl of Chester, the eldest son of King George III. During the American Revolution, it was a stop along the route to the Battle of Bennington.
Today, the tiny village tucked in the shadows of the Green Mountains in southeast Vermont has two historic districts: Stone Village, named for the predominance of its unique granite houses, and Chester Village, with a collection of New England Federal and Colonial homes. Both are listed in the National Register of Historic Places. There are also charming country inns, restaurants, shops, museums, and outdoor adventure.
Don’t hate us, Chester, for getting the word out.
The oh-so-romantic 1851 Inn Victoria sits on the Village Green, and offers the most luxurious accommodations in town (www.innvictoria.com). It’s Victorian-era frilly and ornate, decorated with period details and antiques. All nine rooms and suites have private baths, lush linens, and modern high-tech updates; some have fireplaces, spa tubs, two-person showers, and private decks with hot tubs. The three-story Fullerton Inn (www.fullertoninn.com) has a commanding spot on Main Street in the center of the village. There are 20 rooms, all with private baths and country decor: flowery prints, lacy curtains, wing chairs, and simple furniture. Hang out next to the stone fireplace in the lobby, or on the deck in the large backyard. For peace and quiet, you can’t beat the Henry Farm Inn, set on 56 acres with a swimming pond and river (www.henryfarminn.com).
The historic 200-plus-year-old Federal-style farmhouse, once a tavern along the stagecoach route, has nine simple guestrooms, with private baths and original details, like wide plank pine floors. Stone Hearth Inn & Tavern, located on 6 acres about a mile out of the town center, is full of historic character (www.stonehearthinnvermont.com). The Federal-style Colonial has eight guestrooms with private baths, and several common areas including a sitting room with a fireplace, and a game room. The cozy on-site tavern with a wood-burning stone fireplace has decent pub grub, a friendly, casual atmosphere, and a nice, rotating selection of microbrews on tap. Even if you’re not staying at the inn, a meal and/or drinks at the tavern is worth a visit.
Talented chef-owner Jason Tostrup serves locally inspired modern dishes at the The Free Range (www.thefreerangevt.com). Start with appetizers like the poutine with hand-cut fries, cheddar cheese, curds, and country bourbon gravy; the shrimp and Vermont pork belly tacos, or the wings made with maple-heirloom cider and chipotle hot sauce. Entrees may include dishes like the Switchback Ale battered fish and chips, the smoked turkey meatloaf, and the local grass-fed cheeseburger on a brioche bun. There are also some 20 wines by the glass and a nice selection of artisan craft beers on tap. The friendly, come-as-you-are MacLaomainn’s Scottish Pub (www.maclaomainns.com) serves traditional American bar food (burgers, salads, and sandwiches) and authentic, hearty Scottish dishes, including cock-a-leekie soup, haggis with neeps and tatties, and burgers and mash. You’ll want to accompany the hearty fare with a pint of one of the beers on tap, perhaps the Scottish Stout or Belhaven Ale. If the weather’s nice, grab a seat on the outdoor deck. For breakfast, try the Country Girl Diner, located in a historic 1944 railroad dining car (www.countrygirldiner.com). Its updated comfort food includes farm fresh eggs, house-whipped Cabot butter, Vermont maple syrup, and locally-farmed produce. The always bustling Heritage Deli & Bakery serves sweet and savory breakfast items, and a host of delicious, creative soups and sandwiches. Don’t pass up the Vermont cheddar ale soup if it’s offered. There’s outdoor seating and it’s dog-friendly. Craving pizza? The down-to-earth Pizza Stone (www.facebook.com/ThePizzaStone802) is a popular, fun-loving place serving wood-fired, thin-crust, build-your-own pies and a great selection of craft brews. It also has live music on selected nights.
Take a self-guided tour of Chester’s historic Main Street. A map, with descriptions of 16 notable buildings, is available at inns, shops, and restaurants throughout town, or at the tiny Hearse House Museum. Historic homes include the 1819 William Cilley House, the 1861 Italianate Revival Frederick Fullerton House, and the Hearse House and Public Tomb. Stroll through the Stone Village Historic District, a cluster of 10 early-19th-century homes built by Scottish stone masons.
There are a few one-of-a-kind stores worth visiting, including the elegant DaVallia Art & Accents, with two locations in Chester (www.thedavallia.com). Both shops have beautiful displays of unique handmade art, furniture, and jewelry by local artisans. Sage Jewelry & Gifts (www.sagejewelryvt.com) has handcrafted jewelry and Sharon’s on the Common offers funky, fun, affordable women’s fashions (www.facebook.com/SharonsShawlsandScarves).
The town is surrounded by rolling farmlands, forests, picturesque valleys, and Green Mountain peaks. Don your hiking boots and head to the 550-acre Chester Town Forest where you can walk the Lost Mine hiking trail, a 2-mile loop through the woods and along mossy stream beds. The nearby Okemo State Forest, where the Okemo Mountain Ski Resort is located, has well-marked trails leading to waterfalls, cascades, mountain peaks, open lookouts, and a fire tower. Two favorite hikes are the Buttermilk Falls Trail, a short, easy jaunt to a series of falls and swimming hole, and the 6-mile round trip Healdville Trail, climbing to the Okemo Mountain summit where there are fine views and a former fire tower.Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.