One of the most popular and enjoyable stops in the state of Vermont is just six miles south of downtown Burlington, on the shores of Lake Champlain: the Shelburne Museum (802/985-3346, daily May-Dec., Wed.-Sun. 10am-5pm Jan.-Apr., $10-24). The museum presents perhaps the best, and certainly the most unusual, agglomeration of fine art, folk art, and general oddities you’ll find anywhere. These toys, dolls, trade signs, and weathervanes (and much, much more) really do defy classification, but there’s more here than a riot of garage-sale stuff. Assembled over a lifetime by heiress Electra Havemeyer Webb, whose parents introduced America to the art of the French impressionists, the Shelburne collection includes paintings by European and American masters (Rembrandt, Monet, Manet, and Winslow Homer, to drop a few of the famous names). However, it is most interesting for its unique Americana: old fire trucks, handmade quilts, and a collection of horse-powered vehicles.
There are also dozens of historic buildings brought here from all over New England: a covered bridge, a round barn, a lighthouse, a railroad depot, even a complete side-wheeled Lake Champlain steamboat, the Ticonderoga. The buildings, which all house different parts of the expansive collection, are spread over 45 acres of lawns and formal gardens, and there’s so much to see you may want to save some for another visit, which you can do, since tickets are good for two days.
Northwest of the Shelburne Museum, just over a mile from US-7 via Bay and Harbor Roads, Shelburne Farms is a 1,400-acre farm and nonprofit environmental center with 10 miles of hiking trails on a promontory jutting out into Lake Champlain. The grounds were laid out by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted to take full advantage of the natural topography (and to maximize views across the lake toward the Adirondack Mountains). In recent years, Shelburne Farms has become a leading force in the movement toward sustainable agriculture, and you can taste the results in its fabulously flavorful cheddar cheeses, available nationwide. Free tastings are available here at the Farm Store, where you can also join a selection of guided tours (802/985-8686, times vary, $11) and explore the entire property. Included on the tour is a stop at the old mansion at the center of the estate, now the Inn at Shelburne Farms (802/985-8498, May-Oct., $160-525), where you can stay overnight or enjoy a wonderful meal (or three). There are also concerts, children’s programs, and a variety of educational workshops held at Shelburne Farms throughout the summer.